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Trips of a Lifetime

Everyone’s idea of a dream trip is different, but many have similar hallmarks: exotic locales, undiscovered-by-you cultures and moments that shake up your world and your understanding of it. In Africa, a Maasai tribesman may tell visitors about how he hated going to English school because he was forced to eat three meals a day. In Alaska, trekkers may get closer to a bear than they can at a zoo. In Antarctica, travelers step on ground that seems to have never felt a human footprint. That feeling of exploration and discovery comes with these dream trips.


John Hall’s Alaska

Denali National Park and Preserve is the one that gets most of the attention, but Alaska is home to seven other national parks, more national parks than any other state. John Hall’s Alaska’s National Parks of Alaska itinerary takes guests to four of them: Denali, Katmai National Park, Gates of the Arctic National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park.

The 19-day trip includes 12 days on land and wraps up with a weeklong cruise from Seward through the Inside Passage to Vancouver. While on land, guests experience the national parks as few others do. At Gates of the Arctic, visitors cross into the Arctic Circle and fly to the Inupiat village of Barrow that sits on the shores of the Arctic Ocean. There they meet villagers “who still hunt caribou and fish and trap, and that’s what gets them through the winters,” said “Little” John Hall, whose father started the company in 1984.

“To stand there at the waterfalls at Katmai and watch two 1,400-pound brown bears fight over fish, to literally smell their breath, that’s amazing,” he said. The National Parks trip has become the company’s “gold standard” and often sells out 10 to 12 months in advance, he said.

Last year, John Hall’s Alaska launched its Three Bears of Alaska itinerary that features Alaska’s three famous bears. The group first goes to Kodiak Island to seek out the coastal brown bear and then to Kantishna in Denali to see Denali grizzly bears, the smallest species, as well as caribou, Dall sheep, moose and wolves. Finally, the group takes a flight to Kaktovik, where polar bears meander along the Arctic shores and snack on whale bones in the village’s “bone yard.” Groups can also take a small boat and pull alongshore to watch polar bears 40 yards away on the barrier island.


Abercrombie and Kent

Abercrombie and Kent got its start in Africa in 1962. Although the first safaris were modest (founder Geoffrey Kent says they consisted of little more than a Bedford truck and an ice bucket), today they’re the pinnacle of luxury.

With few exceptions, the Great Migration Safari in Style is “our most over-the-top luxury group travel journey,” said Pamela Lassers, director of media relations for Abercrombie and Kent. The trip, which the company offers at least 26 times a year, is designed to cross the Great Migration no matter what time of year travelers go.

Movies and books shape people’s expectations of Africa, but when guests arrive, “they’re overwhelmed by the experience — it shakes up your understanding of the world,” Lassers said. “They go for the animals, but when they come back, what they talk about is the people.”

During the 14-day trip, guests will see “thousands and thousands of animals,” she said, starting in Amboseli National Park, which offers the best views of Mount Kilimanjaro. The group will also visit the Amboseli Elephant Research Project center, where researchers have been studying elephant family structure and behavior since 1972.

Game drives in Tarangire National Park deliver abundant wildlife sightings, and the Ngorongoro Crater is a cradle of wildlife with black rhinos, pink flamingos, gazelles, lions and hyenas. There, the group will stay at Gibbs Farm, a former 1920s-era coffee plantation that is now a lodge with its own organic garden, “so all the food is grown right there; it’s the ultimate farm-to-table experience,” Lassers said.

Guests will also visit Maasai tribe members and learn about the nomadic herders’ lives.

“Even though, to our minds, they don’t have very much, they are proud of what they do have and want to share it with you,” Lassers said.