I APOLOGIZE TO the Alaska Railroad reservations agent who took our request for tickets to Talkeetna the weekend before Christmas. Normally I am not so obsessive-compulsive about seating arrangements, but my older son was with us, and he likes to know things ahead of time.
MJ is 18 and, up until this past October, had been out of our home and in residential treatment for a laundry list of issues. Autism spectrum, depression, intermittent explosive disorder; the diagnoses came and went like seasons. My son is one of thousands in Alaska with mental illness, and now he’s back in our lives and part of our traveling family...to an extent, anyway - travel with MJ is different.
There are no last-minute, go-on-a-whim sorts of excursions when he’s with us. Whereas previous journeys were at a fast pace to accommodate multiple attractions, the trips with MJ are filled with alternatives. Alternative sights, alternative food, alternative schedules. For everything, there must be a second scenario ready to be implemented, ASAP. We’ve learned that renting a cabin or suite with a separate bedroom provides quiet relief for anxious moments, that ear buds on a noisy train or in a restaurant are perfectly okay. My husband and I have uncovered unique coping strategies to help soothe tense situations, and the phrase “divide and conquer” has become a whole new mantra, occasionally working well enough for a deep breath of reassurance that yes, indeed, we can do this - while including MJ.
It's MJ experiencing Alaska.
Why shouldn’t he be allowed to travel in a manner that brings comfort? Alaska is an excellent destination for people like MJ who crave solitude, an absence of artificial noise, and basic, no-frills service. After all, just because hundreds flock to a glacier and wildlife cruise aboard a small ship with blaring microphones and cramped decks doesn’t mean he should, too. Viewing Alaska through his eyes has allowed us a fresh perspective on the travel industry, most especially so in Alaska, where frenetic pacing and long, exhausting days just won’t work. Paying close attention to MJ’s moods, we’ve discovered what parents of smaller children already know; factors like rest, different food, or a lack of exercise can cause night-and-day swings of happy to sad in a matter of moments. Instead of driving five hours to reach a destination, we might go two or never reach it at all, stopping instead to admire a waterfall, toss rocks into a river, or inspect interpretive signs along the highway.
We’ve learned to slow down, quiet the noise, and throw out expectations long before we shut the garage door behind us. Snowshoes not fitting quite right? No problem, head back to the cabin and delve into a book, we won’t mind. Too many people talking too loud on the train? Pop in those ear buds and move to the back. This family understands.
In light of negative attention surrounding mental illness in recent days, perhaps others will understand, too.
Note: This is the last post I shall publish for Kids These Days. I wish to extend gratitude to the producers, writers, and hosts for their incredible insight and support for the difficult job of “raising Alaska’s future;” without projects like this one, that future might be even more confusing. Sarah, Shana, Jamie, and Jessica, thank you for thinking about kids, and the adults who nurture and love their little (and big) souls.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and publisher of AKontheGO, a website dedicated to Alaska family travel and recreation. She lives a charmed life in Anchorage with her fabulous family.
IT HAPPENS EVERY year at our house. Jubilant, excessive, and somewhat frenetic holiday spirit abounds from Thanksgiving until December 25, when presents are unwrapped, roast beasts are consumed, and goodwill toward our fellow relatives means lots of kissed cheeks and long-distance phone calls. Children fall into bed content, if not downright giddy, and parents clink glasses in front of the fireplace as snow softly falls outside.
Then everyone wakes up the next morning to two solid weeks of vacation. Or, as my husband likes to call it, “Sixteen Days and Nights on the Good Ship Crankypants.” With kids released from school December 21, and not returning to the higher halls of learning until January 7, there are indeed a large number of days needing to be filled with family adventure, especially if you are not planning to spend the academic break on the beaches of Hawaii (and if you are, stop reading this immediately).
It’s not often that a school break falls so perfectly within the bounds of a major holiday, and many Alaska tourism businesses are responding with excellent opportunities for family fun.
Santa is always glad to lend a knee to good girls & boys.
Fairbanks is, of course, next to North Pole, and everybody knows who lives there. Santa Claus House has been the headquarters for Christmas fun since the 1950’s, and starting this weekend, the Big Guy will be occupying his favorite chair and listening to Christmas Lists. Full of cheer and charm, Santa Claus House is by far the kitchiest place to celebrate the holidays, and with most of Santa’s reindeer outside in a nearby paddock, it really does complete the perfect package.
image via Jim Lee March
Just taking the reindeer out for a walk, kids, be back soon!
