Jump to content
Worldtraveler 4727

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

Recommended Posts

A little about us--DH and I have traveled quite extensive throughout the US and Europe, but only began cruising about 7 years ago. Since then we have taken several cruises with Princess and with Regent cruise lines. I am a highly organized trip planner who mostly plans private excursions in small groups.

 

My intention with the review is to pay back CC members whose reviews and comments have been invaluable to planning our trips. One in particular from caribill on this site is a few years old, but much of that info is still current. I hope to bring everyone up to date a bit and will happily answer any questions I can.

 

We are mostly DIY-ers. However, this tour came recommended to us by friends, and in reading about it, we were sold. We chose the longest (most expensive as well) land and sea tour Princess offered. We chose Princess because we wanted to experience their lodges and because Princess has been doing this in Alaska for a long time. This was a 15 day trip: 8 days on land and 7 days at sea.

 

Day #1: Fairbanks June 19, 2018

We used Princess EZ Air (and carefully watched the flights DAILY as they changed times over the course of several months, and that had to be taken care of with calls to Princess and Delta.) We arrived at the Fairbanks airport and were met by Princess reps. This was one of the unanswered questions I still had not been able to find an answer for before we left. Out tour package clearly stated and in capital letters TRANSPORT to hotel from airport. Yet our invoice from our TA indicated a charge for transfers. Two calls to Princess by her and one by me resulted in being told there were no transfers included. Then why does the itinerary clearly state this? No answer for that one. I had the TA remove the charges. Plan A was we'd be met by Princess reps and be taken by coach to the hotel. Plan B was that the Fairbanks hotel has a shuttle (as noted on their website) Plan C was to simply take a taxi the 1.5 miles to the hotel. Plan A worked out. The reps gave us a packet with everything we needed to know for that night and the next day. We were already checked into the hotel. Room keys were in the packet. Info in the packet further explained we would be meeting the next morning for breakfast and that we had this first evening free to wander the property on the Chena River. We had a comfortable room facing the river, and since it was June 19, there was nearly constant daylight. The drapes in the room do the best they can to keep out the light, but there is still an element of light always in the room. Couple that with jet lag and excitement for the trip, and it was near impossible to sleep.

 

We found that on the Connoisseur Tour we were allotted the premium rooms with the best views. A nice perk.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Nice

 

question for you or others...I have seen post where people say they are 'following'

 

how do you do that, and what kind of notification do you get that there is a new posting?

 

and to the OP - yes, we also read carbill very detailed postings and sure will appreciate yours as well:cool:

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Day #2 Fairbanks June 20, 2018

The weather was beautiful. Sunny and very warm.

This morning we arrived at the Copper Dining Room upstairs at the hotel and were met by our tour guide: Michael Moore. He is a delightful Irishman with a gift of gab, and as you will find out in this report, was without a doubt THE best tour guide we could have ever asked for. Michael has done this for 10 years, and he anticipated our every need well before we even knew we needed something. Simply outstanding.

 

We had a breakfast buffet and met the other 24 people who would be in our particular group. (Interestingly, there was one other tour exactly like ours running simultaneously--same number of people doing the same things--lead by Michael's wife Liz. According to them, an unusual situation. Each group has its own coach bus etc, but we did wind up staying in the same lodges etc. Both groups were great, and it was apparent the other group thought the world of Liz too.)

 

After breakfast and our self-introductions, we were asked to meet the bus downstairs at the entrance to take us to the Dredge 8 Gold Mining Camp. We had a delightful young bus driver named Faith, and she gave us the bus safety information by singing an original song and playing her ukulele. She was an absolute delight the entire day. I can't say enough about the adorable young people who take these seasonal jobs in Alaska. They are cheerful, kind, helpful and lots of fun. And this was truly a constant: everyone we met along the way were exceptionally pleasant and smiling.

 

As we traveled along, Michael provided great information about Fairbanks and how it was founded.

