In July of 2016, my family of four, along with my in-laws, traveled to Alaska in celebration of my father-in-law’s milestone birthday and to cross off my husband’s 50th state with his parents! The 49th state was Hawaii, which we visited with my in-laws in September 2013.
How did we get to Alaska?
My husband and then-seven year old drove to Alaska with his parents in an RV. Yes – you heard right – my husband and son flew from DC to Ohio, where my in-laws picked them up and proceeded to drive to Alaska! Over the course of 10 (leisurely) days, they camped throughout the eastern United States and Canada before 10 crossing back into Alaska and exploring Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Homer, Alaska.
Since our youngest was only 18 months at the time, I opted out of the RV ride and flew with my toddler to Anchorage, where we joined the rest of the family for the second portion of the trip: Seward and Talkeetna (our home base for exploring Denali).
Although it was my toddler’s first long flight (over five hours), he did great. Having traveled extensively with my oldest, I was prepared for just about everything including breaking out the diaper hats when everything else had lost its entertainment value.
Although I had packed two spare outfits for the 13 hours of travel time, I still found myself dressing my little one in a zip up jacket after running through three separate sets of clothes. You can never pack enough spare clothes and having extra is always preferable to not enough.
Where did we stay?
Upon arrival in Anchorage, we were quickly and happily reunited with my husband and older son, whom we hadn’t seen in over two weeks. We then went to our hotel for the night, the Sheraton Anchorage. The Sheraton Anchorage was a decent accommodation for our stay in Anchorage, but I was disappointed that although they confirmed our reservation for two adjoining rooms, we were told, at check in, that adjoining rooms were not available. My in-laws were thus on a different floor than us, although that ended up not being an issue as we were three for less than 24 hours and I was just happy to have to let my toddler run around and also to spread out and take a much needed rest!
The next morning, we headed off early for Seward. At the time, the McHugh fire was spreading near the Seward Highway, and we were worried they were going to close the road and thus, our only means of getting down to Seward. The trip itself is roughly 120 miles, however, the time it takes to make the trip varies greatly depending on road conditions as it is a two lane highway.
We rented a place in Seward to accommodate our group of four adults and two children, and it ended up being spectacular due to its proximity to town, furnishings, and gorgeous view of Resurrection Bay. The house was well equipped with a master suite that looked directly out at Resurrection Bay and its own washer/dryer set (!), and also had a large living room space for my toddler to stretch his legs. My favorite thing about the house, however, was the front deck with high plastic guard rail that overlooked Resurrection Bay. It was the perfect place to relax and the first time I felt truly like I was truly “on vacation” since my toddler was born 18 months ago!
What did we do?
We spent five days and four nights in Seward, and it was action packed.
I recommend, without reservation, Kayak Adventures Worldwide. We did two trips with them, the first to Aialik Glacier with just my husband and myself, and a second private half-day kayaking adventure with our then-7 year old in Resurrection Bay. I was able to correspond with them before hand to ensure that they were able and willing to accommodate a 7 year old, and the guides we had on both trips were outstanding. The best part was that there is no up-charge for a private trip, they only ask that a minimum of 3 people book. Since there were three adults and one child that planned to take the trip, we had no problems reserving a private tour and had a great experience.
The full day trip to Aialik Glacier is not something I would recommend with pre-teen children. It is a long, cold day in a relatively small boat, and there is no option to turn back or quit since you are with a group of other people. Another family with two teenage children seemed absolutely miserable on the trip – likely due to the freezing cold rain and choppy waters the entire three hour boat ride to our kayak starting point. Although the weather cleared up considerably and it ended up being a gorgeous day for kayaking, I felt sorry for that family who clearly wished they were somewhere other than kayaking in Aialik Bay. Tip: kayaking in Alaska is not like any other place I have been kayaking before. It is not the sunny, gorgeous open air kayaking you may have experienced in Hawaii. It’s cold, you wear a lot of gear, and the water can be extremely choppy. In fact, the colder and gloomier the weather, the less choppy the water. Had it been a gorgeous sunny day to start, it likely would have been too rough to kayak safely.
During our half-day kayak trip on Resurrection Bay, we found ourselves suddenly kayaking in the middle of a pod of Dall’s porpoises.
A few weeks later, a kayaker had a close encounter with a killer whale in the same area in which we had been kayaking! Suffice it to say, please be careful and listen to your guide!
The mainstay of our trip to Seward was the Alaska Sealife Center. We all had a great experience touring the facility, which was an easy walk from our rental house and included plenty of sights for our toddler and our 7-year old. The main event, however, was the Puffin Encounter, which I booked for my in-laws, my husband, and our 7-year old. Since the website indicates a minimum age of 10, I inquired with the Sealife Center prior to our trip and was essentially advised that if I booked all of the spots, it would be “fine.” Since we had four planning to attend, I booked the appropriate time slot and crossed my fingers that there would be no issues.
