AS THE WORLD continues to watch a terrible scenario unfold with the grounding of the Costa Concordia in Italy, attention is now focused upon the safety of such luxury cruises. The industry must be clenching its teeth for potential panic, either real or perceived, among both the media and would-be passengers who have witnessed the scenes on television and through viral video footage. I'm no expert in the cruising world, not like some of my travel cohorts who spend their lives sailing the seven seas. But what I might lack in nautical miles, I make up for in an overarching theme of uber-preparedness.
Hi, I'll be your cruiseship, let's get to know one another!
I’m an Alaskan, so almost every adventure our family endeavors to undertake requires careful planning, preparation, and attention, even when aboard a "floating hotel." Our last Alaska cruise was via Holland America, a classic vessel that held around 2,000 passengers and several hundred crew. We felt safe. We felt secure. We also felt empowered, because we were told to make it so. During a lifeboat drill (held within hours of our embarkation, by the way), the captain made it crystal clear that we, as passengers, held a certain amount of responsibility for our safety. Hmm, power to the people? I liked it. So, we did it.
All kids on deck! Learning the ship's areas can be a fun and safe activity for families to do together.
1. We knew our ship. As newbie cruisers, and parents, exploration of our sailing home-for-a-week was activity numero uno. Besides locating the kids' Club HAL, Lido Deck restaurant, and hot tub, we made sure everyone in the family knew where they were in relation to the lifeboat station we were assigned upon our embarkation, even the 4 year-old. We turned it into a game, actually. "Hey, see if you can be the leader and get us to Deck Five from the restaurant, okay?" Over, and over, and over. After a day or so, our youngest was so impressed by this new activity, he taught it to all his cohorts in Club HAL. We also carried maps of the ship's layout (mostly because I kept forgetting where everything was), and made sure our lifeboat station was clearly highlighted.
2. We knew our crew. Charming to speak with, anyway, we quickly realized the crew could be our lifeline in an emergency. During that lifeboat drill, we make sure kids knew who would be at their station, and also made sure there were no language barriers (as has been an issue this week with the Costa Concordia's crew). Could our kids understand and follow their directions? If not, who should they find?
3. We listened during the drill. Within minutes of the scheduled event, it became clear how easily chaos could reign. Some passengers didn't show up, some had mobility issues, and still others were hopelessly unable to follow even the simplest directions to "Put on the life vest." I cannot imagine trying to navigate a circus of that nature in an actual emergency. But our crew kept at it, repeated themselves endlessly, and over all, the captain's voice boomed on a loudspeaker to shush us into paying attention. And now we know why. We could help ourselves, at least to some extent.
AK Dad is ready to float!
4. We were ready. Before we went to bed each night, I laid out sturdy shoes, placed mittens and hats in coat pockets, and had it all right by the door (easy in our smallish cabin). Everyone also had his or her own headlamp (we like them for reading at night), just in case the power went out when we had to evacuate.
5. We made sure rules were followed. The basics, at least; no climbing on railings, no running on deck, make sure you wear non-slip shoes, and other kid-themed mantras. We clearly stated them, and absolutely enforced them.
No, I don't think the Costa Concordia tragedy should deter anyone from cruising, especially first-timers. Respect the ship, respect the crew, and take responsibility, certainly, but don't allow one horrible, tragic event to define the way you and your family travel. Life is too short for that.
Find more travel tips for your next family vacation at AKontheGO.com.
Wherever you fly, you’ll be the best of the best.
Wherever you go, you will top all the rest.
Except when you don’t
Because, sometimes, you won’t.
-Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You’ll Go!
TRAVEL IS FULL of failures. Big ones, little ones, and all the missteps in between. Be it simple as a rainy campout, or complex as a forgotten passport, the very nature of venturing even a few miles from home means we place our families in prime position for slip-ups.
As a somewhat over-organized traveler, it pains me greatly when adventure-flops are caused by people I know and love. Frankly, if it were up to me, I’d pack everyone’s bags and have them in the car way before my son has even begun to drag himself to the bedroom and the methodical process of sorting and stacking toys (not clothes) in a too-small suitcase. If it were up to me, everyone would have day clothes, evening clothes, swim clothes, and rain clothes; not to mention extra clothes when the aforementioned previously-packed-by-me clothes become wet, muddy, or otherwise unwearable. And I haven’t even begun with the footwear, yet.
