WhaleCoast Alaska Frequently Asked Questions

What makes this tour unique?

While enjoying the wonders of the 49th state, you will be welcomed by various members of Alaska’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowships, who enjoy sharing their distinct brand of Alaskan hospitality. All home stay hosts are volunteers and all meals served at homes and churches are prepared by volunteers. As a result, guests experience a more genuine, “insiders” view of Alaska that cruise ships and commercial tours cannot provide. In addition, WhaleCoast Alaska donates a significant part of the tour proceeds to support the UU congregations in Alaska.

How would you describe the pace of the WhaleCoast Alaska tour?

The tour is full of activity, but not overwhelming. We spend at least two nights in each destination, which makes traveling quite manageable. The tour day typically begins after breakfast and ends around 5:00 pm, unless a congregation is hosting us for dinner. The tour director can help you adjust the pace of your tour by advising you about which activities can most easily be skipped, or by suggesting additional activities to enhance your experience.

What should I wear on the tour?

In Alaska, “practical”, “comfortable”, and "layers" are the operative guidelines for clothing. You never have to “dress up” on our tour. Layers are a good idea as the weather on the tour can range from sunny and mid-80s in Fairbanks to cool, rainy, and mid-50s along the coast. Quick-drying pants with zippers above the knees are very useful, because they eliminate the need for bringing a pair of shorts. It is handy to have at least one or two pair of quick-drying socks and underwear that you can wash in a sink and dry overnight, if you ever need to. A good raincoat is essential, as are comfortable walking shoes.

How can we be contacted while on the tour?

You are advised to bring a cell phone if you own one, but cell phone coverage varies in Alaska. You can be reached in emergencies through our cell phone, or if we aren't accessible, through the local contact in the city closest to our location at the time. Those telephone numbers will be provided to you before the start of your program.

Are children and youth allowed on the tour?

Children and youth are welcome on the WhaleCoast Alaska Tour! They will be accepted on the same basis as adults, provided that a responsible adult accompanies them. If you wish to bring a child or youth, please contact us to discuss your particular situation. We can give you suggestions about how your children can get the most out of their tour experience. We will also inform you of any other children or youth who might be participating. Though we recommend a minimum age of 10, we realize that parents are the best judge of how appropriate the tour would be for their children. We will attempt to house people with children in UU homes that also have children.

What is the Denali Park whitewater raft trip like?

This optional raft trip travels through 10 “class 3” rapids in the Nenana River canyon over the course of 11 beautiful miles. An oar guide steers each raft. No experience is necessary, and the trip is suitable for guests all ages. Rafters are provided with dry suits and waterproof footwear. Wool socks and warm outdoor clothing are recommended since the temperature on the river is usually cooler. For those who wear glasses, a retainer cord is highly recommended. The entire experience lasts 3.5 hours, with 2 hours on the water. Since the trip ends in the nearby town of Healy, the rafters have the choice to dine together at a local restaurant following their adventure. Transportation is included in the cost. The cost also includes a free professional photograph of your raft group, plus gratuities to the guide and driver.

What is the Kayaking Tour like?

Both tours offer an optional kayaking tour. Kayaking is a unique way of experiencing Alaska. It is recommended if your ability and finances allow. Double kayaks are always used for added stability. For every six paddlers, one tour guide will be provided. The protected water is generally free from large swells. Most guests say that the kayaking pace and exertion level is easy to moderate. Each kayaking tour begins with some paddling instruction and safety briefing. There is a chance to see otters, seals, and sea lions, but there are no guarantees. Kayaking tours proceed even when it is raining. The rain is usually light and quite manageable. The tour will only be canceled for safety concerns, in which case a refund will be issued at a later date. If a guest decides not to participate on his/her own, no refund will be issued. The number of kayakers is limited. When that limit is reached, this option will be closed. In Seward (National Park Tour), the evening kayaking tour will be out-and-back, generally along the shoreline, a total of about 1.5 hours on the water. The Seward tour includes a sandwich wrap and beverage. The Sitka kayaking tour (All-Alaska Tour) travels among several islands, a total of about 2.5 hours on the water. The paddlers beach on one of the islands, and they usually have some time to explore. Instead of paddling back to the harbor, a passenger boat picks us up on the island and brings us back to Sitka. The Sitka tour includes a delicious snack and bottled water. The Seward tour includes a sandwich wrap, brownie, and bottled water.

What is the difference between the standard “Tundra Wilderness Tour” in Denali Park and the extended “Backcountry Lodge Tour”?

Both tours travel out-and-back along the same Denali National Park Road. The standard “Tundra Wilderness Tour” lasts approximately 9 hours and travels 58 miles to Stony Hill Overlook. If Denali (the highest mountain in North America) is visible, this overlook affords a magnificent view of it. The 9 hour Tundra Wilderness Tour includes a light box lunch which may be consumed any time during the tour. The extended “Backcountry Lodge Tour” is a 14 hour bus tour which travels an additional 34 miles (each way) to a lodge at the end of the road. This optional tour must be specified on the registration form and paid for in advance ($55). The Backcountry Lodge Tour includes a half hour stop at the Eielson Visitors Center at mile 62. It also includes a hot lunch and an interpretive activity (a guided walk or gold panning) at the lodge. The additional travel time on the Backcountry Lodge Tour offers additional views of Denali and the surrounding mountains if they are visible that day (approximately 33% of the tours). Both tours travel through great wildlife habitat and allow opportunities to take pictures and to spend some time off the bus. The animal sightings vary from tour to tour. For most people, the 9 hour Tundra Wilderness Tour offers the best balance between the opportunity to see the park and the drawbacks of bus travel. For others, the extra time on the bus is worth the opportunity to spend additional time deep in the park. If you are uncertain about whether or not you could enjoy a 14 hour bus tour, or if you have difficulty sitting for long periods of time, the 9 hour Tundra Wilderness Tour is recommended.

Why do you suggest that guests take their hosts out to dinner?

Often guests take their volunteer hosts out for dinner during their stay. We find that this provides an excellent opportunity to thank your hosts for their hospitality and to get to know them better. We have heard time and time again that the extra time that you spend with your hosts greatly enriches your tour in a way that isn’t possible on other tours. Taking your hosts out to dinner is by no means a requirement of the tour.

Is the cost of the WhaleCoast Alaska tour tax deductible?

Even though WhaleCoast Alaska raises money for four Alaskan UU congregations, the IRS does not permit charitable deductions for WhaleCoast fees. This is because you are getting value for your tour fees, which are lower than those charged by commercial programs offering similar itineraries.

Do you offer senior discounts?

Sorry, no senior discounts are available. Nevertheless, we think you will find the cost of this tour to be very reasonable.

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