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Book a Tour Through the Alaskan WildernessNovember 1, 2007 By: Jennifer Merritt Home-Based Travel Agent
Suppliers offer many itinerary options for travel in the great state known as "The Last Frontier"
When booking a trip to Alaska, it's important to get clients experiencing all the 49th state has to offer. Given the overall remoteness of the state, many lodges operate like tour companies, combining accommodations with adventure activities.
For the first time ever, Travcoa (www.travcoa.com) is offering an "Alaska & the Iditarod" excursion. Guests take this eight-day journey to Alaska for an intimate, VIP look at the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race. Itinerary highlights include witnessing the ceremonial start of the Iditarod, meeting the champion mushers, attending the official Iditarod Musher's Banquet, participating in "Dog Handler Boot Camp," staying in a luxury wilderness lodge, cooking with Alaskan chef Kirsten Dixon and traveling to a glacier aboard a helicopter, including what Travcoa calls a "spectacular landing." The departure date is February 27, 2008. Prices start at $5,995 per person and Travcoa pays a 10 percent commission. Travel agents can contact any reservations agent with questions at 800-992-2005. For details on the Iditarod, contact the Alaska Travel Industry Association at 907-929-2842 or [email protected].
In the middle of it all are Camp Denali and North Face Lodge (www.campdenali.com), located inside Denali National Park within a mile of each other. Note that Camp Denali accommodations are not for the high-maintenance traveler: Rooms don't have TVs or even unlimited use of electricity. (North Face Lodge provides a little more pampering, as its 15 guest rooms have their own bath. However, Camp Denali has better views of Mt. McKinley.) The family-owned property instead offers an authentic, backcountry experience, complete with such activities as hiking, biking, fishing, canoeing and "flightseeing" airplane tours around Mt. McKinley.
At both places, a minimum three-night stay is required and arrival and departure dates are fixed. (A schedule of dates can be found online.) Three-night stays are priced at $1,305 per adult and $978 for children under the age of 12. In 2008, rates rise to $1,365 per adult and $1,024 per child for a three-night stay. Camp Denali and North Face Lodge pay a 10 percent commission. Agents can call the reservations staff at 907-683-2290. They'll help you distinguish the best accommodations and location for clients.
For the serious adventure traveler, recommend Chugach Adventure Guides (www.chugachpowderguides.com), which offers heli-skiing, snowboarding, rafting, fishing, Snowcat treks and accommodations out of its base in the Tordrillo Mountains. The Tordrillo Mountain Lodge is on the banks of the Talachulitna River and Judd Lake in the Alaska Range, offering deluxe rooms, dining and wine July through October. At the lodge, guests can play table games, hang out at the bar or get a massage.
Tordrillo Mountain Lodge, however, is anything but a resort meant for lying around and relaxing. Activities include rafting, fishing, glacier exploration, heli-hiking, wildlife viewing and flightseeing. The lodge requires a minimum two-night stay, with prices starting at $1,300 per person plus guided activity fees. This price includes accommodations, roundtrip floatplane transportation from Anchorage or Talkeetna, use of such recreational equipment as canoes, kayaks and fishing waders, as well as meals and wine at dinner. Chugach Adventure Guides pays a 10 percent commission. Contact Chris Owens at 907-783-4354.
For an authentic Alaska experience, Alaska Heritage Tours (www.alaskaheritagetours.com) organizes local-led vacations to Seward, Fairbanks, Fox Island, Denali and other famous Alaskan destinations. Trips can last anywhere from two to nine days and often combine land, rail and sea tours. For example, the six-day "Glaciers and Peaks" tour begins in Whittier, viewing glaciers at Prince William Sound. By train, guests visit Spencer Glacier for a rafting trip before finishing with a bus tour of Denali National Park, with a few stops in between. Prices start at $1,479 per person, based on double occupancy. Significant discounts are possible in May or September, based on the availability of accommodations and activities, the company says. Call any reservations agent at 877-777-2805. Alaska Heritage Tours pays a 10 percent commission.
Families will enjoy a trip with the Alaska Railroad Corporation (www.akrr.com). The company's tour guides all are high school students who undergo stiff competition to land the coveted summer gig of narrating the company's rail tours. Many of these teens go on to careers in the tourism industry.
Alaska Railroad, which pays a 10 percent commission, claims to be the only rail service to have double-decker railcars, exclusively on its Denali Star Train. The top deck of the car is dedicated to panoramic sightseeing and is available only to guests who upgrade to GoldStar Service, which provides such amenities as a confirmed seat in the upper-level dome car, complimentary non-alcoholic beverages and priority check-in and boarding. The service has been so popular that Alaska Rail-road has ordered more cars of this kind for 2008.
Agents need to add their own fees to this next offering, as it isn't commissionable, but it's just too fun to be excluded. Alaska's new 5,330-foot-long zipline, which extends from a mountaintop to the beach below in Hoonah, AK, is an option at lcy Strait Point (www.icystraitpoint.com). You can make the ride commissionable by booking it as a shore excursion through various cruise lines, including Celebrity Cruises (www.celebritycrusies.com), Holland America Line (www.hollandamerica.com), Princess Cruises (www.princess.com) and Royal Caribbean (www.royalcaribbean.com). Note that participants must be between 90 and 275 pounds and be comfortable with heights. The one-hour package also includes a narrated bust tour through the village of Hoonah. —JM