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Scott McMurren: Early-season Alaska travel deals are here

  • Author: Scott McMurren
    | Alaska Travel
  • Updated: September 28, 2016
  • Published April 16, 2015

We know it's true that April showers bring May flowers. And as those May flowers are pushing up through the last of our late-spring snowfalls, they also announce the beginning of the summer travel season.

The month of May is yielding some incredible airfare deals as seasonal airlines ramp up their summertime service. And all around the state, hotels, adventure outings and fishing trips are available at a discount. It's fair to say that May should be the official "Alaskans see Alaska month," since the days are long and the prices are low.

Even though I'm not a pilot, I love things with wings. That's the case with most Alaskans -- which is why you want to put the Great Alaska Aviation Gathering on your calendar for May 2-3 at the big FedEx hangar by the Anchorage airport. It's free to attend. I think the best part of the show is all of the different planes on display: big planes, little planes, tiny experimental planes -- even a few helicopters.

Down in Juneau, May 9 is Juneau Appreciation Day. The Juneau Raptor Center at the Mount Roberts Tramway hosts a fundraiser, offering $10 tram tickets. The regular price is $33.

Later in the month, on May 23, Icy Strait Point in Hoonah is hosting a Neighbors Day special from Juneau. The special one-day event costs $120 for a round-trip ticket on a catamaran from Auke Bay (north of the Juneau airport). For an extra $30, travelers can ride on the giant zipline, called the "Ziprider." Other tours are available on arrival, including kayaking, whale watching tours, bike tours and ATV rides for $20-$40 each. Only 100 tickets are available. For information, call 907-523-3688.

In Homer, the "Getaway Package" is available at Land's End Resort through May 13. The price is $139 per couple and includes overnight accommodations and dinner for two at the resort's restaurant, the Chart Room. Call 907-235-0400 for reservations.

If you want to go fishing while you're in Homer or Ninilchik, Ninilchik Charters offers halibut trips in May and June for as little as $195. Call 907-260-7825 for information and reservations.

Over in Seward, the California gray whales are passing through on their migration to the Bering Sea. Kenai Fjords Tours offers weekend departures (Saturday and Sunday) through April 18 and daily departures from April 24-May 15. The special package includes a four-hour Resurrection Bay cruise, lunch on board and free admission to the Alaska Sealife Center. Call 877-777-4051. Cost is $89 per adult.

For a longer tour into Kenai Fjords National Park, choose the special "Room and Cruise Special," available May 16-31. The package includes the 11:30 a.m. "National Park Tour" and overnight accommodations at the Seward Windsong Lodge. Lunch is included on the tour. The cost is $169 per person, double occupancy. Call 877-777-4051.

Alyeska Resort is offering a special Spring Skiing Getaway for $169 per night. That includes two lift tickets per night. So, ski your heart out until the last day, on Sunday, April 19. After the lift stops running, you can stay at the hotel for as little as $109 per night (April 20-May 14). Enjoy the pool, the hot tub, the spa, the hiking and biking. Do you need more room? The "family package" allows for an adjoining room for just $59 more. Call 907-754-2111.

Over in Valdez, Stan Stephens Cruises is offering a 15 percent discount off of any tour (including Columbia Glacier cruises and Meares Glacier Excursions). You must book by May 31 and travel by June 30. This special is not available for online booking. Call the office directly at 866-867-1297.

Kennicott Glacier Lodge is offering a discounted "forest view" room rate of $99 per night in the heart of Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Only two people are permitted in the room at that rate (other rooms allow for more people). "Glacier View" rooms are available for $159 per night. Meals are not included. These rates are available from May 23 to June 12. Call 907-258-2350 for reservations or more information.

The Alaska Railroad has teamed up with Phillips Cruises to offer a special early-booking rate of $219 per person. That includes the train ride from Anchorage to Whittier, plus the five-hour "26 Glacier Cruise" on the Klondike Express. The crew will help you count all 26 glaciers. The Klondike Express is the fastest catamaran in Alaska -- and lunch is included. You must purchase this special no later than June 15 for travel between June 1 and Sept. 14. Use the promo code PHILLIPS when you call to book the special: 907-276-8023.

Princess Lodges is offering 25 percent off May departures for packages that include a rail tour to the Mount McKinley Princess, the Denali Princess or both, plus one or two nights' accommodations. For example, you can travel from Anchorage to Denali with Princess Rail Tours and stay for two nights near the park entrance (at the Denali Princess or the McKinley Chalet Resort). The cost is $450 per person, plus tax for departures between May 14 and 30.

Or, save 25 percent off of rail tours from Anchorage to Talkeetna, staying at Mount McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Your package price includes rail tickets, transfers by coach up to the lodge and accommodations. Packages for departures between May 14 and 30 start at $308 per person, plus tax. Call 800-426-0500 for reservations.

The Denali Bluffs and Denali Grande hotels are offering special spring rates. The Denali Bluffs sits way up from the road, offering an incredible view of the Nenana River Valley. Stay there between May 18 and 31 for as little as $159. The Denali Bluffs hotel is closer to the road, for as little as $129 per night between May 18 and 24.

At the far end of the Denali National Park Road is the community of Kantishna, which now is little more than some historic buildings and an eclectic collection of eco-lodges. The Denali Backcountry Lodge is offering a shoulder-season deal from June 4-14 of $439 per person, per night (plus taxes of about $13.50 per night). The rates are high, but everything is included. The lodge has a special bus that will pick you up at the park entrance and take you on a wonderful tour of the 95-mile road. It takes six to seven hours. Once you're there at the lodge, all of your meals are included, as are naturalist-led hikes. Guests also can use the fishing gear, mountain bikes and gold pans.

For guests who book three nights (Thursday, Friday and Saturday), Denali Backcountry Lodge will offer a $1,000 activity credit. Personally, I would recommend that you upgrade your return trip from the bus to an air tour with Kantishna Air Taxi. But you also can use the credit for accommodations at the park entrance in the Denali Cabins. Or, choose from a large selection of activities around the park including the Alaska Railroad and river raft trips. For reservations and more information, contact Alaska Denali Travel at 800-808-8068.

The Denali Park Village also is offering a special early-season rate of $165 per night. The special is available May 13-25. Call 800-276-7234 or reserve online at DenaliParkVillage.com.

Up in Fairbanks, the Riverboat Discovery and Gold Dredge 8 are offering 40 percent off to Alaska residents. This special is available between April 27 and May 8. Call the reservations office at 907-479-6673. As long as tickets are purchased by May 8, you can use them throughout the summer.

Just outside of Fairbanks, Chena Hot Springs is offering rooms for as little as $100 per night. The rooms include unlimited swimming passes in the hot springs, but does not include the 8 percent bed tax. To reserve your rooms between now and Aug. 9, call the resort at 907-451-8104.

Don't miss the chance to get out and see Alaska, especially during the early season. Think about it: Your fiends and relatives already think you're an Alaska travel expert. Take a few of these trips and you can grow into your outsized reputation.

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