When I visited Alaska nearly a decade ago, the idea of having a family was an abstract concept. By the time I vacationed there this summer, two small children were ruling my daily existence.
I first journeyed to the 49th state in 2003 with three friends, on a trip that entailed sleeping late, hiking wherever and whenever we wanted and relaxing over a few beers at night. This year, I went to report on several stories for The Post, and my husband and I decided that we might as well combine the assignment with a family vacation. It seemed self-evident: If I was schlepping thousands of miles to one of the most scenic states in the country, why not take him and the kids — our 3-year-old son and 11
2-year-old daughter — along?
While it’s a far cry from the Iditarod, riding in a cart behind a team of sled dogs on Seavey’s Ididaride in Seward, Alaska, still provides a thrill.
In reality, vacationing with two toddlers in a state with nearly 24-hour daylight poses more than a few challenges. But we were determined to make it work, and we pulled it off by combining a heavy emphasis on wildlife viewing with a slew of kid-friendly activities. After all, if Sarah Palin’s family can film multiple reality shows in Alaska, surely we could manage on our own there for 10 days.
We started out in Anchorage, where I left my husband to care for the kids at the Sheraton Hotel and Spa downtown while I headed to the Arctic on assignment for two days. I’d provided him with one tip courtesy of a fantastic Alaska travel Web site for families called AKOntheGo, and then left him to his own devices. Andrew found the numerous free city parks a reliable bet.
When he got some time to himself, he found refuge at Side Street Espresso, which boasts a novel feature that he hadn’t realized he’d been missing: no Internet access. Due to the deliberate efforts of George Gee and Deborah Seaton, the couple who own and run it, this shop is more like a community collective than a traditional coffee merchant: They hand out free hot chocolate and milk steamers to children, while poets and political activists stop in to refuel and write without modern-day distractions.
“It’s a place to be free from something that permeates your life all the time,” Seaton said, explaining why there’s no WiFi.
After my return, we were ready to hit the road for Homer, a charming town on the Kenai Peninsula that I had visited on my first trip to Alaska. Back then, I’d stayed at Across the Bay Tent and Breakfast, a wonderful outdoorsy B&B where guests are housed in unheated tents; given both the kids and an uncertain weather forecast, we opted for the Kachemak Ridge House connected with Homer’s Ocean House Inn.
The setup wasn’t perfect for a family with young children — the parents of one of the hotel’s owners rent out two rooms in their house, which are accessible by a steep staircase, and assorted knickknacks and dishes stored on the ground level were a constant temptation for our children. But our hosts were friendly, and their house had a panoramic view of the mountains and the Grewingk glaciers across Kachemak Bay, as well as of the town below.