John Hall's Alaska aims for flexibility, affordability with an updated classic

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The Denali Explorer itinerary spends two days in Denali National Park.
The Denali Explorer itinerary spends two days in Denali National Park. Photo Credit: Courtesy of John Hall's Alaska
Renee Brincks
Renee Brincks

John Hall's Alaska marks its 35th year of touring in 2018, and the family-owned and -operated company will kick off the new era with an updated version of its Denali Explorer excursion.

The new itinerary is one day shorter than the previous one, with six days on land and seven at sea. In addition to offering more flexibility at individual tour stops, the updated Denali Explorer comes at a lower price point.

These changes help distinguish the tour from the company's 15-day Grand Slam Alaska outing, which has grown more popular over the past decade.

"By lowering the cost of our Denali Explorer, we hope to make the tour more attractive to those on fixed incomes and to families who might be traveling in larger groups," said John Hall Jr., the company's vice president of sales and marketing. "We keep the same attention to detail as our other itineraries and the same focus on integrity, service and authenticity. Small-group, hands-on encounters and time with local Alaskans really drive this tour."

For examples of the Denali Explorer focus on local experiences, Hall points to a breakfast stop and tour at the Talkeetna Roadhouse and time at Wolf's Den Kennel, where musher Mike Santos and his wife, Caitlin, walk guests through life on the Iditarod Trail. Other tour highlights include a ride on the Alaska Railroad, a small-boat cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park, a walking tour of downtown Ketchikan and the option to view the totem displays of Saxman Village and Totem Bight Park.

The refreshed itinerary also ties in a two-night stay in the riverview suites at Denali Bluffs in Denali National Park and Preserve. From there, guests can chose from a 92-mile tour to Kantishna, in the heart of the park, or a shorter wilderness outing that travels approximately 50 miles each way.

The approximately 12-hour daytrip into Kantishna is not for everyone, Hall explained. By offering two nights at the front of the park, together with two tour options, travelers can customize their own experience.

The longer park stay also maximizes wildlife watching and sightseeing time.

"Denali Explorer guests have four consecutive days with opportunities to see that mountain. That's not something that happens on too many tours," Hall said. "Alaska is a big state, and it can take its toll to travel so many miles on consecutive days. We wanted to offer people a little more time, in a place like Denali, to go at their own pace, stretch their legs and breathe in more of that fresh air."

After commemorating the National Park Service centennial in 2016 and Denali National Park's 100th birthday in 2017, Hall said the company will take a low-key approach to its own anniversary in 2018.

"We just appreciate the fact that we've been able to operate for 35 years. If you look at the industry as a whole, there are a lot of the small tour operators who have either been dissolved or gobbled up. That's even happened to some big operators," he said. "It's challenging to make this work, but it's also very rewarding."

The 2018 Denali Explorer tours from John Hall's Alaska depart between June and September. Guests booking the land and cruise package before Jan. 1 will receive a discount of $500 per person. Tour prices include all meals, gratuities and accommodations. Rates and itineraries are available at www.kissalaska.com/denali-explorer.html.

For additional tour information, visit www.kissalaska.com.

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