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Q - booking cruise for Alaska

Q - booking cruise for Alaska

Old Aug 20, 17, 3:12 pm
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Q - booking cruise for Alaska

We are planning a trip to Alaska from the UK next June - from mid-June for 2 weeks. This period is not flexible due to hubby's work commitment. We have got our award flights from the UK to the US sorted and booked: flying into YVR (via JFK) and flying out of LAS. This itin is due to no availability directly into YVR or SEA.

Our plan would be to take a one way 7-day cruise from Vancouver to Seward. Then do a week land tour at the end of the cruise - I will post a new thread with questions on this later.

In terms of the one-way cruise, we have narrowed it down to Holland America Line - the cruise ship is Noordam which has mixed reviews. We have not been on any cruise before. We are not into entertainment, eating or drinking - only interested animals and scenery. We have done some research and knew what type of cabin we would like - one with balcony around mid-ship.

We have read that it is best to book the cruise through a travel agent (instead of booking through the cruise line) as there may be extras / discounts. We have spoken to a TA and he said he would only provide these if we took packages, and not just cruise only prices.

I have seen adverts from many online TAs - the UK ones quoted in . I also know that airlines such as AA and AS have cruises advertised and we can earn miles if booked through them (non-US residents have to call to enquire about prices).

My question is: Has anyone booked cruises through AA or AS affiliated agents? Good or bad experience? The points are around 1 per $1 spend. We are talking about 6K for 2 pax (cabin with balcony) for 7 days cruise. Cruises can also be booked with Costco in the US - but not in the UK. Am also thinking of calling the Amex Plat travel to see if their prices are competitive.

Another question: When booking a cruise, do you select the cabin number before or after the booking? (like select airline seats?)

Thanks in advance.

PS - more questions on Alaska train, hotels and excursions in other threads later.
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Old Aug 21, 17, 10:08 am
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Originally Posted by A1pax View Post
We have read that it is best to book the cruise through a travel agent (instead of booking through the cruise line) as there may be extras / discounts. We have spoken to a TA and he said he would only provide these if we took packages, and not just cruise only prices.

I have seen adverts from many online TAs - the UK ones quoted in . I also know that airlines such as AA and AS have cruises advertised and we can earn miles if booked through them (non-US residents have to call to enquire about prices).

My question is: Has anyone booked cruises through AA or AS affiliated agents? Good or bad experience? The points are around 1 per $1 spend. We are talking about 6K for 2 pax (cabin with balcony) for 7 days cruise. Cruises can also be booked with Costco in the US - but not in the UK. Am also thinking of calling the Amex Plat travel to see if their prices are competitive.

Another question: When booking a cruise, do you select the cabin number before or after the booking? (like select airline seats?)
I haven't booked cruises from the UK but I'm under the impression that pricing is different than what the same itinerary would cost if one's a resident of North America. I guess I'd do some online research - see the price if booking directly through the cruise line, see prices using UK TAs, and go to some big site like www.cruise.com and where it asks about where home is, say you're from some US state just as a test.

The TA that said the discounts/extras were only available if you buy a package is blowing smoke. Not true.

Most online booking services/TAs will let you pick a cabin before paying. Sometimes you can get away cheaper by booking a "guaranteed" room in a given class; e.g. a balcony cabin where you won't know the precise location until you arrive at the port. Often these bookings get upgraded to a higher cabin class, but there's no knowing. The cruise lines use very similar revenue/yield management practices that airlines employ.

The key to Vancouver-Alaska one way cruises (and v.v.) is the ports and route. I think HAL visits Glacier Bay, which is a plus. Other lines might call at Hubbard Glacier, which is spectacular but which in mid-June might be relatively inaccessible depending on ice conditions in Yakutat Bay. So I think the Noordam is a safe choice.
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Old Aug 21, 17, 11:15 am
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Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
I haven't booked cruises from the UK but I'm under the impression that pricing is different than what the same itinerary would cost if one's a resident of North America. I guess I'd do some online research - see the price if booking directly through the cruise line, see prices using UK TAs, and go to some big site like www.cruise.com and where it asks about where home is, say you're from some US state just as a test.

