Alaska’s Premier National Park Escorted Tour

NPT-Denali-hutson.l4If you are planning a trip to Alaska this summer and are concerned about putting together the perfect trip or traveling independently, you may find that the perfect fit is a 7-night Escorted Tour of Alaska’s National Parks.  The tour includes many of the best hotels, tours, and transportation found in Alaska Tour & Travel’s own custom travel packages but also includes many meals, luggage handling, and a professional escort.  The National Park Escorted tour is a group tour with Monday departures – for 2017 these departures dates are May 22, May 29, June 12, June 26, July 10, August 7, August 21 or September 4.  (more…)

What to Pack For Your Vacation to Alaska

What should I pack for my trip to Alaska? The question comes up for every traveler.

With Alaska’s diverse climate it can be tricky, so here are a few tips to get you on your way. It’s important to be prepared for a variety of activities and conditions. Alaska’s summer temperatures range from 40 degrees F to 70 degrees F. For more information on our average temperatures please check out our page on Alaska’s Weather. The first key element in thinking about your wardrobe for Alaska is layers.  On an average day we have a variety of conditions so if you are going to be outside it’s good to layer up with a T-shirt, sweater or fleece jacket, and top it off with a quality rain coat.  For the fleece or sweater layer it’s important to consider a wool or polyester product. Cotton is not a good option because once it’s wet, it’s no longer warm.

The second key item would be your footwear. Overall, Alaska is very casual and sneakers are acceptable just about anywhere. we would encourage you to have a comfortable pair of walking shoes or tennis shoes. If you plan to be fairly active you may want to make your second set of shoes a light hiking boot. If a portion of your trip will be by cruise ship you may want to consider a pair of dress shoes.

Here is a list of items to make sure you have included in your packing:

Clothing that can be layered (you may even want to consider a pair of long underwear if you are planning on any hiking, kayaking, or river rafting)

  • Rain Coat
  • Light Fleece Jacket
  • Hat and gloves (sometimes it can be chilly especially out on the water or near any of the glaciers)
  • Comfortable Shoes
  • Camera
  • A Backpack or Carry on type bag
  • Binoculars (optional)
  • Drivers License and or Passport (a passport is required if you are taking an Alaskan Cruise)
  • Insect Repellent
  • Personal toiletries
  • Medications (some of our remote areas will not have pharmacies available)
  • Swimsuit (only if you plan on using the hotel pool or hot tubs where available)

Lastly, if you’ve booked a package through Alaska Tour & Travel be sure to read through each of the tour itineraries included in your documents.  If the tour operators such as rafting, hiking, or kayaking have any  particular suggestions on what to bring with you for your excursion we’ll have that noted in the itinerary.

A Trip To Kantishna – Denali Park’s Best Experience

KantishnaWe are often asked by visitors how to experience the best of Denali National Park. Without question, the best opportunity to see Mt. McKinley, observe wildlife, and experience a more exclusive, intimate perspective of Denali National Park is to make sure that a visit to Kantishna is included in your travel plans either as a day trip or a two night back-country lodging adventure. Located 92 miles deep into the Park, Kantishna is close to Wonder Lake. This lake, known for its epic reflections of Mt. McKinley, is something most Denali visitors see only on postcards as they don’t get deep enough into the National Park. The rolling foothills of Kantishna with views of Mt. McKinley, the historic streams that seemingly sparkle with gold, the abundant wildlife, and the premium lodging in Denali make the all day journey an adventure that will sure to be the highlight of your trip to Alaska. (more…)

Alaska On A Budget

blog-glaciers-CarmenFor many visitors, Alaska is the trip of a lifetime. Visitors are often surprised that everything in Alaska costs more than they think it will. What makes Alaska so expensive? There are two key factors –Alaska is a long way from the rest of the lower 48 states and the summer tourism season is only four months long. All products that arrive in Alaska travel a long way to get here so everything from food to clothes to souvenirs are priced higher to cover the additional shipping costs. Hotels in Denali, Talkeetna and even some in Seward close after the summer tourism season so they have only four months to make their business profitable. The best plan is to be prepared, keep in mind that it is the trip of a lifetime and budget accordingly. I will also share some ideas on how to save money on your Alaskan vacation.

The most obvious way to spend less is to travel during non-peak times. There are some hotels that offer lower rates during May and September. Be sure to ask your reservation agent which hotels offers early and late season discounts as not every hotel offers lower rates during this time. The Alaska Railroad also offers lower rates during the early and late season. Most tours have the same price throughout the summer season.

Accommodations
The beauty of Alaska will not be found within the walls of your hotel room. If you are on a limited budget, consider value properties rather than higher end accommodations and book early to take advantage of specials. Look for hotels that have breakfast included, although you will find few hotels outside of Anchorage that offer this amenity.

Transportation
Choosing the most economical transportation depends on the size of your traveling party. For parties of four or more, traveling by rental car is your least expensive option. For a couple traveling independently choose bus travel over rail travel.

For those who wish to include rail travel, we recommend that you travel one direction by train and one way by bus. This gives you the opportunity to see and experience the scenery of the rail belt and the Alaskan road system. You also can choose between levels of train service with the standard service on the Alaska Railroad as the least expensive option. If you would like to upgrade to dome service, be sure to travel on the Wilderness Express train which offers dome seating and excellent service at a rate far less than the Goldstar dome service offered by the Alaska Railroad. Another transportation option to consider is renting a motorhome. This offers accommodations and transportation in one package. Be sure to budget for campgrounds and fuel costs!