 

Once we got to Dredge 8, we were met by George. He is a full time social studies teacher during the school year and works at Dredge 8 in the summer. I'm sure he is a great teacher as he was very engaging and was able to tell the stories of mining in the area and truly make it come alive. He has written several books on mining, and his latest was available in the gift shop. We boarded a little steam engine which took us to the mine. Before we got off we were given a demonstration on how to pan our "poke" for gold flecks. As we disembarked from the train, Faith and several other young people were handing out the cloth bags (pokes) of dirt and gold. I teasingly told Faith that since it was my birthday that day to please hand me one that had a big nugget in it. LOL We took our pokes to panning area and began the process of trying to use the water and the pan and a certain motion with the pan and water to separate the gravel and dirt and leave the gold flecks--which are heavier than the gravel and sand--on the bottom of the pan. It's harder than it looks, I can tell you that. Cute little Faith came by to see what kind of nugget I got in my poke and helped me and DH sift down to the few flecks we did get. From there you put your tiny flecks into a container much like an old 35mm film canister and take it into the store to be weighed. Together DH and I panned $33 in gold. At this point Dredge 8 would like to see you something to put all that gold into. Many of the ladies were buying charms, earrings and necklaces to put their gold in. We just brought ours home. There really wasn't enough to do anything with. I'm sure it's one of those souvenirs that I'll find years later and wonder again what to do with it.

 

We walked around the complex of gifts shops, enjoyed a complimentary cup of coffee and several of their cookies--chocolate chip, oatmeal or snickerdoodle.

 

enhance

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Nice

 

question for you or others...I have seen post where people say they are 'following'

 

how do you do that, and what kind of notification do you get that there is a new posting?

and to the OP - yes, we also read carbill very detailed postings and sure will appreciate yours as well:cool:

 

Just use the "Thread Tools" button on the upper right and subscribe to the thread. You can choose your notification options - anything from no notification to weekly digest to instant notification by email when there is a post.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

thanks thrak...i'll follow here until the thread really slows down, then maybe opt for the email updates...this is definitely on our "list" - looking like summer 2020 now at the soonest...:(...but will give my wife plenty of planning time amongst the others...:D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

On to the steam ship paddle boat ride....

I had thought (and had read places) that these two activities are a bit hokey. I actually thought they were fine. We had great weather, and it was all pretty entertaining.

 

When we arrived, we were given tickets for both the boat ride and for lunch. Lunch was family style inside an ENORMOUS room with picnic table style tables and benches. Hundreds of people (literally) from Princess and Holland America tours filed into the room and took the next seat available. Our tour group fit at one long table. Lunch was beef stew, salad, bread and a brownie with pitchers of water and iced tea on the table. It was not bad at all.

 

There were several steamship paddle boats and we were assigned to #3. As we boarded we took a seat indoors in the shade on the LEFT side, as was recommended by other reviews I had read. Michael also told our group to sit on that side. This side has a better view of the float plane and dog sled demonstrations. The commentator on the ship had an excellent speaking voice. He was easy to listen to and informative about the houses on the river we were passing etc. By far the most entertaining part of the ride was seeing and listening to Susan Butcher's daughter. She stayed on shore and takes through a microphone. She and her family are continuing the legend her mother was so famous for in the Iditarod. She and the ship's commentator told the story of one of her mother's most famous dogs: Granite. Susan Butcher wrote a book about him, a three time race winner. There are books available on land, and Susan's daughter will dedicate a book to you or someone you wish to buy the book for. Then she tied a team of dogs up and they pulled an ATV without an engine around her land. You can also see the team run on the overhead screens inside the boat. Just as you see on TV and other places, it is so apparent these dogs live for this job! They are so excited to be chosen to run. Every human should love his job like these dogs love theirs! They took a lap around a small lake and then she released them. They all ran into the river to cool off and to get a drink.

 

The boat then left for an Indian village where we disembarked and walked around to various areas where short lectures were given on native housing, clothing etc. It was an absolutely gorgeous day: full sun and 75.

 

(I managed to copy and paste one photo --above--from my MacBook Air, but am not having any luck with other photos. Any help copying and pasting photos from my MacBook Air would be appreciated.)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Posted (edited)

We arrived back at the Fairbanks hotel with about 45 minutes to freshen up before dinner. We met in a dining room on the second floor and tables were marked for "Michael's group" and "Liz's group." We were met at the door of the dining room with glasses of champagne. This was to be a set supper with wine pairings. We sat at a table for 8, and they brought out the first wine, a red one with the salad. This was followed by a white one for the halibut course and another red wine for the beef tenderloin entree. The dinner concluded with the chef coming into the dining room to make flaming Bananas Foster.

