Whenever a tour has its first departure, we send out a staffer or two to check it out and report back on their experiences. This summer, Chelsea, one of our Traveler Support Specialists, packed her bags and headed north on our tour, Alaska’s National Parks: Denali & the Kenai Fjords. Here, she shares her recap of the adventure, as well as what you can expect on a trip to Alaska.
Seeing Alaska by land vs. sea
At Go Ahead Tours, we’ve offered two different Alaska itineraries for years that both include portions of the tour taking place on a cruise ship: Denali National Park & Wild Alaska Cruise and the Alaska Glacier Cruise. So when we launched our new land-based tour to Alaska this year, I was very excited! Alaska’s National Parks: Denali & the Kenai Fjords is an amazing itinerary, where we travel mostly by bus, as well as a scenic train ride on the Alaskan Railroad. While it tours Alaska primarily via land, this adventure does include a day aboard a small cruise on the Kenai Fjords—a must for whale watching.
I had the assumption that it might be more vigorous than the cruise options, but that was not the case—I’m happy to report that it was very easygoing and casual! Traveling by land showed off a different side to Alaska and as we transferred from one spot to the next, I was constantly in awe of how beautiful the scenery was outside the window.
Our most vigorous day was in Denali, where we went on a 45-minute walking tour through the park, but the path was flat and manageable and everyone enjoyed themselves. Our local guide from the park was terrific and the surroundings were breathtaking.
A bucket list trip
My tour group was wonderful! People were drawn to Alaska for various reasons. Some had traveled extensively in their lifetimes and Alaska was a bucket list trip that they’d always talked about doing. Others had had their hearts on Alaska for years and had been saving up to make it up north to Alaska’s unspoiled landscapes.
One thing that everyone shared was a deep gratitude and excitement to be in Alaska. Everyone really appreciated what they were doing and seeing, which made the whole trip really special. When you first see Denali, it truly takes your breath away. There were tears in one person’s eyes and people were beside themselves.
The tour name says it all—Denali and the Kenai Fjords were definite highlights! Another favorite highlight was the Iditarod Headquarters. You learned about the race, toured the facilities, visited the dogs, could hold puppies if you wanted, and for $10, you could take a quick ride with the sled dogs. Everyone loved it!
Our Tour Director organized an excursion for a helicopter ride, which 7 or 8 people did. I treated myself to this, and it was totally worth it—I’d do it again! The trip took about 35-40 minutes and the helicopter held four people, including the pilot. We rode up to a glacier, enjoyed incredible views, and then landed right next to the glacier. The pilot instructed us to each bring a cup with us that we filled with glacier water. It was so cool!
Another activity which the group raved about was the traditional Alaskan salmon bake. We had this included dinner early on during the tour, and it was a great way for everyone to relax, eat up, and get to know each other. The setting was outdoors with different stations for salad, mac and cheese, potatoes, other side dishes, and desserts. Everything was surrounding a big open fire pit, which was used for cooking salmon, beer-battered cod, and prime rib. The food was amazing—so fresh and delicious, and people were encouraged to eat as much as they liked.
Wildlife that wows
Our group had the best luck when it came to wildlife! Our Tour Director kept joking they we were his lucky charms! We saw moose, black bears, grizzly bears, caribou, dall sheep, bald eagles, humpback whales, orcas, sea otters, and harbor seals. It was amazing! I saw more moose after two days in Alaska than I saw after living in Maine for 20 years.
The sea life spotting mostly took place during the Kenai Fjords day cruise, during which the boat’s captain would seek out and follow orcas and humpbacks. It was great! During the cruise, people generally moved around from one side of the boat to the other, following the staff’s cues for where to look for wildlife.
Don’t forget layers
No matter the season, layers are key in Alaska. My group was really well-prepared for the weather. We went in July and I was very comfortable in a fall jacket most days. Some days were in the mid-60s to low 70s but it still felt cool. For the Kenai Fjords cruise, you definitely want a good jacket that’ll keep you warm! I also brought a windbreaker to have with me, though most days were sunny and beautiful. A lot of gift shops in the area do sell jackets, and a few people bought them to have as souvenirs.
Have you ever been on a tour of Alaska? Tell us about your favorite landscapes in the comments below.