A Kid’s View Of The Great Land: Seeing Alaska through the eyes of my 10-year-old son. [Story was originally published in 2007.] ‘Dude! Alaska is soooooooo awesome!’
These were the words uttered by my 10-year-old son on our first morning in that most majestic of American states, Alaska. We had sailed from Seattle two days before, and on this morning, I awoke early, peeked out the curtains and nudged Alex awake.
I told him that we had arrived in Alaska and waited for him to wipe the sleep from his eyes and pull back the still-drawn curtains. I positioned myself so that I could see his face when he peered out the window at the rocky shoreline and snow-capped peaks we were passing.
His response made worthwhile all of the planning, the long flight across the country and the expense of this trip. Eyes wide and bright, he exclaimed with gusto, ‘Dude! Alaska is soooooooo awesome!’
In Awe Of Alaska
We dressed and went for breakfast, taking a seat at a table outside so that we could admire the sights and breathe the fresh, crisp Alaskan air. Without asking, an older woman plopped down with us, as if she had not seen us sitting there. She looked up somewhat surprised and said with some effort: ‘I don’t know how to describe the feeling. I’m just in awe.’
We were all in awe. Holland America Line’s Amsterdam was sailing toward Juneau, and on this bright morning, colorful fishing boats were motoring in the opposite direction out of the Gastineau Channel to the open sea. The busy channel, the blue sky, the mountains on both sides of the ship, the snow-capped peaks — it was indeed beautiful and moving.
The older woman told us that she was from Gloucester, Virginia. This was her first trip to Alaska, and she said that walking out on the open deck and seeing the wide expanse of beauty had made her feel queasy. She was so overwhelmed that she had to sit down.
That day was the first of several days of inspiring landscapes. Alaska’s natural beauty was stunning. When, at the end of our trip, I asked Alex to recount the images of Alaska that were in his mind, he said: ‘Whales, eagles and glaciers.’ We had seen lots of whales during a boat excursion in Sitka. Whales were so abundant, in fact, that we even saw three fluke their tails in succession. Eagles were perched on rocks and on tree limbs. We saw eagle nests and one eagle with a salmon in its talons. It was all so wonderful and wild.
In Juneau, we visited Mendenhall Glacier (paying $6 each way for the 20minute transfer on a Juneau Tours converted schoolbus). In the streams fed by the glacier, salmon were spawning.
Cruising With Kids
The great thing about cruising with kids is that as a parent, you can give the little ones a long leash. Cruise ships are relatively safe environments for kids, and it’s not likely they will get lost. I allowed Alex to hang out with other boys he met on the cruise.
He and Seth (pictured, Seth, left, Alex, right), 9 years old, from Santa Barbara, became best friends. I gave strict orders for Alex to rendezvous with me at certain times on the ship, and he was always there.
One night, I let him stay up until midnight with Seth, and the next morning he slept late. When I finally woke him, I thought he would be upset that he had missed the morning. ‘Alex, you’ve slept until 11:30,’ I said. ‘Really?’ he responded. I waited for some regret. ‘Great!’ he says. ‘That means I can stay up later tonight!’
Alaska is a place where you want to stay up late. The sun sets late, and the sunsets can be stunning. Occasionally, I would see Alex and Seth on the outer decks. Once, they were peering out to sea. ‘What’s going on guys?’ I asked. ‘We’re looking for whales.’Alex had learned to look not for the body of a whale but for the blow, just before the whale expels air, fully surfaces and dives again.
The real pleasure of this trip for me was the gift that I was giving Alex. He would return home with a few souvenirs, material possessions, some of which would be tossed aside and forgotten within a few weeks. These, of course, were trite and mostly meaningless. The real gifts were the indelible images that would stay with my son, forever — at least that is my hope.When we set out on our journey to the Great Land, Alex kept looking up at me and saying, ‘I’m so happy dad.’ I was too.
The day before he flew home to his mom, he was still happy. ‘It was my favorite trip ever,’ he said to me as I loaded him on the plane. To my ears those words were ‘soooooooo awesome.’
Departing Seattle, our Alaskan Explorer cruise on Holland America Line’s Amsterdam took us to Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, plus Victoria, British Columbia. We also cruised scenic Tracy Arm and Frederick Sound.