View of Denali taken from near the park entrance // (c) 2011 Christopher Batin
John Beath with king salmon caught at Waterfall Resort // (c) 2011 Christopher Batin
Last fall, at the annual Alaska Media Roadshow, sponsored by the Alaska Travel Industry Association and its tourism partners, TravelAge West had the opportunity to speak one-on-one with Alaska tourism businesses, convention and visitor’s bureaus and state and government agencies about their new offerings for the 2011 season. Here is Part One of that update provided by travel suppliers. (Look for Part Two, an update from government destination offices, online soon.)
Alaska Marine Ferry
The Alaska Marine Ferry is offering ferry service to Gustavus, which according to marketing manager Danielle Adkins, has shown how the visitor industry has grown there as a jumping-off point to Glacier Bay National Park.
Also in 2011, a new route for the Kennicott ferry will start in Bellingham, Wash., with the route taking passengers to Ketchikan, Juneau, Yakutat, Whittier and onto Kodiak. The route from Bellingham to Whittier will take about four days, which is the express route to reaching south-central Alaska with a vehicle.
“This is a new route we haven’t offered before,” Adkins said, “It’s a good way to connect with the Aleutian Island route, as well as a stopover in Yakutat, a sleeper of a sport fishery and an up-and-coming wind-surfing destination.”
Alaska Marine Ferry
According to Alaska Railroad marketing director Suzie Kiger, the new Rails and Trails tour package targets the travelers who don’t have a lot of time to plan, yet like to get off the beaten path.
The trip begins in Anchorage with the first leg stopping over in Seward. Passengers disembark and take a boat to Fox Island, where they spend a night and can opt for tours of Kenai Fiords or hiking or kayaking excursions. They leave the island, overnight in Seward, have an option to hike Exit Glacier or enjoy a dog-sled tour. They travel to Alyeska Resort, take in some whitewater rafting, glacier or rock climbing, before heading to Anchorage and then to Denali for two nights. There, clients will spend two days at Backcountry Lodge before their return flight home.
“The trip saves travelers time and, as local residents, we know how each part of the overall tour fits together,” Kiger said. “We know the bus and train schedules that mesh seamlessly with the tours. I personally figured out the logistics of these packages by visiting each of these properties. Most travel agents don’t know what packages work well together here in Alaska, so they book their clients on a cruise. But there are many people who want to visit Alaska and don’t want a cruise. Agents and clients are more comfortable when they can talk to people who live and work here. We’re available to help agents with any travel plans using the Alaska Railroad.”
Alyeska Resort is a world-renowned ski resort, serving them well with abundant annual snowfall, nine lifts, a 60-passenger aerial tram, slopeside access and an indoor heated pool and whirlpool.
Marketing director Sandy Chio said Alyeska is expanding its year-round offerings this year to include new nature trails and summer festival offerings. Biking and hiking trails near the summit are scheduled to open in the summer of 2011. The resort’s Seven Glaciers Restaurant is introducing eight, bi-monthly specialty menus designed around the freshest ingredients available.
American Safari Cruises/Inner Sea Discoveries
Inner Seas Discovery will be joining American Safari Cruises (ASC) as a co-brand in Southeast Alaska in 2011. The fully refurbished Wilderness Discoverer and Adventurer ships will carry 49 guests each.
The brand will embrace ASC’s focus on active adventure, yet at a significantly lower price, with options that also explore other destinations in Southeast Alaska. One way, eight-day itineraries run between Ketchikan and Juneau.
New is their “Uncruise” package, which the company describes as including doing everything on a cruise-tour that you can’t get with other cruises. These activities include caving, paddleboarding, hiking or kayaking opportunities for up to eight hours a day.
“One of the great things about this ship is the open navigation,” said ASC representative Jerrol Golden. “Guests can go to the bridge and talk to the skipper, much like if it was a private family yacht.”
American Safari Cruises/Inner Sea Discoveries
The largest museum in Alaska and one of the top 10 visited attractions in the state, the Anchorage Museum recently finished a decade-long, $106 million expansion project. The museum’s Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center features 600 Alaska Native artifacts on long-term loan. Visitors learn about objects through iPhone-like touch screens, as well as video and audio stations. Also new is the Imaginarium Discovery Center, a hands-on science center that makes science fun for all ages. Exhibits include a marine touch tank, aurora in a box, a 46-seat planetarium and an Alaska Native contemporary art gallery.
