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. 

As a WhaleCoast Alaska guest, you will experience a more genuine, “insiders” view of Alaska that cruise ships and commercial tours cannot provide. While enjoying the incredible beauty of the 49th state, you will be welcomed by hosts and other volunteers of Alaska’s Unitarian Universalist Fellowships, who enjoy sharing their warm style of Alaskan hospitality. In addition, a significant portion of the tour proceeds go to these congregations to support their work. 

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 2-3” 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. Warm outer wear is 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. If rafters wish to dine together after the tour at a local restaurant, the tour director can make reservations. 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. Wool socks and  eyeglass retainers (for those who wear glasses) are required.

 

 

What is the Kayaking Tour 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. The rain is usually light and quite manageable. For every six paddlers, one guide will be provided. 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 tour will only be canceled for 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 Park Tour evening kayaking tour in Seward will begin one half hour after our Kenai Fjords boat tour. It returns around 10 pm, for a total of 4 hours – including 1.5 hours on the water. Your route will be out-and-back from Tonsina Point. You will stop at a remote beach for a tasty sandwich wrap and beverage. There may also be some time to explore before the return trip. If the ocean conditions are not considered favorable, the group kayaks at picturesque Bear Lake instead.

The All-Alaska Tour morning kayaking tour in Sitka travels among several islands. The total time is about 4 hours, including 2.5 hours on the water. On one recent Sitka trip, a whale traveled near the group for a period of time. The paddlers beach on one of the islands, and they usually have some time to explore. Instead of paddling back to the harbor, our Wildlife Quest boat picks us up on its way to the marine wildlife viewing areas.  

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 observe 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 certain hotels for guests who arrive early or extend their stay?

Based on past experience, over half of all guests will decide to either arrive before the start of their tour, and/or extend their stay after their tour ends. We highly recommend this for guests if their time and finances allow. However, the Anchorage and Fairbanks congregations do not have enough volunteer hosts to meet the anticipated demand. Besides, some guests may prefer commercial lodging during this non-tour time. WhaleCoast Alaska has negotiated group discount agreements with Motel 6 in Anchorage and the Bridgewater in Fairbanks. This allows you to get the best deals available for basic hotel lodging. It also makes it easier for you to find other guests who are arriving early or extending their stay. If you are traveling solo, you can book your room and ask WhaleCoast Alaska to help you find a roommate to share the cost. Descriptions and costs are as follows:

Motel 6 – Anchorage ($139 + $16.68 tax = $155.68). This hotel is located at 5000 A Street – 2 miles from the airport and 4 miles from downtown. It is 5 blocks to the bus stop and to restaurants, and a mile to the local natural foods market and deli. It is a short bus ride (or long walk) to the university, Campbell Park, and the Alaska Botanical Gardens. The hotel has recently been completely remodeled and looks quite nice. Motel 6 provides courtesy shuttle service from the airport. You can make reservations for as many days as you would like by calling 907-677-8000 and identifying yourself as a WhaleCoast Alaska guest. Note: breakfast is NOT included with your room rate.

Bridgewater Hotel – Fairbanks ($149 + $11.92 tax = $160.92). This hotel is located at 723 First Ave., near the banks of the Chena River downtown. It offers a courtesy shuttle from the airport and free wifi. The Bridgewater is 5 blocks from the Morris Thompson Visitors Center and the bus transit center. It is less than a mile from Pioneer Park. There are numerous restaurants located within a few blocks. The lobby area is undergoing a complete renovation during the winter. To get this discounted rate, email the manager Rob Hanson directly at rob.hanson@gmail.com. Identify yourself as a WhaleCoast Alaska guest and specify the dates for which you want lodging. Rob will confirm your reservation via email, and payment will be due at check in. Note: breakfast is NOT included with your room rate.

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 Park Tour Fees and Options

The 2019 fee for the National Park Tour is $3,258. 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 three meals are paid. Other days there is only one.)

There are several options for extending and/or enhancing your tour.

Tour Options:

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 2019 fee for the All-Alaska Tour is $3,845. 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 Sitka 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, there are 3 meals included. On other days there are fewer than 2.)

Options:There are several options for extending and/or enhancing your tour.

Tour Options:

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

Deadlines
A nonrefundable deposit of $300 is due upon registration. The tour will sell out when the guest number for a tour reaches 40. Balance is due March 1st. Sorry, we cannot reserve space on the tour without the deposit.

Cancellation and Refund Policies

Cancellations must be made in writing. (Email is OK.) The $300 deposit is nonrefundable. We are sorry, no exceptions can be made to this policy. Other tour fees will be refunded according to the following schedule:

  • Cancel by March 31– 50% of tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel by April 30 (National Park Tour)– 25% of tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel by May 20 (All-Alaska Tour)– 25% of tour fees will be refunded.
  • Cancel after April 30/May 20– No refunds. 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 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 purchaseTravel 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 Universalists. 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. WhaleCoast Alaska welcomes single travelers. Single guests pay the same price as guests traveling with a partner (unless they desire a private room). We assign single travelers to rooms with other single travelers. Usually there will be two guests per room. Generally, we rotate single travelers with different roommates unless otherwise requested. Although our guests are generally interesting and pleasant people, we cannot guarantee that you will be compatible with every roommate. Some guests are night owls; others are early risers. Some guests are quiet sleepers; others snore. We will honor your requests to the best of our ability, but adaptability on the part of single travelers is expected,

Private Room Supplement

Single guests who desire a guaranteed private room can pay a private room supplement. The amount differs for each tour and is listed on your registration form. 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 allows you to extend your Alaskan experience by staying additional night(s) with your UU host, either before your tour begins or after it ends. The additional fees for this lodging are listed in the descriptions for each tour. We encourage you to do this if your time and finances allow, and if are comfortable being on your own. 100% of your early arrival fee goes directly to the UU congregations. There are many interesting activities that are not included in the tour. We will email a list of our favorite Fairbanks and Anchorage activities to everyone who opts for an early arrival or extended stay. During these days, your host will advise you and provide transportation to/from town in coordination with his/her schedule. From there, you can explore on your own, using a taxi, rental car, or municipal bus to meet the rest of your transportation needs.

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. You are responsible for 100% of any medical and evacuation costs required during and after the tour. Our groups go into wilderness 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

Each piece of registration information is very important. It helps us match roommates and arrange home stays. We want to avoid putting guests in homes where they might have allergic reactions, difficulty with stairs, etc. We need to know your 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 the name on your registration form MATCHES YOUR ID EXACTLY.

Travel Arrangements

We encourage you to make travel arrangements as early as possible. 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 Sitka, keep in mind that there are several flights out of Sitka. Some of these departures involve a layover in Juneau, while others fly more directly to Seattle. Generally, the earlier you book your flights, the lower the cost will be. 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.

One way to reduce your travel costs is to apply for an Alaska Airlines VISA card. They offer 30,000 free airline miles after you spend $1,000 on the card. This will save you hundreds of dollars. For best results apply before December 15, because it takes some time for your benefits to be credited to your account. If you contact WhaleCoast Alaska, we can arrange for Alaska Airlines to send you an email invitation for this card.

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.