Looking for more than a quick adoring gaze at Santa’s main source of transportation? Give a call to the Running Reindeer Ranch in the Goldstream Valley area of Fairbanks and take a few of these ungulates for a little stroll through a snowy forest. Rapidly becoming one of the most desired tours in the Interior, the Reindeer Ranch is a delightful journey of understanding the biology, science, and history of reindeer (and it’s not really about Santa at all!). Kids will be intrigued by the personalities of each resident reindeer, while owner Jane knows how to engage young visitors. Note: Bring your camera; this is a wonderful family photo op.
Anchorage residents know that Alyeska Resort in Girdwood is the spot to head for a little holiday fun. With a penchant for treating kids just right, Alyeska consistently delivers classic, affordable family luxury just 45 minutes from Anchorage. This winter, the resort is unveiling its newest special, aptly called the “Sweet Dreams Family Package”. Featuring a one-night stay, cookies and milk, a family game bundle, and $50 in resort credit, I can easily imagine moms and dads scrambling to snuggle underneath those oh-so-heavenly Hotel Alyeska comforters with a vintage edition of “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas”. This package starts at $299/night, double occupancy, making it a pretty affordable option for the high winter season. Don’t forget, too, that Hotel Alyeska offers one of the best indoor swimming pools in the state, with an excellent mountain view to boot. And the skiing? Always epic, especially with the grand opening of the resort’s new high-speed quad, Ted’s Express, ready to whisk you and your little skiers to the top in record time.
Make this winter break a joy-full experience by exploring Alaska, together!
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation in Alaska. She lives with her family in Anchorage.
EVEN UNDER THE best of circumstances, the process of travel remains highly unpredictable, and travel with children exponentially so. On the heels of a super storm that slammed the east coast and major transportation hubs, and with a busy holiday season just around the corner, it’s critical to recognize and address potentially stressful family travel topics now. From fevers to delayed flights, sometimes just getting the family out the door - never mind to Hawaii - is an exercise in pre-planning, patience and the utmost in parental persistence. Below are a few tips that might serve as a helpful reminders once your sleigh full of children is packed and ready to head out the door.
You have the tickets, right?
1. Plan before packing. I believe in flexibility, I really do, but there are simply some elements of adventure that tax even the most seasoned traveler. Thinking beyond the obvious; airline tickets or hotel reservations means your family is better prepared for any situation, delay, or emergency that could stall travel to and/or from your final destination. If flying into an unfamiliar airport, or making connections with a layover, visit the facility’s website for a map detailing layout, restrooms, restaurants, and the all-important children’s play area (hint: it’s a great way to allow older kids to play “leader”, too). Need a rental car at your destination city? Step away from airport rentals and check the company’s website for off-site lots. Most major car rental agencies have shuttles and the extra step could save cash, too, that you can spend on the fun stuff like attractions.
2. Stow extra patience. I trumpet early arrival at the airport, train station or ferry dock with good reason. During peak Alaska travel times - early in the morning, late at night, and over the holidays, travel simply takes longer. Do your part to expedite efficient departure; make sure kids are fed, changed, and have adequate amusement for long lines, delays, and anxious moments. Make sure all travel documents like passports, ID cards, and tickets are easily accessible, and luggage, car seats and strollers are clearly marked with tags to avoid delays at the baggage claim. Talk with kids about the importance of sticking together and using their best manners; opening doors for elderly or disabled passengers, or waiting their turn to board an airplane are all examples of patience personified. Children will take their cues from you so no freak-outs, please.
OMG airport waiting around...
3. Know when to be persistent. There are times when pushing back is appropriate. As adults traveling with children, you are the ultimate voice of authority when it comes to the health and well-being of the youngsters in your care. Unsure about TSA’s screening procedures? Take your time, ask questions, and refer back to the planning portion of this post. TSA has a wealth of information and some excellent videos for parents and kids detailing the “what to expect” aspects of security screening. A fast viewing prior to leaving home may help alleviate a case of the “security blues”. Have you reached your hotel, but are unsatisfied with the accommodations? Make a personal visit to the property’s front desk, and if necessary, voice your concerns directly to the on-site guest services manager. After all, it’s their desire to see satisfied customers, and a good hotel or resort will include children in that mission.
