Why we picked a small ship cruise: Small ship cruise Alaska booking tips for families

Yes, families can and should book a small ship cruise Alaska!

small ship cruising

The day we disembarked from our Alaskan Dream Cruises small ship cruise, we toured a museum of SE Alaska in Ketchikan. It took my kids about 15 minutes to view the entire facility, so I stopped them at the exit to ask why they’d spent so little time inside.

My oldest replied, “We already saw everything in this museum in ‘real life’ during the cruise, Mom.”

He didn’t realize it, but he’d summed up the reason for booking a small ship cruise. During our nine days on Alaskan Dream Cruises’ Baranof Dream family cruise, we visited Tlingit villages, kayaked amid sea lions, jumped into the frigid water of the Inside Passage, watched glaciers calve, stomped our feet to Norwegian folk dancing, eaten king salmon and crab, seen humpback whales breaching, made native crafts, and the list goes on. The entire time, we were surrounded by multiple expedition leaders (for both adults and youth) who pointed out sights, taught us scientific and cultural facts, showed us which berries to sample off the bushes, found eagles nests and bears fishing for salmon, and helped our kids paint, sew, and carve.

A small ship cruise–and especially a small ship cruise with a family-friendly itinerary like Alaskan Dream–allows kids and adults to fully immerse themselves in the place they’ve come to visit. We picked a small cruise ship for the following reasons, all of which proved true during our cruise:

Whale watching alaska

1. We wanted an unique travel experience.

Alaskan Dream Cruises is owned and operated by long-standing Alaskan company Allen Marine. As a Native-owned cruise line, Alaskan Dream–including our ship, the Baranof Dream–could access parts of SE Alaska that other cruise ships, even other small cruise ships, could not. We spent a full day and a half playing in Alaskan Dream-exclusive Hobart Bay, where we watched black bears with their cubs, kayaked calm bays, and explored the wilderness of native-owned land. We were granted access to the Haida community of Kasaan, where we watched a master carver create a canoe and learned about their ancient totems and whaling house, and we were honored by a Tsimshian dance in the reservation at Metlakatla. When we arrived in Ketchikan and shared our itinerary with locals, they all agreed we’d seen an authentic representation of their state.

Sawyer Glacier

We believe eco-conservationism begins with experiencing nature.

As outdoor enthusiasts, we knew that by seeing, touching, hearing, smelling, and yes, tasting the wild beauty of SE Alaska, our kids would have a greater respect for the planet, a sentiment reinforced when we spoke with Alaskan Dream VP of sales and marketing Mike Wien. “I can’t imagine a better opportunity for young adults to learn how to be stewards of the environment,” Wien told us, explaining that the eco-conscious attitude that prevails aboard an Alaskan Dream ship teaches basic ecological lessons that carry over.

Small ships also enjoy a smaller carbon footprint than large cruise ships, of course, as limited on-board space forces crews to reduce, reuse, and recycle as much as possible. We observed this practice in action on the Baranof Dream, noticing how every space is used on-board, and every item as a purpose.

Haida village

We wanted to be responsible travelers.

Smaller cruise ships means smaller ports of call, which is great for both passengers who want to get off the beaten path and for local economies. The Baranof Dream stopped at only two major ports–Juneau and Ketchikan–remaining for the duration of our trip in private bays and small villages. We knew our tourism dollars were going directly to the people who had made the fine crafts we bought and the t-shirts we proudly wore. We knew our presence–under 30 guests–was not taxing the resources of our local hosts.

native dancers Alaska

We wanted a flexible itinerary and ‘outside the box’ service.

With under 30 guest on-board the Baranof Dream and over 20 crew members, we were always well taken care of. More important than the prompt attention however, was the manner in which crew members adapted with the needs (or wants) of the guests. Crew members were jacks and jills of all trades–for instance, our pastry chef could also lead a kayak tour, and our steward taught yoga–and when the kids found berries while on a hike with their youth expedition leader, the bartender was happy to carry on the lesson with a class in smoothie-making. Our boys learned knot tying from the bridge crew and Tlingit crafts from our cultural guide. When an opportunity arises–in our case, to stop last-minute at a dog sled camp–plans were adjusted and schedules were reset.

Booking an Alaskan Dream Cruise: what you need to know:

Book early. Small ships fill up fast, so try to book approximately 9 months before departure if possible. But don’t book without speaking on the phone to your small ship cruise line. In the case of Alaskan Dream, their offices are located on-site in Sitka Alaska, and their office staff can be invaluable in helping you pick the right itinerary for you and your family. An itinerary may be in the works that is as-yet unadvertised, or they may be able to match particular interests with a particular cruise.

Do families need to book on a family cruise itinerary? No, on Alaskan Dream Cruises, kids are welcome on any itinerary. However, kids’ programming is only available on family cruises, and kids are much more likely to have friends their age on board (and that goes for parents, too). One aspect we loved about our family cruise was the relaxed atmosphere and the additional activities that engaged the kids in a tactile way.

Pit Stops for Kids experienced a family small ship cruise as guests of Alaskan Dream Cruises, for the purpose of review. No express opinion was required; we wanted traveling families to know about small ship cruising options!