The TA that said the discounts/extras were only available if you buy a package is blowing smoke. Not true.

Most online booking services/TAs will let you pick a cabin before paying. Sometimes you can get away cheaper by booking a "guaranteed" room in a given class; e.g. a balcony cabin where you won't know the precise location until you arrive at the port. Often these bookings get upgraded to a higher cabin class, but there's no knowing. The cruise lines use very similar revenue/yield management practices that airlines employ.

The key to Vancouver-Alaska one way cruises (and v.v.) is the ports and route. I think HAL visits Glacier Bay, which is a plus. Other lines might call at Hubbard Glacier, which is spectacular but which in mid-June might be relatively inaccessible depending on ice conditions in Yakutat Bay. So I think the Noordam is a safe choice.
Big thanks, Gardyloo, for your replies - really appreciated. Many good pointers! Will continue to do more research as you have suggested. Trip planning certainly takes a lot of time.

When ready, I will post questions about the land tour in a new thread.
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Old Aug 22, 17, 4:17 pm
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Just want to update. I have checked out the prices on a few US and UK based TA - included Alaska and American airline cruise portals (of course booking through them would earn some miles / points). Prices for the particular cruise on specific date and cabin type were all similar - after FX conversion - except prices directly from the cruise line were more expensive
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Old Aug 22, 17, 4:40 pm
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It almost seems a shame to book an expensive cruise line if you're not into dining or entertainment. Seems a lot of the value would go to waste.

I'd be tempted to just book Carnival or Princess.

I'd probably research on Cruisecritic website. There are some sites you can ask different teavel agents to bid on. Usually they offer extra shipboard credit.

The Golden Princess leaves one day before, and is generally 10% less.
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Old Aug 22, 17, 4:52 pm
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Originally Posted by Jaimito Cartero View Post
It almost seems a shame to book an expensive cruise line if you're not into dining or entertainment. Seems a lot of the value would go to waste.

I'd be tempted to just book Carnival or Princess.

I'd probably research on Cruisecritic website. There are some sites you can ask different teavel agents to bid on. Usually they offer extra shipboard credit.

The Golden Princess leaves one day before, and is generally 10% less.
He he! We know it is a big waste of money for not drinking, eating or entertaining - but that's how it is with hubby. He always flies J and F but does not drink alcohol or eating fancy food (prefer to order a vegetarian meal and most of the time it is very boring) and does not like to spend too long in lounges. As for me, I will drink a little, enjoy eating gourmet meals and like to spend hours in the lounges!

I did look at Princess but they dock in Whittier and we prefer Seward. HAL ship looks OK - we don't want to be in a cabin with no window or in a huge suite, so will go for a cabin with balcony as long as there is enough space to walk around!
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Old Aug 23, 17, 10:30 am
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Originally Posted by Jaimito Cartero View Post
I'd be tempted to just book Carnival or Princess.
HAL & Princess Alaska cruises are typically not too far apart in price. My first AK cruise was HAL, my 2nd on Princess (on Pacific Princess, though, which sort of doesn't count because it's so small - but that's our preference). The 2007 AK trip I did with my husband was great - we flew to Fairbanks and rented a car, stayed in town 2 nights then outside with family for 3 nights, then drove to Anchorage and dropped off the car (we saw more wildlife on our drive than many saw on the Princess excursion up to Denali, from talking to people who did that) and used a Princess transfer from ANC to Whittier. We booked that trip through Costco, I think.

As we're American, I can't speak to specifics of various travel agencies but would second the recommendation to keep looking around. Cruisecompete is the service where you submit your cruise wish and different agencies bid on it - not sure it works in the UK though.