But what will that accomplish? Might save my sanity, for sure, but if travel as a concept is truly about learning, growing, and experiencing new things, doing everything for my son might not end up doing anything in the long run. I want to raise an independent kid who will hopefully become an independent young man, one that embraces the idea that travel screw-ups do happen, but knows the skills to problem-solve and communicate toward an eventual solution.
Pack it. Construct a destination-appropriate list with kids, and enlist their input about clothing and gear. Post in a conspicuous place, and let them go to it. This works best if you try it first on shorter journeys, and not before a six-week trip to Europe or a wedding in Hawaii. If kids have specific outfits to wear, or gear they must bring; fine, but let them make some decisions, too. Make sure children have a bag they can call their own, as well, since ownership goes a long way toward pride in one’s ability to pack.
Let them try. Setting up the tent, changing a bicycle tire, ordering dinner in a restaurant, speaking another language. Over, and over, and over. Who cares if they order french fries for everyone or put the tent’s rain fly on backwards? Bet they’ll learn something, and so will you. Allow kids the freedom to choose new activities, too. Ziplining not your thing? It might be your teen’s most memorable few hours of vacation, if given the chance. Do your homework together, and apply the “try everything once” guideline. You might be surprised at the level of interest.
Let natural consequences rule. My son went through a phase where everything was my fault. Sorry buster. Remember that list? After a trip to the beach with no boots, make sure they are added to the packing list once you return home. If it’s health and/or safety, of course, step in; otherwise, let their feet get wet.
It’s a new year - let’s allow kids the freedom to try new things and learn new skills. It may not be pretty at first, but in the long run, “Oh, the places they’ll go!”
MY FATHER TAUGHT me to ski when I was seven. Using a pair of old, aluminum skis I shared with my brother and sister, I stumbled and slipped and cried my way down (and up) a gentle slope at Snoqualmie Pass near Seattle. I understand why Dad thought he could teach us, he was a former alpine racer and ski jumper, and presented as pretty a picture of downhill finesse as anyone would want in those days. He was also (in his mind) decidedly cheaper than the local ski schools who wanted money for something he felt he could do better.
A problem presented itself in the form of whining, complaining and crying - something I would have never dreamed of doing in front of a cute ski instructor but had no qualms about with my father (it drove him nuts). As a consequence there was more shouting than teaching, more snuffling than schussing. Until I reached high school and the community ski bus where I learned, sans weeping, how to do a wedge or a christy, and could parallel my way down all but the blackest of black diamond runs. Eventually, I even became an instructor myself and saw, firsthand, legions of other parents trying to teach their offspring in a manner similar to my own father’s.
Help is here, moms and dads. January has been designated as Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month. In 2007 a bunch of ski industry moguls (get it?) and professional instructors got together to provide beginning skiers and riders an opportunity to learn outside the boundary of parental assistance; LSSM now crowds slopes in 32 states and 300 resorts including Alaska.
Two areas are offering deep discounts on lesson packages for beginners. Alyeska Resort near Anchorage is offering a $99/per person special, with three lessons, a lower-mountain ticket and equipment rental. Kids who wish to learn to ski must be at least five; youth who want to give snowboarding a try must be at least eight so they can take full advantage of the resort’s “magic carpets,” Bear Cub quad and Lift 7. Alyeska Resort’s Mountain Learning Center instructors are excellent, but even better, they are enthusiastic ambassadors for the sport of alpine skiing. They also know kids and understand things like bathroom breaks, lost mittens, and occasional tears.
In southeast Alaska, Eaglecrest Ski Area has also jumped on the alpine bandwagon with a variety of ski or ride packages that begin at just $54 for two hours of skiing, equipment rental, and lift tickets. They even have a “Bring a Friend” program, since we all know learning a new skill can be more fun with a buddy. Eaglecrest is a smaller mountain, perfect for families looking for a more intimate skiing experience. Located across the Gastineau Channel in Douglas, Eaglecrest also offers nice views from it’s forested brow.
Adults are included in this deal, too. Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month is targeting adults who for years may have thought they were “too old” to learn a new skill like skiing. With the right instructor to boost confidence, skiing is a sport to be enjoyed by every age and every stage.
Don’t forget, when skiing in Alaska (particularly at Alyeska), one must dress warmer than the average Lower 48 resort. Standing in a lift line or sitting on a metal chairlift gets chilly, indeed. Pack handwarmers, wear a neck gaiter, and consider goggles for a full-face warm up. Children and adults should wear helmets, too - check with the rental shop for a loaner. Also, bring kids inside periodically to check on their fingers and toes and know when to stop for the day; most skiing injuries occur on the proverbial “last run.”
