Good Idea or Bad Idea? Taking the Kids on an Anniversary Vacation

We couldn't bear to see Alaska and the Pacific Northwest without our sons, so we brought them on our anniversary celebration -- and we're so glad we did! Photo: Patricia Vollmer (with a selfie stick!)
We couldn’t bear to see Alaska and the Pacific Northwest without our sons, so we brought them on our anniversary celebration—and we’re so glad we did! Photo: Patricia Vollmer (with a selfie stick!).

Earlier this month, my husband and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary. Well over a year prior, we had decided to plan a very nice trip for our anniversary. Since we had such a wonderful experience with our 2012 Disney cruise, we made reservations for a Disney cruise to Alaska.

You’re probably asking: “How could you take a Disney cruise for your anniversary? Wouldn’t you want to sail on Carnival or Royal Caribbean?”

I know, right? A lot of our friends assumed (a) we’d choose a more “adult” cruise company; and (b) not take the kids. They were wrong on both counts.

Even without the kids, my husband and I had every intention of choosing Disney for our next cruise. Although it’s more expensive to take an Alaskan cruise on Disney, the quality and backing of the Disney name will make it worth every penny. We’ve met several couples who sail Disney. One twentysomething couple we met in 2012 even left their preschool-aged children with the grandparents back home in Toronto so they could enjoy their 10th anniversary together. On this last cruise, we met two honeymooning couples and we also met couples celebrating their 50th anniversaries (with their children and grandchildren). It’s difficult to find discounts on Disney’s less-frequent itineraries, such as Europe, the Panama Canal, and Alaska. My finding some temporary employment in Colorado Springs helped make this affordable for us.

As for taking the kids or not, I have to admit that my husband and I had more than one conversation about it. We discussed how much money we’d save, the time the kids could spend with grandparents, and the wonderful time we’d have together without them.

But you see, I have a problem. When I’m visiting a new place, or enjoying a new experience, I often fill my brain with “I wish <insert loved one’s name here> was here to see this with me….” I get this way all the time with all of the places the Air Force has sent me—without the family—over the years (but not enough for me to stop exploring the world!). Being able to visit Alaska, and even getting to visit Vancouver, British Columbia—our cruise’s port—simply wouldn’t be the same for me without the kids getting to experience it also. I was wondering if I’d regret not taking the kids, so our 10- and 12-year-olds were included in our reservation.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not at all judging those who take the trips without the kids. My husband and I have done quite a bit of travel without our sons, including a 2010 anniversary trip to Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, one of the most beautiful locations in North America!

Okay, where was I? Oh, yes, I’m explaining to the world why my husband and I decided to include our sons on our anniversary cruise reservation.

We drove out to Vancouver (that’s for another post), and had time to do a little bit of sightseeing in the city before we boarded the ship. I really wanted to show my sons Chinatown, but unfortunately, our best time to visit that area was on a Sunday evening and many of the things we wanted to see were closed. We had a wonderful family dinner at one of the last dim sum Chinese restaurants in Vancouver. Yum!

I was so happy to show my boys a big city Chinatown, despite most of the city being closed on a Sunday night. Oh well, we'll try again another time. Photo: Dave Vollmer
Vancouver, BC. I was so happy to show my boys a big city Chinatown, despite most of the city being closed on a Sunday night. Oh well, maybe we’ll try again another time. Photo: Dave Vollmer.

Having the boys on the trip with us wasn’t completely without conflict, though. As our sons get older, having four of us in one stateroom for seven nights with one bathroom made everyone quite cranky. The boys were staying awake pretty late every night, as the youth programs had numerous events after 10:00 p.m. This cumulative lack of sleep also presented some cranky moments over the course of the week.

The Disney Wonder’s youth programs are very “interactive” in nature. Almost too much so, when there’s so much to see outside the ship. At first, our sons seemed to want to hurry up and finish excursions and sightseeing on the top deck, so they could return to the XBox and Wii tournaments in the youth club.

What? They have video games at home!!! Why were they acting so addicted to video games on the ship? Why did all these other families have kids who preferred to spend time seeing the sights and doing activities with their parents?