Good luck - Alaska is gorgeous! We pretty much sat on our balcony ALL the time (not interested in entertainment on the ship either - had wine on the balcony, binoculars, and lots of entertainment outside!) Our trip was the last of the season for Pacific Princess- just after the beginning of Sept (was about to say Labor Day but as you're British that won't mean anything ;-) Salmon were mostly done spawning and dying in the rivers but we saw a TON of bears, so that was a good trade-off. I'd like to go earlier to have better whale sightings -we saw beluga whales in Turnagin Arm on our bus drive to Whittier (we had time to stop and take photos - great bus driver!) and I saw a few at one point way in the distance, but it was quite late for the humpbacks. Ah well - next time! (I think some who did specific whale watching tours on smaller boats were able to go out to where they'd been spotted and have better luck - we just opted not to do that - but I will next time!)
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Old Aug 24, 17, 3:29 am
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Thanks, Hoyaheel, for the info on your AL trip - good to read about your experience with cruise ships as well.

We are not flexible in terms of travel dates (to fit in with hubby's work timetable) so HAL would be the one suited us best. We love animals, wild life and sceneries but not into the active things like hiking, kayaking. We have narrowed down 2 agencies whom we will buy the cruise fares from.

We have been looking at trains, tours and hotels in Alaska for the week after the cruise. Hotel prices are high due to peak season when we will be there - so we may work out if redeeming points for Hilton and Marriott in Anchorage and Fairbanks will be better value.

Internet booking websites showed no availability for the 2 top lodges in Denali for the 2 nights we wanted. We may call the lodges directly to see if they have held back any room. We think the reason for no availability was to reserve rooms for cruise ship pax.

We really look forward to discovering Alaska and seeing the wildlife.

PS - we know what Labor Day is! We lived in the LA for 5 years in our early 20s - hubby did his PhD at UCLA.
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Old Aug 24, 17, 8:38 am
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Originally Posted by A1pax View Post
We have been looking at trains, tours and hotels in Alaska for the week after the cruise. Hotel prices are high due to peak season when we will be there - so we may work out if redeeming points for Hilton and Marriott in Anchorage and Fairbanks will be better value.

Internet booking websites showed no availability for the 2 top lodges in Denali for the 2 nights we wanted. We may call the lodges directly to see if they have held back any room. We think the reason for no availability was to reserve rooms for cruise ship pax.
I strongly feel DIY is the way to go. Book a car and spend the week driving around.

Because of the distances and the fact that there are few workable driving "loops," with a week you have to be selective in where you can go. Since your cruise ends in Seward, I'd suggest doing a Kenai Fjords cruise while you're there; and I'd look at hiring a one-way rental car from Seward to Anchorage for one day. (The one-way hire cost will be quite high but probably competitive with 2x train or coach fares.) Rent a second car on a round-trip/return contract in Anchorage; it will be much cheaper than the one-way hire. Hertz is the only rental agency in Seward.

Suggested itinerary:

Day 1 - Arrive Seward, Kenai Fjords cruise, overnight Seward.

Day 2 - Pick up car, drive to Whittier for glacier cruise (optional if you feel you saw enough glaciers on the cruise.) Continue to Anchorage (stop in Girdwood for a meal or gondola ride at Alyeska Resort) and return car; overnight Anchorage.

Day 3 - Pick up new car, drive to Denali area.

Day 4 - Full day in Denali Park - to Eielson visitor center at least.

Day 5 - Back to Anchorage - stop at Hatcher Pass and Eklutna Native cemetery.

Day 6 - In Anchorage - Native Heritage Center, coastal trail, flightseeing out of Lake Hood (highly recommended.)

Day 7 - Depart.

This misses Fairbanks; with no disrespect intended, IMO Fairbanks is best saved for a second trip; the landscape between Denali and Fairbanks is uninspiring and you'd still have to retract your steps. If you had 10-14 days then including Fairbanks and a return to Anchorage via the Richardson and Glenn Highways would be ideal; however with your limited time I'd leave it out.

Google these places for reference. I would look for B&Bs in the Denali area; they're usually better value.
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Old Aug 24, 17, 12:30 pm
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Thank you, Gardyloo, for suggesting the one-week itinerary land tour around Alaska (after the one-week cruise from Vancouver to Seward) - much appreciated.

I have read some trip reports on Alaska and most were done by car. We had a bad experience with Hertz in Australia a couple of months ago and it put me off for using it again. The car rental industry needs reform!