 

It was an exceptionally full day as were many that came after. It was 9pm when we got back to our room, and the sun was still quite high in the sky. As we prepared for bed, I asked my DH, "Was it just THIS morning that we met our tour guide, had a buffet breakfast and met the others on this tour? It seems like three days ago!"

 

Day two was to be no less busy, and we set the alarm for 5AM.

Edited by Worldtraveler 4727

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Fairbanks to Denali June 21, 2018

Our luggage needed to be tagged for suitcases that were to be sent to the ship and suitcases that were going to follow us to the next lodge at Denali. All was to be in the hallway by 6AM. We decided not to send anything on to the ship and to keep our two pieces of luggage with us as went went lodge to lodge. We also had a regular sized backpack that we carried along with us on the train and coach busses. There is very limited space to store things, and this was the recommended piece of "luggage" to take with you daily. In it we carried a bottle or water, granola bars, binoculars and the paperwork you need for that day. (With all the food provided, you do not need any granola bars etc)

 

Note: You will normally get to the next lodge by 2Pm or so, but your luggage will not show up until at least 5PM, so take what you'll need till about 5 in your backpack.

 

We were to meet the bus at 7AM to take us to the train depot. Interestingly, Princess had made an error. In our packet of info for today, there were breakfast vouchers for anywhere in the Fairbanks hotel--either the buffet breakfast or the small coffee shop inside the gift store. Also included today was breakfast in the dining car on the train. Some people opted for two breakfasts--the buffet in the hotel and on the train. DH and I got coffees in the gift shop and opted to have breakfast on the train. Michael jokingly said this double breakfast situation was training preparation for the cruise. Ha!

 

We reached the glass-domed train and were seated in a Gold Star car (we even got Gold Star train pins). Our train tickets assigned us to specific seats. All seats were comfortably padded and ALL seats faced forward on the train. None with forward and backward with a table between them like I had seen and read about. One of the conductors came aboard and introduced us to the bartender in our car and told us that he would be beginning at the front of the car and moving backward asking those of us who wished to have breakfast to go to the lower level of the car where dining was available. We received two drink tickets each for the trip. DH and I got a Bloody Mary and a vodka and orange juice and settled into our seats to watch the Alaskan scenery go by and to wait to be called to the dining area for breakfast. Meanwhile, Michael walked around with our packets for the Denali lodge. This included room keys and vouchers for the King Salmon restaurant for lunch and for dinner there the next evening. There were also instructions for breakfast, for the Tundra Wilderness Tour (included in this Connoisseur Tour) and for the Denali Music Theater dinner.

Michael had previously asked us what time we preferred to have dinner: 5 - 6:60 or 6:30 - 8. We chose the later time slot. In order for everyone on the tour to try to get to know the others, Michael assigned us with two other couples for dinner that evening. He made reservations for our groups every evening in every restaurant.

Everything on this tour is extraordinarily orchestrated and exacting. We were not quite sure how we would react to all of this shuffling from bus to bus to train to bus to ship on an organized tour like this, but it was truly lovely and delightful and relaxing to be able to sit back and have it all laid out and taken care of.

Michael also sent around a questionnaire regarding room assignments. For example: Are you able to climb stairs if no elevator was available? DH and I had to reply "no" to that question on this trip. DH is struggling with needing knee replacements, and I am set for hip replacement #1 this month. Michael made sure we had ground floor rooms.

 

When the first set of people finished breakfast, they came back up to the top of the train in the observation car, and more people were called down. We were seated with a couple we had dinner with the evening before. A delightful couple from one of the Chanel Islands between Britain and France. Three of us ordered the stuffed French toast. It was excellent and our very first experience in a dining car on a train. We went back to the observation car after breakfast and continued the train ride to Denali. Along the way we saw four cow moose. After about 4 hours, the train went around a corner, and there was the Princess Denali complex. Michael pointed out that we would be staying in the newest of the buildings on site and that the Denali Princess Lodge is the largest hotel in all of Alaska.

