What To Do in Alaska In 2013

At the Alaska Media Roadshow, suppliers provided a sneak peak of what to do in Alaska this year By: Christopher Batin
InnerSea Discoveries offers day-long kayaking tours for active clients. // (c) 2013 InnerSea Discoveries
InnerSea Discoveries offers day-long kayaking tours for active clients. // (c) 2013 InnerSea Discoveries

Alaska Marine Highway
The Alaska Marine Highway is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013 with a variety of offerings.

"From May through September, we have some special sailings planned for Prince William Sound and another between Homer and Kodiak," said marketing manager Danielle Adkins. "These will be special sightseeing sailing tours, and our goal is to use them to introduce people to the behind-the-scenes angle of ferry operation, such as visiting the engine room or checking out the state-of-the-art electronics and safety monitoring devices on a modern ferry."

Adkins added that the company's Facebook page will give away 150 free trips through various contests. www.ferryalaska.comwww.facebook.com/AlaskaMarineHighway

Alaska Railroad
According to Susie Kiger, director, passenger sales and marketing with the Alaska Railroad, Spencer Glacier tours are continuing to grow in size, offerings and popularity with visitors. Ascending Path Guide Service works in partnership with the Alaska Railroad in offering a variety of ice hiking and climbing treks.

Guides meet clients at the train, and drive them to within a mile of the glacier, where the trip begins. Kiger said climbers access parts of the glacier that most visitors don't access.

Alaska Railroad has the flexibility to handle a client's land package after they disembark from their cruise, embark on it or arrive by air. It offers a 10 percent commission on the gross value of the entire package, which includes tours starting from Whittier, Anchorage, Seward and Fairbanks. She says agents should expect several new packages, including a Kids Ride Free program that takes place for a limited time each summer. www.alaskarailroad.com

Alaska Rainforest Islands
The Alaska Rainforest Island community will celebrate the Chief Shakes Island Reconstruction opening ceremony on May 3-4. According to ARI spokesperson Sharon Gaiptman, the tribal house was built as a Civilian Conservation Corps project in 1940. Seven decades of Southeast Alaska weathering prompted the reconstruction and scheduled rededication of this historic structure in downtown Wrangell. www.alaskarainforestislands.com

Alyeska Resort
Alyeska Resort near Girdwood has a new lift called "Ted Express" that gives access to secondary areas of the mountain favored by bikers and hikers. Located adjacent to the Alyeska Resort day lodge, the ultra-fast lift has been a hit among summer recreationists.

"We really got into the downhill mountain biking program this year," said Mark Weakland, Alyeska resort manager, "with a variety of lift-assisted access to downhill mountain bike routes that are ideal for hikers and intermediate and advanced bikers."

The new lift also opens a large section of the lower mountain to snow skiing during the winter months. The express lift eliminates many of the choke points near the main lift and offers additional routes and ski options not previously available to skiers.

Agents should check the website for upcoming dates for the annual mid-August Blueberry Festival, Fungus Fair and Alyeska Summer Concerts series. www.alyeskaresort.com

The 2013 World Ice Art Championships is a month-long event featuring more than 100 teams from around the world.

"It's one of the most popular events in Fairbanks," said Amy Geiger, FCVB communications director. "This is one of the world's largest annual ice-sculpting competitions. The finished exhibit draws over 45,000 visitors."

The theme for 2013 is "Future In Ice" and promises to deliver more than 200 larger-than-life sized sculptures. The event will be held at its new home at the George Horner Ice Park. The new locale features a large on-site pond which will produce more than four million pounds of "Arctic Diamond" ice - exceptionally clear, thick ice used by the sculptors. A wooded area complements the competition's ice sculptures, and there is plenty of room between the pond and the trees for a Kids' Park, ice mazes, a skating rink and concession area. Evening is the best time to view the sculptures under the various colored lights.

The 2013 World Ice Art Championships will be open daily from 10 a.m. tob10 p.m., Feb. 26 through March 24. www.icealaska.com; www.explorefairbanks.com

Haines hails as "The Adventure Capital of Alaska," and according to locals, offers the most economical bear watch in Southeast Alaska. From late July until September, brown bears can be seen roaming the banks of the Chilkoot River. Visitors drive to the river, park their RV or rental car and watch the opposite bank. www.haines.ak.us

Icy Strait Point
New from Icy Strait Point is the Island Exploration Tour, a six-hour trek into the Tongass National Forest on Chichagof Island. Visitors join a Hoonah Native guide to learn about the culture, fauna and flora of the area. Also new is the Advanced Kayaking adventure, a four-hour paddle along the southeast coastline near Icy Strait Point, where paddlers view tidal pools and bears. www.icystraitpoint.com

InnerSea Discoveries
New for summer, three Alaska Unleashed departures onboard InnerSea Discoveries' Wilderness Adventurer will feature a reduced guest capacity - from 60 to 36 guests - in order to enable a more rigorous slate of outdoor activities. Guests who like to challenge themselves can opt for all-day excursions combining longer and more-technical hiking and kayaking. Designed for true adventurers, activities start early and conclude back onboard with the reward of a hot tub soak, a microbrew and perhaps a massage.

