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In 2005, Elisa Taylor began World Less Traveled, a home-based agency in Auburn, Calif., and within six months, she had earned her Family Travel Specialist certificate from the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). Like so many agents who focus on the niche, Taylor says her love for planning family trips was incited by her own frequent travels as a young child.
As of today, she has traveled to 30 U.S. states and 15 foreign countries, all while looking out for the best plans for parents toting young adventurers. She’s particularly well-versed in theme park and cruise vacations, as well as national park travel. She spoke with us about one of her favorite family destinations — Alaska — and why she recommends cruising in The Last Frontier.
Some people might shy away from icy-cold Alaska. Why do you think it’s a good fit for families?Alaska fits most family vacation frames: summer. Though it’s peak season, the kids are not in school. Summer in Alaska also offers a nice change of climate and pace for most of my clients. Of course, travelers must book early to get good rates and optimum cabins during the busiest times.
What makes cruising the right mode of transport for families exploring Alaska?Cruising is a great way to vacation in Alaska — you only unpack once, and yet you see so much. Additionally, the children can't go far and all meals are included. This is especially helpful when you have teenagers who eat twice as much as you do. There is no extra cost for the onboard programs geared toward children in each age bracket. Plus, the programs allow children to socialize with peers, to play and to learn something new.
What cruise lines do you recommend most frequently and why?Royal Caribbean International and Disney Cruise Line are my top picks. The activities and programs onboard vessels of both brands are well-tailored, and both offer nurseries for families with children under the age of 3.
On Royal Caribbean, a youth activity staff member will come to your table when the children have finished their dinner and take them to the appropriate youth center onboard so you can finish your meal without worrying about a fidgeting child. They also expedite the children's meals to help facilitate the process.
Then, Royal Caribbean offers many options for fun and adventure that go beyond children's programs: rock climbing, a FlowRider surf simulator, mini-golf, a sports deck, splash zones, waterslides and more. The Oasis Class ships even have a boardwalk with a merry-go-round and ziplines.
Disney Cruise Line offers a lot of the above, plus a full brand experience while at sea, complete with popular character meet-and-greets.
What itineraries have proven to be the most lauded among clients?Itineraries are varied, but for families, I either recommend a round-trip Seattle itinerary that includes either Hubbard Glacier or Glacier Bay, or a north- or southbound itinerary that includes at least a three-day tour.
The in and out of Seattle option is good for budget-conscious families since roundtrip airfare is usually less expensive than flying into one city and out of another. Also, a closed-loop itinerary out of Seattle means you can use birth certificates instead of getting passports.
If you have passports and can afford to spend a little more, the one-way cruises are the best, because they stop in more ports.
What ports are best for young travelers?Juneau, Skagway and Sitka are my favorites. A visit to Juneau must include a trip to see Mendenhall Glacier in whatever form fits your budget — out to the visitor center by bus, taking a helicopter out to walk on it, flying over it in a seaplane, dog mushing on top of it, etc. It’s a must-see.
In Skagway, don’t miss the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad (again, there are multiple methods) and Skagway Museum and Archives, where you can look at artifacts, read stories and get a sense for what it would have been like to be in Skagway during the Klondike Gold Rush. Sitka is special because it was the capital of Russia once. The culture is very rich, and the architecture is amazing. A scenic city tour is the best way to experience it.