Of course, even the most prepared traveler will experience hiccups during a trip; I think it’s some unwritten law. But taking a few moments at home to research, discuss, and implement a plan with your children could help promote a blissful holiday travel experience.
For more travel tips, visit Erin at AKontheGO.com. Also, check out 5 Tips for Holiday Travel with Kids and Flying Solo - 5 Tips for the Single Parent Traveler.
IN OUR TRAVEL with children we have noticed that one thing is a constant: our boys are instantly attracted to other families traveling with children, too. So we get the opportunity to meet many families and briefly discuss their travel for the simple fact that it is too awkward to just stand there while our kids stare at their kids or their children’s toys. This is also interesting, because it gives us a peek of how other parents approach the family travel experience. And we recently got that chance to connect with other traveling families in the last couple of weeks vacationing in Florida.
I watch many parents with tight control over what their children are allowed to see and do while traveling and I know that they are not taking full advantage of the travel opportunity. Whether you travel to another area of the state or across the country it's expensive so ensure you are getting full return on your investment! Travel is about getting out of the box of normalcy and children should be allowed to spread their wings and stretch out into the world.
Spread your wings and fly little one!
Traveling with children, especially young ones, is an adventure no matter what the destination. I am proud to say that our 4-year old is a fantastic traveler for his age and our 14-month son is learning to be. His personality seems to be a little bit impatient. He has no words to fully communicate what he needs but he appears to be learning what travel is all about with every new trip and travel experience that he is exposed to.
Pawn to rook four, bro!
We are at the end of a 2-week trip with our sons that took us from the Capitol City of Alaska across the entire country to the Sunshine State. In our family travel approach we safely attempt to expose them to everything we can. We cannot help but focus on activities that pertain to children but we also include adult activities to make this exposure more comprehensive and foundation building for their future.
This past week we visited a turtle farm and it was a very enjoyable for the entire family. Our oldest also really enjoyed watching a hairy (human) chest competition so much so he pointed out the winner to me at lunch the next day! Yes, this is what happens on some Caribbean cruises - kids mesmerized by a full production, singing and dancing show that many children would not sit still for, while Dad and Mom were happy to be engaged in a more adult activity.
Fountain gazing: a favorite activity for all ages...
When traveling having a good routine can be a challenge. Moving from hotel room to hotel room in a short time span can be challenging. There are always unforeseen challenges, of course, but knowing where the known challenges are in our travel plans prepares us to prepare our sons about what's ahead. We approach the entire activity as an adventure and keep on repeating our travel mantra often: “this is all part of the adventure.”
ALASKA IS FABULOUS for a number of reasons, but perhaps most compelling is the way the United States came to possess such a remote, funky, and mysterious piece of land, at least by 19th century standards. Don’t know much about Alaska’s history? Why not take an autumn escape to Sitka and learn a little bit more about this territory-turned-state?
Located on Baranof island in southeast Alaska, Sitka is a place of tall spruce and tranquil waters, and has provided her residents with a bountiful basket of resources for thousands of years. It was the bounty of fur and fish that first prompted white settlers to gather on the shores near what’s now called Sitka Harbor. Russia held the land until 1967, when the country’s leaders, fearing an impending war with Britain, wanted to dump the 586,000-square mile land mass on someone else. U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward oversaw the purchase for a mere .02 cents per acre, leaving many politicians across America to cry “crazy!” at his bargain buy, and assigned Alaska the nickname “Seward’s Folly”. At any rate, for better or worse, on October 18, 1867, Russia formerly handed over the new Territory of Alaska to the U.S. upon Castle Hill in Sitka, and every year Alaskans gather to commemorate the occasion. And nobody’s laughing now, either.
Sitka Harbor seen from Castle Hill...
Alaska Day (Thursday, Oct. 18) in Sitka is known for the blending of cultures along with the celebration of ownership, and it’s here that kids can truly grasp the significance of such tradition within a broader scope of Last Frontier community. While many cities across the state do celebrate Alaska Day with a day off from work or some sort of school ceremony, Sitka jumps headlong into festive mode, and it’s a wonderful tradition for families.