Hubby prefers train travel. But, I will show your suggested itin to hubby and convince him that a driving holiday gives us flexibility in reaching places. We have car insurance cover from the UK Amex Plat card.

Hubby has mapped out an itin based on train travel as below. I have been busy reading reviews on trains, hotels and tours.

Day 1 - arrival by cruise ship in Seward (ship docked 4:30am). Hubby wanted to stay in Seward overnight to find our feet on land again! - to check out the town and sealife centre.

Day 2 - take the Kenai Fjords cruise (agree with you on this). In the evening take the Coastal Classic train from Seward to Anchorage. Overnight in Anchorage.

Day 3 - take the Denali Star train from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Overnight in Fairbanks.

Day 4 - take the Artic Circle drive tour (over 13 hours). Crazy I know. Read reviews and some loved it, others said it was not worth the time and money! Overnight in Fairbanks.

Day 5 - take the Denali Star train from Fairbanks to Denali. Take the half day bus tour of Denali. Overnight in Denali.

Day 6 - take a different bus tour (all day) deep into Denali. Overnight in Denali.

Day 7 - take the McKinley Explorer train from Denali to Anchorage. Overnight in Anchorage.

Day 8 - take the Glacier Discovery train from Anchorage to Whittier - do the William Sound glacier? and stop along Girdwood, Portage? Overnight in Anchorage.

Day 9 - fly Anchorage to Seattle then to LAS and LHR.

One of the problems with train travel is how to get from the train stations to the accommodation places? I did read reviews of a nice B&B in Denali, but they don't recommend staying there without a car!

What do you think of hubby's train itin?

Thanks again, for the pointers in your suggested itin.
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Old Aug 24, 17, 4:40 pm
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Originally Posted by A1pax View Post
Thank you, Gardyloo, for suggesting the one-week itinerary land tour around Alaska (after the one-week cruise from Vancouver to Seward) - much appreciated.

I have read some trip reports on Alaska and most were done by car. We had a bad experience with Hertz in Australia a couple of months ago and it put me off for using it again. The car rental industry needs reform!

Hubby prefers train travel. But, I will show your suggested itin to hubby and convince him that a driving holiday gives us flexibility in reaching places. We have car insurance cover from the UK Amex Plat card.

Hubby has mapped out an itin based on train travel as below. I have been busy reading reviews on trains, hotels and tours.

Day 1 - arrival by cruise ship in Seward (ship docked 4:30am). Hubby wanted to stay in Seward overnight to find our feet on land again! - to check out the town and sealife centre.

Day 2 - take the Kenai Fjords cruise (agree with you on this). In the evening take the Coastal Classic train from Seward to Anchorage. Overnight in Anchorage.

Day 3 - take the Denali Star train from Anchorage to Fairbanks. Overnight in Fairbanks.

Day 4 - take the Artic Circle drive tour (over 13 hours). Crazy I know. Read reviews and some loved it, others said it was not worth the time and money! Overnight in Fairbanks.

Day 5 - take the Denali Star train from Fairbanks to Denali. Take the half day bus tour of Denali. Overnight in Denali.

Day 6 - take a different bus tour (all day) deep into Denali. Overnight in Denali.

Day 7 - take the McKinley Explorer train from Denali to Anchorage. Overnight in Anchorage.

Day 8 - take the Glacier Discovery train from Anchorage to Whittier - do the William Sound glacier? and stop along Girdwood, Portage? Overnight in Anchorage.

Day 9 - fly Anchorage to Seattle then to LAS and LHR.

One of the problems with train travel is how to get from the train stations to the accommodation places? I did read reviews of a nice B&B in Denali, but they don't recommend staying there without a car!

What do you think of hubby's train itin?

Thanks again, for the pointers in your suggested itin.
I understand people's reluctance to rent cars, but IMO Alaska is an exception. The mainline Alaska Railroad route from Anchorage to Fairbanks via Denali - just my view - is actually pretty boring. Driving is very easy in Alaska, and because so much of the scenery is off the highway (and off the train route) the car gives you the flexibility to stop, make short detours, all that.