Erin Kirkland blogs about skiing and other Alaskan family activities at AKontheGO.com.
PERHAPS IT SHOULD be easy in Alaska. Surrounded by a natural world that is truly larger-than-life, and immersed in an atmosphere of incredible diversity, Alaska’s children live in an environmental melting pot. From exposure to Native traditions to careful respect of wildlife, the concept of stewardship should be a natural consequence of living in the 49th state.
Merriam Webster defines stewardship as “Careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care.” A big responsibility. The land, the water, the air; society is constantly searching for new ways to protect what has been left to us, especially here in Alaska, the largest state, and the one with the highest raw “star power” compared to anything Outside. We can join societies, coalitions, user groups, and clubs. We can also involve our children.
Stewardship of our kids is crucial to stewardship of our planet and its inhabitants. Kids are smart; just ask one what he or she thinks about the state of things in this universe and you might be surprised at the response. They want to help, they should help, and with the right resources, they can help. Stewardship, or “giving back,” doesn’t have to necessarily be framed as such for kids to be active participants in the state of their state (or world, for that matter), it simply needs three ingredients: relevant content, enthusiastic adults, and time.
Our son, seven, has been attending the Alaska Center For the Environment Trailside Discovery Camp this week. He's learned all sorts of interesting things about the world not two miles from his home. Snowflakes come in different sizes and shapes, you know, and bears do not necessarily have to hibernate. Listening to the sounds of a forest on a snowy day is not as quiet as one might imagine. Wait, this is not stewardship, you say. But it is. Creating children who are comfortable in the natural world as they are in their own living rooms will cultivate the concept of stewardship. Yes, it will. Find a place in your own community for natural world experiences. The Sitka Sound Science Center is a beautiful example of hands-on fun combined with research. Kids will relish the opportunities there with grownups who care about what they think. A cadre of kids were there last summer when I visited, and proudly showed me around the touch tanks, whale skeletons, and drawings of marine mammals.
Exploring at the Sitka Sound Science Center
Down in Ketchikan, Allen Marine recently developed a tour called “Wilderness Survival,” traveling through the Tongass Narrows to a remote, old-growth forest for an afternoon of plant identification, outdoor survival, and important research about the invasive Green Crab (kids get to pull crab pots and provide data to be used in real-life studies). It might rain, it might be muddy, but the entire family gets to dig and record and learn about life in southeast Alaska, unfettered and unplanned. And sometimes messy.
A visit to the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage means a cultural lesson for any age. Whether visiting during the normal operating season of May through September, or attending a special event the rest of the year, the whole family will enjoy learning about the incredible diversity of Alaska’s First People. Did you know a dance can tell a story better than any textbook, or that children truly do learn by watching elders and trying out new skills, and failing, before mastering the task? There’s a lesson in every exhibit at ANHC, and the real value of a visit is not in the bricks and mortar displays, but lies within the scores of individuals who sit in the shadows of the room, waiting to tell kids why, and how, and where.
A dwelling at the Alaska Native Heritage Center
The Murie Science and Learning Center, located at the entrance to Denali National Park, provides visiting families day trips, field seminars, and opportunities for endless discovery in one of the wildest places accessible to humankind. Named for the Murie family, who were tireless advocates of both Alaska and Denali National Park, the Science and Learning Center is a testament to the value of education combined with recreation. Not a typical visitor center, this is where learning and cultural curiosity are nurtured.
“We have inherited the past. We can create the future.” Help your kids learn the value of caring for their present. That’s giving in its finest form.
I LOVE TRAVEL-THEMED presents. Opening a package containing the latest gadget, book, or gift certificate is always appreciated. As a wandering mama, receiving such a gift also makes me jump up and check the calendar to see when I might next be able to venture out into our big, wild world. It’s all about the journey. For kids, too.