Our very-tired youngest son slept during the entire three-hour White Pass and Yukon Railroad trip. The trip includes some of the most beautiful scenery I’d ever seen, and that’s coming from someone who has a view of a 14,000-foot mountain from her backyard! Our son’s eternal nap made my husband and me pretty upset.

I may or may not have had a “Mommy Meltdown,” telling our boys that they need to appreciate the things we do for them and that they’re lucky they were on the trip at all.

It wasn’t my finest moment.

The railroad trip’s drama occurred around the midpoint of our vacation and after that little lecture, the boys seemed to truly accept the feedback and started to really take in where they were and the beauty that surrounded them. They discovered the salmon running in all the local creeks; we had hiked to a creek that was full of salmon swimming upstream. The boys started really paying attention to the scenery and asked numerous questions about the geology of Alaska.

If my husband and I went into our Wayback Machine and had to do it all over again, would we? Absolutely! Watching our children discover a new part of America and help them answer the questions they had is always very special to me and some amazing memories were made on the trip.

Here is a short list of some of the discussions we had with our sons while on our explorations around Alaska:

  1. Alaska’s History. We discussed how Secretary of State William Seward had bought the land from Russia in the 1800s, but was met with much skepticism. The Klondike Gold Rush 30 years later showed Americans Alaska’s importance. Through the decades since, Alaska has presented itself with importance to national security, natural history, native American history, and commerce.
  2. Glaciers. This one was right up my husband’s and my alley, since we had learned a little bit about this topic in our respective climatology classes in college. One of the things we really enjoyed sharing with our sons is why glaciers have that distinctive blue color.
  3. Salmon. Our sons have always liked eating salmon, and during the trip we could educate our sons about salmon life cycles and how the meat gets that bright pink color. We toured the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery in Juneau, where we learned even more about ecologically-sound, sustainable salmon management.
  4. Fjords. Our entire family couldn’t get enough of the mountains that towered thousands of feet skyward from the sea. This was a scene that one simply doesn’t see in Colorado. The Disney Wonder had a scientist on board who offered lectures about Alaska’s geology, and our family went to one of the lectures. Despite the scientist sounding like your most-boring college professor ever, I think our sons came away from this trip understanding the geology of fjords a little better.
  5. Life in Alaska. We met shopkeepers, salmon hatchery employees, and Alaskan residents during our travels. We met college students spending summers working in the tourism industry. We met others who had visited Alaska once and fell in love with the state… so chose to relocate there. Our sons learned differences between living in Colorado Springs and living somewhere as remote as Juneau, Alaska, a city accessible only via boat or floatplane.
  6. Floatplanes. Our oldest son has a particular interest in aviation. Throughout the entire cruise, we were buzzed by floatplanes and at times, we wondered if there was some sort of air traffic control “gentleman’s agreement.” The airspace over the harbors were so crowded with them.
You probably can't see the fish that well, but our son was trying to make a grab at one of the hundreds of salmon in the creek right in front of him. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
You probably can’t see it that well, but our son was trying to make a grab at one of the hundreds of salmon in the creek right in front of him. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Our sons enjoyed looking for tiny "icebergs" while sailing through Tracy Army Fjord, Alaska. Photo: Patricia Vollmer (who was leaning way out over the railing).
Our sons enjoyed looking for tiny “icebergs” while sailing through Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska. Photo: Patricia Vollmer (who was leaning way out over the railing to take this photo).
Skagway, Alaska. I took about 20 photos at this point, annoying my sons to no end. This is one of the better photos. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Skagway, Alaska. I took about 20 photos of my boys posing with this totem pole, annoying my sons to no end. This is one of the better photos. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
A Google-generated animation of a floatplane taking off from Juneau Harbor. We saw dozens of floatplane takeoffs and landings right from our stateroom and our oldest son really enjoyed watching them! Photo animation: Patricia Vollmer.

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Patricia Vollmer is a geeky meteorologist mother of two emerging geek sons, ages 11 & 14. Patricia blogs about her family's nomadic military life at Ground Control to Major Mom. Home is always where the Air Force sends her family, which for now is in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Hobbies include running, despite no one chasing her, and exploring the world with her boys. Ask her why the sky is blue at your own risk.