After a 40-year career in broadcasting in Acadiana, well-known and much-loved 99.9 KTDY morning show co-host Debbie Ray retired from the air in 2018. Soon after, she made a cross-country move to Homer, Alaska. Debbie had been carefully planning this move for several years prior, as she and her husband fell in love with Alaska in 2002, when they traveled to Anchorage so Debbie could participate in an Arthritis Foundation fundraising run. “We explored over 1,100 miles on that trip and fell in love with the Kenai Peninsula, Homer in particular,” she explains.
Alaska captivated their interest and Debbie recalls, “We visited nearly every year after that, sometimes twice a year.” Following frequent visits, they decided to buy a place in Homer and lease it until they were ready to retire. With the help of their real estate agent, they bought a lovely house with two floors. After moving, they converted the downstairs into an apartment for guests and now offer this apartment for travelers via Airbnb.
“We have been completely sold out during our summer season since opening in 2020,” says Debbie. “For our first summer as Airbnb hosts, we were completely booked (pre-COVID-19) with guests coming from around the world. By April, all those reservations were canceled, but people from Alaska started booking. And before we knew it, we were completely sold out again. This summer, we had guests from across the globe.”
In Debbie’s opinion, the best time to visit Alaska is definitely summer. “During May and September, rates are cheaper, but all the seasonal places are closed. If you have already visited in summer, come back in winter for the Northern Lights,” she advises.
Since Alaska is such a big state, planning for a trip there “all depends on the experience you want to have,” says Debbie. “For example, if you plan to fish, July is magical on the Kenai. The salmon are running, the weather is the warmest of the year. Everything is open, and you can even take a short flight from Homer to watch the grizzly bears feast in preparation for winter. You can hike to a glacier and even kayak or swim in a glacial lake.”
For travelers who want to see the Northern Lights, Debbie advises to come in winter for the best experience. “Cross-country skiing, snow-machining, and dog mushing are also wonderful winter outdoor options here. Look up ‘Homer Rope Tow’ for a unique local experience,” she suggests.
Additionally, foodies can enjoy many of Alaska’s treats any time of year. She recommends king crab — “We often see the Time Bandit and the Saga from Deadliest Catch in the Homer harbor” — in addition to salmon, halibut, and reindeer sausage, which tastes like regular sausage, according to Debbie.
Although Alaska is a long way from home, there are still things which remind Debbie of home and help her maintain ties to her southern roots. “One of the things we loved about Alaska is the connections to Louisiana. I am still amazed by all the Southerners we’ve met who stayed up here after a stint in the military, a job on the North Slope, or in the fishing industry,” she explains. “The people are friendly and independent, much like the folks of Louisiana.
But the food isn’t as good. We get great local fish, crab and shrimp, but I can’t find a plate lunch or good fried chicken. And, I have to order my smoked sausage from Best Stop and my Tony’s No-Salt from Amazon,” she says.
Additionally, friends from back home are often up for a visit, including another of Lafayette’s beloved long time broadcasters, Bernadette Lee, who recently traveled to Alaska to visit Debbie’s new home and celebrate their birthdays together. Bernadette was impressed by the variety of the natural landscape around Homer. “The flora and the fauna were just so different. I saw elderberries which I had never seen before,” Bernadette recalls.
Bernadette enjoyed her visit so much, she says she will definitely be back. She advises visitors to Homer to “Charter a fishing trip of any kind. We went on the Big Butt Halibut tour. I caught two halibut even though I had no prior fishing experience.” Bernadette loved the many activities available within just a 20 mile radius of Debbie’s home in Homer.
Debbie has many tips for visiting Alaska. Her only caution about planning a trip there is that Alaska is quite expensive compared to other destinations. “Expect to spend over $300 per person for a shared halibut charter, over $900 to fly to see the bears at Katmai, or over $600 to fly to a glacier and go dog-mushing,” she advises. For those considering a trip to Alaska, Debbie’s enthusiasm for her new home is contagious. “Alaska is huge, gorgeous, and worth the effort it takes to get here.”