Between Seward (and Whittier) and Anchorage, the train follows the road quite closely (a few areas where they diverge) and both are scenic. However driving gives you the option at stopping - for example a short side trip to the historic mining village of Hope on the south side of Turnagain Arm, or at the Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, or in Girdwood... places and activities the train rolls right past.

Try this as a thought experiment - car from Seward to Anchorage, train from Anchorage to Denali and back. Skip Fairbanks, but allocate the money you'd spend on the "arctic circle" tour (just me, but yuck) on a visit to an actual Inupiat Eskimo village north of the arctic circle?

You can fly return from Anchorage to Kotzebue for around US$330, or (since this is FT) for 15,000 BA Avios (7500 each way.) Kotzebue is located on an arm of the Arctic Ocean some distance north of the arctic circle. It's an important Native village with decent visitor accommodations including a modern hotel across the street from the beach - http://www.nullagvikhotel.com/ . In Kotzebue in June you'll have 24 hours of sunshine, you can visit a native fish camp down the coast, visit the local museum, and get a feel for life as it's lived in the arctic. It's way better than seeing some sign on the side of the road (through the clouds of mosquitoes) saying you've crossed some invisible line on a map, or at least it is in my view.

The hotel in Kotzebue will cost about the same as one in Anchorage or Fairbanks, you won't need a car, and you'll come back having seen a face of Alaska missed by 90% or more of the people who visit.

Just a suggestion.
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Old Aug 25, 17, 4:24 am
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Originally Posted by Gardyloo View Post
I understand people's reluctance to rent cars, but IMO Alaska is an exception. The mainline Alaska Railroad route from Anchorage to Fairbanks via Denali - just my view - is actually pretty boring. Driving is very easy in Alaska, and because so much of the scenery is off the highway (and off the train route) the car gives you the flexibility to stop, make short detours, all that.

Between Seward (and Whittier) and Anchorage, the train follows the road quite closely (a few areas where they diverge) and both are scenic. However driving gives you the option at stopping - for example a short side trip to the historic mining village of Hope on the south side of Turnagain Arm, or at the Wildlife Conservation Center in Portage, or in Girdwood... places and activities the train rolls right past.

Try this as a thought experiment - car from Seward to Anchorage, train from Anchorage to Denali and back. Skip Fairbanks, but allocate the money you'd spend on the "arctic circle" tour (just me, but yuck) on a visit to an actual Inupiat Eskimo village north of the arctic circle?

You can fly return from Anchorage to Kotzebue for around US$330, or (since this is FT) for 15,000 BA Avios (7500 each way.) Kotzebue is located on an arm of the Arctic Ocean some distance north of the arctic circle. It's an important Native village with decent visitor accommodations including a modern hotel across the street from the beach - http://www.nullagvikhotel.com/ . In Kotzebue in June you'll have 24 hours of sunshine, you can visit a native fish camp down the coast, visit the local museum, and get a feel for life as it's lived in the arctic. It's way better than seeing some sign on the side of the road (through the clouds of mosquitoes) saying you've crossed some invisible line on a map, or at least it is in my view.

The hotel in Kotzebue will cost about the same as one in Anchorage or Fairbanks, you won't need a car, and you'll come back having seen a face of Alaska missed by 90% or more of the people who visit.

Just a suggestion.
Many thanks, Gardyloo - much appreciated your views and suggestions.

I have discussed with hubby about driving. He said if he drives he cannot look at the sceneries! However, a one-way drive from Seward to Anchorage sounded nice.

As you said, and we also read about the train route between Anchorage and Whittier there are many lovely things to do and see.

Your suggestion about skipping Fairbanks & the Artic Circle drive tour, instead fly to Kotzebue and stay overnight in Nullakvig hotel. I have check it out and the hotel looks great. However, it seems we cannot book the AS flight from Anchorage to Kotzebue using BA avios. Strange because on AS website, it shows BA as a partner and we can use AS miles to redeem for BA flights. But, on BA website, AS is not shown as a partner at all - ie cannot use BA avios to book AS flights? We will have to pay revenue fare to AS and credit our miles/points to BA?

