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  • Margo McDonough

Alaska Appeals to Young & Old

When my mother turned 80, I asked what she wanted for her birthday and she replied that a change in scenery would be nice.

Since she lived in Delaware, the second smallest state, I went big and treated her to an 11-day Alaskan glacier cruise. Not only is Alaska the largest state, it’s about as different from my mom’s home state as you can possibly get.

Delaware, not surprisingly, doesn’t have glaciers, grizzlies or humpback whales. And while the highest elevation my mom regularly saw in Delaware was 448 ft., Alaska boasts myriad mountains, including Juneau’s Mt. Roberts, which she would be able to ascend via tramway. If a change in scenery is what my mom wanted, “The Land of the Midnight Sun” certainly fit the bill.

Our travel party consisted of my mother, my husband and I, and our four children, who then ranged in age from 5 to 15. I had the notion that most of our fellow cruisers would be older travelers and was a bit worried that my kids would get bored. However, there was a wide range of ages on the ship, including other intergenerational families, honeymooning couples and groups of friends. The children’s programming was so extensive – and fun – that I had a hard time pulling the kids away to do other activities.

That list of other activities was virtually endless. I don’t think I’ve ever had a harder time choosing my daily excursions on a tour. Take, for example, our stop in Juneau, which has a small town feel despite being the capital city. In addition to that tram ride up Mt. Roberts, we could take a helicopter ride over the Mendenhall Glacier capped off by a walk on the icefield. Or go on a catamaran ride to the summer breeding ground for humpback whales. Or take a floatplane to Taku Glacier Lodge for a feast of fresh king salmon. Even if our ship stayed in Juneau for a week I don’t think we could have done everything.

In Ketchikan, we enjoyed a lumberjack show and a visit to a native village. In Skagway we split off -- my mom and I took the older kids on the White Pass and Yukon Route narrow-gauge railroad, which was built during the gold rush frenzy in 1898. Meanwhile, my husband and the younger two kids became miners for a day on a gold-panning tour. They even came back with nuggets of gold….albeit very small nuggets.

My mom was an active octogenarian and took part in most of our daily activities. However, being on a cruise ship made it easy to go our separate ways as our interests and energy levels dictated. One day my husband and I took our oldest son on a seaplane ride while my mother and the younger kids stayed on board for a magic show. My mother liked having a few hours to herself every day, to relax in a deck chair and watch for whales and other wildlife.

Our 11-day tour also included a pre- and post-cruise stay in Seattle. On the included city tour, we saw the Space Needle, Pioneer Square and Chinatown. Best of all, to the kids, was those seafood-throwing fishmongers at Pike Place Market. On our free day in Seattle, we rented a car and visited Mount Rainier. We could see the lower portion of the mountain for many miles as we approached but the summit was shrouded in thick clouds.

Yet Mother Nature must have known this trip was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for my mother. “Look up,” my mom called out, as we walked across a foot bridge on a short hike at the base of the mountain. The clouds had parted, allowing us a glimpse of Rainier’s majestic, snow-covered peak.

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