About WhaleCoast Alaska Tours

About WhaleCoast Alaska

WhaleCoast Alaska is a Unitarian Universalist eco-cultural and spiritual program for people who are looking for a more authentic Alaskan experience. WhaleCoast Alaska is operated in cooperation with four UU Alaska fellowships – Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, and Sitka – that provide home stays, dinner parties, activities, and transportation for the guests.

WhaleCoast Alaska serves as a cultural exchange program as well as a fundraising effort. The local UUs enjoy meeting visitors and hosting a unique and successful enterprise. Significant funds raised through WhaleCoast Alaska helped finance the important work of these congregations. Since its inception in 1994, over $725,000 has been raised. Over 1,600 guests have visited Alaska with our program.

Meet Your Tour Directors

Meet Your Tour Directors

Dave Frey

Dave Frey

Tour Director

The tour director of WhaleCoast Alaska is Dave Frey, a long time resident of Alaska. Dave came to Alaska in the summer of 1981 with a backpack and a free spirit. He has never left, and his free spirit remains alive. Dave was a tour bus driver/guide in Denali National Park for his first three years in the state. He also worked 7 years as a driver/guide for Tour Alaska and Princess Tours. He started a family and a career in counseling and youth development, while maintaining his connection to tourism as a step-on guide in Fairbanks. He was the Fairbanks coordinator for the WhaleCoast Alaska tour for 7 years. He has been the Tour Director since 2008. Dave enjoys cross country skiing, biking, backpacking, traveling, citizen activism, and reading the Sunday newspaper. He recently retired from the Fairbanks School District after 3 decades in the field of chemical dependence counseling and prevention.

“I strive for a unique, authentic, and richly rewarding experience for every WhaleCoast Alaska guest. You will experience Alaska in a way that would be impossible on a typical commercial tour or on your own. I know that you will be thrilled with your WhaleCoast Alaska experience!”

Cynthia Bethune

Cynthia Bethune

Assistant Tour Director

Assistant tour director Cynthia Rinear Bethune was born and raised in Fairbanks. As a seasoned and experienced sourdough, her favorite winter sports are reading and creative writing. Those are her favorite summer sports, too, but she also enjoys traveling and working on her family homestead just outside of Fairbanks. In 2012, Cynthia joined WhaleCoast Alaska as an assistant tour director. Though relatively new to tourism, she is not new to “assistance” as she worked as a secretary or administrative assistant for many years. She retired from the Fairbanks school district in 2017 to turn her attention to writing. She has self-published two novels and is busy researching and writing two more.

“Seeing my home state through new eyes, as well as meeting strangers one week and saying goodbye to friends the next, are very rewarding experiences for me each summer. While sharing our tour time together, I hope to be able to assist in any way that makes your visit more comfortable and enjoyable.”

General Tour Information and Fees

Alaska National Parks Tour Fees and Options

The 2022 fee for the National Parks Tour is $3,627. This fee covers transportation throughout the tour. Guests are responsible for paying for their own transportation from their home to Anchorage, and their return flight from Fairbanks to their home. The tour fee also covers double occupancy lodging (10 nights) during the tour, all entrance tickets except the options that have an added price, and a total of 19 meals – an average of 2 meals per full travel day. (On some days, all 3 meals are included. On other days there are fewer than 2.)

There are three options for enhancing your tour.

See the Detailed Daily Schedule for more specific information about the tour options. Space for these optional activities is limited. Space for each option is assigned on a “first to sign up, first to go” basis.

All-Alaska Tour Fees and Options

The 2022 fee for the All-Alaska Tour is $4,310. This fee covers transportation throughout the tour. Guests are responsible for paying for their own transportation from their home to Fairbanks, and their return flight from Juneau to their home. The tour fee also covers double occupancy lodging (12 nights) during the tour, all entrance tickets except the options that have an added price, and a total of 23 meals – an average of 2 meals per full travel day. (On some days, all 3 meals are included. On other days there are fewer than 2.)

Options: There are two options for enhancing your tour.

See the Detailed Daily Schedule for more specific information about the tour options. Space for these optional activities is limited. Space for each option is assigned on a “first to sign up, first to go” basis.

Tour Extension to Anan Bear Observatory

The tour extension to Anan Bear Observatory & Wrangell is a golden opportunity to get very close to wild bears in their natural habitat. The US Forest Service allows only 60 people to visit the Anan Bear Observatory each day during the summer season. The price of this opportunity is incredible! The Anan Bear Observatory and Wrangell extension begins immediately after the All-Alaska Tour ends, and the fee includes all transportation, lodging, two meals, and the cost of the guided tour to the world class Anan Bear Observatory. The bears – both black and grizzly – congregate in Anan Creek to fish for the abundant salmon which pause to navigate a small waterfall. It also includes time to visit the quiet fishing town of Wrangell – either on your own or with the tour director. The fee also includes your flight from Wrangell to Seattle. Of course there are no guarantees whenever nature is involved, but seeing these bears is truly an incredible experience of a lifetime! A minimum of 10 guest participants are required in order for this tour to proceed. You are advised to wait until WhaleCoast Alaska announces that the tour is a “go” before booking your flight home from Seattle.

