Vacation in A-L-A-S-K-A? A Grand Proposal

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Remember the startled look on Sandra Bullock’s face in last year’s movie The Proposal as she realizes she must make a trip to Alaska? Bullock must convince her employer that her hastily-announced engagement to her assistant is genuine, all to avoid being deported to Canada. She stumbles over the name A-L-A-S-K-A in utter disbelief. That scene makes me laugh because she makes it sound like Alaska an undesirable, chilly, wilderness far, far, away. But she’s supposed to be a Canadian, and when you look at the map, really how very different can it be?

Well, Alaska is different and, as it turns out, it is a very desirable and historically significant destination.

Alaska earned statehood just 51 years ago. Alaskan history includes seal fur traders, the Gold Rush, the WWII Pacific Arena, The ALCAN (Alaska-Canada Highway), the Trans-Alaskan Pipeline, an earthquake more powerful than the 1906 San Francisco quake and the devastating Exxon Valdez oil spill.

So what’s the big deal about Alaska? Alaska is a very big deal. It’s a top tourist destination and continues to lure visitors year after year. Alaska is the last frontier.

Alaska is nothing but extremes: nine out of 10 of the tallest peaks in North America, the most national parks, the largest state, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), the least-densely populated state, the longest days of summer, and the longest nights of winter.

I’m a travel agent. Many people I meet ask about a vacation to Alaska and they get that far away look when they imagine the beauty and grandeur of the beautiful state. The main tourist season is short, from May through September, so planning is the key to be sure you get the right Alaska vacation.

What is the best way to visit Alaska? When is the best time to go? How much time should one allow to see it all? How far in advance should I book? Do I really need a passport? Will I see whales? What is the weather like in Alaska? What time does it get dark? What time is the midnight buffet? Except for the last one, these are very good questions.

To get the best, most complete itinerary that will include everything you must see, I recommend a cruise tour of 11-15 days in length.  This is the best of both worlds and comes with many options but is basically a 7-night cruise tied together with a 4-8 day land package.

The cruise will take you on a northbound journey from Vancouver, Canada to Whittier, Alaska near Anchorage or a southbound cruise in reverse.  From the comfort of your ship you will see calving glaciers (when massive chunks of ice break away and plunge into the water) in Glacier Bay, whales and other marine mammals, and stunning coastlines that change daily.

Visit three to five ports of call for unique shore excursions: in Ketchikan, experience the Rainforest Canopy via zip line, take a guided fly-fishing excursion, or visit the totem poles of Saxman Native Village; in Skagway, travel on the White Pass Scenic Railway to Canada’s Yukon, or visit an authentic Alaskan Sled Dog & Mushers camp; in Juneau, tour Mendenhall Glacier by canoe or take a Glacier Flightseeing Adventure.  Every night return to the comfort of your own cruise cabin and enjoy delicious food and exciting onboard entertainment.

The land package, which can be taken either before or after your cruise can include Denali National Park, Mt. McKinley, Talkeetna, Anchorage, Kenai, Fairbanks, Wrangell, and Prudhoe Bay. This part of your journey takes you deep into the interior or heart of Alaska to round out your visit.

Imagine the day your cruise ends in Whittier. You arrive at the port to find a train, your train, waiting to whisk you away for the land portion of your trip. Sit back, relax and take in the scenery as you make your way to Denali National Park for your stay at a contemporary lodge with all the comforts of home. Denali offers breathtaking views, wildlife viewing and the venerable Mt. McKinley, one of Alaska’s most popular attractions. See Anchorage, a modern city rich in Native American history with untamed wilderness just minutes from downtown.  And Fairbanks, for frontier-style hospitality and Gold Rush history deep in the heart of Alaska’s interior.

The movie had a happy ending. Is a trip to Alaska your happy ending?

For local information about an upcoming Alaska cruise, click here.

meredith-fisherMeredith Fisher has 21 years of experience in the travel industry. When she graduated from Chico State she took a job at a small travel agency thinking it would be her “fun job” for a few years. Since then she’s done corporate travel, training, incentive and group travel, and everything in between, but now finds herself back where she started, living vicariously through her clients’ vacations. Meredith is still having fun and finally putting her journalism background to work. She can be reached at

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Meredith Fisher has 21 years of experience in the travel industry. When she graduated from Chico State she took a job at a small travel agency thinking it would be her 'fun job' for a few years with full intentions of moving on to her 'real job.' Since then she's done corporate travel, training, incentive and group travel, and everything in between, but now finds herself back where she started, living vicariously through her client's vacations. Meredith is still having fun and finally putting her journalism background to work.
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8 Responses

  1. Avatar Budd Hodges says:

    Ah yes, Alaska, God's frozen people, where it's common to see a dog frozen to a tree and the home of Palin, the part time governor and failed veep candidate now off on a book tour.

    The country is beautiful and inhabital a few months of the year but the sub cold temps must effect their brains. I wouldn't want to plug my car in to keep the battery alive at the parking meter.

    The Russians were wise to sell it and most residents probably went to Hawaii.

