February 15, 2016

What I’ve Seen: Alaska Family Cruise

One of our favorite team members here at Thomson Family Adventures, Christine, went on a family cruise through Alaska with Un-Cruise. She is the best person to give some first hand advice on exactly what a small ship cruise is, let alone how much fun it can be! We were able to pick her brain a bit for some insight into this awesome experience.

Can you give us a brief overview of your Alaska family cruise?

I spent 8 days exploring southeast Alaska aboard the Safari Endeavour, which is a small expedition vessel, holding about 84 guests and 14 crew members. We traveled up and down the Icy Strait into quiet coves and bays where we were able to get off the boat and hike through the fields and woods in search for some interesting wildlife. Each day was a new adventure!

What was your favorite part of the trip?

Being out in the wilderness every day. Waking up and walking out onto the balcony, looking around and being completely surrounded by trees, mountains and calm waters. It was a very calming and peaceful atmosphere.

paddle boarding on an family cruise to alaska

How many families were on the boat?

I would guess there was about 12-15 families in total. I traveled with two Thomson families. They ranged in age from 6-18 years old. It was really a great group of people to travel with. Everyone was friendly, laid-back, and ready for adventure. By the end of the trip we were all sad to leave each other.

How was it being on a boat for that long period of time? Were people getting sea sick?

Being on the boat for 7 days wasn’t too bad. There are plenty of activities to do while you are on board, not to mention the constant wildlife scene right outside the window. Each day you have the opportunity to get off the boat and go kayaking, stand up paddle boarding, and exploring on land so you really aren’t on the boat for that much of the day. The crew did a great job of entertaining everyone, especially the kids!

The water was really calm; we were never in open ocean so there was no one really getting sick. We did have one night of rough weather, but even still it was much calmer than “rough” weather out in the middle of the ocean. I think anyone who suffers from sea sickness would do just fine on one of these cruises.

What kind of things were there to do on-board the ship during this family cruise to Alaska?

While on board ship, there is a lounge with lots of board games and arts and crafts for the kids. There are binoculars everywhere, so you always have an opportunity to see the whales, sea lion, birds or jellyfish passing on by. There is some fitness equipment as well for those looking to get in a quick workout. Yoga in the morning. Presentations and group games in the evening after dinner. For those looking for a little downtime or time to themselves, there is a library with many DVD’s that you can borrow to watch a movie in your cabin.

sea lions as seen on an Alaska family cruise

How does this compare to being on a larger more traditional cruise ship?

It doesn’t compare at all. It’s a completely different experience. I wouldn’t even put these in the same category. Typical cruise ships offer a lot of on board amenities, its part of the draw. The Un-Cruise experience is very different. This ship is a place to sleep. The real draw is the great outdoors, the wilderness, the explorations, and the unwritten, unscheduled adventures you will find along the way.

Safari Endeavour - the ship used for our alaska family cruise

Safari Endeavour

Were there things to do in Alaska before or after the cruise started?

Yes, there are many things you can do before, or after your cruise. You can spend a night or two in Juneau beforehand, exploring the little town. They have some great markets, and traditional shopping centers that are great for souvenirs. You can also do some excursions like dog sledding, or a Glacial Helicopter Ride, zip-lining, snowmobiling, etc.

Best advice for someone who hasn’t been on this type of family cruise before?

Make sure you go into it with the right expectations. This is not a typical cruise, with lots of onboard entertainments, shows, concerts, room service, 24-hour buffets, etc. This is a small expedition vessel. The real entertainment is out in the wild. If you have the right expectations, this is truly an amazing experience, and I think everyone should visit Alaska this way. I’d also try and take advantage of some of the excursions before or after your trip. After all, this may be the only time you go to Alaska, right?

April 3, 2013

A Spotlight on David Jaffe, Mentor Extraordinaire!

