Don Pitcher Photography

Entertaining Your Out-of-Town Guests

Story by Sarah Gonzales

Hosting a wedding in Alaska means gorgeous mountain vistas, vows by the sea and, likely, it also means that some of your guest list will be flying north for your big day. Chances are this could be the first trip to the Last Frontier for your uncle from New Jersey or your cousins from Michigan and they'll definitely want to get in some exploring either before or after your nuptials. Visiting Alaska is a lifelong dream for many, so be prepared to offer some sightseeing ideas, while also providing thoughtful touches to your out-of-town guests' stay.

The idea of traveling to Alaska may be daunting for some, so provide as much information in advance of your wedding as possible. Including a link to local accommodations, travel sites and maps with the save-the-date notices will allow guests to plan their travel and budget accordingly months before the big day (and will ensure that you receive timely RSVPs later down the road).

"It's very important for couples to make sure their visiting guests have a great time," says Heather Siegel, owner of Beginning 2 End wedding planning. "Just like any guest at any time of year, if they took the time and money to come here, you should make them feel special." One way to do that is to leave a gift bag at their place of accommodation. Small things like area maps, a personalized water bottle, a wedding weekend schedule, local confections or attraction passes will help your visitors feel welcome and on their way to exploring Alaska.

Request that out-of-town guests share their travel itinerary with you ahead of time. That way you'll know when everyone arrives so that you can plan a welcome barbecue, or simply get everyone together for drinks before wedding activities shift into high gear. All of these guests should be included in the usual pre- and post-wedding events like the rehearsal dinner or a morning-after brunch. "Regardless if out-of-town travelers are in the wedding party or not, if you have people that travel for your wedding, you should make a weekend (at least) out of it for them," says Siegel. The events surrounding the wedding are great opportunities for the bride and groom to actually have time to visit with their faraway guests in a casual setting apart from the (generally) hectic whirl of the wedding day.

Providing your guests with maps, coupons or even museum passes can encourage them to explore independently. But even if your guests don't spring for a rental car (which can be extremely pricey during high season), if they are staying in downtown Anchorage or Juneau, for instance, there is plenty to see and do within walking (or shuttle) distance. Siegel says, "If guests aren't staying downtown, or if their hotel doesn't have a shuttle, plan on taking them downtown early in the day and then meeting back up with them around dinnertime" at your favorite restaurant.

Alaska is a great place for little ones, too, so don't forget to keep the kids entertained before, during and after the wedding. Erin Kirkland, publisher of, a website dedicated to family-friendly travel and recreation in Alaska, names her top three kid-friendly to-do's while visiting our state: a glacier cruise, a railroad trip and a visit to Denali National Park - all exciting adventures for both children and adults. But if your guests with kids only have one day in Anchorage before they fly home Kirkland recommends some local fun. "Alaska Botanical Garden is gorgeous, fenced-in and fun to explore the secret trails," she says, adding, "Alaska Museum of Natural History has great hands-on fun for the whole family." Or, if really pressed for time the Alaska Aviation Museum is near the airport. "It's a great place, very hands-on, and is a convenient stop on the way to the airport!"

During the wedding, there are simple ways to make kids feel included. "Receptions are difficult for children and providing a little extra fun can be worth the time, money and effort," she says. "Employ someone to take kids outside and play games, or do a craft with an Alaska theme while adults enjoy a little party time. Oh, and let them change out of their fancy clothes - they'll have more fun." And for the guests from out of state? Why not recognize them during toasts by thanking them for traveling so far to celebrate your special day.

Realize that not all the social events need fall on your shoulders, after all it is your wedding and you'll have a lot going on. "Couples should ask their friends or family who live here to help entertain too," recommends Siegel. "Maybe a cousin has a lake cabin and he's willing to host an afternoon of jet skiing and barbecuing, or your friend has a river boat and would love to take a group fishing." No matter what your guests do or see, they are in beautiful Alaska and, as Siegel says, "Just walking around LOOKING can be entertainment enough!"