For the 3rd year running, I was lucky enough to be picked for the Brand-USA Fam trip, a trip run by the USA tourist board to promote and educate travel agents on the experiences that can be had whilst holidaying in the states. Allowing us to pass on our knowledge to our clients or anyone that is keen to find our more.
Due to it being the centennial year of the USA’s national parks, all the itineraries that could be experienced all featured one or more national park. There were some fantastic itineraries to choose from, ranging from the ‘Deserts of Nevada’, to the ‘Sights of the Pacific Northwest’, but the trip I really wanted was the ‘Alaskan Adventure’. I had everything crossed in the build up to finding out, and I wasn’t disappointed… I got Alaska, along with 9 other agents!
As Alaska isn’t somewhere that customers often ask for, I didn’t know much about it, I didn’t even know the main flight routes. There’s actually various options, but the most popular would be a direct flight to either Seattle or Phoenix, followed by a direct flight to Anchorage in Alaska. This second flight takes around 5 hours, so it’s not as far as you’d think.
You also have the option to break up the journey with a stopover, we went via Phoenix so stopped there for 24 hours. It’s a great way to add something completely different to the itinerary, and I always think that if you’re flying via somewhere, why not stay and visit?
Phoenix was great, we stayed in a town called Carefree which was approx. 25 minutes from Downtown. It was picturesque and had the biggest cactuses I’ve ever seen, some taller than houses! We then got to explore the area, and what better way to see everything than from a hot air balloon? It’s the first time I’ve ever done and I’d highly recommend it, it was fantastic and very peaceful. We flew around 6 miles and reached heights of around 6 thousand feet. We even got to help inflate the balloons prior to departing, which added to the fun.
After our 2 hour trip we ventured into an area of Phoenix called Cave Creek. We were all surprised by the amount of bars, restaurants and boutiques on offer, and the desert scenery made the area really unique. I would definitely suggest a stop here if you’re planning on visiting the area. We got to sample a local biker bar which was like a friendly version of something from the TV show “Sons of Anarchy”. All the local bikers went out of their way to make us feel right at home. Then after our brief stop in Phoenix it was then time to move on, and we departed for our flight to Anchorage.
I was going to write a day by day account of what we experienced in Alaska, but to detail all the things we did, and to cover all the utterly stunning scenes we saw you’d be reading this for the next few hours, so I instead I decided to list a few of the highlights. Just so I could give you a taster of the kind of things you can see and do whilst there.
THE best way to see Alaska.
A sight flight is a small propeller plane which holds between 6-10 people. All the seats are by the window, so everyone gets an unobstructed view of the dramatic and completely unspoilt scenery that awaits you. Our flights were taken by which are one of Alaska’s longest running flight seeing companies, based just 10 minutes from Anchorage airport. There’s also who specialise in trips to Mount Denali and also offer Glacier landings too for those interested.
Both tours companies offer a variety of flights which suit every type of passenger and budget. We did the Prince William Sound Tour, which took in Cascading waterfalls, Alaskan wildlife and had a sea landing on a beach in the middle of the wilderness (yes the plane landed and took off on water). Our trip lasted around 2-3 hours, but there’s also shorter 30 minute trips that can be done to get an idea of the local area and surrounding mountains, so it should be something you include in your trip, it’s definitely up there with the top things to do whilst in Alaska.
It’s hard to describe the beauty of the scenery in Alaska and no photo ever does it justice. Literally everywhere you look you are amazed by the magnificent nature that surrounds you. The Glaciers, the waterfalls, the mountains, the wildlife and every little thing you look at just has your jaw dropping. I’ve never been anywhere as beautiful and I honestly can’t think of a place that will match how awe inspiring Alaska is. As mentioned the sight flights add immensely to this experience, allowing you to visit completely remote and far away mountains, glaciers and lakes that can’t be accessed by road.
Kenai Fjords cruise
Although it was difficult to pick a favourite highlight of my trip, on reflection I think I would have to say the cruise was mine.
We set sail from an area called Seward which is around 2½hrs south of the capital Anchorage and is a major fishing port and harbour. It’s a lovely little town that has various bars and restaurants. It also has a Sea-life centre which is the only facility in Alaska that features a public aquarium, along with a marine research facility which helps rescue and rehabilitate injured marine life.
Although there are plenty of companies offering cruises, we used who were faultless and I can’t recommend them enough. The boat we were cruising on was surprisingly bigger than other day cruises I’ve been on before, it was really comfortable and spacious, with ample deck space to have a wonder around and take in the scenery. Lunch was also included and there was a bar on board too.
The tours lasts around 6 hours and takes in the breath-taking coastline of the Kenai Fjords and surrounding areas. The main aim of the cruise for most people is to experience first-hand the marine wildlife and animals that are found in Alaska, and although they can’t promise viewings of anything (who can?) we were lucky enough to experience a plethora of different species including Eagles, Sea lions, Otters, Mountain goats and my favourite… Orca whales!!