Deadlines, Cancellation and Refund Policies

Deadlines
A deposit of $300 is due upon registration. Each tour will sell out when the guest number reaches 40. Balance is due March 1st. We accept only credit card or PayPal for the deposit. For the balance due, we accept only checks. This saves you the $100+ in bank fees that would otherwise have been added to everyone’s tour fee. Sorry, we cannot reserve space on the tour without the deposit.

Cancellation and Refund Policies
We have revised the cancellation policy for 2022. Cancellations must be made in writing. (Email is OK.) The $300 deposit is refundable, minus a $10 processing fee, if cancellation notice is received by March 1 (National Parks Tour) or March 15 (All-Alaska Tour). If WhaleCoast Alaska cancels the tour due to public health or other reasons, a full refund will be given (no processing fees). If a guest cancels her tour, tour fees will be refunded according to the following schedule:

National Parks Tour

  • Cancel by March 1 – Full refund, minus $10 processing fee.
  • Cancel by March 30 – 80% of all tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel by April 15 – 60% of tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel by April 30 – 40% of tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel after April 30 – No refunds will be given. Sorry, no exceptions. Travel insurance is highly recommended.

All-Alaska Tour

  • Cancel by March 15 – Full refund, minus $10 processing fee.
  • Cancel by April 15 – 80% of all tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel by May 1 – 60% of tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel by May 15 – 40% of tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel after May 15 – No refunds will be given. Sorry, no exceptions. Travel insurance is highly recommended.
Travel Insurance

WhaleCoast Alaska highly recommends that you purchase travel insurance for the entire amount of your vacation expenses: tour fees, options, flight costs, and any pre or post tour travel you are planning. For maximum coverage, you are advised to purchase your travel insurance within two weeks after you pay your tour deposit, and to make sure to cover all of your travel expenses. Even if you are not ready to book your flights within this 2 week time frame, it is still advisable to purchase your travel insurance shortly after paying your deposit. You can then amend your insurance plan by adding flight coverage (and any other expenses) within two weeks of booking your flight. WhaleCoast Alaska recommends Travel Guard Insurance because of their record of service and timely payment of claims made by previous tour guests. We have a longstanding relationship with Travel Guard. To purchase Travel Guard insurance, click the banner below.

Lodging

The lodging included with the tour is pre-paid for double occupancy. Much of the lodging is in private homes of Unitarian Universalist members and friends. Our UU hosts provide some local transportation and personal attention to their guests. We use guest and host questionnaires to avoid housing placements where guest’s allergies or mobility issues would be problematic. The UU homestay lodging ranges from modest to spacious. Some homes have steep entry walks and interior stairs. We try to house people with mobility issues with hosts who have few or no steps. Most Alaskans have pets. If this would be a problem for you, please let us know in advance. Some hotels and commercial guest houses are used where there is no UU congregation, or where not enough UU homes are available. We typically use moderately-priced hotels and commercial guest houses. The hotels that we use have a bathroom in each room, but the guest houses may have a shared bath. We try to schedule everyone with a similar balance of homestays and commercial lodging, but this is not always possible. If you have a strong preference for one or the other, we will try to accommodate it. However, with so many people and variables to consider, please be flexible. If you encounter any problems regarding your lodging, please let us know as soon as possible. We want you to be comfortable and satisfied with your lodging.

Single Travelers

Traveling with WhaleCoast Alaska is a great way for single travelers to meet interesting, like-minded people – even lifelong friends. Due to public health concerns, single travelers must purchase the Private Room Option for the tour that they are signing up for, in order to participate in 2022. The 2022 fee for the Private Room Option is:

  • National Parks Tour: $950
  • All-Alaska Tour: $1,050

If you are a single traveler who wants to avoid paying the private room fee, you must find a travel partner with whom you would be willing to share a room during the entire tour. Please let WhaleCoast Alaska know if you are looking for a roommate. We may be able to assist you.

Private Room Supplement

Single guests who desire a guaranteed private room must pay a private room supplement to cover extra lodging costs. The 2022 amount differs for each tour:

  • National Park Tour: $950
  • All-Alaska Tour: $1050

If you choose this option, your private room would sometimes be in UU homes (with shared bathrooms), and other times it would be in commercial lodging. There are a maximum of two private room options available for each tour. Please ask about availability before registering.

Meals

An average of two meals each day is pre-paid and noted in the itineraries. The other meals are left to the choice and payment of the guests. Most breakfasts are in the homes of UU hosts. Some of the lunches and dinners are provided by the local UU congregations. Common alternative diets, such as vegan, vegetarian, dairy or gluten-free, etc., can generally be accommodated by the local UUs. WhaleCoast Alaska guests sometimes order from the menu in restaurants when the tour includes a group meal. If the restaurant has expensive items, we limit orders to the medium-range entrees. We pay 15-20% tips on group meals. Guests pay the waitpersons separately for all alcoholic beverages and desserts that they order, including tips on these items.