Getting to Sitka is pretty simple, really. If you’re already in southeast Alaska, take a day to explore your local waterways aboard an Alaska Marine Highway ferry, sailing from Juneau early in the morning and arriving in Sitka late in the afternoon. Take note of the changing seasons, too, with cooler temps, funky clouds, and yes, lots of rain. But kids won’t care - ferries are delightfully less crowded in the fall, and rates are cheaper, too ($45/adults, $23/kids one way for a walk-on trip).
If you’re a southcentral or interior resident, hop on board Alaska Airlines, the only major air carrier serving Sitka. PFD Sales are happening right now, and while it might not seem affordable to spend $150 for a one-way ticket, it’s still cheaper than the summer months. Or, use your Mileage Plan miles and go for free (15,000 miles for in-state, round-trip travel).
Worried about taking the kids out of school?Many institutions in southcentral Alaska have a freebie day on Friday, October 19, so make it a long weekend; the Sitka Visitors Bureau has a long list of great lodging options and restaurant picks. Be sure and check out the Alaska Day Festival website for a full schedule of events, including the parade, running race, and Coast Guard demonstrations. But also spend time at local attractions, too.
Taking a stroll in Sitka Nat'l Historic Park...
Sitka National Historical Park is a splendid place to spend an afternoon hiking and searching out the large number of totems scattered throughout the property to recognize the rich Tlingit culture and history of the area. The indoor visitor center offers insight into the carving of totems and the popular Junior Ranger program, too, so make sure you stop by.
Don’t miss the New Archangel Dancers, either. This all-woman troupe performs traditional Russian dances in their homemade, and incredibly beautiful costumes. With lots of movement and humor, the dancers always deliver plenty of family-approved entertainment.
This year, make Alaska Day more than a day off. Make it something special for your whole family, and swing into Sitka. You’ll be glad you did.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and the publisher of AKontheGO.com. For more on visiting Sitka with the fam, check out Cycling with Kids in Sitka, Autumn Getaways to Soothe the Soul, 3 Alaskan Spots for Educational Travel.
IT WAS A chilly morning last March when our family hauled bags of food from the car, shouldered skis and snowshoes, and trudged across the Alaska Railroad Depot parking lot to a snaking series of passenger cars, bound for paradise. Anxiously waiting for this day since the previous October, it was finally time to ride the Ski Train!
A signature event since 1972, the Ski Train is part vacation, part outdoor adventure, and a whole lot of fun. Organized by the Nordic Ski Association of Anchorage, and meant simply to transport skiers and snowshoers with a serious case of the winter blahs to a remote destination for a few hours of breaking trail. Back then, the Ski Train cost a mere $5, and gradually grew into a standing-room-only wintertime event that attracts outdoor enthusiasts of all ages and abilities. For the past two years, we have joined the circle of intrepid backcountry explorers for a day in historic Curry, 110 miles from Anchorage near the boundary of Denali National Park.
It’s decidedly cool, this trip. Worried slightly about our son’s ability to ski through untracked, ungroomed spring snow with little or no assistance, we were still confident enough to purchase our $100 tickets on October first, as members of NSAA (non-members pay $140 and must wait until November to purchase their tickets). Departing Anchorage at 7 a.m. and returning at 8 p.m., the Ski Train is indeed a long, exhausting day for most kids. However, the excitement of a four-hour train ride coupled with a rousing ompah band and 600 or so other excited souls eating and drinking and singing, more than made up for mild crankiness caused by a lot of exercise, food, and sun.
Kids are always welcome to participate, but for those wondering if the hefty ticket price is worth the effort, check out the NSAA Ski Train page on the organization’s website. Full of “need to know” stuff like a seating chart, timeline for the day, and suggestions for activities, this is a great guideline to follow in determining your family’s plan for take off on Saturday, March 23, 2013. You’ll also need to consider the following points, as well:
Bring food. Unlike many AKRR trains, there is little food for sale on board the train, so plan on bringing breakfast, lunch, and dinner. We filled soft-sided coolers with wraps, smoked salmon, gourmet cheeses, sandwiches, and hearty muffins. Don’t forget water, either.
Bring the good gear. The Ski Train itself usually remains in Curry for the duration, allowing access to bathroom breaks and warm-ups. The sun shone brightly in 2012, but I do not expect such luxury in 2013, so pack hand-warmers, extra socks, mittens, and layers. Also bring extra clothes for the ride home, and a blanket or pillow for tired kiddos.