Another question about visiting a town on the Artic Circle. Hubby's mother did a trip (from Australia) to Alaska years ago, she wanted to go to Barrow but could not because of the weather. Hubby wanted to know if Barrow would be a better place to visit than Kotzebue?

Thanks so much for your input
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Old Aug 25, 17, 9:05 am
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Originally Posted by A1pax View Post
However, it seems we cannot book the AS flight from Anchorage to Kotzebue using BA avios. Strange because on AS website, it shows BA as a partner and we can use AS miles to redeem for BA flights. But, on BA website, AS is not shown as a partner at all - ie cannot use BA avios to book AS flights? We will have to pay revenue fare to AS and credit our miles/points to BA?

Another question about visiting a town on the Artic Circle. Hubby's mother did a trip (from Australia) to Alaska years ago, she wanted to go to Barrow but could not because of the weather. Hubby wanted to know if Barrow would be a better place to visit than Kotzebue?
No, you can't book AS flights using Avios online with BA; you have to phone BAEC to do it, but it's quite easy. They may want to charge a service fee, but there are numerous instances where BAEC members have reported that when they explained to the BA agent that it wasn't possible online, the service fee was waived.

Kotzebue v. Barrow. Either one; I prefer Kotzebue as it's a bit smaller. Barrow is rather spread out and tends to be a little pricier as it has more tourist activities going on than Kotzebue. It's farther north of course and the seafront is more active as it's on open ocean while Kotzebue is on Kotzebue Sound, a bit more protected.

I'd look on AS's website to see about flight availability in their own mileage program, than use that information when talking to BA.

With more time (and I'm not sure you have it) I'd recommend a triangle trip - Anchorage to Kotzebue to Nome to Anchorage (the AS flight stops en route at one or the other.) Nome is a very historic gold mining town on the Bering Sea, with a lot of colorful history (still being made - it's a very active mining area still.) The State maintains several roads that radiate out from Nome into the Seward Peninsula; you can hire a vehicle and see some pretty wonderful landscapes, and a lot of wildlife - muskoxen, moose, caribou and reindeer, bears... and a lot of birds (it's on important migratory flyways.) But that's maybe a future trip. http://www.adfg.alaska.gov/index.cfm...ewardpeninsula
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Old Aug 25, 17, 3:14 pm
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Thanks again, Gardyloo, for the very helpful ideas. You are a legend!

This weekend is a long weekend in London, so we will be away for a few days. But I will look closely at the itin you have suggested to see if we can fit it in.

I will check out AS website for availability first, then call BAEC (am gold so hopefully they will waive the booking fee?) to see if they can book using avios.
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Old Aug 27, 17, 3:41 am
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Originally Posted by A1pax View Post
Many thanks, Gardyloo - much appreciated your views and suggestions.

Another question about visiting a town on the Artic Circle. Hubby's mother did a trip (from Australia) to Alaska years ago, she wanted to go to Barrow but could not because of the weather. Hubby wanted to know if Barrow would be a better place to visit than Kotzebue?
Arctic has two Cs.

And Barrow has a new name, Utqiaġvik. But whichever name you use for it, Barrow / Utqiaġvik is a somewhat dreary and depressing place overall. Kotzebue is as well, but less so than Barrow. I'd actually suggest neither and instead suggest considering Nome. While Nome is just south of the Arctic Circle, you usually end up stopping in Kotzebue on the flight there or back, so you can legitimately say you've been to the Arctic.

Nome is a remote, strange place full of odd people, but in a good way overall, and far less dreary than Barrow. Nome has bars unlike Barrow and Kotzebue. Nome even has 3 roads out of town that are each scenic in different ways.

One of the very odd, but great characters of Nome is the mayor:

https://www.adn.com/iditarod/article...er/2016/03/13/

He's a hoot and also does awesome tours of Nome and the area. Highly recommended.

Finally Nome beats Barrow and Kotz big time when it comes to puns you can post with your photos on social media : There's No Place like Nome, Nome is where the heart is, All roads lead to Nome etc, etc.
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