My son, now seven and the perfect age to begin more adventurous wanderings with me, is also the perfect age to appreciate some of the goodies that send his mom into wowsville. Be they experiences or things, adding travel to a holiday gift-giving list is a winner, every time. Here are our top five recommendations for kid-themed travel superstars this year:
1. Alaska experiences: Lived in the state all your life but still haven’t gone dog mushing or flightseeing? If you’re willing to shell out $500 for a gaming system and all the accoutrements, then perhaps you could consider an experience the whole family will remember, forever. Try Salmon Berry Tours in Anchorage (they go to Fairbanks, too), or Temsco Helicopters in Juneau for family-friendly dog sledding tours. Temsco also does flightseeing throughout southeast Alaska. K2 Aviation out of Talkeetna does a spectacular job of nudging guests right up to Mt. McKinley’s flanks for an icy howdy-do.
2. Great gear: This year was momentous in a number of ways, but mostly our cheers came from the fact our son could now carry his own stuff on trips. For light hiking and carry-on purposes, we purchased an Osprey “Jet” pack that contours his slim frame, yet still has plenty of room for games, a stuffed animal, and a hat or two.
3. Reading roundups: Oh, do we ever love books around here! Now that our kiddo has reached first grade and has an appetite for reading everything from roadsigns to guidebooks, every trip must include at least one chapter book and one activity book. “The Everything Kids Travel Activity Book” by Erik and Jeanne Hansen is fun, self-contained, and full of reading, writing, and simple doodle space. We found it on Amazon.com for around $9.
4. Choose an adventure: I believe in affording kids their own opportunities to stretch comfort zones as they grow, and for us, this translates into some pretty exciting experiences without adults hovering all around. Ski lessons at Eaglecrest in Juneau, or Hilltop and Alyeska Resort, in Anchorage and Girdwood, respectively, offer a ton of options for youngsters of all abilities. Psst, parents, you too!
5. Lifelong learning: Remember summer camp, where kids immersed themselves in such things as crafts, hikes, and lots of hands-on outdoor experiences? Good news, kids can still do all that, and more, with programs like Alaska Geographic’s Family Field Seminars. Exploring the tundra, looking for animals, staying in tent cabins; ahh, yes, summer camp for the whole family in Denali National Park. An extremely popular way to explore the park, Family Field Seminars fill up fast, so early registration is a must. Childhood is short; get out and travel. Happy holidays.
For more tips and tricks to family-friendly travel in Alaska, visit AKontheGO.com.
I SOLO-PARENTED a son for nearly ten years and experienced every crisis or triumph related to kid-dom all by myself. From figuring out how to potty train a boy to learning the finer points of Pokemon cards, it was all me, all the time. In spite of days when I would lament to the family dog my woes, there remained certain advantages to our “dynamic duo” status, - like travel.
No rules existed at the time for single parents and travel; no Twitter feeds, websites, or Facebook pages to guide us along our definitely epic treks toward travel bliss (or, sometimes, not so much). We made things up as we went, packing my Subaru Forester and the Rocket Box on top with skis, hiking boots, food, games and my old REI tent, bound for someplace that was definitely not home. Along the way, we discovered a few things that worked, and a whole lot of things that didn’t, but we kept going, anyway. Travel, you see, was one way my rapidly-growing son and I could connect. Deep discussions sitting side-by-side in the car, hikes to beaches along trails seldom traveled by human feet, room service while watching the latest episode of “Sponge Bob Squarepants.” That was real time I can’t ever get back.
Hit the slopes... with little ones in tow
It can be tough for a parent (single or not) to decide to strike out on their own with the kids, but, like anything related to being a mom or dad, the rewards ultimately win out over the complexity. We originally posted about single parent travel in April, 2010 (KTDontheGO: Burden or Beautiful? Solo Travel With Kids), but here are even more tips to boost your confidence (and perhaps your dollar):
1. Involve the kids. For children of single-parent homes, especially those who have witnessed divorce, control is important and something as simple as asking input to a vacation destination can be huge. Pull out the maps, find brochures or websites, and spend a few evenings around a bowl of popcorn to decide. Multiple kids? All agree upon the destination and each chooses an activity.
2. Know your room rates. Pay attention to hotel/resort room rates and fees. Ask about “per room” charges rather than “per person” rates. Especially for one parent/one child, this can mean the difference between staying at a nice hotel or the motel across town. Disney Parks, in particular, does a great job of explaining their all-inclusive packages and fees.
Dig up some fun, just you and the kiddos
3. Don’t be afraid to stretch your boundaries. Particularly with older kids, a vacation that involves ziplining through a forest canopy or four-wheeling along a beach might be just the ticket. It is okay to be nervous about an activity or experience and, sometimes, kids need to see us sweat a little bit, too. At the very least it gives them an opportunity to laugh as you relive the experience later.
