Day 3 -This is the “un-cruise”

Miles Singer checks out the cozy yurts

Louisiana teachers Jim and Becky Roth wanted to plan a family adventure for their blended gang of three daughters and son in law — a last gasp before Jennifer Cozad has her first baby.

They considered a cruise, Becky Roth said, but decided that once they factored in all the excursions, the trip would be out of their price range. “So we thought let’s do the excursions without the cruise,” she explained.

So that’s how the family of six found themselves at Great Alaska’s Kenai Wilderness Lodge (www.greatlakaska.com) where they were staying in platform tents complete with bunks, down comforters, even bathrobes to use in the hot showers and were treated to three meals a day and activities from visits to a wilderness bear camp, kayaking, rafting and fishing. “We really are bonding,” says Becky Roth, as they came back from a visit to the wilderness bear camp. “If we were on a cruise ship, we’d go our separate ways all day and only meet for dinner.”

“We like to do active tings,” explains Jim Roth’s daughter Jennifer Cozad. “This is rustic but still makes you feel comfortable. It is beautiful in its simplicity.”

“And there’s no pressure to perform at any level,” adds her husband Jeremy.

The eight-tent lodge — like great Alaska’s two other lodges, one in the bush adjacent to Lake Clark National Park and a bear habitat, another near Resurrection Bay and designed to be reached only by boat for kayakers — is pristine, comfortable and gives families the chance to enjoy the wilderness without all of the work that usually goes with it. The cost is usually half that at the Great Alaska Lodge, a five minute boat ride away. Trips can be arranged by REI or individually.

The camp managers, 26 year-old Taylor Beckley and his wife Adalie work hard to make guests — especially parents and kids — comfortable in the wilderness with special games for kids (how many bugs can you identify) campfires, and Alaska stories. Twenty-nine year-old Ali Hayward, a hotel manager, said she was especially impressed with the level of service. I was too — down to the gourmet fare for meals, complete with wine (chicken kabobs anyone?).

“It doesn’t just f eel like staying at another hotel,” says Jeremy Cozad. “You feel like you have been someplace special.”

That’s exactly what Great Alaska owner Laurence John likes to hear. A former corporate executive who traded Manhattan for Alaska, John has spent the past 25 years turning a rustic fishing lodge into a company that can satisfy all un-cruisers — families , adventurers, eco travelers as well as serious fisherman.

They can stay at the lodge or the less expensive wilderness camps, including the even more rustic one that is designed for kayakers. They can visit the bush to see bears, tour Kenai Fjords National Park, fish till they drop (it stays light until nearly midnight) hike, mountain bike and more. “Everything is within 100 miles,” he explains. “It is an amazing part of Alaska.”

I couldn’t agree more — and what luck for any parent who has dealt with a bored child on a too-long car/train/ boat ride. Sure there are serious fishermen who come from around the world and serious adventure travelers. “But we want to reach the other 90 per cent,” he tells me in the comfortable lodge.

The one problem — families don’t often realize what they really want until they get here, he says. They don’t know that they are going to have trouble prying the kids away from the salmon fishing right on the beach and themselves from the decks looking out on the pristine river. “We can customize it any way you want,” he says. And that’s rare these days.

Tourism is down in Alaska significantly this year just as it is everywhere else but at the same time Alaska is on every family’s to-do list — it is part of our country after all, and there is nowhere better to get a slice of the last wilderness than here, I’m convinced.

It is 11:30 p.m. and barely dusk. The kids are still fishing. The guides are still helping them. What more can I ask for?

Next: No cell service, no internet! The horror!

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