State of Alaska tourism offices predict nearly two million people will fly, float, drive, and cycle their way around the 49th state in 2015. While Alaska is indeed a very large place, the resources for tourism products and services are relatively limited due to a number of factors like operating costs, geography, and seasons. Thus, the casual vacationer wanting to see sights that have made Alaska famous are advised to book early. Like, today.
For families, Alaska can present a logistical challenge, as the bulk of travelers here are still 50+ and arrive in neatly packaged groups of two or four. These same visitors also are usually part of an organized group, the leader of which makes bulk reservations for tours, lodging, and transportation, sometimes leaving few options available for mom, dad, and 2.5 kids.
What to do? Follow our lead, and start reserving space, now. Below are five popular places and things that require extra attention well before trip time.
Alaska Marine Highway System (ferries): By far, the highest number of passengers travel AMHS ferries during the summer months, and along the beautiful Inside Passage between Bellingham, WA and Skagway/Haines. Whether you’re planning on spending your nights on the outer decks or sleeping in a stateroom, ferries can only hold so many people and vehicles, so advance reservations are a must. Bringing an RV on board? Get cracking, as a limited number of large vehicles are allowed on each vessel. Note: The AMHS website is rather difficult to decipher with respect to figuring out an itinerary, so we always call and talk to helpful reservations agents. Find all the details HERE.
Denali National Park campgrounds: If one landmark exists to wow Alaska visitors, it would be Denali (Mount McKinley) and her expansive national park. Campgrounds begin filling up for the summer season by March, especially family-friendly Riley Creek. The National Park Service does a great job of explaining the ins and outs of campground life, so be sure you’re ready for this special Alaska experience before you show up. Information about reservations can be found HERE. Ditto for shuttle bus and tours within the park.
RV rentals: Every summer I hear stories about travelers hopping a flight to Anchorage, and becoming irate when they can’t find an RV for rent. RV travel is becoming more popular every year, and savvy Alaska visitors know the early bird catches the salmon, er, worm. Also, advance reservations can yield some pretty sweet deals, too. Try Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage, one of the best for making sure families are comfortable and well-eqiupped for their trip around Alaska.
Alaska Railroad: Like the ferry, Alaska Railroad trains can only carry so many people at one time, and often, the cars are filled with group tour participants. Our advice? Take the train south to Seward or north to Denali National Park during your vacation, but make reservations early and build your trip around your dates on the rails. Note: Fairbanks is a 12-hour ride from Anchorage, and while beautiful, is too long for many children. Or, if an overnight is not in the cards, why not catch the Hurricane Turn Train from Talkeetna? A five-hour trip with great scenery and a kid-friendly conductor who will have your kids in stitches.
Day cruises: While families do have a bit more leeway with the high volume of day cruises offered during peak months of May-September, it is a good idea to book early to secure the best seat for your crew. In Southcentral Alaska, try Phillips 26 Glacier Cruises, Kenai Fjords Cruises, or Major Marine; all have shorter trips to suit smaller kids and those not accustomed to the rocking and rolling of a boat for more than three or four hours. In Southeast, we like Allen Marine. In Prince William Sound (Valdez); Stan Stephens Glacier and Wildlife Cruises.
Of course, it goes without saying that all hotel, motel, bed and breakfast, or cabin reservations should be made as early as possible, too. Alaska may be the Great Land, but we’re a crowded one come summer.