Know your family’s abilities. The great thing about the Ski Train, we’ve learned, is the access to all sorts of outdoor fun, not just Nordic skiing. This is ungroomed skiing, so consider snowshoeing or sledding, or just playing in the snow for a few hours if ability is an issue.
Ask questions, and buy online! Beginning October first, NSAA members will be able to purchase Ski Train tickets online eliminating the long lines and confusing paperwork. Go this route and pick your seats, too. Questions? Call the NSAA office at 907-276-7609.
Erin Kirkland is the owner and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to Alaska family travel and outdoor recreation. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and youngest son.
MY SON'S FIST punched the sky and a wide smile spread across his face. We had just been granted standby seats to Seattle on the next flight. We jumped with joy down the jetway exchanging high fives. The boys weekend in Seattle was going to happen!
As the jet thundered down the runway and the plane was quickly enveloped in clouds, my thoughts turned to how my partner (very trusting) was supportive of me and our 4-year old son going on a trip like this, just him and me. I appreciated the trust put in me as a capable father to survive this experience while also having fun.
I wasn't always Mr. Capable Dad, no, I remember a time just over four years ago when I was tasked with putting on our first offspring’s first diaper - I attempted to put it on backwards! Now, as a father of two children, I feel more secure in my abilities. This comfort has come from getting my fingers covered in poop, being screamed at, hit, and just devoting that everyday attention to our boys and their needs.
Yes, I was definitely ready to take my boy to his first NFL game.
Just two guys in the city having a good time...
Our son has been interested in football since we began exposing him to television and his father’s love for the game at 1 ½ years old. Before he was two he could identify all 32 teams. By age three he knew the premier quarterback names. He is a football fan!
On location, in Seattle, it was great to expose him to some other aspects of the game not seen on television - like cheering with like-minded fans (he's a big Green Bay Packers fan, the Seahawks' opponent last weekend). Of course he was sporting his team gear and it was a lot of fun to watch him receive nods, broad smiles, fist bumps, high fives, statements of approval and fans hanging out of cars to get his attention with: Go Pack! Many of the women in his life are not football fans so it was also very exciting for him to see almost just as many women fans at this event as men.
A little pre-game, tailgating fun...
We had a great four days together participating in planned activities and unforeseen challenges. Our hotel room was not ready although we needed down time and rest. A train was delayed due to an accident led to unforeseen waiting time and a teaching moment about patience. I forgot tickets in the hotel room that delayed our arrival to a scheduled event that now seems inconsequential. A “slight hydraulic leak” (I love Alaska Air’s honesty) slightly delayed our return home. These are the moments that make travel unpredictable and also exciting. These are also the moments that can prove to be challenging when traveling (alone) with children. I feel fortunate that we have provided our son the baseline of flexibility and as an experienced father I could make these hiccups easier by providing distractions. Walking around surveying our city surroundings, reading books, making up games with what we had on hand, or just engaging in simple conversations about what was happening made these moments pass. These skills to entertain a small child are now reactionary to my position as a father because I now have experience as my proving grounds.
Worn out after an exciting weekend with dad...
Attention and thoughtful care by fathers is what our children need to grow and thrive. Dads, get involved in your children’s lives in every way that you can. This will provide trust and security with your offspring that can only grow in the future. Yes, you will make mistakes that are necessary to learn and grow as a father. These experiences will also gain trust with your partner that you can handle whatever challenges the family is faced with.
Spending alone time with your kids is a win-win-win endeavour - even if the Packers do end up losing.
TRAVEL AND TOURISM doesn’t always involve comfortable topics of conversation. No matter where we go in this world, nestled close to the heart of a destination is an undercurrent of controversy, whether cultural, physical or spiritual, temporary or permanent.
The Anchorage Museum’s newest exhibit, “Body Worlds Vital” opens Friday, September 28th, and already, a stream of inquiries are flying from the keyboards of concerned parents who want to know, really, if such an exhibit displaying bodies at their most vulnerable is appropriate for children. It’s a good question, and one, I believe, is almost impossible to answer with a blanket “yes” or “no.”
