3 ways to see Alaska in 2021: By small ship, land tours and on points

Mar 23, 2021

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TPG has been singing Alaska’s praises for a while now. We think it’s one of the best destinations to set your sights on for 2021 — especially if you’ve been vaccinated already and are raring to get back into the travel fray.

We previously shared four tips to help gear up for an Alaska sojourn and now we’ll share three ways to easily explore The Last Frontier this spring or summer: by small ship, via an independent or escorted land tour and by booking a hotel with points. Let’s get started.

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In This Post

Small-ship cruising

Touring by skiff got this family so close to a glacier. (Photo courtesy of UnCruise Adventures)

I’ve cruised Alaska aboard midsized cruise ships and also one of UnCruise Adventures’ yachts. There is absolutely nothing like the up-close-and-personal nature of an expedition or luxury sailing through Alaska’s Inside Passage on a small ship. You sail and explore during the day and anchor in a quiet cove at night.

While the CDC mandates that ships with more than 250 people and crew can’t sail in American waters right now, smaller ships are still viable options. So, take a look at sailings from UnCruise, which operations a fleet of small adventure boats.

UnCruise Adventures offers seven-, 12- and 14-night Alaska sailings from May through September. Opt for Wilderness Explorer (74 guests) or Wilderness Discoverer (76 guests) if you’re a total outdoors person. If you love nature but also yearn for the trappings of luxury, Safari Explorer (36 guests), Safari Endeavour (84 guests) or Legacy (86 guests) are the best choices for you. No matter which type of ship you pick, you can opt for an itinerary that explores the Inside Passage and/or Glacier Bay National Park.

Related: A beginner’s guide to visiting Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Included excursions range from rainforest hikes, kayak and skiff outings to view wildlife, paddle boarding and the opportunity learn about native Alaskan cultures and tribes. You may even do a “polar plunge” from the ship’s swim step if you dare! Every outing is lead by a passionate expedition guide that can explain the nature, science and culture of Alaska.

Glacier Bay polar plunge UnCruise Adventures
Taking the “polar plunge” challenge at Glacier Bay during an UnCruise Adventures voyage. (Photo courtesy of Ben Marolf/UnCruise Adventures)

If you’re looking for a seven-night voyage, you can pick a Juneau round-trip, Juneau to Ketchikan (or reverse) or Juneau to Sitka (or reverse). There are 12-night Seattle to Juneau (or reverse) itineraries as well as 14-night Juneau to Ketchikan and reverse itineraries.

These cruises are very inclusive experiences, with shore excursions, meals and beverages (alcoholic and nonalcoholic) included in the fare.

If small-ship sailing in Alaska is appealing, you can also check out Alaskan Dream Cruises, Lindblad Expeditions and American Cruise Lines.

Land-only tours from Princess Cruises and Holland America

The 663-room Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. (Photo courtesy of Princess Cruises)

If you normally cruise with Princess Cruises or Holland America, it’s important to know that they have been leaders in Alaska tourism for decades. While they can’t sail in the state currently due to the CDC-mandated pause to cruising and Canada’s COVID-19-related cruise ship ban, they can still help you execute an incredible trip to The Last Frontier in 2021.

Both companies — who are both under the Carnival Corp. umbrella — own lodges throughout the state, which makes them a go-to travel partner this spring and summer. Even though their ships won’t sail in Alaska this year, you can still book a land-only tour with either company.

Both escorted and unescorted tours are on offer and include accommodations, most meals, some sightseeing and rail travel on Alaska Railroad rail cars (a fun highlight, in my opinion). The escorted tours also include a tour guide.

Both options include a full day at Denali National Park — famous for its grizzly bears, wolves, moose, caribou and Dall sheep.

The escorted tours also will include a visit by tour boat to the Portage Glacier near Anchorage and a riverboat excursion in Fairbanks, Alaska. Add-on options will include flightseeing around Denali and river rafting.

Pricing for the escorted tours starts at $2,599 per person, not includes taxes. Unescorted tours start at $1,699 per person, plus tax.