It was unbelievable seeing the Orcas in their natural habitat, swimming next to the boat and coming close enough to take pictures. It was everyone’s number 1 moment of the day and just added to the enjoyment of what already was a fantastic trip. Something I’ll never forget.
As with the sight flights, the Kenai cruise HAS to be incorporated into any trip to Alaska, it is also extremely good value for money.
Zip-lining and Jet Boat River Tour
Although these are two different trips, I thought I would talk about them together as they are both based in the rustic village of Talkeetna, 2 hours north of Anchorage.
The TV program “Northern Exposure” was actually based on the town, although it wasn’t filmed there! It’s very pretty and quaint and was my favourite town that we visited on the trip. It is definitely worth staying for a couple of nights and experiencing its small town, laid back atmosphere. If you do, pay a visit to the which has gorgeous homemade savoury and sweet baked goods, and has also been featured on the show “Man vs Food!”
On to the . I’ve done zip-lining before but never have I done it in such impressive surroundings. We had Mount Denali as our back drop, which is the tallest mountain in North America, if you measured it from base to summit its actually taller than mount Everest… so as you can imagine it’s not a bad view to have in the distance whilst zip-lining over a forest!
There are varying degrees of height when it comes to the zipping, and I’m not going to lie, when we got to the 3rd line which was the highest of all 9 of them I was pretty much hugging the tree wishing I could get down. That wasn’t going to happen though, as the only way to get off the tree was to zip across to the next platform! It did get easier though and as we went along the different lines I became more and more comfortable and accepted that I was completely safe.
By the time I was 100% comfortable with it all it was time for the last zip, which was the longest and spanned the length of a lake in the forest… what a brilliant way to finish off the experience. It was such great fun and the two experienced members of the team that were with us the whole way round made us all feel at ease, and put any issues we had about safety straight to bed. I would only recommend this trip if you are comfortable with heights, as some of the platforms were scarily high!
Jetboating… well was is a jet boat? It’s a boat that has a shallow bottom that is propelled using a water pump, so it can be used in rivers that have a fast tide and that aren’t very deep, so you can basically get to places that other boats can’t.
This trip was only short but really enjoyable and allowed us to visit areas that we couldn’t travel to by road or other forms of transport. Again it gives you the opportunity to view local wildlife and it also stops off and allows you visit a recently made camp, giving you an insight into how the original trappers who stayed in the area decades ago used to live and thrive in such harsh conditions.
The trip is excellent if you want to do something different but are on a limited time scale, as it’s the perfect way to spend a few hours in the afternoon, taking in the stunning local scenery.
Alaska Rail Road Journey
As the name would suggest this was a train ride which we took from Seward back to Anchorage. There are various alternative routes, so it doesn’t have to be this particular route.
The journey took around 4 hours and we were in the gold cart which has a dome glass roof, so the views of all the passing mountains and lakes can be seen in all their beauty. It also features a 3 course meal whilst on-board and includes two free drinks too, so it’s well worth upgrading as it’s quite a unique experience.
The whole journey is fully commentated, so the on-board guide can answer any questions you have and fills you with numerous knowledgeable facts. It’s also a great way to get back to Anchorage after visiting the Kenai fjords, as this way you can relax and have a drink without having to worry about driving.
It was the most enjoyable train journey I’ve ever had and the meal on-board was gorgeous too!
One thing I did want to mention before I finish up was about the city of Anchorage. If you are visiting Alaska you will find that you will generally be back forth via Anchorage, due to it being a central point and a great place to be based.
This isn’t a bad thing, the city was a lot bigger than I imagined and features dozens of bars, everything from Hard Rock to smaller local bars. The food was great too, anything from reindeer sausages, Alaskan crab and burgers to gourmet a la carte food. We ate at the at Captain Cooks Hotel on our last night (I had wild boar, it was amazing!) so you can literally eat any kind of food you want. The shopping is also great, featuring tons of local boutiques and there’s shopping malls too, ideal to get those at home a present from your stay.
I would definitely consider looking at Alaska as a holiday, it offers something completely different, and for an outdoor holiday, with unspoilt scenery, it can’t be beat. If you also want to combine it with other places in the USA, we can create any , so get in touch and we’ll be more than happy to help put an itinerary together. Even if you were looking at doing something like , Alaska combines really well with it too, so it’s definitely worth considering adding Alaska on, as it’ll make it a trip to remember.
Before I go I just wanted to thank British Airways, American Airlines and of course for a once in a lifetime experience, one that I certainly will never forget.
I hope this has given you a brief idea of my amazing trip, and if there is anything you wanted to know or find out about Alaska, feel free to get in touch and I’ll gladly assist in whatever way I can.