Living in south Florida for the first 10+ years of their lives, my kids have been on a lot of cruises….to the Caribbean, South America and Europe but never to Alaska. As pro-level cruisers, we have learned a lot over the years….like how to choose the right ships, cabins, excursions and all that. We now know that the best ships are reserved for 7-14 night cruises, and if you are loyal to one line, you can get all sorts of amazing perks that make cruising less expensive than land-only vacations and WAY easier for families with kids. I mean, how cool is it that you can see a new city every day and all your stuff goes with you and all the food, entertainment, and accommodations are included? Free kids’ camp? Adults-only spa and solarium? Sign me up!
In Alaska, my boys saw snow for the first time ever (in August)! They had snowball fights, created a tiny snowman, ate snow and made snow angels...all while giggling nonstop with happiness. I am not a fan of being cold or anything else that goes with winter weather, but this experience is truly one of the most enjoyable and unforgettable of my life. We saw a huge variety of whales and dolphins every day and the unspoiled beauty of the landscape was simply unreal.
We visited one of the most pristine Alaskan environments, a 26 mile long glacial fiord that stretches deep into the coast mountains. With an old growth rain forest at its beginning and active tidewater glaciers at its top, the Tongass Wilderness Preserve is like taking a trip back to the ice age. Before this trip, I never knew glaciers were a gorgeous clear, turquoise-blue color. The silence and stillness here is what is most incredible to me....the only sound is the cracking of the ice as it breaks up while floating in the sea. I don't think I have ever breathed air this cold or this clean!
Ketchican is an adorable little Alaskan town and also the salmon capital of the world. In every river, we saw thousands of salmon making their way upstream...they were literally packed side by side! Here we chartered a sea plane and had the experience of a lifetime flying over Misty Fjords...with not a drop of mist in the air on a perfectly clear day. We flew what seemed like forever over snow covered peaks, waterfalls, mountain lakes, families of mountain goats and landed for a bit at the base of a waterfall. I cannot describe the feeling of being in a place so far from civilization...this one national park covers an area the size of West Virginia and you can feel the vastness flying above and not seeing a manmade structure in sight.
We rode the White Pass Yukon Railroad, a beautiful old fashioned steam train running along a gold rush route through the mountains with views of glaciers, waterfalls, gorges, and a number of historic sights. I think we were even in Canada for a few minutes! Creeks and rivers run through every small town and they are brimming with salmon coming home to spawn. These salmon are the most determined creatures too...in places with only inches of water, they make their way upstream over rocks and up rapids to get where they must go. Looking into any stream, you see thousands of these fish packed in tight. Who knew there were so many salmon?
In Juneau, we took a breathtaking trip via helicopter to the top of a glacier, flying over expanses of snow covered peaks and stunning fjords.
As we approached the glacier, we saw a tiny rectangle of dots...can you see them in the first snowy shot below? Getting closer, we could make out a dog sled camp of 300 pro sledding dogs and their trainers. Each dog had a house, but since it was summer, the dogs were warm and preferred to be outside. Even the four week old pups slept together outside in the balmy 40 degree weather!
We had a fantastic guide and we learned quite a bit about these incredible dogs, who race in the Iditarod during winter but stay at this glacial dog camp all summer. The four of us were able to mush (race) our two teams of dogs, who go FAST and follow a series of verbal commands. You cannot imagine how much our family loved this sport. And racing sled dogs on a glacier, without anyone else in sight, was an experience none of us will ever forget. I'm pretty sure this was the best thing I have ever done.
The rest of the trip included too many desserts, not enough time in the gym, and lots of whale watching under cozy blankets.
Guess who's going back to Alaska later this week? Yep.
Lena Hyde has been a baby, child and family portrait photographer for the past 20+ years. Her studio is located in Lake Oswego, just south of Portland, Oregon. She is also the founder of Design Aglow, AGLOW Magazine, and Polished by Design. See more of Lena’s photography at lenahyde.com and follow her travels on Instagram.com/lenahyde