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Tom Garrett

Chicago, Illinois Travel Agent

An Insider’s View of Alaska

I grew up in Alaska and my professional life in travel coincided with the growth of tourism there so my roots there go deep. I worked in many aspects of Alaska tourism, starting with my first job at a gift shop. I worked my way up to becoming the president of a major tour operator and was appointed by Governor Tony Knowles to serve as Director of Tourism for the State of Alaska.

Knowing most of the key people in Alaska tourism personally, I am very familiar with their offerings. That allows me to help you select the right programs and to create highly-personalized journeys.

Most people first discover Alaska on a traditional cruise--a phenomenal value. I can help match you with the right ship for your interests and style and plan shore excursions and pre-and post-travel that deepen your experience.

Alaska also offers experiences catering to a wide variety of special interests. Fishing in Alaska is unlike anything even serious anglers have experienced and you will probably catch more fish than you can imagine. I have contacts at the finest lodges in the state and can help you select the right one for you. Most are rustic lake or riverside lodges in the middle of nowhere, accessible only via small float plane. And if there are special species you want to catch, I know the right seasons and locales.

From my days managing Alaska Discovery Expeditions, now owned by MT Sobek, which specializes in small group eco-adventures, I also am intimately familiar with the best Alaska has to offer in terms of active touring. MT Sobek is one of the few companies that can offer whitewater rafting on the Alsek River and lead overnight sea kayaking expeditions in Glacier Bay National Park.

Glacier Bay is awesome when explored in a two-person sea kayak. On a map, the Bay looks like the letter “y”; cruise ships take the left fork; non-motorized craft paddle up the right. A five-day paddle trip up the river is like traveling back in time. As you paddle up in the same direction that the receding glaciers did, your guides point out how the current landscapes reflect their past.

At some point, you will hear the sound of whales clearing their blowholes. Then, you see them about 20 feet away and realize you are in their world. Camping on beaches along the way, your life takes on the rhythm of nature. You rise with the sun and sleep under the stars.  

For most people, it is transformative. With no phones to check on the last 15-minute news cycle, you return with a new perspective. You can have a similar experience back-country hiking in Alaska.

My favorite time in Alaska is the middle of winter. True, it is dark most of the time; for example in Fairbanks, on December 22, you have four hours of twilight and 20 hours of night. But by January, you have eight hours of light. Alaskans dress for the cold, and winter is a time for dog-sledding, ice-carving, snowmobile racing, and other outdoor activities.

In winter, stars crowd the night sky and the Northern Lights are at their showiest--dominated by greens, but also with shimmering blues, purples, pinks, and reds. And you actually hear the Northern Lights as a distant hum in different pitches. It is spectacular.

Whether you want to cruise, kayak or hike through the backcountry, or find a great naturalist guide to take you through Denali National Park & Preserve, I can guide you to an Alaska most visitors do not even know exists.

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