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Frequently Asked Questions

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Frequently Asked Questions About Travel to Alaska

Over the past 30+ years, we’ve been asked a lot of questions, many from first time visitors to Alaska who are planning their first vacation tour of our great state. To help give you answers to some of the most popular questions, we’ve assembled the list below. Read on!

What time zone does Alaska use?

Most of Alaska uses Alaska Time, which is one hour earlier than Pacific Time and four hours earlier than Eastern Time. Alaska participates in Daylight Savings Time.

What is the difference between a Standard and an Upgraded Tour from Alaska Tours?

Standard Tour Packages

Our standard tour itineraries include accommodation in tourist and moderate-class hotels/motels. These hotels or motels are clean and comfortable. Some of these properties have additional amenities such as a small restaurant, shuttle bus service, and a tour desk, and some may also offer a complimentary continental breakfast. Meals are not typically included in our packages and are on your own. We cannot guarantee accommodations that include a continental breakfast. Generally speaking, standard accommodations in Anchorage have a courtesy shuttle for airport and train departures/arrivals.

Upgraded Tours Packages

Our upgraded tour programs include better moderate and first-class HOTELS wherever possible in the itinerary. The properties typically offer a broader range of services, such as a full-service restaurant, room service, or pool and spa facilities. Generally, upgraded hotels do not include breakfast. Upgraded accommodations in Anchorage do not have hotel shuttle services.

Please keep in mind that Alaska can have limited accommodation choices in remote areas; therefore, in some locations, your accommodation might be better compared to simple motels. Please also note that often hotels in Alaska have a different standard than hotels in other parts of the United States.

If your itinerary includes a JOURNEY BY RAIL between Anchorage, Denali, and Fairbanks or Anchorage and Seward,  deluxe dome car seating is available. Rail journeys between Anchorage and Whittier will be in standard seating, as currently, no deluxe dome cars are available.

Upon your request: Several hotels offer guaranteed view rooms, which we can quote and book for you, depending on availability. Higher prices will apply. Please contact us.

When and where can I see the Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights?

While the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights) is active year-round, it is almost impossible to see during the summer when Alaska experiences nearly constant daylight. The best chance to see the aurora borealis in Alaska is in northern areas during the winter months of October through early April. Historically, the best viewing has been from Fairbanks north and on dark nights with clear skies. According to the Geophysical Institute, February and March are the best months to see the Aurora in Alaska.

What should I pack for my vacation to Alaska?

The general rule for Alaska is casual, comfortable clothing that can be worn in layers. The first layer should be something thin next to the skin (try to avoid cotton). The second layer adds warmth and allows you to remove if it gets warmer (primarily fleece or similar). The third layer should protect you against rain and wind if necessary. For day cruises into Prince William Sound, Kenai Fjords, and Glacier Bay National Park, we recommend an extra layer, including a scarf, hat, and gloves, as it can be chilly on the boats. Comfortable walking shoes or water-repellent hiking boots are also important. A day pack is a handy item to bring. Other personal items we suggest are a small flashlight, a hair dryer (most hotel rooms do not have them), insect repellent, binoculars, an adequate supply of prescription medication, photographic film, and a camera. You will find a duffel bag or soft-sided luggage is the most practical for the Alaskan style of traveling, particularly when in small planes and boats. Restricting yourself to one piece of luggage is recommended. More Alaska packing tips…

What are my options for an Alaska Cruise?

Alaska Tours offers small ship cruises of Alaska’s Inside Passage and Glacier Bay National Park. Each type of Alaska adventure cruise has its advantages. The large ships are so stable you hardly feel as if you’re moving. They are elegant and have all the expected facilities, such as a swimming pool, fitness center, shopping, fine dining, and more. Entertainment is provided on board, as well as all your meals.

Smaller Alaska cruise ships typically have fewer than 100 people on board, giving the cruise a more personal feel. They are less “ritzy” and offer fewer onboard amenities but are more personable than large ships. Due to their small size, these ships can navigate right up to the face of glaciers and into narrow passageways that the larger vessels cannot reach. This allows for visits to less “touristy” towns and to be closer to the wildlife along the way.

What is ‘Independent Touring’?

There are numerous ways to tour Alaska: cruising, group tours, and independent programs. Independent Touring can include a rental car or scheduled transportation such as rail, plane, bus, or ferry. While you may be with a group during a day excursion or train ride, you are not with the same group of people each day, nor is there a tour leader with you. Independent touring offers the flexibility of traveling at your own pace and allows for customized itineraries. It is also often a more economical and leisurely way to travel.

Should I drive or take the train?

There are many travel methods for the large state of Alaska. The two most popular ways to see the highlights of Alaska at your own pace are by renting a car or riding the Alaska Railroad. If you choose one of our Self Drive Tours, they include a rental car, and you can be masters of your schedule. With our fully pre-planned itineraries, you will know where you are staying at night, but you can make stops along the road for scenic lookouts, hike, or take one of many possible excursions.

If you choose to travel by railroad, you will be able to admire the scenery without worrying about driving. Also, a guide on board will inform you about the state and its history, point out wildlife, and answer questions. Our Alaska Railroad Tours are an excellent choice for many visitors taking an Alaska Cruise Vacation.

What are the benefits of traveling with an ‘Escorted Group’?

If you enjoy having a knowledgeable guide handle all the details of your tour, then our Alaska Escorted Group Tour is for you. The group size of no more than 50 people allows you to build relationships with other travelers who share your interests. Since your tour leader handles all the arrangements, you can sit back, relax, and enjoy your vacation without worrying about where you are going next or when you need to be there. Informative city tours and some meals and day excursions are also included.

Where will I be staying?

Alaska Tours has access to a large inventory of hotels, Alaska Lodges, and B&Bs throughout Alaska. Our tour packages offer the choice of standard or upgraded accommodations. Depending on the city, standard accommodations may be the only option. The main difference between standard and upgraded accommodations is the amenities offered.

What should I know if I am renting a car?

For your convenience, Alaska Tours uses reputable, nationwide car rental agencies throughout the state. All car rentals include unlimited mileage and taxes. Additional insurance coverage such as Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) / Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) and additional liability coverage are optional and can be purchased directly from the rental agency. U.S. car insurance policies that include comprehensive and collision coverage usually cover rental cars in Alaska; please check with your insurance provider to be sure. Please let us know for travelers without U.S. car insurance, and we can add the required insurance.

Most of Alaska’s roads are two- to four-lane paved highways, but we also have smaller dirt roads that are regularly graded. Winter driving is safe – the main roads are cleared, though specific routes are closed throughout the winter. Rental car companies do not allow their cars to be driven on the Denali Highway, Dalton Highway, and McCarthy Road. For current road conditions, call 511 once you reach Alaska or visit

NOTE: A valid driver’s license and credit card in the driver’s name is required for ALL drivers and must be shown when accepting the car. Typically, drivers must be 25 years of age or older. Canadian residents cannot rent a car in the U.S. and cross the border into Canada.

Car Category Accommodates Sample Models
Compact Four adults, one large and one small suitcase Nissan Versa
Midsize 4-5 adults; 1 large and two small suitcases Toyota Corolla, Nissan Sentra
Full-size Five adults; 2 large and two small suitcases Toyota Camry, Nissan Altima
SUV Five adults; 2 large and two small suitcases Toyota Rav 4, Nissan Rogue
Minivan up to 6 adults with luggage Toyota Sienna
* This is a SAMPLE of the vehicle model/type for each category. The actual vehicle model is not guaranteed!