Don’t Wait Until You’re Retired to go to Alaska

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We are currently in Alaska on an amazing family vacation. One really unique aspect of this trip has been that fellow tourists and locals alike seem to really enjoy talking to each other.  It’s sad, but on many trips, we don’t end up coming across many people who just want to chat about their travels.  Here we have hardly seen a person who didn’t want to just stop and chat about where they’re going and where they’ve been.  It’s different. It’s refreshing.  It’s Alaska.

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Many of the people we have come across are retired folks who waited their whole lives to take this trip.  They saved thousands and waited years.  I think that is fantastic, and Alaska is a great spot for those who are retired and can take their times exploring.  However, another constant I have encountered is that these retired folks also all seem to say they wish they would have come to Alaska sooner.

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My advice is don’t wait until you are retired to go to Alaska.  This place is breath-taking, awe inspiring, beautiful, and every other positive adjective you could come up with.  Those of us who know about miles, points, and travel deals don’t need to wait a lifetime to come to Alaska.  Come again when you are retired, but Alaska is a spot you can also enjoy with a family now.  It’s a spot you should enjoy now.

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If you like the outdoors, mountains, streams, lakes, then bump Alaska up your “list”.  You can thank me later.  Actually, don’t thank me.  Just send me a picture, and I’ll smile remembering how much we love it here.

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  1. I definitely want to go to Alaska soon. I’m trying to visit all 3142 counties in the US and Alaska is one of the trickiest ones to get (of course!). Of course, they keep dividing their county-equivalents (they call them boroughs and census-designated places) – I’d hate to visit “all” the counties in Alaska only to find out a few years later that there is a new one 😛

    Though I guess that would “force” me to come back 😀

  2. Thanks for posting this. A visit to Alaska is a life changing FAMILY experience, especially the Inside Passage and a helicopter trip to a glacier. Bald Eagles are their “sea gulls” 🙂

    Don’t wait – you should experience it with your family.

  3. I’m loving your updates and tweets from Alaska! Looks and sounds like you are having a wonderful time. Alaska is definitely on our bucket list, especially all of the national parks! Enjoy the rest of your trip. 🙂

  4. Alaska is such an amazing place!

    Even though it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, I really have enjoyed the several Alaskan cruises I’ve taken. Getting to see the scenery and wildlife of the Inside Passage is such a great experience, and you get a little bit of a different feel from SE Alaska compared to the ‘main’ part of the state.

    I definitely agree though – there is so much to do in Alaska I can’t imagine waiting until I’m retired to go visit!

  5. A good way to experience Alaska is on an Alaskan cruise. Fun fact: only 12,500 British Airways Avios to go from several Hawaiian Islands to Anchorage. That would be an interesting 1-2 combo. Enjoy the sunshine Summer!

  6. Alaska
    On September 7, 2013, I returned from Alaska. I love the outdoors. This was the trip of a lifetime – raw, wild, wonderful beauty from the comfort of a small ship, the Wilderness Discoverer (176 feet, 76 passengers max).

