Even when you want to visit the most uncompromising of locations, compromises have to be made
On the move: planning a trip to Alaska
Living in the Gulf, where booking trips at the last minute is normal, it’s sometimes a shock to be told that there are some destinations that have to be booked many months or even years in advance. Usually, tricky destinations require a long run-up because of visa regulations, and there are so many places to go from the UAE that don’t need visas that this is rarely an issue.
Certainly, this is not normally an issue with the United States, which is in most cases a year-round destination with – for those nationalities not targeted by President Trump, at least – straightforward entry procedures. There are plenty of hotels, cars and tours to go around.
Not so with Alaska. Because of its long, harsh winter and short summer season, which lasts from May until September, the best cruises, tours and lodging – there is a limited stock unless you’re staying in Anchorage, the largest city – can be booked up two years in advance.
Fortunately, I was told this last September by travel-planning experts Butterfield & Robinson, which is based in Canada. So in January I reserved my place on a small ship adventure cruise from Seattle to Juneau, in the second half of May. Despite costing US$10,000 (Dh36,729) per person, the trip with the American company UnCruise is in demand precisely because there are only 18 cabins available and the vessel can access out-of-the-way places in the company of an expert conservation scientist. I’ve booked a room at the Sheraton in Juneau – not cheap at $200 (Dh735) a night – and will then take a short, one-way flight to Anchorage – again, at a less than bargain $175 (Dh643) – but I was just pleased to get one of the last remaining seats.
While I had previously wanted to hire a car and drive myself into the wilds, to the far westernmost point where Alaska almost touches Russia and along the lonely, unsealed Dalton Highway from Fairbanks to Alaska’s northernmost edge, reality has kicked in. At more than 1.7 million square kilometres, Alaska is more than seven times the size of the United Kingdom, or the same size as most of continental western Europe.
Although I’ll have a month there, this is a drop in the ocean in terms of what I’ll be able to see, so after the two-week cruise, I’ve decide to book a 13-day group camping trip visiting the country’s highlights, including Denali National Park, the Kenai Peninsula, the Alaska Range and Wrangell-St Elias National Park. I’m especially excited about Wrangell-St Elias, because at 5.3 million hectares, it’s the largest national park in the United States and the same size as Yellowstone National Park, Yosemite National Park and Switzerland combined. Volcanoes, huge glaciers and frightening-looking mountains abound.
I had previously thought about booking in to some luxury lodges in Alaska, and being flown from place to place by small planes and fed five-course dinners. But the trouble with these places is that they represent civilisation. I want to be out in the wild, sleeping at beautiful campsites with hardly any facilities.
I’ll let you know how it goes.