The legend himself, David Jaffe

Families traveling with us to Alaska this summer have the privilege of being accompanied by our friend David Jaffe, a brilliant scientist, wildlife enthusiast and all-around rugged outdoorsman. This guy’s the real deal, and his presence is a HUGE asset to the trip. So in order to effectively promote the adventure, I wanted to get some info straight from David about the kinds of things he does to engage the kids on the trips he joins. I emailed him and asked for a few words that I could use to write something up… as it turns out, the response he took the time out of his busy life of adventure to provide for me is pretty much perfect as is:

Howdy Joe,

Thanks for the thought and the enthusiasm. I just got out of a two week silent meditation retreat. Trips I have worked with TFA have really been quite remarkable with last year’s being SUPREME. The kids were awesome, the adults were so supportive and the staff on the boat amazingly cooperative. So, from my side…hmmm….As an environmental educator and outdoor wilderness-expedition guide for 13+ years, I have developed various curricula that cater to various environments to engage a diversity of backgrounds and capabilities. I incorporate fun, engaging activities that involve sensory exploration as well as a more academic side. I begin with some ‘sense of place’ activities (maps, where are we, get out and look around type games and activities). More central to the trip would be more about “interconnections” (activities that illustrate how natural environments and components of diverse ecosystems are interrelated). Towards the end of the trip, I try to instill a sense of “stewardship” (activities and games that exemplify the “so what?” of the trip. How can I bring what I learned here in Alaska, Peru, Belize…to my home city and maintain a sense of cultural and environmental stewardship and awareness)…Of course all this more curriculum based stuff is mingled with a healthy dose of riddles, arts and crafts, jokes, storytelling and jumping off the deck of the boat into glacially clad waters…

I am excited about this opportunity. Hope all is well, please send hellos to Moo and others!


I think David’s email speaks for itself – he’s great with kids, an expert naturalist, beyond intelligent and full of personality!

March 12, 2013

Top 5 Reasons to Visit Alaska (and a Cool Slideshow!)

Click to see our Alaska slideshow

I feel like I’m doing the great state of Alaska a disservice by limiting this list to five reasons, but “7,000,000 Reasons to Visit Alaska” would have been a bit excessive.

Alaska is by far the largest American state, and there is a LOT more to this place than snow and whale blubber.

1.) Great Outdoors/Final Frontier. If you’re a nature lover, Alaska is where you want to be. It’s an unspoiled wilderness boasting secluded bays and coves; lush temperate rain forest; mountains; caves and rocky islands; glowing blue glaciers; quaint fishing towns… not to mention abundant wildlife, like eagles, brown and black bears, humpback and orca whales, sea lions, seals, moose, caribou, deer, elk, otters, etc.

2.) An Active Family’s Dream-Come-True. For the outdoorsy, adventurous family looking for some fun bonding time, it doesn’t get any better than Alaska. You’ll cruise in style around floating chunks of ice in the Inside Passage, stopping throughout to explore via kayak or skiff, swim and snorkel, hike forest trails and enormous glaciers, fly over an icefield by helicopter and even ride a real dogsled.

3.) Rich History and Native Culture. Alaska is brimming with fascinating history and unique culture. The place hearkens back to an exciting time in American history, when ambitious people ventured west to the great frontier in search of gold and great fortunes. And your family will get a taste of some of Alaska’s indigenous culture, visiting the authentic native Tlingit village of Klawock and learning about the traditional art of carving colorful totem poles.

4.) Pleasant, Refreshing Summer Climate. The summers in Southeast Alaska are typically pretty mild, with temperatures often in the high-50s to mid-60s. It can be very nice to get away from the heat and humidity of your home city and enjoy the comfort of a mild coastal climate with crisp, clean air and ocean breezes.

5.) David Jaffe – Mentor, Expert and Outdoorsman. With Thomson, your family will have the privilege of traveling alongside an expert mentor, our friend David Jaffe. He’s a rugged adventurer and veteran outdoorsman with a contagious love of travel and cultures. David has a long, impressive list of accomplishments, from extensive marine and avian research to experience as a research consultant for the Nature Conservancy and as a biological research technician at Yosemite National Park. He’s been a TFA mentor since 1998 and is excellent with children. With David onboard, your kids will be constantly enthralled and intrigued.

Bonus: The Special Privilege of a Smaller Ship and Secluded Spots! I couldn’t resist; I just had to mention the perks of traveling on the M/V Wilderness Discoverer. This is a comfortable 76-passenger ship with a friendly, knowledgeable crew. Her size allows for some extra special experiences, since we have the opportunity to navigate and drop anchor in secluded, pristine coves that large cruise ships aren’t even allowed to enter! The Wilderness Discoverer really makes for a wonderfully intimate adventure!

February 26, 2012

Top Five Destinations for your Graduate. And You.

Who’s bold enough to try grasshopper?

Many popular destinations are just plain fun for a young child, but can be revisited – or seen for the first time – with very different eyes once your child is out of high school. Here are our picks for the most sophisticated and exciting places to visit, or visit again, with your graduate.

