The month of May is an awkward time to travel in Alaska. That's because some of the most scenic vistas and popular getaways still are covered in snow.
So when you're traveling around this month, the first question might be "Are you open for business?" Then, you can follow up with inquiries about some early-season deals.
Some of this month's best bargains are reserved for younger travelers. Down in Seward, Kenai Fjords Tours offers free cruises for kids under 12 on sailings between May 14 and May 31. Two kids can accompany each paying adult on Resurrection Bay Cruises or the longer cruises out to Aialik Glacier in Kenai Fjords National Park.
While you're there in Seward, stop in at the Alaska SeaLife Center. The center's 20th anniversary is on May 20.
The Alaska Railroad is offering kids under 12 a free ride on select routes all summer long. Again, the young traveler must be accompanied by a fare-paying grown-up. From Anchorage, one child rides free with a paying adult between Anchorage and Talkeetna or between Portage and Grandview/Spencer Glacier. Kids also ride free on the Hurricane Turn train from Talkeetna.
If you're traveling with the kids down the Seward Highway, pull over at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center to see their collection of moose, bears, bison and other Alaska critters. Kids under 7 are free, while those age 7-17 cost $10.
There are plenty of early-season specials for grown-ups, too. The ski season is over at Alyeska Resort, so the price of rooms has come down between now and May 16: from $109 per night. That includes Mother's Day on May 13. Just for Mom, the resort is running the tram on May 12 and 13.
Up in Talkeetna, you can sign up for the Spring Wine Dinner at Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. This is a fancy affair hosted by the lodge's executive chef, Wes Choy. The six-course offering includes some bacon-poached rainbow trout, "Octopus a la Plancha," lamb belly and some other exotic dishes. The wine pairings will be announced soon. Cost for the dinner is $120. I recommend staying overnight, from $99. The lodge sits on top of "Ski Hill" just south of "downtown," and features a stunning view of Denali when the clouds blow away.
Further up the road at Denali National Park, two hotels are offering early-season discounts. The McKinley Chalets and the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge both are owned by Carnival Corp. They're both on the banks of the Nenana River and are offering $88 rates in May. For the McKinley Chalets, the rate only is available May 16-17, then jumps up to $109 per night through May 24. But the Denali Princess offers rooms for $88.88 between May 9 and May 20.
The Denali Bluffs Hotel has a special with the Alaska Railroad that includes round-trip rail from Anchorage to Denali Park, with two nights' accommodations. Between May 21 and May 31, the cost is $396 per person. Call the Alaska Railroad to make reservations: 800-544-0552. The Denali Princess also has a three-day/two-night package with the railroad, but the rail portion is in Princess's private cars. The cost is a little more: $399 per person.
Out in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park, the folks at Kennicott Glacier Lodge don't even open until Memorial Day weekend, May 26. But they offer an early-season special for $99 per night through June 16. It's a five-hour drive from Anchorage to the airstrip at Chitina, on the banks of the Copper River. There, Wrangell Mountain Air offers three scheduled flights per day to fly back to the McCarthy Airport. Or, you can drive the last 60 miles. But just keep your speed down to 35 miles per hour.
Adventuresome travelers make the trip to McCarthy and Kennicott part of a big loop. Instead of heading back the same way, you can drive back from McCarthy or Chitina on the Edgerton Highway to the junction with the Richardson Highway. This is the north-south corridor from Fairbanks to Valdez. It takes just a couple of hours to drive south past the Worthington Glacier, over Thompson Pass and through Keystone Canyon to Valdez. You can go kayaking with Pangaea Adventures out to Shoup Glacier. Or, sail with Stephens Cruises out to either Meares or Columbia Glacier.
Then, take the Alaska Marine Highway (the ferry) from Valdez over to Whittier. It's essential to make reservations for you and your car across the sound to Whittier. But it's definitely the shortcut back to Anchorage. And you don't even have to pay a toll to drive through the tunnel!
If you want to fly north to Fairbanks, the tickets from Anchorage on Ravn or Alaska Air are pretty good: $88 each way, with a 21-day advance purchase.
So don't mind May's quirky nature. Get out and see Alaska this month before the crowds arrive and the prices go up!