Alaska is truly the last frontier. It lived up to every dream we held for it and then some. As always when we travel we like to share a few tips with you that we learnt along the way!
- You will need to get yourself an ESTA, an American Visa. You can apply for one of these easily online.
- Whilst it is very tempting, do not visit Alaska on a cruise. Yes, you will see it, but you will not experience it, you will experience life on board a very beautiful ship. There are some smaller boats like UnCruise which we liked the look of but they are expensive!
- Do make use of the wonderful ferry system, the Alaska Marine Highway to get around like a local. We travelled from Ketchikan right up to Whittier on the ferries and we loved them. Only remember they do not have wifi, Mrs Travel-blogger came un-stuck on that one!
- Alaska is expensive, very expensive. You could spend a fortune on all the wonderful scenic flights and boat trips. So either have deep pockets or develop a love for walking like us!
- When the cruise boats are in port is the time to do any special tours (flights, boat trips). All the operators will be on the quayside selling their wares.
- There is a special app for mobiles all the locals have which tells them how many cruise boats are coming in on which days. This was very handy for us in Sitka; when there were no boats, we had places like Fortress of the Bear to ourselves. The next day when a ship was in, we went on a boat trip to spot wildlife with a couple of cruise passengers.
- AirBnB is very big in Alaska. We chose the traditional B&B style of accommodation and met some great locals who happily shared their local knowledge with us.
- The Alaskans are a friendly happy bunch. I will bestow upon them the great accolade of being like Aussies.
- Sales tax and Service Tax are rife in Alaska. The amount varies from town to town. Now I’m not just talking about hotels and restaurants, I am talking supermarkets as well. A chocolate bar might be marked as US$1 on the shelf, but by the time it gets to the till it will be $1.12 or so! The only place we found no Sales Tax was Anchorage.
- Then there is tipping, in restaurants, taxis, even shuttle buses (!!) On your restaurant docket they helpfully have printed “Suggested Gratuity Amounts” for 15%, 18% or 20%. We resisted the pressure and only tipped when the service was good (or we were staying there a few nights and wanted to go back to that restaurant!)
- America is still the land of the imperial measure. Fahrenheit, inches, pounds, we were completely at sea. The captain told us it was 46F when we flew into Ketchikan on our first morning, and we had no idea what that was! (7.7C and we !?%&*# froze)
- Portions are super-sized in Alaska, like America. Never, ever order a large coffee, it is the size of a milkshake (and hideous) and likewise order the small size of pizza. We came unstuck just the once and had to take the rest back to the hotel in a doggy bag!
- If you do take my advice and travel on the ferry system, do not think you will save money by taking your food on board. The food on the ferries is very good and very well priced, even in the vending machines!
- Whilst we loved the ferries, be warned they do not sell alcoholic beverages. So when we had a couple of nights on board we would take a bottle of whisky with us for a sneaky little pre-dinner drinkie-poohs in our cabin. Ice and cold water are available in the restaurant so we were good. You are not allowed to drink alcohol in any of the lounges or restaurant, so water with dinner folks!
- Packing wise it really is a case of layering. We are walkers so we lived-in our walking boots, cotton t-shirts, fleeces and our waterproofs were never far away! Don’t bother to pack anything smart, Alaskan’s are a casual bunch and there is no where a nice pair of jeans couldn’t take you!
- When you explore the great outdoors of Alaska, and you would be a mug not to, do take some good bug spray. The mosquitoes we encountered at Eagle River (Anchorage) were the worst I have ever come across. We are fans of “Off!” which uses Picaridin rather than Deet, it doesn’t stink!
- If you are like us and enjoy a sneaky bottle of wine in your room, take a corkscrew! Even bottles of Australian wine (i.e.: Yellow Tail) have corks in them in Alaska!
- There is a $5 charge for parking in national parks around Anchorage. It is done on a system of fill out an envelope and post it with your $5 in a little box. So my tip is have a $5 note handy as there is no where to get change! We came across one park where there were no envelopes, this sent us into a spin until we spoke to a local and she said if there are no envelopes she didn’t pay. So that was good enough for us!
- If you love animals, you will love Alaska! There is everything from reindeers, moose, wolverines, bears, orcas, musk ox to the home of the famous Iditarod sled dog race.
- And one last point, if you rent a car (we did in Anchorage) remember it is a case of driving on the right-hand side of the road. You have no idea how many times we turned on the windscreen wiper to turn a corner!!!!!
So there you have it, my top 20 tips! If you have anymore please, PLEASE leave them in a comment on my blog.