Trip Review: Connoisseur Land & Sea (RB8) June 19 - July 4, 2018

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#41
midwest
4,572 Posts
Joined Mar 2007
One of the best reviews I have ever read. I will continue to follow the rest of your updates. Thanks for bringing back some great memories of our trip years ago.
#42
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
Day #5 June 24, 2018 McKinley to Kenai

Day 5 began with bags outside our room at 6:30 AM and the shuttle to the main lodge to the North Fork restaurant for breakfast. DH chose the smoked salmon lox eggs Benedict and raved about it. I chose a dish with crab and puff pastry recommended by our waitress since it sounded lighter than the rest of the items on the menu. However, the waitress came back and said that the puff pastry was still baking, and I would need to chose something else. I ordered a veggie omelet and toast, and it was fine. (If you look at the Lodges online, they all list their menus as well.)

We boarded the bus at 8 AM for our first leg towards the Kenai Princess Lodge. We stopped at 10 AM in Wasilla at the Iditirod Dog Sled Headquarters. (No where in any of the Trip Itineraries was this stop listed, but it was a cute place and we enjoyed it.) There are two buildings on the property. One is the gift shop with rest rooms and a second room with chairs showing a film on various aspects of dog sledding. Lining the walls are TONS of dog sledding memorabilia, including two large glass cases containing famous taxidermied sled dogs. This was a bit ghoulish, but sled dogs and dog sled racing is extremely important to Alaska, and Alaskans are very proud of all aspects of the history of it. The other building on the property is a small one that had a long line of people waiting to get in it. By this time in the trip you can guess what is inside: puppies. People go nuts for puppies. (On board the ship one evening they brought two puppies into the Atrium. We were having cocktails near by, and I have never seen a longer line in my life. The puppies were in front of the glass elevators, and people had even gotten on the elevators and were staying on the elevators going up and down just so they could get a longer, better look at the puppies and take pictures. It was crazy.) They were allowing people to hold the puppies momentarily. Outside this small building they were offering a dogsled ride. This helps keep the dogs in shape in the off season. They hitched up eight dogs and had them pull a driver and several people around a short track. It cost $10 pp for about a three minute ride. There were plenty of people taking the rides. I imagine the money goes a long way towards feeding and keeping the dogs--an expensive proposition for anyone who owns sled dog teams. We'd seen several demonstrations by now and lots of dogs and puppies, but it's always fun for me to see how excited and happy the dogs are doing their job.

#43
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
Originally posted by compozer
One of the best reviews I have ever read. I will continue to follow the rest of your updates. Thanks for bringing back some great memories of our trip years ago.
Thanks so much!
#44
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
The weather today was cool and cloudy with a sprinkling of rain on and off all day--best day to have this kind of weather--our travel day.
We arrived in Anchorage and were dropped off at the Captain Cook Hotel. (This was another unanswered question I had before we left: exactly where will we be dropped off, and how much time will we have in Anchorage.) Michael gave us 1.45 hrs, a map and suggestions for lunch. One of the options I had researched for our time in Anchorage was the one hour city trolley which got great reviews on Trip Advisor, and I thought it would be a great way to see the city of Anchorage in the short time we'd be there. There really wasn't enough time to do it comfortably, and the temperature was a cloudy 55 with some wind. We skipped it and made our way to the Glacier Brewhouse for a bit of lunch, hoping it would not be overly busy as I had read it often is. We walked in and were seated immediately--the place is very large--I had read we might need reservations. DH was thrilled to see that they had a Bloody Mary bar available for $8.95. He received a shot of his choice of vodka, and the waitress brought him a pint glass rimmed with bacon-flavored salt and filled with ice. She suggested using half of the shot in his first drink, and she would bring him another glass for a second drink. DH happily made two drinks selecting from a variety of mixes and additions. We shared a small pizza, and it was more than enough for lunch.

There is a liquor store called the Brown Jug directly across the street from the Captain Cook Hotel, and we made our way there after lunch to take a look around. This is the best place to buy your bottles of wine for the ship, if you choose to take some onboard. We are just a couple days out from boarding, and you would not have to haul it for very long. All the prices looked very much in line with what we see back home. We had assumed they'd be much higher in Anchorage. We picked up a bottle of pre-mixed margaritas to have on our deck at the Kenai cabin.

Back on the bus and headed toward Kenai once again. We made a stop at Bird Point. It's a beautiful area that is a great photo op of the mountains and water of the Kenai Peninsula. This is the land point that we are traveling around to get to the lodge on the other side.


Whenever we are on the bus, Michael man's the microphone and provides exactly the right amount of commentary about various places and people. He is a wealth of information, interesting, and delightful to listen to with that adorable Irish lilt.