    Nice to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there.

    Meredith, thank you for the article.

  2. Avatar JimG says:

    I've never taken the land package, but have enjoyed a couple of cruises, once from Seattle and once from San Francisco (both were great trips, but the SF departure was so much more convenient). It was astounding how far the Mendenhall glacier had receeding in just a few years.

  3. Avatar Andar says:

    I love Alaska cruises! I agree with the above, going out of San Francisco is the best. I love sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge. If you stay on deck as you are leaving port, you can wave to all the people on the Golden Gate Bridge. Then right as you get under the bridge it the captain blows the horn and the deck party continues!

    I could cruise and not even get off the ship at ports. As a matter of fact we have met several couples in their 80's that do just that – they said it was cheaper than assistive living and better service!

    My question is about fares for next year. The last couple of years there have been unbelievable rates- some as low as $42.00 per day per person. Do you think we will be able to get these kind of deals next year or do you see the prices going back up? What about fuel surcharges and they now a thing of the past?

    Is it better to book the 'brochure rate' way ahead of time to get to pick your cabin and then hope the fare comes down, or wait for those last minute deals and take the assigned cabin?

    • Avatar Meredith says:

      Thanks for the great questions and I'm happy to answer.

      The Alaska cruise season is a short one from May to September. The majority of my clients are looking at their Alaska cruise as a once-in-a-lifetime vacation so they want to do it right. A cabin with a balcony is the most requested cabin category so those book up first. And everyone wants the prime real estate on the ship: a midship cabin with balcony. Midship means not forward, not aft, not top, not bottom. It;'s all about location, location, location.

      If you're on a round trip sailing then the port side or starboard side is fine because you'll get to enjoy both on your cruise. But if you choose a one way cruise to continue on with a land tour, and you have your heart set on seeing the spectacular coastline from your own private balcony, then you have to book early or you'll miss out.

      So is this vacation THE trip? If so, then YES! You need to book early and at the best available rate. If the cabin category and location are no big deal then you can wait. But be careful.

      The half-off Alaska sailings that we saw in 2009 did not return in the same numbers this year. In fact the major cruise lines to Alaska reduced their fleet for the 2010 season, sending their ships to the new 'hot' destination of Europe. Fleet reductions will also impact the Alaska market in 2011 leaving fewer cabins available accross the board. All indicators point to a stronger, healthier Alaska season next year which translates to fewer cabins available and limiting last-minute deals.

      And keep in mind that you're not necessarily stuck with the original cruise fare paid. I am constantly monitoring cruise fares on behalf of my clients. Each cruise line has a different policy on what happens when a cruise price drops. It depends upon many factors but it is possible to end up with a lower final payment, a shipboard credit or even a cabin upgrade.

      A couple of years ago, due to the high cost of fuel, the cruise lines implemented a fuel supplement of approximately $9 per person/per day. Then everybody stopped traveling so it was suspended. The cruise lines continue to state that they can and will reinstate the fuel supplement if oil exceeded $70 per barrel. But when we reached that threshold none of the cruise lines acted so at this time, there isn't a fuel supplement. But I believe we've not seen the last of it.

      I'd be happy to meet with you to discuss this further. Let me know, Thanks!

  4. Avatar Adrienne jacoby says:

    I LOVE Alaska . . . . my step-mom moved there when she was 95!! I spent Thanksgiving with her there (in Wasilla, no less) a couple of years. The first trip I took when I retired was the car-ferry (a way to REALLY see Alaska) to Haines to visit friends who have retired there. Then flew to Anchorage where I rented a car and drove (by myself) to Denali, Fairbanks, Delta Junction and back to Anchorage to take a cruise home. A couple of years later did the same trip with my brother and his wife. Absolutely fascinating and grandly beautiful country. And about the car heaters? They have those in the northern tier of some of the lower 48. Don't want to live there, either.
    Thanks for the memory triggering article.

  5. Avatar Grammy says:

    Alaske and the Panama Canal were the two places I wanted to visit. Then I saw the whales that the cruise ships kill (never knew that the helm kills them.) Then all the polution that the ships contribute to the air when in port. Can't cure the problem but can't be a part of the problem.

  6. Avatar Igo Rancheroes says:

    "North to Alaska, because North, to us, is home" I also hear the Love Boat theme playing in my head.

  7. Avatar Linda Ousley says:

    Thanks Meredith for your wonderful article on Alaska. You have described so much of what my family and I have just experienced on our A-L-A-S-K-A cruise this past August on the Coral Princess. To celebrate my Dad's 80th birthday, we were all aboard our ship on the BIG day cruising towards Glacier Bay (my favorite). And doing the land portion was a special treat, which we did this at the end of the cruise and I liked it that way. Thank you again for writing this article and I will share with my family because out of all 22 of us we did just about all the activities you mentioned during our A-L-A-S-K-A vacation and it was A Grand Proposal. Your friend of many years, Linda
    P.S. The weather in Alaska is so much better than my current residence of Dubai.