 

Our room was beautiful (and if I can figure out how to post pictures I'd like to show you the room and the view). It overlooked the Nenana River. It was warm again today--mid 70's--and this hotel, unlike Fairbanks-- does not have air conditioning. Fortunately, the large windows opened up providing a lovely breeze.

 

We had a voucher for lunch, and there are several places on the property to use the voucher. One is the King Salmon restaurant, another is Lynx pizza. We decided to try the pizza since we were going to King Salmon that evening for dinner. DH and I each had a small salad, sodas, and shared a medium vegetarian pizza.

 

Note: Each of the vouchers entitles you to an appetizer, or soup, or salad--an entree--a non-alcoholic drink--and dessert. We did not find out until the final dinner in the final lodge that you can ask to "trade" one for another. For example, if you don't want dessert, you can choose a soup AND a salad. Or skip dessert and have an appetizer AND soup. Etc.

 

After lunch we walked up to the main lodge and waited for the bus to the park's Visitor Center. Once there, we caught another bus to another part of the park to see the dogsled demonstration put on by the National Park Service rangers. The dogs train during the summer, and they work all winter with the rangers patrolling the park. It never gets old seeing their exuberance and love for their job. We were able to walk among the dogs and pet the ones closest. Such sweet animals. After the demonstration, we caught the bus to the Visitor's Center and then another one back to the Lodge.

 

Note: Each of the lodge properties is huge, and each provides a on-site shuttle service to take you where you need to go. Even though Kenai is the smallest, there is still a shuttle service. We only had one problem with any shuttles and wait times and that was at McKinley when the shuttles were having some mechanical problems.

 

Michael had made reservations for us at the King Salmon restaurant for 7:30 with two other couples from our group. DH and I left for the restaurant area a little bit early and stopped at the Grizzly Bar for a couple drinks. One of the other couples we were meeting for dinner was out on the deck overlooking the river and we joined them. Stunning setting overlooking the river. The four of us the walked over to the King Salmon restaurant right next door to the Grizzly bar and met up with the other couple from London joining us for dinner. We were seated and within 10 minutes placed our order. Two of us chose the Crab Trio; one chose the king salmon, and one chose the halibut. On my Crab Trio was one king crab leg half, one Dungeness crab and one Opilia carb. All three crab were room temperature at best when they arrived. The small pot of melted butter was just room temperature as well. I asked the waiter to bring another one, and that one too was just room temperature. I am not a huge fan of crab, but from other reviews, I had wanted to try the Crab Trio. As it turned out, it was my least favorite of all the dinners we had all 15 days. The King Crab was small, and the rest took a great deal of work for very little yield, in my opinion. The salmon and halibut were all reported as very good. We were all quite full but wanted to give some of the desserts a try. I saw another table with an interesting chocolate cake. I don't remember the name the restaurant gave it, but by its size we all agreed it should have been called Denali Mountain Chocolate Cake! It was TALL, moist and chocolatey.

 

Dinner concluded just the second full day in Alaska--and what a full day it was again!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

A note about mosquitoes. There weren't very many. The tour guides suggest repellent if you are going out hiking. They can be very prevalent in woodsy areas. If you aren't hiking, you can leave the repellent at home and save some space.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Oh wow - loved reading your review as it brought back such great memories of our trip to Alaska four years ago - Michael Moore was also our tour guide. We found him amazing too and he made our holiday so memorable.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Day #3 June 22, 2018

Another very early day.

We set the alarm for 4AM as we needed to grab a cup of coffee and bit of breakfast before meeting our group at the main lodge for the Tundra Wilderness Tour. Our voucher was good at the buffet at the Denali Music Theater, or the small grab 'n go spot in our A/B building, or the slightly larger one in the lower level of the main lodge. We grabbed a cup of coffee and croissant at the little counter in the A/B building. We took the shuttle down to the main lodge, and only a few minutes later Michael showed up. He was not going on the tour with us, but he met us there early that morning to be sure all went well for us. (Have I mentioned how hard-working this guy is??)

