Because we are traveling full time at the moment, we have to distinguish clearly between what we would do if we were on vacation and our responsibilities of daily life. It is so easy to sleep late when kids allow you to, and it seems only natural to act like a tourist when you are in a new environment. Our family agreement is not to live like we are permanently on vacation, so we can spend time on basic writing, reading and math with the kids and work online. Sometimes however we make a true exception and willingly decide to break the budget. Visiting a National Park by boat is the perfect occasion. We book a Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise. This time of the year the kids join us for free.
Seasick or not?
We aren’t early birds and have booked the 11:30 cruise. Expected to be there an hour early, we make it in the nick of time. It is a beautiful day. There are no clouds and there is little wind. Because of previous experience, I ask at the desk if I should take something for motion sickness. They say it is calm today, but I can take some if it makes me feel more comfortable. When we enter the ship I am told immediately to take a pill if I am prone to sea sickness. During the safety briefing they recommend Dramamine because of the waves we will encounter on the ocean, even though it is calm today.
We find a table indoors, towards the bow of the boat. While we cruise through Resurrection Bay, we enjoy seeing a sea otter with babies. Not that I see much; I am pretty much stuck on my seat holding on to Finn as tight as I can. He finds the motion of this fairly small boat very scary, and we have not even hit the ocean yet. Before long they serve lunch. The kids have chicken nuggets with chips and even a little piece of chocolate. We get a chicken wrap. I don’t know why children are always stuck with chicken nuggets. Our kids end up eating my chicken wrap. Not sure if I am going to keep sea sickness at bay, I don’t really eat and take another Dramamine instead.
Now that we have left the bay, the waves are getting increasingly worse. When Antoine is going outside to attempt to get a picture (try that while hanging on to a rambunctious two-year-old) Zoe gets sick but immediately recovers. Meanwhile the crew is walking around asking if everyone is still okay, handing out sick baggies while insisting that the ocean is calm. Okay then. Finn is not sick, but he is scared to death, clinging on to me for dear life. We try to see a whale that briefly shows her head, while bumping up and down on the waves. Not much luck. The views on the shore are stunning. Carved out by glaciers, the shore goes down as steeply under the water as above and the boat can make its way through little canals between rocks and go right up to the shore without hitting ground. This allows us to get a close view of harbor seals.
The captain announces that we will be in another fjord shortly where the water will calm down. I don’t make it but run outside with a screaming Finn attached to my leg. On the deck it is better and this part of the boat is a bit more stable. We can relax a little more now that we aren’t constantly jolted around. My stomach turns back right side up and we begin enjoying the ride, I am so glad that Zoe is completely fine again. Feeling icky yourself is so much worse when caring for kids. At this point I take over the bouncing toddler so that Antoine can get a better look and take pictures. At first I wonder why on earth we felt like we needed to go on a six hour tour with the entire family. Wouldn’t it have been much more practical to have Antoine take one child with him and leave it at that? Much cheaper also especially if all I am going to do is be sick.
Before we know it, we reach the end of the fjord. While we stopped by another glacier earlier on the ride, this one is much more spectacular. As we get closer, ice surrounds the boat. Finn has calmed down and gets excited about what he sees around him. While we stand outside to experience as much of the glacial activity as possible, he alternates between eating more of his lunch inside and joining us. Zoe is totally into the glacier. When someone scoops a large piece of ice out of the water, she pushes ahead to be able to hold it. Zoe may be shy, but she sure recognizes opportunities.
It is fun to hear about little facts about the Aialik glacier. How this mass of ice coming from the Harding Ice Field moves a maximum of 8 feet a day, and how the absorption of the light makes that all glaciers have a blue shine. Most impressive however is when a crack forms and a large piece of the glacier crashes down into the water. It sounds a little like an earthquake taking place, and the waves that follow are a pretty decent size. We can feel the cold coming from the ice and it is one of those moments where you want to engage all you senses and experience it to the maximum. Good thing that even Metta understands the concept of ice, and is entertained by everything that floats around us.
I am concerned about the ride back to Seward. I try the ginger ale that they hand out for free, and decide on a third pill for the ride back. Slightly more than the recommended dose but I will survive. We settle on the back of the boat, outside. Fresh air and less movement in the stern. Zoe another half Dramamine, and for Finn and Metta I opt for homeopathy. After all they were fine on the way down. A pill for Antoine as well and we are golden.
What we’ve all been waiting for
Then a much wished for opportunity arises: a whale. For at least half an hour we hang around, still on calm water in the fjord, while the whale shows up every so often. I am managing Metta who insists on climbing to the crow’s nest but I am enjoying the heck out of this moment. I do not have enough focus to take good pictures but how incredible to see the beast get out of the water and dive back in, showing its impressive tail.
Back on the ocean Finn is frightened all over again, while Zoe is working on her sea legs, dancing around. We have to make sure she holds on when the ship maneuvers the waves once again. Before we get into the Bay we hang out by a massive rock, where we see all kinds of birds including puffins, as well as a large group of sea lions. At this point I am starving and finally having lunch. It smells like fresh cookies, and sure enough they come by with freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. Antoine tries to buy a coffee, and because we are almost at the end of the trip he gets it for free.
Would I do this tour again?
Adventuring on a Kenai Fjords National Parks Cruise with kids was quite fabulous and I would do it again. But I would not entirely recommend it with a toddler. It takes a lot of effort to keep the child safe and that takes away from the experience. But hey, we can hardly leave her in the trailer with the dog. Another confusing thing is that we were not the only ones dealing with sea sickness. When we got back to the campground, a seasoned Alaskan fisherman who had been out on his boat, mentioned how rough it was today and that he came back early. It made me feel better. If even calm sea makes me sick, how will I ever go on a cruise? Is telling people it is not as bad as it seems some sort of psychological trick?