Gratuities

We pay gratuities for WhaleCoast group meals in restaurants, local group transportation, and group activities. Tips for individual service by porters and for housekeeping in hotels are not included. On occasions when service has been outstanding a tour leader will pay a generous gratuity from WhaleCoast Alaska funds and may suggest to participants that they can add tips if they so desire.

Early Arrival and Extended Stay

WhaleCoast Alaska encourages you to extend your Alaskan experience by staying additional night(s) at the beginning or end of your tour. In Anchorage, Motel 6 is a budget hotel that is located near the airport and also 2 blocks from a municipal bus stop. The nearby Springhill Suites Midtown hotel has a higher level of service (and price). Both hotels offer courtesy transportation from the airport.

In Fairbank, the Bridgewater Hotel is a modestly-priced hotel that is conveniently located downtown along the Chena River. At a higher price point, Springhill Suites is located 3 blocks away. Both hotels offer courtesy transportation from the airport. In Sitka, the Super 8 hotel is conveniently located and reasonably priced.

There are numerous hotels in each of the above locations. Guests are encouraged to search online to find the lodging that best meets their needs and budget. Please note that if the Fairbanks UUs decide to offer a tour option for early arrivals or extended stays in Fairbanks, the meeting place for these activities will likely be the Bridgewater Hotel.

Walking

Every day on the tour involves at least some walking of low to moderate exertion, up to 1.5 miles in length. Guests can sometimes utilize taxis, at their own expense, to reduce the amount of walking that is needed. There will be opportunities for longer walks or hikes for guests who are interested. These will be optional, and alternate activities will always be available. If you are not sure whether or not you could handle the physical activity, please contact us to discuss your concerns.

Health

All clients must have their own medical insurance or have a comprehensive travel insurance plan. If you are at serious risk for a health problem you must have a doctor’s written approval. In addition, you must provide proof of Covid-19 vaccination, including boosters that are recommended for your age group by the CDC. You are responsible for 100% of any medical and evacuation costs required during and after the tour, including any special lodging and ground transportation that might be needed. Our groups go into wilderness areas and use public carriers away from medical care. It is very important that we know about health conditions that may require additional care or consideration during the tour.

Luggage

We do not provide luggage handling for guests, except in Denali National Park. You or your companion must be able to carry your bags into the homes and hotels where you will be staying and onto any trains, boats or buses and stow it in luggage compartments. Porter service will not usually be available. We ask guests to limit luggage to one piece – the size (approx. 24” x 17” x 10”) that is typically allowed to be carried on a plane – plus one daypack each. This is because luggage space in host cars and group storage areas is sometimes very limited. Please do not bring larger bags. Guests are responsible for airline baggage fees during the tour (if applicable). These fees can usually be avoided by limiting your baggage to one piece that is small enough to be carried onto the plane, plus a small day pack.

Laundry

You will often be able to do laundry in some of your UU hosts’ homes or at hotels so that clothing requirements may be reduced. You may want to include at least a few articles of clothing that can easily be hand washed and hung to dry overnight if needed. “Convertible” pants, which eliminate the need to bring shorts, are highly recommended. Casual, practical clothing is all that is needed. You will never have to “dress up” for anything during the tour!

Registration Form

After you register for one of our tours and pay your deposit, you will automatically receive an email with a link to a registration form. If you are traveling with a partner, each of you must complete a separate form. It would assist our recordkeeping if you and your travel could complete your forms at approximately the same time. Each piece of registration information is very important. We want to avoid putting guests in homes where they might have allergic reactions, difficulty with stairs, etc. Also, we need to know your legal name EXACTLY as it appears on your official ID so that we can avoid problems with Homeland Security. Please double-check your ID to make sure that the name on your registration form MATCHES YOUR ID EXACTLY.

Travel Arrangements

You will need to purchase a ticket from your home to Alaska to begin the tour, and a return ticket from Alaska to your home after the tour ends. There are numerous flights to/from Anchorage and Fairbanks. If you are on the All-Alaska Tour that ends in Juneau, keep in mind that there are several flights out of Juneau. Some of these departures involve a layover, while others fly more directly to Seattle.

Arranging air travel to Alaska during a global pandemic can be tricky, since airlines have been changing their flight schedules and policies frequently. There is also the possibility of tour cancellation due to the pandemic. We suggest that you look very carefully airlines’ cancellations before you purchase your tickets. Try to purchase a ticket that is fully refundable, or one you can change without penalty. If you cannot find such a ticket, it might be best to wait to purchase your airline tickets. For 2021, you may also wish to consider arriving a day early (at your own expense) to the city where your tour begins. This strategy would reduce the impact in the event that your airline significantly delays your arrival time. WhaleCoast Alaska can give you a list of interesting activities for either Anchorage or Fairbanks.    

In any case, it is very important that you provide accurate information about your travel arrangements to WhaleCoast Alaska and to update us if your travel information changes. Feel free to contact the tour director if you have questions about your specific travel needs.

Replacement of Program Segments

All tours are subject to revision. If a tour segment is canceled, we will first try to replace it with an appropriate substitute experience. If this is not possible, refunds will be made after the tour is over and WhaleCoast Alaska obtains the refund from the vendor. In the case of a guest choosing not to participate or being unable to participate in a tour activity, no refunds will be given.