The Fortunes of the Far North

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Until now, the only way to experience the GoldStar service has been aboard the Denali Star that runs between Anchorage and Fairbanks with stops in Wasilla, Talkeetna, and Denali National Park. The upgraded option comes with confirmed seating, complimentary beverages, priority check-in and boarding, and a private outdoor viewing deck.

“This year you will see the addition of brand-new premium service GoldStar passenger cars added to our Coastal Classic route [Anchorage to Seward],” says Ruth Rosewarne, a sales executive with Alaska Railroad. “This service proved to be so popular that we bought two more cars and put them on this line. This route is widely considered our most scenic route and so the option to ride in a bi-level dome car to enjoy premium views and service will be very enticing to our passengers.” GoldStar fares on the Coastal Classic this summer will be $160 one way, $254 roundtrip. The trip from Anchorage to Seward takes about 4.5 hours.

The GoldStar cars are 89-ft., double-deck dome carriers with service that includes 36 dining room seats with views through picture windows. The upper dome-level service has a full-time bar attendant and offers reclining seats that can rotate to accommodate groups of four. Cars can be reserved in full for meetings and events. One-way Denali Star fares between Anchorage and Fairbanks in peak season start at $210 ($320 for GoldStar). It takes about 12 hours to travel between the two locations, and only about four hours to travel between Fairbanks and Denali. The company’s abundant day and multiday tours can be perused online.

land of choices For visitors who want a huge amount of flexibility and choice in an Alaska vacation, Alaska Denali Tours might be of interest. The Alaskan-owned company offers all manner of tours, packages and build-your-own options to facilitate explorations of the Great North, from back country adventure tours, to scenic road tours, to fishing, rafting and wildlife tours using all conveyances available and heading to all points of interest.

As an example, a 10-day Grand Alaska Tour starts in Anchorage with some museum and bear-watching tours. The guests board Alaska Railroad’s Coastal Classic train to Seward, from where they board the Star of the Northwest for the Kenai Fjords, traveling through waters of Resurrection Bay for close encounters with marine wildlife. Time spent on city tours and in talking sessions with famed Iditarod winners is included before heading to Denali for a raft trip along the Nenana River. Morning brings an ATV tour along the Otto Trail. The next day is spent hiking and exploring the national park. Day eight is a train ride to Fairbanks followed by a day of city tours and visits to local attractions. Rates are $3,150 pp dbl.

accommodation options Westmark Hotels might be a familiar brand to anyone who books Alaska. The company has hotels throughout the state, including Anchorage and Fairbanks and partners with Carnival Corp., Holland America Line and Grey Line for seamless tour services. For special events, Westmark is a prime spot for conferences and meetings, handling up to 400 participants at the Fairbanks location and around 200 banquet-style in Anchorage. Westmark rates run around $200 per night in high season for basic accommodations, coffee bar and wireless Internet.

You’ll want to know that The Westmark Fairbanks Hotel & Conference Center just completed a $34 million expansion, and now offers more rooms—400 in all—more meeting space, a new fitness center, and two new restaurants. The hotel is offering aNorthern Lights package through April 15—during the dark winter months when this aerial phenomenon is best viewed. The package features 1-night accommodations for two in a deluxe room, northern lights’ wake-up call, map of Northern Lights’ viewing areas, two signature coffee tumblers with hot chocolate, cookies and hand-warmers, hot/cold continental breakfast buffet for two and 2 p.m. late check-out so guests can sleep in after viewing the northern lights in the wee hours. Price is $95 per night, plus tax.

Meanwhile, The Westmark Anchorage—nestled in the heart of downtown Anchorage—offers awe-inspiring views of the surrounding Chugach Mountains and Cook Inlet from the private balconies that adjoin every guestroom. It’s located adjacent to the Egan Center and Performing Arts Center and blocks away from the 5th Avenue Mall, and features oversized guestrooms, restaurants, and a lounge.

What agents need to know, adds Fairbanks CVB’s Lundquist, is that a visit to Alaska, whether Fairbanks or beyond, is full of options, full of exciting choices.