ANCHORAGE - Two-for-one deals and other discounts are being offered at two of Alaska's most popular national parks in a pitch to get visitors to consider the land of the midnight sun in springtime.
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During the busiest summer months last year, the state received 1.63 million out-of-state visitors who collectively spent $1.5 billion, with 1.3 million of those guests in Alaska on vacation, according to the Alaska Office of Tourism Development.
While "No Vacancy" signs sprout like fireweed around Alaska in June, July and August, that's not the case in May. Two companies that cater to visitors would like to change that.
In an effort to jump-start the tourism season, visitors are being offered discounts for accommodations near Denali National Park and Preserve in Interior Alaska and inside Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve in Southeast Alaska. Denali is the fifth most popular tourist destination in Alaska, followed by Glacier Bay.
The idea is to entice visitors to the parks a bit earlier, said Dawn Williams, sales manager for Denali Park Resorts.
Visitors mistakenly think that Alaska is too chilly in May, preferring instead to visit during the peak months of June and July, Williams said. But, the weather actually can be very nice with temperatures reaching into the 70s, she said.
"I think looking at the weather report the other day, we were 2 degrees warmer than Orlando, Florida," she said, laughing when reminded Florida was in a severe cold snap at the time.
Denali National Park 175 miles from Anchorage - home to Mount McKinley, North America's highest mountain at 20,320 feet - expects to get more than 425,000 visitors this year, with most of them showing up between June and August.
May in the 6-million-acre park is slower, with the scene still a bit wintery. The park's visitor center will open May 15. The entire length of the park road is not expected to be open and passable until June 8.
Early season visitors have a better chance of seeing wolves and caribou along the part of the park road that is open in May, said park spokeswoman Kris Fister. The animals tend to move away from the road and further into the park with the increase in tour buses later in the season, she said.
Even though some of the facilities aren't open in May, "It is a nice opportunity to get here when the park is less crowded," Fister said.
Denali Park Resorts operates four lodges outside of the park, which has no overnight accommodations within its boundaries. Three of the lodges are within a mile of the park entrance. The other is 8 miles away. The company's four lodges have a combined total of over 900 rooms, Williams said.
Between May 13 and June 6, the company is offering a "Twice as Nice" deal where visitors can get two nights for the price of one at the McKinley Chalet Resort, Grande Denali Lodge, McKinley Village Lodge or Denali Bluffs Hotel. The price is $199.
In addition, Denali Park Resorts is offering two new package deals - Denali Dreamin' and Discover Denali. The Denali Dreamin' package, priced at $148.99, includes a one-night stay at the McKinley Chalet Resort, admission to dinner theater performed in a roadhouse and breakfast for two. The price is 30 percent off regular rates, Williams said.
The higher-end Distinctive Denali package for $805 includes GoldStar service on the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage or Fairbanks, two nights at the McKinley Chalet Resort or Grande Denali Lodge, a wilderness tour, dinner for two, two tickets to dinner theater and breakfast for two. The price is a 15 percent savings, Williams said.
The park, where summer temperatures average between 50 and 60 degrees, is expecting more than 400,000 visitors this year, with between 90 and 95 percent showing up on cruise ships. The first cruise ship arrives May 9.
It doesn't start with a trickle, said park ranger Rosemary Salazar.
"It pretty much starts with a splash," she said.
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