4. Remember, you are NOT an outcast. No, no, and no again. Who cares if everybody else at the resort is there with their traditional, two-parent family? You don’t know them, you’ll likely never see them again and, besides, you have places to go and things to do. Celebrate the blessing of your child’s company as you wander the world together. If it really bugs you, ask another mom or dad to grab their kid(s) and join the party; that can be a blast for everybody.
5. Carry your papers. Documents are a fact of life for solo parents, but far more so during travel. In Alaska, for instance, one must cross through Canada on a road trip, thus requiring not just a passport, but a signed, notarized letter from the other parent (where applicable) saying permission is granted for out of U.S. travel. Also important to carry are copies of any custody agreements, parenting plans, and whatever else you think a customs agent may request. The U.S. Department of State has the 411 on single parent travel right here.
GO WITH ME, for a moment, to a perfect day of air travel: Tickets secured, bags checked, and TSA navigated with nary a hitch. Your family is ready and waiting at the assigned airport gate with backpacks of snacks and amusements guaranteed to get you from one airport to another with the aura of seasoned travelers. Bam! You so got this.
That is, until your youngest screams he has to go potty two seconds before boarding, so your spouse sends you flying to the bathroom (because you forgot you could use the bathrooms on board the aircraft) only to discover that it is too late and now the clothes are wet, you are wet, (and you have no dry clothes, because you forgot those, too) and gate agents are calling your name in a sickening-sweet tone of voice. To make matters worse, you rush on board to find out the airline double-dipped your seat with a business traveler who looks at your disheveled family and pushes that Wall Street Journal even closer to his/her face when you show up right about the time flight attendants come on the intercom system to say there movie service is unavailable because of a malfunctioning wiring, but, don’t worry, everyone gets extra snack mix as a consolation prize. And you haven’t even left the tarmac.
While most air travel with kids is disaster-free (notice I didn’t say stress-free) and not really like the scenario I described above, it does seem that our nation is obsessed with the “not-so-friendly-skies,” especially after a recent incident aboard an east coast airplane where flight attendants refused to give a child milk because said beverage needed to be used for other passengers’ coffee.
Here in Alaska, we don’t really have the option to choose our airlines if somebody does us wrong. We have one major carrier upon which to depend for most of the year, Alaska Airlines, and fortunately, they pride themselves on taking care of families who fly Last Frontier skies. Here’s why: Alaska’s philosophy stems from an 80-year relationship with rural communities, ferrying business travelers, school children, kids with medical needs, and basketball teams to and from larger centers. Kids are often unaccompanied, excited, or frightened, so customer service means more than offering bottomless cups of soda or plastic wings. Alaska employees really, really care, and for a family, that can make the coming home part way more exciting than the leaving part (seriously).
Right out of the gate, a super cool computer program prevents the undesirable scattering of families throughout the airplane? We flew from Anchorage to Portland not long ago, and two of the three of us were seated in a separate section, so ticketing agents reseated us all together. Provided you follow the AKontheGO Golden Rule of Airport Etiquette and arrive 2 hours early, ticketing can usually be shuffled around to accommodate families who were not originally seated together.
Alaska’s Unaccompanied Minor program, too, gives parents a measure of comfort when sending their children off on an adventure all their own. Free media players, snacks, drinks, and a little extra love and attention from flight attendants goes a long way. Alaska will also be rolling out a snack pack this week for children like mine who turn up their noses at fancy fruit and cheese plates.
I’ve asked Alaska flight attendants for everything from plastic bags for wet clothes to extra ice for a sore throat. In turn, they’ve listened to my kid scream and push all the buttons on the overhead display and crumble up the snack pack crackers on the floor. Yet they’ve never complained (out loud). It’s tough enough traveling with kids inside a flying cigar; it means the world to have other adults on board who understand, or, at least, fake it enough to let me disembark with at least a semblance of peaceful expression upon my face.
WE'VE ALL BEEN there. Teeth-clenching trips across the country or across the state to visit family for the holidays, children in tow. Nothing says “stress” to many parents like the idea of traveling during the busiest time of the year. It’s estimated that 2.3 million people will be traveling over the next month, so below are a few top tips for saner family travel, courtesy of the family who sometimes finds themselves “winging it:”
1. Plan, plan. Oh, and plan. Who will take you to the airport? Who will pick you up? Which kid will be managed by which parent? Who will board first with the car seat? These are important questions that should be addressed ahead of time. Think I'm kidding? Last week on a return flight from Portland, I listened to a couple arguing in the ticketing line. Dad said "I thought you called the shuttle service to pick us up!" Mom said, "What, are you nuts?!"(No, she didn't actually say 'nuts.') “I had three kids to pack, you big bazonga!” (No, she didn’t say ‘bazonga,’ either.)
