After several years of gathering only for weddings, holidays and funerals, my mother’s side of the family turned my aunt Eileen’s 80th birthday into a reason to travel together.
Eileen had often spoken fondly of a trip to Alaska she had taken 30 years earlier. Her son and daughter-in-law decided to recreate that beloved experience. They booked her a stateroom aboard Royal Caribbean International®’s Explorer of the Seas® and extended an invitation to the rest of the family to join for a family cruise to Alaska. In all, 16 of us—a mix of Eileen’s sisters, children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews lured from California, Colorado, North Carolina and Florida—surprised Eileen on the pool deck on the first day of the cruise.
As a AAA member and a frequent contributor to AAA Traveler, I was delighted to finally take a family cruise to Alaska—a AAA favorite and a true bucket-list destination. The roundtrip voyage, bound for the twin Sawyer glaciers at the end of Tracy Arm Fjord, swept us from Seattle and Juneau to Skagway and Victoria, British Columbia, via the Inside Passage and the Gulf of Alaska. I hiked near the Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau and rode the White Pass Scenic Railway out of Skagway with my nuclear family. In Victoria, we talked my aunt into taking a city motor coach tour that rolled past one of the tallest First Nations totem poles in Beacon Hill Park, bustling Chinatown, the elegant Fairmont Empress Hotel and more.
On the evening of the fourth day of our family cruise to Alaska, the captain announced that icy conditions would prevent him from navigating the ship through Tracy Arm Fjord. But, not to worry, he said; he had an alternative route in mind. The catch? We had to be up early for optimal glacier viewing.
At 5:30 a.m., we entered the gorgeous Endicott Arm, a glacially carved extension of the Inside Passage (and a southern neighbor of Tracy Arm Fjord) flanked by stone walls blanketed in trees and threaded with waterfalls. An hour later, Eileen met us on the port side to watch the Dawes Glacier come into view. The captain stopped the ship within a half-mile of the massive wall of blue ice, then spun her 360 degrees so that passengers everywhere could observe its beauty.
Our side waited in whispers, cameras raised in hopes of catching a calving iceberg. We heard the glacier shift and a telltale thundering echoed off the shores, but no ice fell. Still, we were not disappointed. The up-close glacier, the seals sliding on and off floating ice below it, the blowing whales and the lone grizzly bear foraging along the shore—all shared with my extended family—combined into a family cruise to Alaska we won’t soon forget.