The first flowers of spring have not quite punched through the ice dams in our backyard. Even so, summer is on its way.
It appears lots of folks are coming to Alaska from around the world. But as travel companies spool up for the summer season, there are a handful of early-season deals on cruises, rail trips and adventures. Some are set aside just for Alaska residents, while others are available for all. But you have to know where to look to find the best deals — and they may not be on the company’s website.
For the last three years, Alaskan Dream Cruises has offered a selection of cruise discounts just for residents.
Zak Kirkpatrick, the company’s director of marketing, was at a travel show in Anchorage last weekend passing out flyers announcing the discounts. Select cruises in May and June are 50%-70% off for Alaska residents.
“Alaskan Dream Cruises is an Alaska Native-owned cruise company based in Sitka,” said Kirkpatrick. “We have five small ships, ranging from 12 to 76 passengers.”
The Baranof Dream is a 49-passenger vessel that sails from Sitka on an eight-night itinerary called “Inside Passage Sojourn.” Sailings from May 13 to June 30 are marked down from $5,395 per person to $1,618.50 per person for Alaska residents.
Details of the cruise itinerary, the ship and activities are available online, but you have to call the reservations office in Sitka to make arrangements: 855-747-8100.
Three other ships are included in the “Local Discount Specials”: the Admiralty Dream, the Chichagof Dream and the Alaskan Dream. Depending on the sailing dates and itineraries, the ships may also sail from Juneau or Ketchikan. Itinerary highlights include sailing through Glacier Bay, visiting small Alaska Native communities like Kasaan and Metlakatla and a stop at the Orca Point Lodge near Juneau.
“Our guests really love the raw wilderness exploration on these sailings,” said Kirkpatrick.
Princess Alaska Lodges is offering a selection of two-for-one rail/hotel deals between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Travelers can choose itineraries between one and four nights. Most of the itineraries depart and return to Anchorage, although there are a few that go one-way between Anchorage and Fairbanks. Then you can fly back home.
The rail/hotel specials are available to everyone, not just Alaska residents. None of the specials include hotel accommodations in either Anchorage or Fairbanks, though.
Princess has its own glass-domed rail cars, pulled by the Alaska Railroad. The first departure is on May 12.
My favorite itineraries for this sale are the two-night stays at either Mt. McKinley Princess (near Talkeetna) or one of the Denali-area properties (including the Denali Princess and the McKinley Chalet Resort). The two-night package for the Mt. McKinley Princess is $274.40 per person, double occupancy. Transfers between the Talkeetna railroad station and the hotel are included. The two-night package for Denali is $424.50 per person, double occupancy.
Kennicott Glacier Lodge offers an early-season special just for Alaska residents: 20% off rooms and meal packages between May 27 and June 25.
Closer to home, two cruise companies in Seward are offering special rates for their springtime wildlife cruises.
Kenai Fjords Tours is offering a “Kids go free” promotion for its four-hour whale-watching cruises. The sailings depart at noon Thursday-Sunday through May 18. Two children, 2 to 11 years old, are permitted to sail free with each paying adult. Adults save 10% while booking online. The discounted price is $80.10 per adult. Taxes and fees add up to $14.45 for a total of $94.55 per adult.
Major Marine Tours is offering a 20% discount on its combo cruise/hotel package through May 7. The discount is available for the four-hour Spring Wildlife Cruise, departing each day at 12:30 p.m. Hotel accommodations are at the Harbor360 Hotel, located right on the water next to the boat ramp.
Traveling in April, the all-in cost with the cruise, the hotel room and taxes comes out to $173 per person, double occupancy. It’s a little extra for a harbor view room. Details on the boat, the itinerary and the hotel are available online, but you have to call the reservations office to make arrangements: 907-224-8030.
If you plan to visit Fairbanks this spring, Fountainhead Hotels operates three hotels: Wedgewood Resort (near Creamer’s Field), Bear Lodge and Sophie Station (near the airport). Use the discount code “FHH15″ to trim 15% off the room rates.
I expect to see more specials and sales as summer approaches.
There still are a few airfare specials out there for spring, but prices are creeping up.
The best price for summertime nonstop travel to Europe was available just on one day: June 18-24. Fly nonstop in both directions on Condor Air. This fare is “economy light,” at $820 round trip. You’ll pay extra for your checked bags. But, you also will accrue Alaska Airlines mileage credit. Of course, prices are subject to change without notice.
On the home front, tickets between Anchorage and Las Vegas are cheap for travel in April: $309 round trip on Delta. There’s little or no advance purchase necessary. On Delta, you change planes in Seattle. United is available for the same price on some days, but you change planes in Denver, then fly back over the Rocky Mountains to land in Las Vegas. Alaska Airlines offers two to three nonstops per week, but the fare is higher: $481-$616 round trip.
[Construction will worsen parking chaos at Anchorage airport through busy summer season]
It’s hard to call this a “spring special” but the short-term parking lot at Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport is under construction. Between now and October, the garage will only offer half of its usual parking places. That means parking will be in short supply, so plan accordingly.
Whether you park in the airport’s long-term lot, or one of the off-site parking lots, be sure and allow extra time to park your car. Better yet, get a ride to the curb before your flight!