“Weddings are a hot product at the Talkeetna Denali Alaska Lodge,” said CIRI marketing manager Dee Buchanon. “We are hoping to continue to grow the Alaska wedding market and create a fabulous place to make it happen.”
CIRI is off to a good start, with more than 20 wedding events last year. New decks that branch off of main meeting rooms offer space and ease of access to the great Alaska outdoors for photos and wedding festivities. The meals and food catering menus at the lodge are new for 2011.
For visiting guests, Buchanon recommended the hotel’s dog-mushing tour, which is conveniently located on site and costs only $10.
“Guests can visit with the musher and his dogs and ask questions about dog handling, breeding and racing,” Buchanon said.
The Fox Island Day Tour out of Seward offers a lodge visit with an all-you-can-eat lunch buffet. Some clients prefer to get dropped off for several days at adjacent Kenai Fiords Wilderness Lodge and kayak or hike around the island at their leisure.
“Fox Island is a great place to go,” Buchanon said. “We recommend two nights to experience it.”
From Fox Island, clients can enjoy the half-day Resurrection Bay Tour or the full-day Northwest Fiord Tour or the half-day Aialik Glacier tour.
“Our captains each have more than 12 years experience. They conduct the onboard narration, and know all the good stuff visitors want to know, like how many hairs are on a sea otter or what makes glacier ice blue,” Buchanon said.
Multigenerational travel is very popular, and CIRI is addressing those interests, as well. Prince William Sound Glacier Cruises offers a hands-on marine science experience tour where kids can put plankton under a microscope, examine starfish or hold glacier ice. This tour offers a smoother ride than the Kenai Fiords trip, and it’s a good option for multigenerational groups or those who are prone to seasickness.
Denali Park Resorts
Denali Park Resorts is known for its many accommodations in the Denali area that include McKinley Chalet Resort, McKinley Village Lodge, Grand Denali Park Lodge and Denali Bluffs Hotel. According to regional marketing director Carol Fraser, the new Summit Lodge, part of the McKinley Village Lodge complex, is a multi-function building with 120 renovated rooms, improved check-in guest service, expanded food and beverage selections and interpretive media opportunities.
“We have several new hikes for 2011 that were approved by the park service just a few weeks ago,” Fraser said. “We will take as few as three people and a maximum of seven. Sugarloaf Mountain is a hike that is very strenuous — taking from six to eight hours to climb. For active travelers, it’s worth the hike up, as the summit offers phenomenal views of Denali National Park.”
Fraser said the company started out with 11 tours, and now offers 20. They also offer interpretive hikes and bicycle rentals. Guests should not miss out on the Cabin Nite Theatre, a fun-filled dinner that is sure to please even the most particular clientele.
Denali Park tours also run the Tundra Wilderness Tour adventure, which offers the best opportunities for wildlife photos.
Denali Park Resorts
EpicQuest offers “stable, flagship products for travel agents,” according to owner Chris Owens.
“We have a few openings in 2011, but most of our trips are sold out until 2012,” Owens said.
Owens also noted that the company’s summer skiing and fishing program, Kings and Corn, still carries the same level of popularity after 15 years in business.
“We offer a lot of heli-fishing, covering about 15 miles of creek per day, or by raft 10 to 13 miles with a return helicopter flight at the end of the float,” he said. “Ours is a multi-sport family destination, where groups come out and we have something of interest to offer all members.”
The company also offers heli-skiing out of Girdwood.
“We don’t have such a thing as a no-fly day,” Owens said. “If the weather is bad, we have Snow-Cat skiing out the back door of Alyeska Resort. While we don’t pretend to have the same volume of guests the resort offers, we do try to remain small enough to have a one-on-one relationship with our clients.”
Holland America Line
According to Bill Fletcher, Holland America Line’s (HAL) director of Alaska sales, more agents can profit from not just selling a cruise, but a cruise-tour as well. He said that HAL offers over 30 cruise-tours, and is the only cruise company to offer tours into Canada’s Yukon Territory.
In 2011, guests can choose from seven ships sailing to Alaska on 125 departures including a 14-day Explorer cruise, which is roundtrip from Seattle, or three- and seven-day itineraries from Seattle, Vancouver and Seward.