We finally (after about 7 hours including the stops) pulled into the Kenai Princess Lodge. The general manager boarded the bus, welcomed us, and gave us a few bits of information about the property and how their shuttle runs. Unlike the other two lodges, because this one is much smaller but still requires a shuttle, you call the front desk and the shuttle will pick you up wherever you are and deliver you wherever you need to go. They do no have a continuous looping shuttle like Denali and McKinley.




We received our packet with our room keys, information about the lodge and area, and all the meal vouchers. There are a lot of meal vouchers for this Lodge since we are here for 3 nights. They all have dates on them and whether the voucher is for breakfast or dinner, so you need to keep them straight. To add to the paperwork in the packet, our tickets for the excursion to the Kenai Fjords was also in there. (This was a Princess-sponsored excursion.)

We jumped on the property shuttle and were taken to our cabin. It was everything I had hoped it would be! Positively delightful.






#46
Toronto On. Canada
6,453 Posts
Joined Mar 2003
Love your review with pictures. I have taken 3 round trip Alaska cruises and I am thinking of doing an Alaska land & cruise.
#47
144 Posts
Joined Dec 2014
I feel bad that you were unable to see the TREE HOUSE and it certainly wasn’t from your lack of trying. DH and I watched the episode on TV as well and are excited to see it someday. I am so surprised they don’t have golf carts or other types of transportation that will get people to the tree house. That is disappointing actually. Over a year ago, we booked this exact 15 day connoisseur tour/cruise you just did. Ours was leaving last week on June 29th and we would of just boarded the ship yesterday. We canceled our trip because the arthritis in my knee was getting so bad that it was starting to severely limit my activities. We didn’t want to take such a fabulous trip and feel limited by my knee so we canceled the trip and will do it in the future. Knowing how painful joint pain can be, I give you so much credit for attempting to walk there. On the bright side, I did have a total knee replacement this past January and after the many months of rehab and now almost 6 months post-op, I am so happy I did it and wished I didn’t wait so long. So with all of this said, your review is really helping build excitement for when we re-book our trip. We are elite with Princess and in all our cruises, we have never done a cruise tour so it’s nice to hear that it is worth the money.
#48
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
The gift shop sits directly across the circle drive from the main lodge entrance, and our cabin was just behind the gift shop. It was a walkable distance for us to go from cabin to main lodge here. Yay!

We were told this property began as a church camp before Princess bought it.

Since we were going to be here for three days, and since our luggage was pretty much a mess from pawing through it for days, I took the opportunity to unpack everything into the dresser and the closet. DH and I had a margarita and headed to the lodge to check out the bar and dinner venue.

Note: ice was not easy to come by from our particular cabin. The closest place was down the road to the exercising area and up many, many stairs.

The bar is small, but I am sure most people want to spend their time outside on the deck. We grabbed a drink and headed outside, but met all those people coming in as it had started to sprinkle again a bit. We sat at the bar with friends until 7PM then headed to the Rod and Reel restaurant to dine with our assigned companions--two delightful ladies from Florida. DH had a large slice of prime rib, and I had the crab topped scallops--both were excellent. After dinner it felt like it had been another long day, and we made our way back to our cabin.

An interesting design element to the cabin is that there are two sky lights in it. We have been struggling in this Land of the Midnight Sun to get the drapes closed tightly enough to let in the least amount of light. I wondered at this design since, of course, the room remained quite light all night, but we were so exhausted it ultimately really did not matter.

We had fully intended to try out the fireplace, but did not want to start a fire before we went to dinner and had thought we'd make one after dinner instead. As it turned out, we were simply too tired and saved the experience for the next day.

