Frequently Asked Questions
Frequently Asked Questions About Our Tours
What makes this tour unique?
While enjoying the wonders of the 49th state, you will be welcomed by members of Alaska’s Unitarian Universalist congregations, who enjoy sharing their distinct brand of Alaskan hospitality. All homestay 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 during 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. Either a sock hat or ear band is highly recommended. A cap or other light hat is useful but not required. Some guests like to have a light pair of gloves for certain times – such as when we are viewing glaciers from a boat. This is a matter of personal preference.
What kind of footwear should I bring?
Most guests bring one or two pair of sneakers or comfortable walking shoes (including the pair they wear). The second pair would be useful if the first one gets wet. If you plan to seek out longer hikes during your free time, you could substitute hiking boots for one pair of sneakers. They are not required. For me, sandals are not practical because the cool days typically outnumber the hot ones. However, if you are a sandal lover you may wish to substitute a pair for one of your pair of sneakers. Ordinary socks are just fine for most days. It is useful to have one or two pair of wool socks for cooler weather or for rafting and kayaking.
How can we be contacted while on the tour?
You are advised to bring a cell phone if you own one. Cell phone coverage varies in Alaska, and it depends on your carrier. You can be reached in emergencies through your tour directors’ cell phones, or if they aren’t accessible, through the local contact in our location at the time. Those telephone numbers will be provided to you before the start of your tour.
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 3-4” rapids in the Nenana River canyon over the course of 11 beautiful miles. An experienced guide steers each raft. No experience is necessary, and the trip is suitable for guests age 12+. Rafters are provided with dry suits and footwear. Warm outer wear and wool socks 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. 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 are the kayaking tours like?
Both tours offer kayaking as an optional activity. Kayaking is a unique way of experiencing Alaska. It is recommended if your ability and finances allow. Each kayaking tour begins with a safety briefing and some paddling instruction. There is a chance to see otters, seals, and sea lions, but there are no guarantees. The protected water is generally free from large swells. Most guests say that the kayaking pace and exertion level is easy to moderate. Kayaking tours proceed even when it is raining. Double kayaks are always used for added stability. There is no passenger boat that travels with the group, but the kayaking guides are well trained in guiding and rescue. The kayaking tours will only be canceled if there are safety concerns (as determined by the kayak tour companies), in which case a full refund will be issued at a later date. If a guest decides on his/her own not to participate, no refund will be issued. The number of kayakers is limited. When that limit is reached, this option will be closed.
The National Parks Tour evening kayaking tour in Seward will begin one half hour after our Kenai Fjords boat tour. It returns at 10 pm (still daylight!) and includes 1.5 hours on the water. Your route will be out-and-back from Tonsina Point. We often see bald eagles and seals, and sometimes other marine life. The waves are usually calm but can vary. A BBQ wrap (veggie option available) will be included with the tour.
The All-Alaska Tour kayaking tour in Sitka paddles through Sitka’s pristine and tranquil waters, with plenty of opportunities to spot the beautiful Alaskan wildlife of the area. The waves are typically quite manageable in these protected waters. The total time is about 3 hours, including 2 hours on the water. We often spot sea lions, seals, otters, bald eagles, and other marine life. While kayaking, we will find intertidal critters just below the surface, such as sea stars, sea cucumbers, crabs, and barnacles.
Why do you suggest that guests take their hosts out to dinner?
Guests often comment that taking their hosts out for dinner provides an excellent opportunity to thank them for their hospitality and to get to know them better. Guests note that this quality time with their hosts greatly enriches their tour. Taking your hosts out to dinner is by no means a requirement of the tour.
Why does WhaleCoast Alaska recommend that guests arrive early or extend their stay after their tour?
Based on past experience, about a quarter of all guests will decide to either arrive one or more days before the start of their tour, and/or extend their stay after their tour ends. The additional time allows them to recover from jet lag, adjust to the increased daylight, and explore on their own. We highly recommend this for guests if their time and finances allow. 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 Fairbanks, 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.
There are numerous hotels in both Fairbanks and Anchorage. 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.
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.
General Tour Information and Fees
Alaska National Parks Tour Fees and Options
The 2024 fee for the National Parks Tour is $4,050. 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 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.
All-Alaska Tour Fees and Options
The 2024 fee for the All-Alaska Tour is $5,005. 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 24 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 three options for enhancing your tour.
- Whitewater Rafting ($130)
- Guided Sea Kayaking Tour ($160)
- Tour Extension: Anan Bear Observatory and Wrangell ($1406)
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.
Deadlines, Cancellation and Refund Policies
A deposit of $300 is due upon registration. Each tour will sell out when the guest number reaches 40. The balance is due March 1st for the National Parks Tour and March 15th for the All-Alaska Tour. 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 your total cost. Sorry, we cannot reserve space on the tour without the deposit.
Cancellation and Refund Policies
Cancellations must be made in writing (email is great). The $300 deposit is refundable, minus a $12 processing fee, if cancellation notice is received by March 1 (National Park 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 their tour, tour fees will be refunded according to the following schedule:
National Parks Tour
- Cancel by March 1 – Full refund, minus $12 processing fee.
- Cancel by March 30 – 80% of all tour fees will be refunded.
- Cancel by April 14 – 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.
- Cancel by March 15 – Full refund, minus $12 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 30 – No refunds will be given. Sorry, no exceptions. Travel insurance is highly recommended.
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 this link. Note: If you live in New York, Washington, or Hawaii, please use this link instead to purchase travel insurance.
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 guests’ 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.
Traveling with WhaleCoast Alaska is a great way for single travelers to meet interesting, like-minded people – even lifelong friends. Single travelers who do not want a roommate must purchase the Private Room Option for the tour that they are signing up for, in order to participate in 2024. The 2024 fee for the Private Room Option is:
–National Park Tour: $1330
–All-Alaska Tour: $1,646
If you choose this option, your private room would sometimes be in UU homes (with shared bathrooms) and other times would be in commercial lodging. The number of private rooms for single travelers on each tour is limited.
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 us know if you are looking for a roommate. We may be able to assist you.
An average of two meals each day are 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.
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. We suggest considering the hotels listed below:
- Anchorage Motel 6 or Springhill Suites Midtown for early arrival prior to the National Parks Tour
- Fairbanks Bridgewater Hotel or Springhill Suites for extended stay after the National Parks Tour
- Fairbanks Bridgewater Hotel or Springhill Suites for early arrival prior to the All-Alaska Tour
Please let WhaleCoast Alaska know where you are staying (and for how many nights) if you decide to arrive early or extend your stay.
Every day on the tour involves at least some walking of low to moderate exertion, up to 2 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.
All guests 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, guests must be willing to be vaccinated against Covid-19, including booster shots that are recommended 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.
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.
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!
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 partner 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.
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.
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. 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.