There were none. My husband reports that no one asked my son’s age and my son reports that he had a great experience. I highly recommend exploring the Alaska Sealife Center and if you have any hesitations, reach out before hand and speak with a live person.
Seavey’s IdidaRide & Exit Glacier:
As a big fan of creative uses of miles and points, I am a big fan of MommyPoints. Inspired by her trip to Seward and experience with Seavey’s, I inquired with the booking agent at our vacation rental, who said
Seavey‘s is a blast, I take my little one every year. They do offer a ‘Real Alaska Tour’ where they do the dog sledding, a historic tour of Seward, and a hike to Exit Glacier.
Booking through our vacation rental helped save us a few $$ and also helped alleviate some of the logistics for me. So, on the day of our scheduled reservation, we simply showed up and enjoyed the experience.
The tour began with a 20 minute introduction by Dallas Seavey, son of Mitch Seavey, the oldest musher to win the Ididarod! We learned about how the dogs are kept, daily care and basic maintenance, and the dogs’ exercise needs.
Afterwards, we got to ride the slide! We shared our sled with another couple and, although the sled had ribbon rails on the side, there were no seat belts or other straps. My 7-year old was able to ride in the sled safely by himself, but I tucked my toddler into the Tula carrier just to be safe.
After the sled ride, we met the new puppies and checked out the indoor training facilities! I cannot recommend Seavey’s enough. Although I was distracted by the toddler, my 7-year old seemed to really enjoy himself, and the other three adults in our group loved learning about the science and technology behind mushing. I am now a follower of the IdidaRide and think about the Seavey’s come race time!
Having booked the full day Real Alaska Day Tour, we went from Seavey’s to Resurrection Roadhouse, where we enjoyed a fine dinner before departing to Exit Glacier for our hike. Our tour guide ended up being our shuttle bus driver and he was outstanding – from explaining local scenery and highlights, to stopping off to see salmon spawning, he was a friendly, native Alaskan who was eager to show us the sights.
The hike to Exit Glacier was an easy walk – the first portion of it is easily wheelchair or stroller accessible, but the second portion is an actual hike up a path and thus, I would not recommend a stroller. Note also that the wheelchair accessible portion was extremely buggy while we were there in mid-July – lots of flies in our face. I ended up covering my head in my sweater hood, but wished I had an overhead bug cover instead!
My 7-year old loved the experience, and my toddler woke up just in time to wonder where he was and why there was a giant block of ice behind him!
The full-day Kenai Fjords National Park Tour was the major coup of our trip. Although our trip did not take place until July 2016, we started planning years in advance and on Black Friday 2015, I happened to notice that all tours were 40% off that day! I booked our six reservations that day for $573.12! Without the discount, our total would have been $860!
There are a number of tour options online, some half day, some full day, some including lunch / dinner stop over on Fox Island, a privately owned island in Resurrection Bay.
My toddler is not a good napper on the go, so the last hour or so of the trip ended with him crying in the carrier while I attempted to soothe him just outside the main cabin. Although it was windy, I stayed outside in an attempt to drown out his cries and to prevent him from disturbing all the other guests. A number of other guests came outside and assured me that they wouldn’t mind his cries, which I thought remarkably nice!
Our group enjoyed the Kenai Fjords day tour, although I’ll admit, it was a long day with a toddler. For adults, it is the easiest way to see a number of glaciers, mountains, and all of the beautiful birds on the different islands. The boat itself is large and comfortable and sold light snacks, for those desiring. Strollers were not allowed on board, so I was happy to have my Tula baby carrier, which was the only way I could securely contain my toddler. Having said that, I’m not sure I would recommend the full day cruise for an older toddler/pre-schooler. My son, who is now 2.5, would be almost impossible to placate and contain if we were taking the same trip today. Although the boat is large enough to be relatively steady, it is still a boat and can jerk suddenly without warning. I can only imagine that my nerves would be completely frayed after a full day of attempting to keep a toddler from going overboard!
Although only about 20 minute south on Anchorage on the way to Seward (so not technically Seward), the Potter Marsh Wildlife viewing area ended up being a gem of a find. We saw signs indicating Potter Marsh bird viewing area just off the highway and decided to stop on a whim. It ended up being an ideal location for my two to burn off some energy prior to our long flight home.
For over an hour, our entire party of five, ranging from 18 months to 62, enjoyed walking (or running) the boardwalk, gazing at the birds and abundant spawning salmon, and just enjoyed being outside in nature. My toddler loved having an open area that he could run around in and I loved the high rails which kept him safe. At one point, both boys were engaged in a vigorous game of army – perfect energy burning activity! This was a surprise discovery and I wish we had something like this close to home – we would be regular visitors, without a doubt!
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