Surprising My Dad with His Dream Vacation to Alaska

by Karen Hannan

Karen and her dad, Cliff, boarding Diamond Princess for hteir fatherdaughter trip of a lifetime
Karen and her dad, Cliff, boarding Diamond Princess for hteir fatherdaughter trip of a lifetime

My dad is a retired plumber and one of his favorite things to do is to hang out at the local coffee shop, talking with his buddies.  They discuss just about everything including greatest trips, past and present. Dad has many vacations to share because when I was growing up; my family took car trips to see much of the United States.Dad and mom also traveled to Europe, but I knew he still had one special place on his travel bucket list. He wanted to go to Alaska and the nation’s “last frontier” brought out the wanderlust in him.

These thoughts came to me in a rush as I sat at my travel agent’s desk, frustrated because my South Africa vacation wasn’t coming together as I had hoped. What if my travel agent, Mary Hartmann, could book a couple of cabins on a cruise to Alaska instead? I could give dad that vacation he’d dreamt about, along with a new story to share at the coffee shop.

I got mom’s blessing and put the trip on a 48-hour hold. When I went over to my parents’ house that night, I told dad he needed to clear his schedule. “What for?” he asked, confused. The pleasure it gave me to tell him I had two tickets for an Alaskan cruise is a memory I will relive forever. My dad, Cliff Seldal, a stoic Marine who served in Korea, had tears instantly fill his eyes as he replied, “I’m in!”

We boarded Diamond Princess with the same sense of exploration we had when we traveled as a family and stopped at every historical site and scenic overlook. We spent each night preparing the itinerary for the next day, circling the cruise ship events that intrigued us most. Dad’s genuine excitement throughout our trip was like a kid experiencing Christmas for the first time; it seemed like every time I turned around, he was chatting with yet another new-found friend.

Three of our greatest memories are the Alaska shore excursions we took. Dad selected one in the gold rush town of Skagway, where we rode the famous White Pass railroad and bought hats and other mementos. In Juneau, we were thrilled to see whales swimming by, their great flukes plunging in and out of the ocean. Our third stop was Ketchikan, where we visited the Totem Heritage Center and learned about the area’s logging past.

My dad and I have never spent nine days together, just the two of us, at any time in my life. Each morning, we’d start the day with a mile-long walk around the decks of the cruise ship, then remained busy with our list of onboard activities which included food and ice-carving demonstrations, a tour of the ship’s vast kitchens, comedy shows and nature programs.  We even tracked down a Veteran’s get-together.

I am so grateful I got to appreciate him as an individual, a whole person and not just the father I used to butt heads with growing up, or the busy granddad surrounded by grandkids. The bonding experience we shared was certainly the most amazing part of this trip for me.

When dad told me he was ready to go again next year, it seemed as if a new vista in his life had opened up. Another thing had changed for him too. At the neighborhood coffee shop, he had an Alaskan tale to trade. My brother, who took over the family plumbing business, witnessed his return and says he was absolutely giddy telling everyone about the trip. He’s since been privy to the numerous rehashings of our Alaska cruise.

I do have one more surprise for dad, a final cap to our big Alaskan adventure. He doesn’t know I’ve shared our story on this blog. I know he’ll enjoy telling his buddies about it and having another reason to boast about our father/daughter trip of a lifetime.

Karen resides in DeKalb, Illinois and has enjoyed one Princess cruise with her dad, Cliff.