Anchorage’s annual mid-September fam trip usually falls during a time of great weather, before the cold sets in and right when foliage begins to change color. When our group arrived for this year’s trip, our Visit Anchorage hosts pointed out “termination dust,” the first grazing of snow on the mountaintops that signals the end of summer and the beginning of a moderate fall season.
Unfortunately, the weather didn’t fully cooperate; wind and rain curtailed some of the optional activities, including four-wheeling and kayaking trips. But on the positive side, that meant our entire group - about 25 meeting planners and guests - was able to visit Martin Buser’s Happy Trails Kennels in Big Lake, Alaska, just an hour outside Anchorage. Buser is a four-time Iditarod Trail sled-dog race champion, and after he spoke to us about the trail, we met several dozen of his top dogs, currently training to make his 16-dog team, which will start the race in March.
Our host hotel was the Marriott Anchorage Downtown, a 392-room property located just two blocks from the Dena’ina Civic and Convention Center that offers mountain-view guest rooms, 14,000 square feet of flexible meeting space, and an 8,122-squarefoot ballroom.
Anchorage also boasts a number of other hotels that are within easy walking distance of Dena’ina as well as of the William A. Egan Civic & Convention Center. At the 606-room Hilton Anchorage, we were welcomed at a reception and dinner featuring a special Bloody Mary cocktail made with Alaska Distillery’s handcrafted, smoked-salmon–flavored vodka and local seafood delicacies, including what might be the best halibut in the world. The 370-room Sheraton Anchorage Hotel & Spa is home to the award-winning Ice Spa, where guests can enjoy signature treatments along with impressive views of Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountains. The 198- room Westmark Anchorage and the 547-room Hotel Captain Cook complete a convenient selection in the core of downtown.
Our visits to the newly built, 200,000-square-foot Dena’ina and to William A. Egan, which has more than 45,000 square feet of meeting space, revealed just how prepared Anchorage is for larger events. The spirit of the native Dena’ina people is reflected through local artwork, open spaces, and traditional carvings that adorn both facilities.
Rounding out our time in Anchorage, we visited the Anchorage Museum, which features the 15,000-square-foot Alaska Gallery, home to more than 1,000 artifacts and dioramas that provide a glimpse into the early lives of Alaska’s native people. The museum is also perfect for special events and receptions that can take place either throughout the facility or in specific galleries.
Upon leaving Anchorage, we took a chartered trip on the Alaska Railroad, where we delighted in dinner, wine, and cocktails, beluga whale sightings, and karaoke as we traveled along the scenic Turnagain Arm to Girdwood. We transferred to the beautiful Alyeska Resort, a 304-room property nestled in the Chugach Mountains, where on clear days guests can view the several hanging glaciers in the area. Seven Glaciers restaurant, Alaska’s only mountaintop Four-Diamond restaurant, sits 2,300 feet above the valley floor and is only accessible via aerial tram. Although the weather prevented us from visiting, we were able to partake of its cuisine from a less-windy spot inside the resort.
The Portage Lake Glacier Cruise took us just several hundred feet from a massive Alaskan glacier, which glowed a striking blue on the overcast day, and which is shrinking from the lake it created at a rate of nearly 300 feet per year. We watched in awe, standing in the wind and rain on the topside deck of the 172-passenger mv Ptarmigan, as large chunks broke off from the glacier and plummeted into the self-contained lake in Chugach National Forest.
From there, a ride through the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center gave us views of giant brown bears who seemed to be hamming it up for our benefit, and a visit with Snickers, the facility’s resident porcupine. A refuge for injured or orphaned Alaskan wildlife, the center rehabilitates or provides a home to animals such as moose, elk, red fox, and sitka black-tailed deer.
With all that it has to offer, you still might worry that it is difficult to get to Alaska from the contiguous United States and elsewhere. But consider that Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport serves more than five million passengers a year on 50 carriers - some of which offer direct flights from cities such as Seattle, Dallas, and Chicago, as well as international destinations. With relatively easy access and so many options for meetings and beyond, it’s little wonder that planners are gravitating to this spectacular destination.
For more information: anchorage.net