North to Alaska brings accessible family adventure
"Travel again. Carve out time with your loved ones. Go see a corner of America you have yet to visit. Adventure awaits … and the work is still here when you come home."
Our family traveled to Vancouver, British Columbia, in mid-July and then traveled north on a cruise ship to southeast Alaska, stopping at three ports with fjord and glacier tours.
This was our first vacation with all five of us together since before our son Hunter’s spinal cord injury in late 2019. For most of us, finding the time and ability to be away from work and life’s commitments to carve out downtime, a true vacation, takes a lot of coordination, budget and time. Often, we push it off for another time that never arrives.
Layers of life lessons stacked up for me over the past few years. I know I need downtime with my family and cannot put that on the back burner of life.
This cruise was originally booked in 2019 for January of 2020 for the southern Caribbean. Life took us on a different journey in the winter of 2020 following Hunter’s accident and rehabilitation. We paused and put it off, with Royal Caribbean giving us credit to use in the future. Then, the world shut down and the cruise and travel stopped. Royal Caribbean sent us more credit, hoping guests like us would travel again.
Earlier this year we decided: it’s time to travel again! We chose to use the cruise credit to visit a state none of us had ventured to before: Alaska.
Finding a cruise ship with availability that could accommodate Hunter in his wheelchair in one room and another nearby room for Nathan, our two teen daughters and me wasn’t easy to book in January for July travel. Next time, we’ll plan a year in advance, but if you need accessible travel, I highly recommend a cruise as a means of seeing and experiencing new places. The accessible room fully accommodated Hunter’s wheelchair needs.
Aside from accessibility, I love cruise travel to sleep in the same bed every night during a trip while still seeing and experiencing different and new places. Plus, the downtime and family fun on the ship created fabulous memories.
Alaska was my 46th state to visit. I hope to return, probably more for a rugged adventure with my fishing and hunting husband. But first I hope to visit Hawaii, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Vermont to complete my travel goal of seeing all 50 states.
Alaska’s vast beauty, rugged terrain, remote locations, the tallest mountains, and widest valleys I’ve seen captivated me.
As a flatlander from middle-lower 48 America, I stood in awe of towns being tucked away into the coastal mountains, some only accessible by boat or plane, like Alaska’s capital city of Juneau, where daughter, Elizabeth, 14, announced she wants to live and work in someday as a doctor.
We saw a touristy version of Alaska in cruise ports but didn’t partake in any scheduled excursions, choosing to plan on our own and knowing we could find options for all of us to see more together. And much of Alaska cruise ports include small towns run by people who love and care for their community and businesses.
In Sitka, Juneau and Haines, we found local restaurants to eat at and toured through museums and history-filled stops.
I asked owners of restaurants about how they survived shutdowns and how the return of visitors has been. In Haines, several restaurants weren’t open the day we visited but a few were. We learned inside one place we visited that the local businesses are sharing employees so different businesses are open on different days cruise ships come into the port. The owner pulled out a calendar shared between businesses on who is open on which days for July. With the shortage of employees, it is a cooperative way for the community, employees and business owners to work together to keep going and stay open.
Walking down the main street of Haines, with a listed population of 1,657 in 2020, daughter Anika, 13, and I went inside a local grocery store.
The reality of Alaska living came into full view inside the store. I am used to rural grocery stores having higher prices and do most of my shopping in my local community. Alaska prices come at a steep price. Milk was $8.59 a gallon, 40 cents on sale the signage said. A 5 pound bag of oranges? $15.99. North Dakota-owned Cloverdale bacon’s 3-pound packs, which I love to buy at home, were $10.38 per pound. We skipped on purchasing any food and bought the game of Cribbage inside the store for the kids to play back on the ship.
Leaving the store, I was reminded of the amazing distribution of goods and specifically of agriculture we have in America. Yes, the grocery prices were higher. But in the most remote and beautiful location of America I’ve visited, there are food choices, inside a locally owned business.
Travel again. Carve out time with your loved ones. Go see a corner of America you have yet to visit. Adventure awaits … and the work is still here when you come home.
Pinke is the publisher and general manager of Agweek. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or connect with her on Twitter @katpinke.