Human beings are unique in so many ways beyond that which we see with our own eyes, not unlike those individuals part of the Body Worlds Vital exhibit. Each of us, from birth, possesses different levels of curiosity, comfort, and tolerance for things we experience. What is fascinating to one will not necessarily be so for all, even among members of our own family or age group. When I was 17 I visited Dachau, a former German Concentration camp located just outside the city limits of Munich. While many of my peers quietly toured the barracks and read the many testimonials and descriptions of the horrors conducted at the site, I looked for lasting signs of humanity among the crunchy gravel walkways and dusty concrete crematories. A flower growing here, a name scratched on a wall there. I spent the three hours crouching low, feeling, smelling, listening. I cried at the foot of a blooming cherry tree. My point? All of us came away with something of value, but none of us through the same method. Would I have still gone if I’d known how terribly difficult it would be? Am I a better person for having stood on the grounds of atrocity? Absolutely.
At last year's Mammoth and Mastadons exhibit, viewing the baby mammoth who was stuck in the muck and died...
Tackling controversial subjects while on vacation, or simply as a family outing in your own community, is one of the toughest calls a parent must make. Fortunately, however, a quality facility or attraction will provide parents with valuable information regarding exhibit content, age-appropriateness, and intended goals. But here’s the kicker: It’s your call. Only you know your child, his or her personality, level of sensitivity, and maturity. Still not sure? Below are a few other points to ponder before you buy tickets or say “yes” to a school field trip:
• Know the goal and mission of the exhibit and/or attraction. Most exhibits are part of a larger organization (like the Anchorage Museum) with specific outcomes designated ahead of time. Look for family/child guides to help facilitate discussion. If you don’t see the background information on an exhibit, ask. Same goes for your child’s school, if he or she will be visiting on a field trip.
• Make a connection between what your child will see or do, and his own life/body/world. In the case of Body Worlds, organizers want kids to see the value of a healthy lifestyle - no smoking, regular exercise and nutrition. Children are interested in something that relates to their world, so place them squarely in the middle.
• Be there. Attend if you can, even if it means taking time out from a busy schedule. Some kids naturally need more adult support than others, but all kids, whether they verbalize it or not, would appreciate a familiar face during an uncertain experience. Your reaction will be their reaction, in a sense, so make sure you are always appropriate and respectful.
• Make no expectations. Your child may walk into a room and burst into tears; or, she may become so intrigued that the forest disappears for the trees. Keep options open, be supportive, and offer a quiet exit and comfortable ear should things become too intense. For patrons of Body Worlds who decide after entering that the exhibit isn't for their family, the Anchorage Museum will issue a refund immediately after entry.
Should you allow your kids to experience the difficult sights, all age and maturity taken into account? You bet. Life isn’t always beautiful or fun. Painting a real-life picture about aspects of living, dying, or suffering can be a powerful lesson, taught by you.
Need more information about Body Worlds Vital? Visit the Anchorage Museum’s website and click the exhibit icon.
Erin Kirkland is a freelance writer and publisher of AKontheGO.com, a website dedicated to family travel and outdoor recreation in Alaska. She lives in Anchorage with her husband and youngest son.
FAMILY TRAVEL REQUIRES due dilligence by parents in both planning and implementation. Where will you go? What will you do once you arrive? Is it worth your hard-earned cash? My email inbox is always full during the autumn months with questions from parents who are booking adventures for the following year. They want to know about quality, value, and logistics. With tough economic times, coupled with a discerning customer base, leisure travel is receiving a hard look with respect to its kid-friendliness, especially now, as more families than ever are wanting their kids to experience the world at large.
It’s not easy to filter through hundreds of choices available for lodging, dining, activities, and transportation, not to mention merely choosing a destination. Whether your family is heading out for an epic adventure or simply relaxing beside a campfire, asking some questions of travel and tourism businesses before booking a trip can turn a so-so vacation into the stuff by which memories are made. We’ve learned - oh, yes, we have.
Now that's a 5-star kid menu!
Ask for references from other satisfied customers. I tend to stay away from online ratings because, sadly, competing companies often negatively rate their rivals, with consumers as unintended casulties. Better to inquire about references from a business directly, a reputable one will deliver promptly. References are critical for adventures like flightseeing, climbing, kayaking, and other activities where safety is paramount. And speaking of safety....
