Tour or Independent? What sort of Alaska traveler are you?

Making the decision to visit Alaska is a big one. The combination of our enormous geographical area combined with a range of diverse activities can leave one’s head spinning, especially if multiple age groups are involved. Some people like adventure, others, serenity. Mom and Grandma may enjoy the chance to take a wildlife cruise and view the scene from indoors. Dad and the kids want to feel the waves and salt spray from kayaks. How in the world does a family choose? And, what if they don’t want to have to choose, opting instead to let a tour company do it for them. 

As 2018 planning leaps full steam ahead, AKontheGO is here with a short Q & A session for those Alaska travelers vacillating between independent and tour; full-service, or go-it-alone. 

Q: My entire family of 10 is traveling together, and we’re not sure if a cruise might be better for my elderly parents, while offering my teenagers a chance to do things on their own. My husband thinks the kids will be bored out of their minds. Everyone wants to see wildlife and glaciers, but activity-wise, nobody seems able to agree. Help! 

A: Let’s begin by stating that the larger a group’s size, the more difficult it is to find complete consensus. Everyone may have to compromise to find the best option. The good news? A cruise can be a great way to meet the needs of families with multiple generations, and multiple interests. 

While teens may like the big ship atmosphere at first, it is worthwhile to note that this age group also thrives on excitement and adrenaline. Some cruises (and cruise-tours) do not offer enough adventure for busy teenagers. Try a smaller ship, like UnCruise Adventures or Alaskan Dream Cruises. Both offer plenty of action like kayaking, skiff rides, and bushwhacking hikes, while appeasing the scenery-loving, less-mobile crowd. A travel agent can also book these cruises, and arrange all ancillary tours as well, if you choose to stay beyond the typical 7-day trip. 

Denali National Park as seen from the Park Road one fine autumn day. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Q: Alaska seems to be more remote than I thought, but we definitely want to get into the backcountry without driving ourselves. This seems complicated. What are the options? 

A: If hitting the dirt roads of Alaska’s scenic wilderness areas appeals to your family, there are several companies that can help. For larger tours, try John Hall’s Alaska. With extremely comfortable motorcoaches and years of experience connecting the dots of Last Frontier highways and byways, Alaska travelers can feel secure that they’ve picked a winner. The Grand Slam Alaska tour combines a weeklong motorcoach trip with another week of cruising, and we enjoyed the lack of stress that often comes with such expansive travel. The itinerary includes a drive through scenic and wild Denali National Park, as well as plenty of time to become acquainted with Alaska’s wildlife on land and sea. 

If small-group tours fit your family best, companies like Salmon Berry Tours can provide a litany of options for Alaska travelers. Day trip all the time you have? The Scenic City Tour of Anchorage is a short but very informative way to become acquainted with Alaska’s largest city. Salmon Berry Tours also offers multi-day trips that cover every inch of our amazing state, curated down to a science to fit nearly every ability, age, or interest. So forget trying to rent a car that can tackle the rutted dirt roads of Alaska, let someone else do the driving. 

The KOA in Valdez is a nice stop for any Alaska traveler. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Q: A formal tour experience doesn’t feel like a good fit for us. We like to be rather spontaneous with our vacations, but we’ve heard Alaska’s hotels and campgrounds fill up really fast. How can we feed our indie streak without feeling compromised by making reservations now? What if we change our mind? 

A: One would think Alaska, with nearly 700,000 square miles of real estate, would have more to offer in the way of lodging. Trouble is, all that land is tough to reach, and if we did, even tougher to develop. So our lodgings are concentrated in the “hot spots” for visitors. Early reservations are all but a must if you wish to see the popular areas like Denali National Park and the Kenai Peninsula. The early bird also often gets a discount, so book highlighted places you know you want to see, and consider another option for the rest. 

That option? Rent an RV. I’ve written about our adventures with Great Alaskan Holidays, and each summer I pat myself on the back for choosing such a fun way to show Alaska to our son. Allowing for more flexibility, an RV road trip gives Alaska travelers more latitude to take a left, or right, or, if they choose, straight on. Unpack once, stop by the grocery store for supplies, buckle up the kids and off you go. Do remember, however, that campgrounds can fill up, so purchase an Alaska Milepost before you venture out on Alaska’s roadways with kids. This “bible of northcountry travel” has everything you need, from road conditions to campground or RV park listings, to interesting sights along the way. 

Next week, I’ll unpack the myriad options based upon interests and heart’s desires. Until then, let the planning begin!

~EK 

 

 

 

 

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