Note: just steps away from the door to the cabin is a big wooden box up off the ground filled with more chopped wood, should you need more than what is in the room.
#50
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
Originally posted by phabric
Love your review with pictures. I have taken 3 round trip Alaska cruises and I am thinking of doing an Alaska land & cruise.
Inland Alaska is so different from coastal Alaska. We really felt like "we saw Alaska" having been 8 days in the interior and 7 days cruising the coast.
I don't think you'd be disappointed including a land trip next time.
#51
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
Originally posted by tawlaw1526
I feel bad that you were unable to see the TREE HOUSE and it certainly wasn’t from your lack of trying. DH and I watched the episode on TV as well and are excited to see it someday. I am so surprised they don’t have golf carts or other types of transportation that will get people to the tree house. That is disappointing actually. Over a year ago, we booked this exact 15 day connoisseur tour/cruise you just did. Ours was leaving last week on June 29th and we would of just boarded the ship yesterday. We canceled our trip because the arthritis in my knee was getting so bad that it was starting to severely limit my activities. We didn’t want to take such a fabulous trip and feel limited by my knee so we canceled the trip and will do it in the future. Knowing how painful joint pain can be, I give you so much credit for attempting to walk there. On the bright side, I did have a total knee replacement this past January and after the many months of rehab and now almost 6 months post-op, I am so happy I did it and wished I didn’t wait so long. So with all of this said, your review is really helping build excitement for when we re-book our trip. We are elite with Princess and in all our cruises, we have never done a cruise tour so it’s nice to hear that it is worth the money.
Aww thanks. Yes, we, too, were disappointed we weren't able to get to the tree house. And I agree, they need the shuttle to get closer to the tree house. But there is still a steep gravel hill leading up to it. Perhaps if that is paved some day they can get a shuttle/cart up there. I think the whole thing is too new for them and they are still working on the logistics.
Actually these joint issues came on us both fast and hard. We thought about canceling, but I had put so dang much work and research into it all for so long, and we were so looking forward to it, so we said we'd go and do what we could. DH and I talked about it since returning on July 4th, and we both felt that really the only thing we missed out on were taking some hikes. At Mendenhall glacier in Juneau, we were unable to walk down to the glacier and Nugget Falls, but we were happy with seeing both from the Visitor's Center. All in all, it was a bit of a struggle at times; the cane helped me a lot, but we did okay and are so happy we went.
Glad to hear your operation and rehab went well. It's what we hear from a lot of people. We are not ones, who like others, waited too long, but we are going to be really happy to be on the other side of these surgeries. For DH a knee and for me two hip replacements. I keep saying next year I'll be running marathons LOL!
I hope you re-book and try this land tour. It's pricey to be sure, but Alaska is pricey. We felt it was worth the money.
#52
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
Day #6 June 25, 2018
Chilly this morning--only 44, windless and cloudy.
This is the one day in the land portion of our trip where we have nothing planned, and boy was that nice! DH and I just chilled the day away and rejuvenated.

We walked down to the main lodge to the Rod and Reel restaurant for breakfast. (If you are here and do not have a meal voucher and do not want to go to the restaurant, the only other spot is in the reception area, and it's a window through which you can buy coffee and sweet rolls and snacks). Both DH and I had the corned beef hash and poached eggs, again excellent. Each morning the restaurant offers a buffet breakfast as well with all the usual fare.

#53
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
After breakfast we decided to call the shuttle and have it take us down to the Kenai River. You can walk down to the river, but it's a steep hill. There is an easy trail at the river and three trails off the main trail with with wooden decks built out onto the river. The river is a beautiful, fast-flowing river that is a gorgeous blue-green color--much unlike the waters we have seen so often so far that are mainly dark grey due to glacial silt. We found two of the three deck areas, and in one of them watched a guide with two other people in a boat fishing.








#54
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
At the bottom of the hill and at the end of the looping trail where we began is a house phone to call for the shuttle again. We were picked up and delivered to our room where DH built a nice fire, and we just put our feet up and relaxed --happy to have no other plans for the day.

#55
Greeley, Colorado, USA
85 Posts
Joined Nov 2004
Great review! We are doing a shorter cruisetour in September 2019, booked on the Coral Princess. Your photos are wonderful.
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#56
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
This evening Michael hosted a cocktail party on the deck and bought everyone a drink. It was a beautiful evening--partly sunny, no wind, and no rain. The setting is breathtaking. Huge mountains all around us and the rushing Kenai River below us.

We went in to have dinner at 7 PM. This evening we were assigned to dine with a couple from Jersey, the island in the English Chanel between Britain and France. We have met up with them multiple times on this tour, and they are a delightful couple. This evening DH had the halibut, and I had the lasagna. The lasagna was very good, but the halibut was excellent, as usual. John had a great looking pork chop. Janet had the shrimp cocktail for a starter. John had the crab appetizer, and I had the salad. I think DH ordered the calamari as a starter.

Halibut on mashed potatoes with shredded onion bits on top


I know the lasagna appears over done, but it was really very good



Crab app


Calamari



#58
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
Originally posted by aqua2
Great review! We are doing a shorter cruisetour in September 2019, booked on the Coral Princess. Your photos are wonderful.
Thank you!
We don't have any special camera equipment at all, but the food sure looks good, doesn't it?
Next up after the land tour review, I will write a review of our 7 days on the Coral, southbound from Whittier to Vancouver.
#59
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
Day #7 June 26, 2018

This morning dawned bright and beautiful with lots of su and 50 degrees climbing into the 60's today.
We decided to have the buffet breakfast this morning rather than ordering from the menu. They offered scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, cooked oatmeal, cereals, yogurt, granola, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and make-your-own toast machine. As with most buffets, it was all about room temperature. A better option is to take advantage of the made to order breakfast.

