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Northern Lights

September 29, 2008 By: Michael Browne Travel Agent
 


A winter vacation in Alaska may not sound ideal for many travelers, but
for those willing to brave temperatures that can dip below -40 degrees
Fahrenheit, the payoff is truly worthwhile as the aurora borealis—the
Northern Lights of Alaska—puts on its cosmic show from late August
through early April, with the most intense displays in December and
January. These colored curtains of light in the upper atmosphere are
caused by magnetic disturbances from the sun and give off colors that
include red, green, blue and violet. A single display can last 10 to 15
minutes.

aurora borealis

Photo by Brian Adam

Because
Fairbanks is closer to the highly active area over the Arctic and
because its winter nights are longer than they are to the south, the
light show is often much brighter and reliable over Fairbanks than over
Anchorage and other parts of Alaska. Hotels and lodges near Fairbanks
offer winter packages for travelers who want to increase their chance
of seeing this natural wonder. At most of them, clients can ask the
front desk to call and wake them up if the aurora appears.

The
best places for viewing are outside town, away from the city lights. At
nearby Ester Dome, visitors are treated to a view from horizon to
horizon. Advise your clients to ask for directions locally and head up
there during the day so they know their way—it's completely unlit at
night. If staying in town, recommend that they try to get away from the
lights.

If your clients prefer a more organized (and warmer)
approach to Northern Lights viewing, the Aurora Borealis Lodge offers evening tours to a location 20 miles away
from the city lights, where they can watch the Northern Lights inside
where it's warm. Included in the tour are roundtrip transportation from
Fairbanks and hot beverages served in a comfortable lodge. The tour
runs from 10 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. and costs $75 per person. Note: A
minimum of two guests is required. Reservations can be made at (907)
389-2812.

Where to Stay

Accommodations in the Fairbanks area
include the Westmark Fairbanks, the newest and
largest downtown hotel (owned and operated by the Holland America
cruise line). A $34 million expansion has transformed this 400-room
hotel into one of Fairbanks’ finest properties, with a brand-new
fitness center, two new restaurants and free Wi-Fi. Agents can contact
Shelley McCool, regional sales manager, at 907 459-7706.

Set right
on the Chena River and close to the Fairbanks Airport, the 208-room
Pike’s Waterfront Lodge is a rustic resort with an upscale sensibility.
Conveniently located near both the Fairbanks Airport and Alaska
Railroad
, Pike’s Lodge offers complimentary shuttles to both. For the
winter, Pike’s is offering a special weekend package: Clients can stay
in a riverview room Saturday night and enjoy Sunday brunch, with a noon
checkout on Sunday for $129 for two, plus taxes. Contact General
Manager Patty Weaver at [email protected], or call 907 456-4500.

And
for those clients who may find Alaska’s winter a little too
intimidating, the 325-room Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge offers its summertime “Northern Lights
Photosymphony”
from May through September. Guests can experience the
wonder of the aurora borealis in a special theater at Ester Gold Camp,
where they will learn a brief history of this phenomenon and watch the
Northern Lights display on a panoramic screen in a multi-image
presentation set to  inspirational music. At $10 for adults and $5 for
children, it may be the most comfortable and family-friendly way to
enjoy the Northern Lights. Visit the website for details.


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