    Unlike most cruises, the ship does not stop port to port. Instead, it anchors nightly in small bays and fjords surrounded by forest and meadows, towering cliffs, and near the bases of massive glaciers. Then it offers everyone the opportunity to kayak, stand up paddleboard or hike or take small skiff tours of the area.
    The kayaks and stand up paddleboards are launched and retrieved from the stern of the ship. You do not get wet from the kayak launch, a good thing, since the water temperature can go as low as 32 degrees. Sometimes there are kayak tours of the area led by expert naturalists. Very often open kayaking is offered – you can go where you like, within site of the ship for safety. This latter opportunity was especially appealing to me – it’s a very peaceful way to enjoy the beauty and wildlife of Alaska. My favorite experience doing this was sneaking up to within a few feet of a sea otter sleeping in a mass of seaweed in the middle of a small peaceful bay.
    The hikes range from beach walks (fascinating diversity of life under every rock), to beautiful forest pokes, to bushwhacks though beautiful forests and boot sucking muskeg and bogs. All of the hikes are guided by expert naturalists. Almost none of them were on trails (there aren’t any!).
    The skiff tours are on motorized pontoon boats holding up to 12 passengers. I thought the best of these was those winding though the small to massive pieces of ice dropping off the nearby glaciers.
    The wildlife viewing was fantastic. Mountain goats, bears (species brown and black), seals and sea lions, salmon, bald eagles, cute sea otters, and an abundance of creatures under rocks when the tide is out. (Have you ever kissed a Slug? No, not the human kind. Probably should be no more than a once in a lifetime experience, for both types.)
    And then there were the whales! In Frederick Sound we were surrounded by about 100 40 ton Humpback Whales, trumpeting, bellowing, breaching, fin slapping, leaping fully out or the water while twisting and turning before slapping back into the water, all the while with Dahl Porporpuses zipping around them like race cars, and some of this action within a few feet of the ship. I have lived.
    I saw the Northern Lights!
    The ship’s schedule is flexible. All they promise is to get you between Juneau and Ketchikan on time, and to do different routes going south and north. They go more or less on the advertised route, but stopping and changing that route depending on weather and tides. Examples:
    Whales and bears will stop the ship and interrupt dinner.
    Rough seas changed our turn route to include Petersburg (with tours) in stead of the Native American village. The ship is not built for comfortable navigation of 6′ waves.
    For the first time this season the ship was able to visit Ford’s Terror, a Fjord off of Endicott Arm that is like a small Yosemite Valley with mountains like El Capitan and the North Dome, but with water filling the valley and with no other people there. Tides usually create dangerous currents into and out of this place (thus its name), but our captain knew this special place was accessible on our tour
    In only a few places at which we anchored was there anyone else there, and then only one small private boat or one small day tour boat from Ketchican.
    Have you ever seen Glacier Ice floating in the bay? It’s pure blue, because all of the air has been compressed out of it. Have you ever tasted it? (Bland, but cold, and makes a good photo.)
    The weather varied from typical Alaska drizzle and cold wind (especially near the glaciers) to beautiful mist (yes, in Misty Fjord), to bright, sunny, comfortable days. But no problem – the ship has two hot tubs and a sauna.
    The tour is run by an aptly named company, Un-Cruise. The specific tour I took was the 14 day Ultimate Adventure – Roundtrip Juneau
    The ship is comfortable and the food, though not gourmet, is good. The service is simply outstanding. Except for the most expensive ones, the cabins are tiny, but adequate, giving that you only sleep and bathe in them. For all but the most expensive cabins, choose a twin configuration so you have enough room between the beds to move and can store your luggage under both beds. Of the expensive cabins on the 400 deck, cabins 400 and 401 are the best, as they have both forward and side facing windows.
    You can choose do to only one way of this trip for 7 days. There is a 10% discount for the second 7 days. Both directions are fantastic, but if you are only doing one, I suggest the southbound leg from Juneau to Ketchikan.
    Alaska Airlines flies to both Juneau and Ketchikan. You can access these flights via miles from Alaska Air or its partners, including American and Delta Airlines and British Airways.
    If you choose to take this or any other Un-Cruise adventure, mention my name, Gary Steiger and the fact that I was on Juneau -Ketchikan – Juneau 14 day cruise departing August 24, 2013, to get a $150 discount.

    Before this cruise we visited famous Glacier Bay, staying at Glacier Bay Lodge.

    We saw rugged scenery, great wildlife, including a large colony of massive and smaller Sea Lions, and Puffins, one of my favorite birds, and of course, Glaciers.
    The Glacier Bay Lodge all inclusive 3 day, 2 night package was very worthwhile. It included the all day boat tour of the bay, and another day to enjoy the surroundings and the excellent National Park naturalist programs.
    I highly recommend spending the extra few dollars for a view room.
    Free camping is available in a very nice walk in campground with heated bathrooms.
    If you are doing the 14 day Un-Cruise tour, you can fly on one ticket from your home airport to Gustavos (Glacier Bay), the return with a 15 day stopover in Juneau to do the cruise. If you are doing the 7 day tour, consider an open jaw ticket to Juneau, return from Ketchikan, then buying the very short flight ticket between Gustavos and Juneau (about 15 minutes in the air each way).
    There is a ferry from Juneau a few times a week in the summer. 4 hours I am told.

  7. Unfortunately, Alaska is not so great for miles hounds. The best points value for lodging going is the Sheraton Anchorage, where you stayed, but unlike some places, I would never take advantage of a “fifth night free” in Anchorage – that city is just too ugly. The Marriotts are impossibly inflated categories. There is a Holiday Inn Express in Seward, but it can be impossible to book in the summer.

    This is not preventing me from biting the bullet and making my 11th trip to Alaska this year. Avios/Lanpass miles are proving helpful for intra Alaska travel on AS, and AS miles are proving helpful for Era and Penair flights to smaller locations.

  8. I highly recommend taking the Alaskan Marine Highway from either Bellingham or Prince Rupert. You can rent a cabin on the ferry or bring a tent to pitch on the deck for the voyage. You see some scenery that the big cruise ships miss because they are too big. Wrangell Alaska is one of those places.