The Explorer cruise was introduced in 2010 and, in 2011, it will add Icy Strait Point as a new port of call. Also new in 2011, HAL will feature a Bears and Wilderness cruise-tour with a seven-day Glacier Discovery Cruise featuring stopover retreats at rustic Redoubt Bay Lodge and Winterlake Lodge.
Holland America Line
National Park Service
In 2011, the National Park Service is celebrating the 30th anniversary of creating 10 national parks in Alaska. Other projects include a new visitor center in Kotzebue, continued restoration work at Kennecott Mine in the Wrangell St. Elias range and improving existing trails at Denali. In the works for 2012 are various events for celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 1912 eruption of Novarupta, in Katmai National Park.
Assistant regional director John Quinley said that while not new, public-use cabins are a nice way to enjoy the Kenai Fiords. They are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Most Kenai air charter operators keep track of who is there, so it pays to call for an update or check availability online.
“The cabins at Aialik Bay and Nutka Bay are a Spartan deal, and offer just the basics,” he said. “But they offer a nice way to get in out of the weather and still enjoy the local scenery.”
The National Park Service website details the specifics on the location and availability and reservations of about a dozen cabins on refuge and parklands in Alaska.
National Park Service
In 2011, Princess Cruises will offer a Direct to the Wilderness program, where guests step from their ship onto luxury railcars that transport them directly to the Denali area. Spokeswoman Karen Candy said the company owns and operates five popular wilderness lodges nestled in scenic riverside locations throughout the state.
Riversong Lodge, located on Alaska’s historic Iditarod trail, is known for superb fishing, gourmet cuisine, lush gardens and abundant wildlife.
According to owner Robin Dewar, guests normally need about 40 minutes to reach the lodge via floatplane.
In 2011, the lodge is offering agents a new access option. Guests board the Alaska Railroad in Anchorage and stopover in Talkeetna overnight, then fly out to the lodge the next morning.
Also new is a river excursion to remote homestead properties. Guest will travel upriver via jet-boat to visit a backcountry post office and then stop by a wilderness homestead for refreshments.
Riversong Lodge also works closely with the cruise industry on scheduled arrival and departure times to and from the lodge. Length of stay is flexible, from one to 10 days. The price is all-inclusive, which covers transportation to and from the lodge, use of all equipment and guides, meals and accommodations. Fishing license, alcohol and gratuity are not included.
Rust’s Flying Service
Rust’s Flying Service marketing manager Deb Hansen said the company is offering new interactive fly-in trips — including a new fly-in backpacking trip to Glacier Rock Lake, between Backside Glacier and Ruth Glacier in Denali National Park.
“It’s a fly-in day trip that includes tundra hiking and some rock scrambling, and the views are spectacular,” said Hansen. “Rust’s handles the flying while Alaska Alpine Adventures handles the on-ground guiding.”
The trip departs from Fish Lake near Talkeetna, and guests travel by air to Glacier Rock Lake, where a guide meets the group for a two-hour hike. After lunch, guests reboard the floatplane for the return flight to Talkeetna.
“This is a very exclusive area, away from the roadside crowds,” Hansen said. “We are offering it seven days a week, two departures a day, six people a day maximum.”
Rust’s Flying Service also has a base-camp trip to Backside Lake, where clients can spend three nights, four days, tent-camping with a guide. Once there, they can choose from a variety of day hikes.
“When we first announced it, we sold three departures from it just being on the website, so there is a demand for it,” Hansen said. “We had a Jesuit priest who is a biologist and who spent two months of his income to go on this trip. He thought it was wonderful.”
What’s the secret to the popularity of this hike?
“Our research has shown that baby boomers want flightseeing trips with a landing and hike inside Denali National Park,” Hansen explained. “Our guides are knowledgeable in the area’s wildlife, geology, weather, rivers and flora.”
Rust’s Flying Service
Saltery Lodge is one of a full-service, luxury property that takes only eight clients per week. And, according to manager Joe Paul, Saltery also operates several boats, including a 42-foot catamaran. A very popular feature is an underwater camera, so clients can see schools of crab and fish on the boat’s video monitor.
“The lodge offers pure fishing for as much and as long as clients want to fish,” Paul said. “Once a client arrives, everything is included from waders to raingear to fishing tackle.”
Paul said guests can go fishing and take the chef along to cook up the catch onboard. The cost is $1,000 a night for six nights and five days fishing.
“Ours is an affluent demographic market,” Paul said. “One party who booked for a week departed in their 140-foot yacht.”