En español | Vacations with extended family are a long-standing tradition for Enrique Diaz. But no vacation compared to watching his great-nephew Alejandro Feliu, 14, experience Alaska last summer. The duo flew from Miami to Seattle and embarked on a cruise. "I saw amazement in Alejandro's eyes at the scenery, the glaciers and the rainforests," says Diaz, 73. "We never imagined our own country could hold such incredible wonders."
Indeed, Alaska holds many surprises, including one revealed by AARP VIVA's recent travel survey: Among those choosing a destination, Alaska is the top U.S. spot for Hispanics vacationing with extended family this year. (Anaheim, Las Vegas and San Diego follow.)
Alaska's sheer size — it's our largest state — and rugged terrain make cruise ship travel the most cost-effective and practicable route to the attractions. Cruises offer a number of elements that appeal to Hispanics. Ships provide a variety of entertainment and excursions tailored to every age and activity level, so family members can follow their own interests during the day and still meet nightly over plentiful gourmet meals at dinner. And the "all-inclusive" pricing system can offer good value.
So for the price of the cruise plus excursions, Diaz and Feliu went to Glacier Bay National Park, home of the biggest concentration of tidewater glaciers in the world; Ketchikan, where salmon leap up rapids in their frenzied annual run; and Skagway, the former frontier gateway to fortune (and heartbreak) in the Klondike Gold Rush. Cruise ship excursions can also get you to Mt. McKinley, North America's highest peak, in Denali National Park and Preserve. You can travel in glass-domed train cars with breathtaking views, and conductors stop to watch bears, caribou and wolves.
Save money with these tips:
Know what's included in the "all-inclusive" price — and what's not, such as excursions and alcoholic drinks.
Refrain from buying souvenirs at the first place you see them, except for unique handiwork. Diaz and Feliu quickly learned that the trinkets they rushed to buy at their first port were in ample supply at subsequent stops — at much cheaper prices.
Research excursions online ahead of time. Many ports depend on cruise travel, so there's stiff competition among suppliers. Savvy travelers can buy the same excursions the ship offers for less. But beware: If the independent excursion returns late, the ship may not wait for you.
Travel in May or September, which is shoulder season, and book a year ahead.
Pack an extra suitcase if you take one of the last cruises of the season. Vendors must clear out their inventory and board up for the winter, so you can find terrific bargains on everything from furs to boots to native artifacts.