Related: The 6 coolest tours in Alaska

Both lines will also sell “Denali Rail Tours” of one- to six-nights that explore Denali National Park. You can sign up to travel to Denali by rail only or by a combination of rail and motorcoach travel.

If you prefer to be an independent traveler, you can book these properties through the cruise lines:

  • Westmark Fairbanks Hotel & Conference Center
  • McKinley Chalet Resort at Denali National Park and Preserve
  • Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge

You can book a tour or hotel accommodations through your travel agent or via Gray Line Alaska at 800-544-2206.

Related: With cruising to Alaska in flux, Holland America and Princess turn to selling land tours

Points hotels and other accommodations

Northern Lights in Anchorage, Alaska
The northern lights in Anchorage, Alaska. (Photo courtesy of Visit Alaska)

Of course, many travelers are most comfortable doing their own thing. If you think you may go to Alaska this spring or summer, book your lodging immediately. We’re seeing availability beginning to dwindle.

Lodges

Here are our bets for the best Alaskan lodges for getting close to glaciers, Denali and more.

Points hotels

You won’t necessarily be able to use your hotel points on this trip because there just aren’t that many options. Here are some from the major hotel loyalty programs:

In Anchorage

  • Courtyard Anchorage Airport — 30,000 (off peak), 35,000 (standard) and 40,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points
  • Crowne Plaze Anchorage-Midtown — from 32,500 IHG Rewards points
  • Embassy Suites by Hilton Anchorage — from 34,000 to 70,000 Hilton Honors points
  • Fairfield Inn & Suites Anchorage Midtown — 30,000 (off peak), 35,000 (standard) and 40,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points
  • Four Points by Sheraton Anchorage Downtown — 20,000 (off peak), 25,000 (standard) and 30,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points
  • Hampton Inn Anchorage — from 18,000 to 60,000 Hilton Honors points
  • Hilton Anchorage — from 27,000 to 50,000 Hilton Honors points
  • Hilton Garden Inn Anchorage — from 22,000 to 60,000 Hilton Honors points
  • Holiday Inn Express Anchorage — from 25,000 IHG Rewards points
  • Home2 Suites by Hilton Anchorage/Midtown — from 37,000 to 50,000 Hilton Honors points
  • Homewood Suites by Hilton Anchorage — from 23,000 to 60,000 Hilton Honors points
  • Hyatt House Anchorage — 12,000 World of Hyatt points
  • Hyatt Place Anchorage-Midtown — 12,000 World of Hyatt points
  • Marriott Anchorage Downtown — 30,000 (off peak), 35,000 (standard) and 40,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy
  • Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa — 30,000 (off peak), 35,000 (standard) and 40,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points
  • SpringHill Suites Anchorage Midtown — 30,000 (off peak), 35,000 (standard) and 40,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points
  • SpringHill Suites Anchorage University Lake — 30,000 (off peak), 35,000 (standard) and 40,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points
  • Staybridge Suites Anchorage — from 25,000 IHG Rewards points
  • Residence Inn Anchorage Midtown — 30,000 (off peak), 35,000 (standard) and 40,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points
  • TownPlace Suites Anchorage Midtown — 30,000 (off peak), 35,000 (standard) and 40,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points

In Fairbanks

  • Hampton Inn & Suites Fairbanks — from 21,000 to 50,000 Hilton Honors points
  • Hyatt Place Fairbanks — 8,000 World of Hyatt points
  • SpringHill Suites Fairbanks — 20,000 (off peak), 25,000 (standard) and 30,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy points

In Juneau

  • Four Points by Sheraton Juneau — 40,000 (off peak), 50,000 (standard) and 60,000 (peak) Marriott Bonvoy

While points hotels are not as abundant in Alaska as in other states, you can use your flexible points, such as Chase Ultimate Rewards, to book lodging at some of the best-located accommodations near sites like Denali.

Denali hotel options Chase Travel Portal
Screenshot courtesy of the Chase Travel portal

Bottom line

Alaska is a special place. It’s remote but the state’s natural beauty and wildlife put it at the top of our “to visit” lists. Without the cruise ship crowds this summer, it’s an ideal time to check out The Last Frontier.

Featured image by emperorcosar/Shutterstock.com

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