Jeff Rivers of Tyrone, GA says that his family’s recent Holland America cruise to Alaska may be the perfect vacation for his children.

“This is our fifth family cruise but I think Alaska is the best,” he says. “There’s all this beautiful scenery but they’re learning a lot too — and there is a lot of physical activity here in Alaska. They’ve learned about glaciers, wildlife, Alaska heritage — and they don’t even know they’re learning.”

To the adults, who included wife, Charlene, and mother-in-law Curlene Loggins, the trip also was a winner. “What can I say? You go to the beach and Charlene is cooking and cleaning and I’m lugging stuff and feel like a pack mule,” Jeff continues. “You go to a hotel and there’s a debate about where to eat and how much you want to spend. Here, it’s all decided and I can finally relax. We can all relax. This is the ultimate family vacation.”

Alaska, Charlene said, “Is just beautiful and there’s always something to see just looking out the window. I like that we are all in one place so I know everyone’s safe and I really like the flexibility of all the meals offered. As a family, that’s really important.”

The Rivers family took a recent seven-day trip on Holland America’s Glacier Discovery cruise that sails from Seward, Alaska, to Vancouver, Canada. While on the trip, the girls, Macall, 13, and Caitlyn, 15, went on the Wildlife Experience tour in Haines where they saw bears wrestling, eagles flying overhead and perching on tree trunks and just enjoyed being outdoors. “It really was a learning experience for them and it was a great family experience,” Charlene said.

The Rivers clan took advantage of all the offerings on the Holland America ship, the Vaandam. “We go to the shows together in the evenings, we swim in the pool, play ping pong, listened to the rangers talk about the wildlife together. We eat dinner together and the girls are starting to enjoy the formal nights,” Jeff says. “Caitlyn tried escargot for the first time and likes it. A cruise really allows you to do everything together as a family without any of the hassles of having to make a lot of decisions.”

But not all parents have the same one-for-all philosophy, which is why Holland America offers Club Hal, a center for children ages 3 (potty trained) to 17. All Club HAL® activities are supervised by permanent, full-time staff, and are designed to be kid friendly and age appropriate. Staff members hold degrees in education, childhood development, recreation, leisure studies or related fields.

“We always have at least two staff members with the children at all times,” said Kelly WIlliams, who is in charge of the program.

“Our goals are to have a center where children of different ages can come, make friends, learn a little and have fun while their parents are confident that we are taking great care of their kids.”

The available programs at Club HAL® on the Zaandam:

*Children ages 3 to 7 can participate in such activities as pirate treasure hunts, hands-on pizza making, storytelling, crafts, ice cream parties and a farewell pajama party.

*Tweens, ages 8 to12 can take part in Xbox and Wii tournaments, relay races, scavenger hunts, karaoke disco parties and participate in the National Park Service Jr. Ranger Program on Alaska cruises.

*The Loft and The Oasis: Teens, ages 13-17 can enjoy mocktail mixology classes, late night sporting competitions, teen yoga and hip-hop classes, guys verses girls scavenger hunts, cooking demos, tech classes and teen-only night club events. When there are more than 100 children on board, a HAL Talent Show is offered. Not all ships offer The Loft and Oasis, some offer only the Oasis.

Alaska is, as Rivers suggests, a great place to bring kids. The scenery is breath-taking and kids and parents alike enjoy sitting on the deck looking for whales, bald eagles, sea lions sunbathing or, if you’re lucky (we weren’t) bears playing on the shore.

Another great advantage is that many of the Holland America excursions are outdoorsy and offer various degrees of physical exhertion. There are several wonderful activities that are perfect for kids such as rock climbing and rappelling (minimum age 8), bicycling and hiking. Fishing, of course, is big in Alaska and the cruise offers freshwater fishing on Chilkoot Lake (minimum age 5), fly fishing in Juneau (minimum age 8), and salmon fishing.

For those who want to see and learn about Alaska’s animals, there are trips to the Kroschel Films WIldlife Center, Eagle Preserve Wildlife as well as several different wildlife and nature adventures that include riding in an open-air pontoon boat on Chilkoot Lake, where exotic wildlife viewing is guaranteed.

For future Eagle Scouts, try the Alaskan Wilderness Survival excursion, a three-hour trip aboard a catamaran where you learn about the green crab, the threat to the local ecosytem and take a short walk through an old-growth forest to learn a few tricks of the survivalist trade (minimum age 6).

Kids learn a bit of history by panning for gold and have a lot of fun dogsledding in Juneau.

“It’s really kid-friendly here,” said Macall. “Everyone on the ship is really nice. It’s been great. We’ve seen bears, glaciers, whales but I like to shop so we’ve done some shopping too.”

Caitlyn loves to fly fish and bought some lures that she’s never seen before. “I’m really excited about that, plus I ate elk beef jerky. You can’t beat that!”

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– Mary Welch

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