Up, up and away!
2. Embrace the TSA. Not really, because they drive me nuts. But in a fit of almost-intelligence last month, TSA instituted a Brilliant Proclamation that Kids Can Keep Their Shoes On. Children under 12 are now pemitted to keep their shoes on during the security process in order to, get this: save parents time. However, see this photo?
That's AK Kid, waiting, waiting, and waiting some more for Mom and Dad to finish their security screenings. Not so much time saved, but it was nice worry about one less pair of footwear. Do visit TSA’s website for important holiday information about what you can, and can’t bring with you.
3. Pack it in. It’s all over the news; moms begging for milk on crowded flights, babies running out of diapers, older children losing battery power for the DS. It's mayhem, all right. Bring extra snacks, power cords, cell phones, books, quiet toys, and other activities for kids. Driving? Get an in-car charger - I've been saved by mine more than once. Carry gallon zip-type bags for trash and/or wet stuff (because it will happen, guaranteed), and cups or bottles with sippy lids, even for the big kids. Ever been on a turbulent flight? I started bringing zipper bags after an entire cup of bright, red cranberry juice spilled by our own child ended up staining my white shirt. Uh huh, they're never too old for a sippy.
Patiently waiting at the boarding gate
4. Check it. Have you seen the "carry-on" bags people are trying to bring aboard airplanes these days? Let me 'splain it to you, Lucy: baggage fees are going up and up, people want to carry on as much as they can, luggage companies respond by making bags that just.barely.fit.the.requirements. Then, you and 200 other frugal airline consumers try to squeeze those bags into overhead bins not designed to hold 201 barely-legal bags. We parents compound the problem with our required car seats and very-required equipment I mentioned above. I think we should check our bags. Alaska Airlines Club 49 members now receive two free checked bags per member, and many airlines also offer free "at the gate" checking for carry-on luggage on full flights (which seems to be all of them). Ask, and you might receive.
5. Keep cool. Flying late at night? Try, try, to have everyone packed and fed and rested hours before you leave the house. Set out a quiet craft or project at home and let the kids have at it while you sip a cup of tea and relax a bit. Flying early in the morning? Send everyone to baths and bed early; even if they are excited, at least they are corralled. Get to the airport two hours early. Read the paper, eat Christmas cookies, walk around the different gate areas. If driving, take the least-traveled route, and make a surprise stop at a roadside attraction, or have a meal at a local diner. When was the last time you all sat down together to eat, anyway? The whole point is to create a concept of "joyful journeying," and the more effort we parents put out, the more likely our kiddos will respond in kind. And that, my friends, could be the greatest gift of all.
Keep up with the Kirkland family at AKontheGO.com as they journey in, above, and around Alaska this holiday season.
IT'S TOUGH TO BE A KID - just ask one. Growing up surrounded by both positive and negative influences isn’t always easy, especially once kids begin to question who they are, and how, and why. In Alaska, Native Youth in particular are constantly bombarded by past, present, and future all at once, and without some serious roots to set down at an early age, kids often take the path of least resistance.
The state’s Native groups have responded, showing real-life examples of success stories and offering opportunities for all kids, not just those with an Alaska Native background, how important it is to connect with one’s culture. Across the Last Frontier, museums and cultural centers strive to be living, breathing examples of Alaska’s texture, helping kids see that a tapestry of people is not merely one, but many. Below are a few of our favorites. We hope they will inspire your family the next time you visit these Alaskan communities:
Juneau : Alaska’s state capitol is home to the Alaska State Museum, where visitors can immerse themselves in past and present with a comprehensive eye. Featuring both perpetual and temporary exhibits (the most recent was about hats), the State Museum is an excellent place to begin an investigation into Alaska’s rich history. Best for school-aged kids. Open all year.