  9. We were there over Presidents Day – not your typical travel period for Alaska but very awesome. Nice that it was so quiet; felt like we had the whole place to ourselves. Not to mention it was beautiful with the snow. Over two days, we did dog mushing in Seward, met Sarah Palin in Wasilla (seriously), and saw Mt. McKinley from Talkeetna… Not bad for a long weekend! Hoping to get back there again this summer.

  10. MP, thanks for posting this.

    I’ve been to Alaska twice, both times I visited Denali and Kenai Fjords NP. On the 2nd trip, I took my parents w/ me. I’ve taken them traveling all over the lower 48, mostly to the western US national parks, all the way from North Cascades to the Grand Canyon.

    But nothing compares to Alaska. The drive from Anchorage to Fairbanks in the fall is breath-taking. No national parks in the lower 48 can compare. In Denali, in the 2 days that we spent there, we saw 14 grizzlies, from lone males, to sows with cubs. In the city of Anchorage itself, Bald Eagles are everywhere. We saw a full grown bull moose in the city! In Kenai Fjords, it was like a National Geographic magazine. We saw everything from sea otters, to humpbacks to killer whales. And I have not mentioned the calving glaciers yet!

    You’re right, no one should wait to visit Alaska. If I may make a recommendation, visit during the Labor Day weekend. Fall comes a little early compared to the lower 48, and the fall foliage on the tundras is drop-dead gorgeous.

  11. I echo everything Gary says above. We just got back from two weeks aboard the Wilderness Discoverer from Un-Cruise and it was an AMAZING way to see the more remote parts of SE Alaska. I can’t wait to return someday for some additional adventures.

  12. We went to Alaska last summer, right around July 4. We spent a day in Anchorage, then rented an RV to travel down to Seward. An RV is a great way to see Alaska. While in Anchorage, we stayed in the Hilton, and it was great (amazing salmon at the breakfast buffet!)

    While in Seward, we went on a Kenia Fjord boat trip to see the wildlife, hiked up to Exit Glacier, took a dog sled ride at Idadaride (looks like Mommy Pts did that too), and watched the Mount Marathon race (2nd oldest road race in the US, behind the Boston Marathon).

    Great trip, and we used Delta miles to get there. Delta miles are hard to use, as they usually don’t offer good value, but we found that Delta was a great option for Alaska. I was looking for an excuse to use Delta miles, as I had no idea how I was going to use them.

    Listen to Mommy Points – go to Alaska!

  13. Wow, I’ve never seen such a collection of lengthy comments! I agree with everyone, Alaska is a place not to be missed.

    Yes, lodging isn’t cheap, but if you are using airline miles, getting there is a real bargain.

    And there is no reason that you have to stop at Anchorage, you can continue flying to Fairbanks at no added cost. One possibility is to open-jaw into FB, then take the train past Denali to Anchorage, returning to the lower 48 from ANC (perhaps after renting a car to visit Seward).

    Enjoy Alaska while you’re young.

  14. Completely agree about the wonders of Alaska! My sister-in-law lives there, so we are lucky to have a good reason to get out there once every year or two. So far, our favorite convenient-to-Anchorage spots are Talkeetna and the Kenai Peninsula. And for anyone visiting in August, I highly recommend stopping by a county fair or the State Fair — fun way to see some local culture, and especially memorable for the GIANT vegetables!

    We always have terrible luck finding flights on miles during the summer. For one half of our trip later this summer, we took advantage of a Europe-to-Anchorage award flight with a 4-month “stopover” at home, but I hear the airlines recently closed that loophole. But otherwise, we’ve always had to just pay for the tickets. My husband just picked up the Alaska Airlines Visa, which comes with a companion fare certificate, to make that a little easier. Otherwise, for anyone hoping to visit, I suspect award travel is MUCH easier during the off season.

  15. Awesome! I love the fact that you guys are in Alaska! Not many people seem to have Alaska on their list (unless you’re old). It’s definitely on my list and your post reaffirms that I need to go visit soon! I plan to do an Alaskan cruise when I go and a scenic train ride along the coast.

  16. I agree with ToddC that renting an RV is the perfect way to experience Alaska. We did it about 15 years ago when our two kids were in elementary school. It is my favorite family vacation! Doing a glacier trek on Matanuska Glacier is our favorite family vacation experience!

    Now that we are empty-nesters (not yet retired), we are doing an inside passage cruise with four other couples this summer. Cruising is a great way to travel with a group and I look forward to seeing Alaska from a different perspective.

    P.S. Isn’t it great that we who take the time and make the effort to maximize points and miles don’t HAVE to wait a lifetime to take trips of a lifetime?!

  17. We just retired from the Army last year and my husband was hired as a police officer in AK,so we didn’t have to leave AK.We just love it here!

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