We then waited in the lobby for our coach bus to the Kenai Fjords Boat Tour. We booked this through Princess as soon as it became available on our Personalizer as I knew this was the one excursion we wanted to take. Great reviews. New Princess requirements include you pay for it when you book it (many months out). You can cancel it up to three days before. A couple tried to cancel the tour the morning of and despite asking several people at reception/tour desk and in several different ways, the answer was a no. I am not sure how long they take people signing up for the trip. We had two full buses going from the Kenai lodge. The boat holds about 200 people.

Note: One question I had posed on CC beforehand regarded booking private excursions from the lodges. We are DIYers, as I mentioned before, and always book small, private excursions. The answers I received were basically no--the lodges are far too remote. This is not accurate. At Denali there is an area directly across the highway from the lodge that offers various private venues including fly fishing and helicopter rides. There was also a "stand" nearby where young people had multiple bikes for rent. Kenai is the remotest lodge, and I paid particular attention on the drive in and out of the area and saw several, small, private signs along the side of the road for fishing guides and rafting trips etc. The replies I received on CC also included the idea that Princess would forbid outsiders to come onto the Princess properties. I can tell you that at Denali, the driveways are wide open and front a busy highway with private cars coming and going all over the place. And even at Kenai, there is no way to stop anyone from driving onto the property. There are no manned gates or anything like that. In fact, Micheal mentioned that a lot of locals come to eat at the Rod and Reel since it's the nicest restaurant in the area. (Kenai also has a RV park to one side of the road on the way onto the property along with a little camp store and laundry.) So....if you are interested in a private company taking you fishing or rafting etc, go ahead and look into it. Discuss with the company being picked up at the Princess lodge--at worst at McKinley you might have to walk across the street to hitch up with them. I don't think there'd be any problems at all, and I'm pretty sure the cost would be a lot less than Princess charges, and for sure involved a lot fewer people. This Kenai Fjord excursion through Princess was $249 pp.

Not knowing what sort of weather and temps we'd encounter, we armed ourselves in layers and brought along hats, gloves and Dramamine. Fortunately, we had great weather. Lots of sun and calm waters. It did become cloudy in the afternoon, but no rain, and the water remained calm.

The coach bus took us one hour to Seward, and there we boarded the touring ship. The only advice I was able to find regarding where to sit was: on the ground level and near an outside door. Most seating was three seats facing three seats with a table in between. Despite the seats flipping up, it's tight. DH and I didn't want to sit in two outside seats as we knew the people sitting on the inside seats would be wanting to jump in and out as wildlife presented itself outside in the water. And vice versa. We didn't want to disturb others on the end if we sat on the inside seats. What to do? We grabbed what looked like the only two seat table in the covered, bottom floor. It was directly across from a door leading to the deck outside. Perfect, right? Well, it was COLD and WINDY on the water, and every time the door opened--BRRR. Also, when the dang door was opened too wide, it caught and stayed open. I had to jump up multiple times to unhook it and close the door. There was some seating in the inside upper level of the boat, and that was snatched up immediately by people in front of us, but again, the seating was the same upstairs with the three seats facing three seats over a table. There were also outside chairs, and since it was a beautiful sunny day at the dock, many people sat there. However, as soon as the boat started to go, it got cold and windy up there outside. AND when lunch was served, all those people outside were herded inside and told to find random seats to sit so they could eat lunch. I think if I went again, I'd take the same two seats. Putting up with a bit of cold and wind was no big deal overall. I was dressed for it for the day.

The tour was scheduled for 11 AM and left just a few minutes after. We got about 25 minutes away from the dock and into the fjord when the captain came on and made an announcement. He said, "Well, this is a new one on me, but we've been directed to return to the dock to pick up late passengers." All 200 people, almost in unison, said, "WHAT??"
Back we went and 8 - 10 people boarded. Then we were off again having wasted more than an hour's time of 190 people. Don't know what was up with that.
A little ways into the fjord, there was a flock of seagulls circling above the water. The captain said that is normally an indication there are whales feeding. And sure enough, five humpback whales were bubble netting. We got very close and got a few good pictures.



#60
Wisconsin
333 Posts
Joined Aug 2012
Along the way the captain pointed out various rock formations and discussed how the fjord was created. Eventually, about 3 hours into the tour, we came to the turn around point: Holgate glacier (I think). It is enormous! We stayed at the glacier at least a half an hour with the boat turning around several times so that people standing on all sides and in the front and back could get a good and very close look. (The day we sailed into Glacier Bay, we were very glad we had been able to get this close to a glacier since we did not sail very close to them in Glacier Bay.) The glacier calved several times. Not huge pieces of ice, but enough to make quite a thunderous noise. One of the crew members dipped a net into the water and brought up a piece of glacial ice for everyone to look at and touch. This is the end of the fjord and the turn around point.



It's difficult to comprehend in a photo how big glaciers are!