Dispatch, Alaska: Tour leaders’ enthusiasm shines through

Alaska Dispatch series

Johanna in AlaskaCruise Editor Johanna Jainchill has embarked on a land-cruise tour of Alaska and the Yukon territory. She will be filing dispatches detailing her adventures there.

Dispatch 2, Whitehorse, Yukon: I am constantly amazed at the ability of the tour director and driver/guides on this trip to remain so cheerful, so positive and so excited by every curve on this very long road.

So who are these young men and women, who for one week become the faces of a once-in-a-lifetime vacation?

Rachel Wright, 22, our group’s tour director, is a recent college graduate from Mississippi spending her second season in Alaska with Holland America. As a tour director, she basically does everything except drive the bus. If there’s a problem, it’s her problem. If you need something, she gets it for you. And no matter how obnoxious someone is acting, she smiles.

“You have to,” said Wright. “You’d go crazy if you didn’t.”

Her colleagues agreed.

Pat Whaley, 24, our bus' current driver/guide (the tour directors stay on an entire tour, while driver/guides change), and Justin Jasperson, 27, the driver/guide on the bus behind us, are responsible for being tour guides while driving motorcoaches over very long stretches of road. They learned quickly that their outlook is contagious.Alaska-WhaleyWrightJasperson2

“There is no room for a mediocre attitude,” said Jasperson (far right in photo, with Wright and Whaley). “People paid to have a good time. A lot of that falls on you and your attitude.”

It helps that these three staffers love what they do and genuinely want their groups to have a good time.

“It’s Alaska. Some people have been waiting 73 years to make this trip,” Whaley said. “We get to make it happen for them. It’s so rewarding.”  

Alaska’s summer workforce swells with staffers who take seasonal jobs in tourism. Wright drove nine hours for her interview with Holland America two years ago. Jasperson was recruited at college in his native Utah, where he studies aviation science. Whaley knew someone that knew someone, and the job was a fit for his degree in recreation and leisure services.

All three appreciate experiencing Alaska while they are working, something that comes through in their narratives, such as the story of the Chilkoot Trail (the treacherous, 33-mile trail that stampeders used to travel from Skagway to the Klondike goldfields during the gold rush), or their enthusiasm about a certain view from the road.

I’ve heard very few complaints on this tour, and they have mostly been about the food. The group has only raved about the staff.

“People are OK with whatever happens as long as you warn them about it,” said Wright. “This is Alaska, so we tell people right away that we run on “ish time,” as in we leave at seven-ish. And they understand.”

Whaley agreed and repeated one of the jokes he tells every motorcoach group to prepare them for the rutted Alaska and Yukon roads.

“The road will be bumpy,” he said. “It’s not my fault. It’s not your fault. It’s the asphalt.”

To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, e-mail [email protected].

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