Tours
My best suggestion for tours is to budget for the “must see” trips. I truly believe that any trip to Alaska would not be complete without a day cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park or Prince William Sound, a flightseeing trip to Mt. McKinley and a bus tour into Denali National Park. These tours may seem expensive but the experience they offer is well worth the price!

denali-fall-bus-tourDenali National Park is only accessible by bus. Generally, we recommend taking a tour into the Park to maximize your experience. A tour bus includes narration about the history, geology and wildlife of Denali National Park and a boxed lunch. A less expensive option is the shuttle bus service offered by the National Park Service. This service is more of a transportation service rather than a tour. It does not include narration but you would still get to travel the Park Road! For the budget minded traveler, look for hikes in each area you visit. Hiking is a great inexpensive way to see what Alaska has to offer. We generally recommend guided hikes but if cost is an issue you can do it on your own you just need to be sure to pack and plan accordingly.

For visitors that want to see glaciers but cannot afford to take a day cruise, consider visiting a number of the roadside glaciers. Exit Glacier in Seward, Byron Glacier in Portage and the Matanuska Glacier north of Palmer offer amazing glacial views and give you an up close experience with Alaska’s rivers of ice. The last suggestion I have is to be sure to visit our Alaska travel deals page. We offer several rebates that are listed on this page. It will also let you know about hotel and tour specials.

Once the planning and budgeting is complete be sure to relax and appreciate the beauty of Alaska and treasure your vacation to a unique travel destination.

Alaska’s Wilderness Express Dome Rail Service

IMG_7564Travel by rail in Alaska received an infusion when the Wilderness Express was purchased by Alaskan owned and operated Premier Alaska Tours prior to last summer. The Wilderness Express is a deluxe, private dome rail service that travels on the same route and schedule as the Alaska Railroad’s Denali Star service between Anchorage, Talkeetna, Denali and Fairbanks. In fact, it’s attached and beginning this year will act as the “caboose” providing for clear rear views from its outside viewing platform.

Traditionally a rail service that only Celebrity and Royal Caribbean Cruise Line passengers were able to experience, a few independent Alaska visitors traveled on the private dome rail service in 2014 and their reviews were excellent. The dome cars offer 80 leather upholstered seats in the upper dome that recline. The upper dome service also offers a full bar service and espresso bar while the lower dome’s host the restaurant, gift shop, restrooms, and viewing platform. (more…)

Here Comes The Sun – The Norwegian Sun!

norwegian-sunNew for 2013, Norwegian Cruise Line has deployed the Norwegian Sun, to what we believe is the best cruise itinerary that can be offered in Alaska – a 7-day Gulf of Alaska cruise. The Norwegian Sun’s northbound and southbound cruises do not travel to all of the same ports. The Northbound cruises from Vancouver travel to Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay, and Hubbard Glacier before arriving in Whittier. The southbound cruises from Whittier travel to Hubbard Glacier, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, and Ketchikan before arriving in Vancouver, BC.

The primary difference is that the northbound Norwegian Sun cruise includes a visit to Glacier Bay National Park whereas the southbound cruises include Icy Strait Point. Icy Strait Point is located on Chichagof Island, about 1.5 miles away from the town of Hoonah. Icy Strait showcases the local native Tinglet culture in addition to the many of the typical shore excursions found in other Alaska ports such as saltwater fishing and whale watching excursions. It’s hard to imagine beating a trip into Glacier Bay National Park on a cruise ship, but Icy Strait Point has an excellent reputation so both cruise itineraries are bound to be well received by cruisers. (more…)

Best Transportation Options for Alaska Travel

How to travel through Alaska is a difficult decision.  Should you travel by rail, by bus or by rental car?  Taking a train allows you to travel in style. You can get up, walk around and have a meal in route.  On the motorcoach you travel faster for less money and the bus can stop for photos along the way.    We think that we have the perfect solution!  Alaska Tour & Travel recommends traveling one way by rail and the other by motorcoach.  This solution offers many benefits which include cost savings, time savings and getting to see the most diverse Alaskan scenery!

For example, if you would like to visit Denali for the wildlife, Talkeetna for views of Mt. Denali and Seward for glaciers we recommend the following itinerary.  Travel by rail from Anchorage to Denali, spend two nights and take a tour into Denali National Park.  Then travel by Park Connection Motorcoach to Talkeetna, spend one night and enjoy a flightseeing trip around Mt. Denali.  The next day travel once again by motorcoach from Talkeetna to Seward, spend two nights and travel on a day cruise into Kenai Fjords National Park to see glaciers and hopefully catch sight of a whale.  Then return to Anchorage by rail.  This loop allows you to experience the benefits of both modes of transportation and you get to enjoy the scenery on both the railway and the road routes. Our packages can be customized however you would like them so you are free to use only motorcoach service or only rail service if that is what you prefer.  (more…)

Best Months for Travel to Alaska

Alaska is a great place to visit anytime of the year.  The “best” time really depends on what you want to do in Alaska.  For instance – the driest, warmest months don’t offer views of the Aurora Borealis due to extended hours of daylight, so if the Northern Lights are what you are coming to see June is not the best time for you to visit. Most visitors come to Alaska from mid-May to mid-September, with the peak season from June 15th to August 15th.   The peak period offers the most tour options, the best weather and the best wildlife viewing opportunities.  Below is a breakdown of what is great and not so great about different travel time periods.

MAY is a great value time to visit Alaska – the weather is warming up, the trees are blooming and the grass gets greener every day.  Usually, May is a drier month than later in the summer.  Alaska tends to get more rain as the summer goes on.   Temperatures are cool at the start of May and warm up as the month progresses.  The days are long and Alaska begins to bloom.  The trees in Anchorage usually leaf out around May 10th and a bit later than that further north. Keep in mind that the further north you go during early May, the more chance you have of encountering ice and snow that have yet to melt.  Summer is slow to come in Interior Alaska!  (more…)

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