5) Alaska. It’s pristine, and so different from the rest of the continental USA. And it’s changing so fast, there may well be species, habitats and glaciers that will be disappearing in the future. Take your graduate to explore up close, with plenty of physical activities to challenge you both while you all learn about how climate change is affecting this part of the country.

4) Galapagos. On select dates we offer families with older kids the opportunity to explore the islands from a 16 passenger catamaran. Or, if you prefer, you can join our MultiSport Adventure with real beach camping and up close experiences with those frigate birds, seal ions, and blue footed boobies. In both options you’ll also have the chance to learn something about rock climbing, early Incan ruins, and the delightful culture of mainland Ecuador.

3) Peru. Whether you like to camp in remote mountains with no one but your camp crew nearby, or you prefer, thank you very much, to sleep in a comfortable hotel…Peru offers mystery and culture you can dive into, and breathtaking scenery to explore. Both versions, the Trek and the Land of the Ancient Inca offer great hiking and plenty of time to contemplate the wonders of Machu Picchu.

2) Turkey. Whether you choose a photographic journey, our Secrets of Turkey, or the special Smithsonian Adventure, Turkey is full of inviting people, scenery, and culture. Oh, and the food! Turkey is an adventure of history and art, Roman ruins, miraculous landscape, and the smooth Mediterranean. So much more than just a vacation!

1) Thailand With a fascinating culture, gorgeous temples, and a philosophy that invites conversation…. plus verdant forest to hike, retired elephants to care for, and rivers to raft…. here is an adventure to change your life forever.

0) It’s hard to stop when I’m on a roll.. how about Morocco? Wander the souks, watch a snake charmer, trek in the High Atlas Mountains, and ride a camel on the beach… Practice your Arabic as well as your French, and tantalize your taste buds in this exotic land of couscous and fragrant tagines.

The truth is, any one of our destinations can be sophisticated and enriching for your older kids, and for you too! Our expert guides are ready to talk up to your level, and challenge you to take home in your heart a piece of their country. Come join the like minded and similar aged families traveling with us in 2012 and beyond.

March 3, 2011

Glorious Alaska

Glacial ice floating by…

Weary of winter? Me too. So I find it odd that I have been dreaming about Alaska, which brings up memories of glaciers and icy water. But in fact Alaska may be a milder winter than mine this year – and it has a delightful climate in its high tourist season of June through August. Since that is such a small window, let me tell you – it fills up fast.

Now I know, everyone has gotten used to holding out until the last minute. Maybe you can’t make up your mind. Maybe you are hoping for a ‘sale’. Maybe you are waiting to hear about Aunt Julie’s schedule. But while we were all sitting back figuring we can do it manana, others are scooping the best space. Truth is, the airlines are not offering last minute sales, and neither are the special and unique destinations. So do yourself a favor and plan now.

Why choose Alaska? It is one of the most beautiful places on earth, and so much of it still rugged and remote. So untouched. So pristine. With forest and coastline, glaciers and mountains think of all you can do. Dogsled. Kayak. Raft. Fish. Hike. Bike.

But those glaciers are melting, and look different every year. Plan now.

How do you want to see Alaska? There are big ships that cruise off the coast…don’t forget your binoculars so you can see to land! Beware the seemingly low price – each excursion to get in closer to shore can cost a bundle.

Our preferred method is a small ship, and our choice this year carries just 49 passengers. Large enough to be comfortable – and in fact it is newly refurbished and downright fabulous – it is also small enough to slip into the remote corners of the Inside Passage. Go where few can wander. What will you see? Glaciers. Moose. Bear. Bald eagles. Sea otters. Whales galore! Wolverine? Maybe even wolverine.

What will you do every day? Not just watch from the deck, but you’ll jump into the action. You’ll kayak. Hike. Paddle board. Swing Tarzan style from the boat into the frigid water, if you dare. Try fishing. Or relax on deck and enjoy the scenery, even late at night – there is almost 24 hours of daylight!

Our Thomson group will have the guidance of the on-board naturalists, and the exclusive attentions of our energetic and creative mentor too. Oh, and trip insurance is always included at no additional charge when you book with us.

If you are also interested in traveling deep into Denali National Park – it is almost a full day’s drive from the entrance to the lodge! – we can make arrangements for this extension, and more. Maybe you’d like a helicopter tour to the glaciers for dog sledding, or a trip to watch bear feast on salmon. All is based on availability, so don’t delay – call us now at 800-262-6255

Alaska is a glorious adventure!

