Ah…Alaska! What a beautiful state. Our family called us at the end of April and said they were planning a last minute trip to Anchorage and the Kenai Peninsula and wanted us to join them. Um..Yeah! Ben and I have been wanting to go to Alaska for quite some time but other destinations have been getting on top of the list. Now it was time! We told the kids (3 yo and 6 yo) and they were super excited. The first question our 6 year old asked, “will there be a swimming pool at the hotel”? Of course she would ask that. I don’t think she was really excited about Alaska, or knew where is was for that matter, she just wanted to go swimming!
There were quite a few things that I learned before, during and after our trip. Here are some tips to help plan your next family trip to Alaska.
1. Plan ahead and make reservations early – The warm, tourist season is very limited in Alaska. Peak summer season is usually mid-June to mid-August. That means there is limited hotel rooms, and rental cars available so the prices are super inflated compared to off-season. You can still visit Alaska at some-what reasonable rates from mid-May to mid-June, and mid-August to mid-September. But you can still except to pay more than you would at other places in the lower 48 states. What do I mean by super inflated prices? If you want to stay at a Motel 6 during peak season, expect to pay over $125 a night (not including taxes). Mid to higher end hotels, you are guaranteed to pay $200-$300 plus a night. These prices were in Anchorage. When we traveled to Soldotna, a town not more than 5,000 people, we paid over $160 a night (not including taxes) for a basic room at a 20 room lodge on the Kenai River. Again, our room was basic, 2 double beds with a small refrigerator and microwave.
2. Dining Out – Not only are the rooms, and car rental more expensive but so is dining out. When we ate out at restaurants the prices were typically $15-$25 per entree. We ate all levels of dining from Subway, to a 4 star restaurant. Your average restaurant that serves burgers and fries was typically $15 a plate. However, I did have to splurge a few times and have Alaskan King Crab ($40-$60 per pound), Salmon, and Halibut. It was sooo good! Worth every penny!
3. Scenery – Ok, I anticipated Alaska to be beautiful but I had no idea how gorgeous it was going to be! It simply took our breath away! I will put some pictures in this blog post but they don’t give it justice. You have to see it, to believe it!
4. Alaska is HUGE – Did you know the size of Alaska from east to west would span from Florida to California in the lower 48 states? So, when planning your next trip, be sure to do some research on the distances from one place to another. It takes a lot longer to get to places than you might think. However, you could always charter a small plane. Most locals use their own small planes to commute or to get supplies from their remote residence.
5. Midnight Sun – If you haven’t heard this term before, you will become very familiar if you travel from May to August. There is sunlight for approximately 20 hours a day! We traveled to Anchorage at the end of May and when we arrived at 12:15AM, the sun was just starting to set. No kidding! Guess what, the glow of the sunrise starts to come up around 4am. Make sure your hotel has some great black-out curtains.
6. Bring / Buy supplies – If you plan to leave any large city (e.g. Anchorage or Fairbanks), be sure to hit up Wal-Mart, Target, etc before you leave. Why? You will find that once you leave the city, there is very few major stores to get the items you need at reasonable prices. Before we left Anchorage for the Kenai Peninsula we weren’t sure what to expect. So, we stopped at Target and picked up snacks (granola, chips, salsa, crackers, 2 gallons of water, etc) for the 3 hour car ride to Soldotna. I’m so glad we picked up snacks. There is very few places that you can stop and eat. Some businesses / restaurants are seasonal and weren’t open when we were driving. Also, our kids need to eat right away in the morning, so we also decided to pick up some simple breakfast items (cereal cups, 1/2 gallon milk, cereal bars, yogurt) to tide them over. I brought along from home, plastic utensils and napkins, so there would be one less thing to buy.
7. Dress Appropriately – This probably seems obvious in the summer season the weather can change from sunny and warm (low 70s), to cold (low 50s) and rainy within the same day. The summer season is actually Alaska’s rainy season so be sure to bring layers of clothing.
8. Bug Spray – We have been living in the Pacific Northwest for 10 years and we’ve become spoiled with no mosquitos. So, to our surprise and lack of research, the mosquitos is Alaska were HUGE! It took me less than 24 hours to find this out. Do yourself a favor and pack bug spray BEFORE you arrive.
9. Wildlife – If you have the opportunity to leave the city, be sure to pull over at any of the numerous “site viewing” areas along the highways. During certain seasons, the wildlife is plentiful with moose, elk, caribou, bears, bald eagles, musk ox, whales and more! There is also a Wildlife Conservation Center east of Anchorage about 50 miles where you can see a lot of the land animals in their natural habitat. A great way to spend the afternoon.
10. Food & Drink – I am always excited to try regional cuisines when I travel and couldn’t wait for Alaska. My first lunch in Anchorage was a 1/2 pound of Alaskan King Crab, a salmon club sandwich, and a local brew. OMG! So good! The next day my husband and I split a Bison burger and a blackened Halibut salad. Again, another great meal! Throughout the week we continued to try local microbrews and lots more halibut and king crab. The seafood just taste so much better in Alaska. Now, I can’t complain about the seafood in the PacNorthwest but Alaska definitely knows their seafood.
So, there you have it! Hopefully this is a good starting point for you and your family before heading to one of America’s most beautiful states. We are anxious to visit Denali, or to take an Alaskan cruise on our next visit. To get more info on some of the restaurants we visited while in Alaska, click Here.
What tips do you have when visiting Alaska? We would love to hear about them!