For family vacations, Kids in Nature programs entertain and educate kids. According to communications director Sarah Scoltock, the wilderness becomes the playground and the classroom for kids and adults alike. She indicated that discounted pricing is available for kids ages 12 and under on select Kids in Nature dates.

The 88-guest Safari Legacy, a replica Victorian steamer, will join American Safari Cruises' yacht fleet in August with two, 11-night Gold Rush Legacy sailings between Seattle and Juneau (and reverse). Highlights include guided tours in port, whale watching, viewing glaciers in Glacier Bay and discovering native Tlingit culture. www.innerseadiscoveries.com

A new tour by Alaskan Food Tours will take clients on a walking excursion through downtown Juneau that includes seven stops to sample local fare, including Alaska seafood. Eateries include Taku Smokeries, Twisted Fish Company, Tracy's King Crab Shack, Red Dog Saloon, Alaskan Fudge Company, Heritage Coffee Roasting Co., Westmark Baranof Hotel and The Flight Deck. The three-hour tour also includes Alaska history, culture and local color.

Juneau also offers unique Alaska experiences for Jewish travelers, according to Juneau CVB's Elizabeth Arnett. Visitors can celebrate a special anniversary under a huppah, a canopy, with loved ones or experience an outdoor service in the Alaska Rain Forest. Instead of a typical synagogue service, a local rabbi has created "It's Not the Weather, It's the Gear," an hour-long outdoor walking service that celebrates the beauty of the Southeast Alaska rainforest while incorporating select passages from Jewish prayer traditions. www.traveljuneau.com; www.alaskanfoodtours.com

K-2 Aviation
This Talkeetna-based flight service is seeing growth in the popularity of one of its day tours for visitors who want to get away from the crowds.

"The exclusive floatplane flight and wilderness hike tour inside Denali National Park is a hit among those who have taken it," said K-2 marketing director Deb Hansen. "The three-hour guided hike portion accommodates six guests and two guides and takes in granite monoliths and the massive glaciers of the Alaska Range against the backdrop of Mount McKinley."

K-2 also offers a longer three-day trek inside the park within sight of the Ruth Glacier. The trip includes a roundtrip flight from Talkeetna, food, the services of a guide and all camping gear. The trip is ideal for those who want to explore the mountain and glacier scenery that surrounds Denali. www.flyk2.com

In early 2013, the Ketchikan Convention and Visitors Bureau plans to announce its new website which will feature a more user-friendly interface. Another new website, KetchikanStories.com, will feature stories on arts and Native culture. Aviation and timber stories will be added in May. Executive director Patti Mackey said the CVB department is gearing up to open the new Ketchikan visitor and tour information center in April and invites agents and tourists to visit the new facilities. www.visit-ketchikan.com

Tsaina Lodge has completed its remodel and will reopen for business in the spring, with 24 chic rooms, a spa and a fine-dining restaurant. A 20-minute drive from Valdez, the lodge serves as a home base for Valdez Heli-Ski Guides and has a great view of the Chugach Mountains and Worthington Glacier. The lodge also serves as a base for Thompson Pass skiers and snowboarders.

The Valdez Museum's new displays include the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill exhibit with never-before-seen artifacts, photographs, wildlife-rescue details, oil spill clean-up and monitoring facts and insights on the spill area and the environment since the event.  Stephens said the goal is to have visitors ponder their role in worldwide oil consumption. Highlights include a section of the hull from the Exxon Valdez and a scale model of the tanker that was used in the civil court testimony.

"The Daring Adventures of the Alaska Bush Pilots" exhibit opened in the fall of 2012 and focuses on the life and adventures of early bush pilots of the 20th Century. Stephens said Valdez pilots played a vital role in opening access to Interior Alaska's gold and copper miners. Visitors can expect maps, videos and a display of original equipment. The "Alaska Native Culture and History" display includes a newly enhanced interactive program where guests can explore the use of medicinal plants and learn about the value and life cycle of salmon.

The Valdez Kite and Dance Festival, June 28-30, begins with a kite-building class followed by a day of public kite flying and an evening of music and dancing. Valdez Oktoberfest and Home Brew Competition is a new event that celebrates the fine brewing traditions in Alaska, with over $4,000 in prizes. Visitors can expect treats from local restaurants, micro-brewed beers from around the state and entertainment by Alaska musicians. www.valdezalaska.org

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