January 30, 2011

Exotic Family Adventure Means…?

Kayaking in Alaska

Exotic family adventure does not always mean foreign languages, unusual customs, and strange food.Right here in the USA is a unique kind of magic just waiting for you, no matter what your age. Grandparents, parents, children as young as 6 can all fully appreciate and enjoy the views and activities Cruising the Inside Passage.

The hidden corners of the Inside Passage is a coastal route unlike any other. While the Inside Passage is widely traveled by a number of large passenger ships, rarely are many of the hidden, secret passages discovered. Seeing this up close, opening your senses to the wilderness is pure magic.

What else can you do in this magnificent state? You can travel deep inside Denali National Park for a few days of remote wilderness. Or continue to explore coastal regions with a visit to the Kenai Peninsula. Maybe a helicopter ride to the top of a glacier for dogsledding. Or how about a flight-see to visit the bears feeding on salmon in the rivers? Parents, grandparents, children will all be in awe of the great beauty here.

Join Thomson Family Adventures on one of just two departures this summer (it’s a short season!), on a boat small enough to get you up close like few families ever experience. Kayak, paddle board, fish, hike, even swim if you dare. Sea otters abound, whales breech, bald eagles soar over head. You may spot bear snoozing on the beach, or moose tromping through the forest – hey, I even saw a wolverine!

Thomson families join a newly refurbished and supremely comfortable boat that carries just 49 guests along this route. To the boat’s amenities and crew we add an expert mentor to enchant children and adults alike with his enthusiasm and love of adventure. Complete pre-departure information is provided by our personal in-house service team. And of course our trip cancellation insurance is included at no additional cost. You’re assured of traveling with like minded Thomson families, and have our promise that this is indeed a family adventure of a lifetime.

What will you do on your trip to Alaska?

December 28, 2010

The Thrill of Alaska!

Just remembering Aimee’s amazing kayak adventure in Alaska a couple of years ago. You can do this too!

April 12, 2010

Alaska and a Small World

Arctic swim – just before the jump

Saturday evening I went to the High School Gospel Fest concert at Tufts University. Eight or nine different area schools had come together for the day to meet and inspire each other with music; their sessions were capped off by an evening concert of wonderful music, which is the part I went to. Through an evening of foot tapping and singing I kept looking over my shoulder wondering why everyone looked so familiar. Well maybe not everyone, but SOME of them.

End of the evening, the lights came up and it clicked. Mike, Anne, Conor and Molly – new friends made years ago on my first Thomson Family Adventure, in Alaska. We all live in the Boston area, but I guess we had to travel to Glacier Bay National Park to meet.

This is one of the amazing things I’ve discovered about a Thomson trip, that like minds find like adventures. And on these adventures families who might never have found each other do meet, and children make friends they’ll remember through their lives. Most importantly the memories formed on these great discovery trips are imbedded in a way so that you are bonded forever, whether you maintain a close relationship through the years or simply bump into each other every so often. The stories remain part of all of us, and visit our dinner table on a regular basis.

So this night at Tufts, true to form, we instantly burst into excited chatter about our memories from Alaska, and we all exclaimed it was still the best we’d ever done (I guess I say that a lot – but it really was fantastic!). Immediately we all remembered my favorite story that I’ve told many times. How my daughter Mira – then 15 – took little Molly – then 7 – under her wing and protectively said “Molly, if you want to jump into the water for the Arctic swim, I’ll go with you” Mind you, that water was about 40 degrees, and Mira had no interest at all in going in – and of course she thought Molly wouldn’t either. But Molly had proven herself that week, and was committed to keeping up with everyone on board, and so she said: SURE LET’S GO! Well they did jump holding hands, but while Molly paddled around, Mira shot straight back up out of the water and on deck almost before she submerged. She wrapped herself in blankets and hibernated in her cabin until her body temperature rose again – poor thing!

My Mira, hearing I saw Molly this weekend, immediately said “OH MOLLY!” and asked a hundred questions about the family and how they are and what they’re doing, with all the excitement and enthusiasm of speaking of any of her favorite things. And this is exactly what I love about a Thomson trip. It makes my heart swell that I have such a lovely, caring daughter and that I’ve been able to give her this gift of discovering the world and the many people in it, all of whom have helped shaped who she is today and who she’ll become in all the years of her life.

Mira and Molly

Thank you Molly, and to all the great friends we’ve made in our travels.