uppies! Take two kids under 10 years
old on a luxury-level cruise to Alaska, where there are breaching
whales, calving glaciers and oodles of onboard activities to pique
their interest, and all they can talk about are puppies.
But to be fair, they're not talking about just any puppies, but
frisky huskies in pre-pre-training to become Iditarod sled
We met the pups during one of the shore excursions on our 12-day
Crystal Harmony sailing from San Francisco last summer.
The 940-passenger Crystal Harmony is the only luxury ship plying
Alaskan waters that offers organized kids activities on its
cruises, which sail to and through the Inside Passage from
Ketchikan to Skagway.
Crystal emerges as an unusual player in the ongoing bid for a
piece of the Alaska family market. It's a luxury line, which would
not jump to mind when looking for a ship suited to children.
Crystal doesn't advertise itself as a family-oriented cruise
line, per se. However, if the line wants to go after young
professionals, they need to be able to accommodate those young
And Crystal operates longer cruises than most of the big guys,
which intensifies the need to deliver programs that will keep the
"For the luxury sector, we've got a very good junior activities
program in the summer," a spokeswoman for the line said.
"Extended family reunions have been very popular on these Alaska
cruises because of this program and also the convenience of the
roundtrips from San Francisco for family members from different
Paradoxically, the Harmony's kids center, Fantasia, is smaller than
its sister ships' facilities (also called Fantasia) on the Crystal
Symphony and Crystal Serenity.
To accommodate large groups, the line's junior activities
directors are able to move groups of kids around to different parts
of the ship and to take advantage of good weather by bringing them
on deck to play and sightsee.
Our sailing had only six directors, but the line said more would
be added this summer.
Director Holly Sproule said the ship gives the staff leeway to
coordinate activities, sometimes at the spur of the moment, usually
due to weather or public space availability.
During our cruise, the directors used the Stars Disco adjacent
to Caesars Palace at Sea; the daytime dining room Lido Cafe; the
Galaxy Lounge; the Wimbledon Court on the top Sun (or Sports) Deck;
and, of course, the main, outdoor Seahorse Pool.
"It's hard to find places for large groups of kids to go," said
Sproule. "Fantasia is really too small, especially with a lot of
Activities you gotta love
But the thrill of cruising the Last Frontier is getting outdoors
and enjoying the wildlife and experiences that are uniquely
And few activities could beat the dog-sledding adventure near
The sledding excursion, operated by Shinevalley-Yukon Sled Dogs
of Whitehorse, Canada, was thrilling -- even though there was no
During the summer, these professional sled dogs are in training
to keep in shape, and we were only too glad to help them out.
A van carried us from Skagway's port to the Klondike Gold Rush
National Park, about a 20-minute ride. Within the park is the base
camp for the husky dog-sledding teams and their trainers.
Twelve of us mushed into the mountains in a custom-built sled on
wheels, past Sitka spruce and rocky waterfalls.
The dogs, whose job it was to drag the sled up steep hills and
down, looked pooped. Water breaks were frequent.
But, oh, those downslopes, when kids, parents and dogs felt the
rush as the pack let it all out.
Back at the base camp, we drank coffee and lemonade while the
children played with the puppies as we waited for our ride back to
The Dog Sled Adventure runs about two hours and costs $104 per
adult (there are kids' rates available).
The kids also enjoyed panning for gold -- which is a typical
tourist pastime in the state -- and a salmon bake excursion in
Juneau, a horse-drawn trolley tour in Ketchikan and the New
Archangel Dance show in Sitka.
More active (and sturdy) teens had many kayak and canoe
excursions to choose from in Juneau, Ketchikan and Sitka, as well
as bicycle rides in Ketchikan, Sitka and Skagway.
What's doing on board?
The Glacier Bay program for children begins in the morning at
the Fantasia children's center.
While we were there, dozens of kids engaged in painting a mural
of Alaskan animals. Next was a Glacier Bay scavenger hunt, with
some of the items representing animals indigenous to Alaska.
Later, the Glacier Bay National Park ranger gave a short talk
about the wildlife, the environment and the huge glacier the
children were watching from the center's windows.
The ranger kept his talk pretty much on a kid's level as he
explained how a glacier is formed and what happens when a piece
breaks off. While he was talking, as if on cue, a portion of the
glacier separated and splashed into the sea.
The ranger brought with him a box of Junior Ranger activity
books, which he passed out to the children. In the end, each of the
children got a Junior Ranger certificate.
Following the ranger's visit, the kids played a "Who Wants to be
an Alaskan Millionaire" game (all the questions and answers having
to do with, well, Alaska) and watched a movie about a family
stranded in, you guessed it, the Alaskan wilderness.
Around the stairwell from the facility, which is located on the
Lido deck, is the popular Computer [email protected], where kids and
parents can take classes in computer skills, such as the one we
took on digital photography.
Even with the number of children on the Harmony, I didn't see
kids hanging out at the stairwells or hogging the bars with their
soda cards. Good manners were common, as we discovered. And there
are no soda cards: Soft drinks are included in the cruise
And if some of the smaller ones had trouble minding their
manners, Crystal had a solution for that, too.
Last summer, the line introduced a series of etiquette-training
classes based on techniques offered by the 71-year-old Gollatz
Cotillion school in California.
The Cotillion classes covered verbal introductions, ballroom
dancing, posture and table manners. Though not heavily attended (my
guess is that the parents were unaware of the classes, or maybe
even Cotillion in general), the kids who did show picked up some
So, with a large group of kids to entertain on a 12-day cruise,
and a small space in which to do it in, how do the Crystal
Harmony's junior activities directors coordinate the program?
Answer: With ingenuity and flexibility.
To contact the reporter who wrote this story, send e-mail to
[email protected] .
Kids sail free again this year on line's cruises to 49th
LOS ANGELES -- One way Crystal Cruises has succeeded in filling
its ship in Alaska season after season is a "Kids Under 12 Sail
Free" promotion, which is being offered again in 2004.
The Crystal Harmony will sail 10 12-day cruises from San
Francisco to Ketchikan, Sitka, Skagway and Juneau in Alaska; and
Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia. Sailings start May 30.
Fares start at $2,595 per person, double.
The 2004 sail-free offer is in effect for triple accommodations
only. (Crystal constructed third berths in 127 cabins on the
Harmony a year and a half ago.)
My two children were part of a contingent of 93
under-17-year-olds (out of 750 total passengers) on the
second-to-last Crystal Harmony Alaska sailing last August. This 12%
segment on this sailing was typical, said onboard officials, of
what occurred throughout the summer of 2003.
In fact, Christine Potvin, the onboard cruise sales consultant,
said that 10% of the first-time Crystal passengers on our sailing
were rebooking for 2004, and the majority of the bookings were for
extended families. -- R.C.