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Alaska with 3 t(w)eens, parents and grandparents - cruise ships? etc.

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Hi,

We are looking at traveling with my parents, my kids (2 tweens and teen), my spouse and myself in late June 2014. My sibling and his wife and tween might be recruited as well.

I'm thinking a cruise could be good due to my dad's limited mobility. (Years ago, my parents did a small boat cruise in Alaska, but my dad now has mobility trouble (uses a cane, but can do stairs) and that that (together with budgetary factors) would preclude a small ship for all us.) Also, long drives are tough with one of my kids, who gets carsick easily.

My husband would like to go via Vancouver and ski Banff at the end of the season (end of June) before cruising.

None of us have ever done, or wanted to do, a big ship cruise vacation -- but it might make sense in Alaska (?). One or two of the kids would love it if there is an activity center for 12 year olds (the teen will not do that sort of thing). Sports courts and an indoor pool would be nice.

We would prefer not to be encouraged to overeat and overdrink at every opportunity.

So... maybe we could fly to Vancouver, go to Banff for 3 days of skiiing, return to Vancouver, and take a one-way cruise to Seward or Whittier? We'd thought maybe we'd want to go to Whittier and take a train to Denali but, having read older posts here, I realize that's too much travel time for too little sightseeing. We could sightsee around Seward, rent a car and drive to Anchorage, and fly home from there... or just do a loop back to Vancouver..

What cruise line would have accommodations for us? Due to schedule differences, I can't put any of the kids in a room with their grandparents. So, we would need a room that holds five -- are those just available on Disney (which only does roundtrip cruises)? -- or two rooms, one for 3 of us and one for 2 of us. Which works out cheaper? I cannot imagine sleeping in a room without a window - does anyone actually do this?

And, looking at availability - is it necessary to check all of the online vendors individually for various prices, or do the cruise lines match those through their web sites?

All thoughts welcome - thanks!

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    The real benefit of the one-way cruises is that they give you access to southcentral and interior Alaska - Anchorage, Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula, Denali, etc.

    However these additional destinations add to the complexity of the logistics (rental cars, hotels, additional airfare, etc.) as well as requiring a minimum of several extra days to do more than just one of them (typically 5-7 days would be a working minimum.)

    It sort of sounds to me like these complications and the extra time might not be the best thing for your group. Once you're off the cruise ship, long car rides (or buses or trains) are just part of the landscape.

    Or, if someone in your group has problems with motion sickness, both the crossing of the Gulf of Alaska (usually the night before arrival in Seward or Whittier) and many tourist activities once you're on land, such as a Kenai Fjords cruise, would be problematic or worse.

    So I think maybe I'd focus on a round-trip cruise from Vancouver, which will be almost all on sheltered waters, will give you a pretty comprehensive experience in Southeast Alaska, and won't require fussing around on land for too-short a time once you disembark.

    In terms of things you'll be "missing," well, that goes for any trip to Alaska short of one in a private plane for two months. Alaska's just way too big to see more than a little bit at a time. If you go to the Canadian Rockies before (June skiing in Banff? Really?) you'll get mountain scenery that will knock your socks off anyway - not the same as Denali, but IMO just as beautiful in its own way.

    You could take the "extra" days that you would have spent in Alaska and do something fun in the Vancouver area, or maybe head down to Seattle.

    As for which cruise line, that's a bit of a conundrum - Disney gets good reviews, but most of the major lines have good kids' programs on board, and most of the ports of call you'd visit on the cruise have tons of options for kids. I don't think that will be an impediment; Alaska cruises are full of kids.

    I'd use a major online cruise agency like www.cruise.com to get a quick "top view" of the various offerings and prices. The Alaska cruise market is extremely competitive, and excellent packages are all over the place.

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    My one experience with a trip like this was a multi-generation family cruise on Royal Caribbean 10 years ago that was a round trip 7 day cruise out of Vancouver. We had a great time as the ship had something for everyone.

    My MIL has limited mobility issues but she was able to maneuver around the ship well using a wheelchair and cane. We enjoyed the entertainment. The food was good but not so great that we felt the need to overindulge.

    We did sleep in rooms without windows which I had no trouble with as we were in some of the cheaper cabins. We found we spent very little time in our rooms although might have spent more if we had had a nice view. My family had two two bedded rooms and I stayed with my daughter while my husband was next door with our son. Not exactly a romantic trip!

    I think the only pool on the ship was a salt water outdoor pool which my kids only used briefly. They did, however, find plenty of other activities they enjoyed.

    When we landed in each port, each family chose to see different things which worked well given our various interests.

    I would definitely check different ships and itineraries to see what they have to offer. I hope you have a wonderful trip.

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    First, I think an Alaskan cruise would be an excellent choice for your multigenerational family. Next, I'd suggest you scoot over to CruiseCritic.com where you will get more advice about Alaska cruises than you can shake a stick at.

    We cruised the Panama Canal a few years ago on the Island Princess and I think that it cruises Alaska in the summer. If so, that's a ship I can highly recommend. It's definitely not a large cruise ship, but it's big enough so that there are plenty of activities for all ages and it's got a great indoor pool area called the Lotus Pool. The pool itself is not large, but there are also 2 hot tubs and lots of comfy lounge chairs that face the floor-to-ceiling windows. Princess is one of our favorite cruise lines, so I don't think you can go wrong if you book one of their cruises.

    As for cabins, you are not going to be able to get one for 5 passengers, and you wouldn't want that anyway--much too small a space, especially with teens and tweens. If it is just the grandparents, parents and 3 kids, I would recommend a cabin for the grandparents, a cabin for the parents + 1 kid and a cabin for 2 kids. (I think Princess allows a separate cabin for teens if it is located next to or across the hall from the parents.) If the sibling, wife and tween kid join you, I'd get 5 cabins and put two people in each.

    I have cruised in balcony cabins and interior cabins -- it just depends on my budget at the time. It's not really a big deal to have an interior cabin because you spend so little time in there anyway. If you really want a balcony cabin, you could do what we did once--adults in the balcony cabin and kids in the interior cabin across the hall.

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    I think my spouse was thinking about summer glacier skiing at Whistler (Blackcomb), not Banff, if that makes more sense. Checking the interweb, they have it 'till the third week of July, but only 3 hours a day....

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    Would the grandparents sleep in a room without a window? If so, I might suggest a balcony cabin for you and spouse, and 2 interior cabins across the hall for the grandparents and kids (or 2 balcony cabins side by side - some ships can remove the barrier between the balconies). You are not going to find a cabin that holds 2 parents and 3 almost-adult sized kids.

    We cruised on Princess a few years ago at the end of June - actually over the summer solstice. It never actually got dark, which was cool. However, there were few teens/kids on board - I have heard there are more kids and activities later in the summer. The few kids/teens on board seemed to find each other, but not sure how many activities there were.

    When budgeting, keep in mind that excursions in port are almost essential to seeing anything as there is not much in each port to see without additional transportation on bus, train, helicopter. The costs of this can add up.

    Some cruise lines allow competing sites (which are essentially on-line travel agents) to discount, some do not. We have used cruisecompete website several times - you pick a cruise and then they sort of shop it around and you get offers. Be careful as some include fees, taxes, etc and some do not - so it can be a little complicated to compare.

    Have a good trip - this sounds like a plan for a multi-generation trip.

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