At the helm of a merchant ship at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau
Sitka: The Sheldon Jackson Museum sits on the former campus of the college of the same name, and boasts one of the most extensive collections of Alaskan artifacts ever assembled. Housed in a rotunda, the museum houses drawer after drawer of art, tools, clothing, household items, and toys, and a number of life-sized exhibits that are sure to capture kids’ attention. Preschool through high school ages do best in this smallish museum.
Anchorage: Many believe the Alaska Native Heritage Center is strictly a “summer-only” facility, and indeed it does not hold regular hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day. But, ANHC offers a consistent docket of events that are well-worth attending, and all include free admission. Try the Multicultural Drumming and Dance Festival in March for a daylong celebration. Check the ANHC website for a complete calendar, and don’t be shy about jumping in to the music or dancing; that’s the whole point. All ages are welcomed, and indeed embraced at all ANHC events.
An Athabascan fiddle lesson in the Hall of Elders in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center in Fairbanks
Fairbanks: The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center on Dunkel Street is a wonderful opportunity to wander through the seasons of Interior Alaska and immerse your family in the vibrant colors of the Native people who have thrived for centuries. See how the Athabascans take time to teach their younger members the valuable skills that will carry them through life, hear some fiddle music, or take a peek at Native art that always tells a story. The entire family will enjoy this facility, a cooperative effort among the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, Alaska Geographic, Alaska Public Lands Information Centers, and the Tanana Valley Chiefs Conference.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then I am happy to do my part. Find more cultural experiences at AKontheGO.com.
MY CHILDHOOD VACATIONS were usually spent in a bright orange Volkswagen Bus, motoring to and fro across the greater Pacific Northwest. Before the age of seatbelt laws, childhood obesity, and attachment parenting, my siblings and I were bundled in the rear quarters of The Bus, lounging on an old sleeping bag, swilling Tiki Punch soda and trading punches for comic books. Our choice of seating arrangement was critical in avoiding the long parental arm and the inevitable “Do you want me to pull this car over!?” speech. It was great. Really.
Firm believers in exposing their children to the natural world, my father, a forester, and my mother, a farm girl-turned-stewardess-turned-housewife (I can say that with confidence in the terminology of the era) drove my brother and sister and I across, over, and through every inch of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and probably Canada, although none of us kids were ever really sure of our exact location due to the fact that whomever sat in the front seat had to be Navigator, and nobody wanted that job because it meant a quiz on the Latin names of trees or the current market price of export logs to Japan. Five hours of that and anybody would be willing to sit in the back bench seat next to a whimpering little sister.
My mother was the glue who held her brood securely together on family camping trips and sojourns to her parents’ ranch outside of Missoula, Montana. Mom was the second oldest of six kids and knew a thing or two about road tripping with siblings, even if there were only three of us. I’m convinced it was she who persuaded my father to purchase said Volkswagen bus; it provided single seating and an engine so loud the driver and front seat passenger couldn’t hear a thing over the roar of that four speed, air-cooled German engineering. Smart lady. She also knew how to negotiate with her children and husband when it came to “side trips” taken on a moment’s whim by Dad The Designated Driver. Ignoring the howls of protest behind her, Mom put on boots, wiped noses, packed snacks, and somehow got us trudging along a remote logging road, er, trail, in a protruding-lipped game of Follow the Leader.
Knowing exactly the right moment to declare cease and desist, she’d wait until the most frequent complainer began a chorus about tired legs, a thirsty throat, and questions of sanity to calmly tell Dad “We’ve gone far enough, Jim.” If that didn’t work, she’d resort to the Urgent Whisper as whining reached an arching crescendo. “JIIIMMMM, this is Far.Enough.” Worked every time. So did the whining, come to think of it.
On the road, Mom would simply ignore our smack talk, the never-ending Poker game, and my brother’s Judas Priest tape, focusing instead on sights out the window, thankful, I’m sure, for her colorful and well-traveled childhood and young adult years. We’d hear romantic yarns about the Orient, Montana ranch parties, and crazy escapades of her younger brothers that lasted at least until we reached the nearest Denny‘s.
I try to copy her aura of calm when road tripping across Alaska with my own sons, but somehow it isn’t the same with the advent of portable DVD players and I-Pod Shuffles - everyone individually connected to his or her mode of amusement. Poker doesn’t seem quite right these days, either, and I’m not quite as good at ignoring the protests, advocating instead the “Be quiet because I said so” law.
But road trips with kids are opportunities for our own journeys down memory lane, aren’t they?
Follow Erin Kirkland’s family travel adventures through her website, AKontheGO.com.