Do tour companies, vehicle rental agencies, and/or adventure businesses provide a safe environment for kids? Ask about PFD’s, seat belts, car seats, and age, weight, or height restrictions before arriving on site for an activity. Fishing? Ask ahead of time about life jackets specifically designed for your child’s weight. Road tripping with a tour company? Check to be sure they have a car seat, and make sure the company is well acquainted with current state laws concerning boosters for older kids. Better yet, bring your own.
Just chillin' with some "hands-on" learning...
Inquire about specific activities for children. Does a company or resort offer a truly independent children’s program, or is an adult itinerary simply adapted for kids? Depending upon the context, either can work, as long as it is safe and age-appropriate. Ask, too, about crew/staff training specific to kids. Are guides acquainted with specific strageties for talking to and interacting with kids, in an appropriate manner? We went on a whale watching cruise once where the wildlife was great but the guide spent a little too much time talking about whale sex, leading to much further discussion with our five year-old that evening.
Kid-friendly rangers know their audience...
Do businesses offer space for kid-friendly “downtime”? I’m a huge proponent of freeplay for kids while on vacation. A wide lawn with play equipment, a table set up with books, games, and drawing tools all go a long way toward family harmony (and that of other guests) when everyone needs a break. This includes restaurants, who score major points with me if they offer age-appropriate activities at the table along with the children’s menu.
It takes effort and a whole lot of buy-in from businesses to create an atmosphere of family-friendliness in the tourism industry. Those companies who choose to embrace kids generally find that the return on their investment is well worth time spent creating a memorable experience.
For more insight into the world of family-friendly travel, visit AKontheGO.com and click the “Family Approved” tab.
WHENEVER I LEAVE Alaska I'm asked a familiar question: “Is it hard to live in Alaska being so disconnected from everything?”
Yes, it is true that we are geographically disconnected from the other 48 states, but you know I live in the fairly populated area of Juneau - the state capital - where I feel like I'm always connected. I'm an urban Alaskan and most people that call this state home fall into the same category. We have smart phones with 3G and 4G service. Wi-fi hotspots are more common than wildlife sightings. I have more television channels than I have time for and I check multiple news sites (yes the same ones you have access to Outside) multiple times a day not missing a beat on the latest campaign “news” and the latest technology releases.
The problem really isn't disconnection, rather it's being too connected to things that don't matter as much as family. So, last week we went dark from the tracking devices of our normal life, the political conventions, world events, and work messages that collected in our inboxes and made a run for the border.
"Come on in! No campaigns, cell service or email here!"
My family and parents all headed to Atlin, British Columbia in Canada for 6 days of solace.
This journey required a ferry ride and a 3 ½ hour drive to get to our lakefront cabin destination. Our 6+ hour ferry ride from Juneau to Skagway was National Geographic-quality. In short sleeves we played, rested, and viewed whales, eagles, sea lions, mountain peaks, and glaciers from the outside deck in the warmth of the sun for the entire journey. In 2 brief nights we connected with old friends in Skagway and rode the world famous White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad. We were then on our way to Canada!
For our youngest son this 3-4 hour car ride was challenging but we planned it for nap time trying to ease the stress on all of us. Even so we had to pull off the road and rock him to sleep before continuing on quiet northern Canadian roads.
They grow the flowers tall in Canada...
During our first travel day of road travel our oldest made a request for iPhone time and he was told that this would be an iPhone-free trip. Maybe he asked another time but he did not seem interested in asking again throughout the duration of our time away from Juneau. Once we left Skagway there wasn't any cell service anyway.
For six days are chores consisted of cooking, cleaning, keeping fires burning, and keeping a sufficient water supply. One day revolved around the luxury of a shower for everyone and washing laundry. Outside of these daily chores we enjoyed the sound of the wind through the trees, the moon, stars, throwing rocks into Atlin Lake, and playing games together. We also enjoyed the setting of our cabins within 100 yards of and 88-mile long lake on an expansive tree covered property.
No electricity, no running water, and no technological connections to the outside was a liberating experience for all of us and being located in a beautiful place with family made this trip perfect.
Look! An eagle!
For some time now I have advocated with my partner for at least one disconnected family trip a year. This experience was relaxing and truly put life and what we value into perspective. After all we live in Alaska and that is what people expect we do daily!
If it has been a while since you and your family have disconnected I would encourage you to do so soon. The experience will allow you to make some real and long lasting connections that will last well beyond the fleetingness of today’s technology or big event.
Steve SueWing also writes about family life at AKDad.com.