 

Our bus arrived at 6AM and we were very lucky-- as we found out as we made our way through the 63 miles of Denali National Park-- that we scored Lisa as our driver. She told delightful stories of life in Alaska since she moved there in 1981, her life and home on Kodiak Island, and of all her various jobs including commercial fishing (which her husband still does). She displayed vast knowledge of the park, its founders and provided nuggets of history that kept us entertained the entire way. She was extremely conscientious about stopping at each possible rest stop. The bus was better than a school bus but not quite a coach bus (no bathroom onboard). Our bus was one of the newer park models wth padded seats. The seats were small and close together. Lisa shared with us that this new bus had a better camera system than the older ones, and the drop-down screen worked well.

 

When we boarded the bus the seats already our box lunches on them, which included a sausage stick, a granola bar, some crisp veggie chips and cookies. Bottles of water were passed out as well. Although there is a Subway across the street from the Denali lodge (as well as a liquor store if you care to have drinks in your room), no one brought any other food onboard, and the box lunch proved to be quite sufficient for our time on the road.

 

I took careful notes on all aspects of this trip from multiple CC threads, and one bit of advice was to sit on the left side of the bus. As it turned out, the left side did have more open areas and thus more of an opportunity to spot animals. The situation was, of course, reversed on the way back. Bottom line: it didn't matter too much.

 

Lisa instructed us to watch for animals and to shout STOP, quickly say either left or right and an approximate direction, such as 3 o'clock or 10 o'clock. If the command came from the back of the bus, it needed to be relayed to the front so Lisa could hear what was needed, what direction we were all to look, and animal we were all to look for. She then trained the camera on the area, and it showed up on the pull down tv screens in the bus. On our 63 mile journey, we saw 6 - 7 caribou, and several groups of Dall sheep, but by far the most exciting were the three Grizzly bears! Since Grizzly bears do not roam in packs, Lisa explained that the three were likely a mother and two cubs who were already a year or so old. Grizzly cubs stay with their mother for 2 - 3 years. It was hard to discern the difference among the three of them, all were pretty big. None of these animals were particularly close to the bus/road, but almost everyone had binoculars and some sort of camera to capture whatever images they could. Some people took photographs of the television screen since Lisa was able to zoom in on the animals.

 

The tour lasted between 7 and 8 hours. We had fairly good weather with a good deal of sun and temps in the 60's. But weather in Alaska and particularly in the mountainous/tundra areas around Denali, the weather changes by the minute. As we approached the turn around point where we might've been able to capture a glimpse of the mountain, clouds and drizzle developed. So although we felt we had a successful day in seeing animals, the mountain herself eluded us.

 

This evening Michael had our group scheduled for the 5:15PM Denali Music Theater dinner program. It consisted of six hard-working young people who served dinner and then provided a musical show about the first men known to scale Denali. We were seated in a large room at log tables with chairs. The six young servers/entertainers really hustle to get the food on and off the table and then perform the show. I wondered out loud if the same group of six do all three shows and servings for dinner every night, or if there are several groups of six. It would be pretty exhausting for the same six to do all that serving and clearing and entertaining. The food was okay. It consisted of thinly sliced beef brisket with some barbecue sauce, salmon with a sauce over it (by far the best of all the offerings), succotash, salad, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and pitchers of iced tea and water. All was served family style, and while you could request more of whatever the table may want, the service was rather rushed and there was little opportunity for that. Dessert was baked apple crisp and coffee.

The dinner and show sells for $69.95 per person and $34.95 per child. It was included in our Connoisseur package. It was an interesting addition to our day, but if it had not been included in the package, we would not have done it. I would have preferred a dinner voucher for the main restaurant as the food there was excellent.

 

It was only about 7:30PM when the dinner and show concluded, but these early mornings and long days and set lag are all catching up to us. We turned in early and were happy to fall asleep once again listening to the rushing rapids in the river outside our window.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Oh wow - loved reading your review as it brought back such great memories of our trip to Alaska four years ago - Michael Moore was also our tour guide. We found him amazing too and he made our holiday so memorable.

 

 

Sent from my iPad using Forums

 

 

Thanks so much! I've spent hours typing today and just posted day 3--;p long ways to go, but I know how much I enjoy the detailed reviews from others of places I wanted to visit, so this is pay back.

Isn't Michael just the best?? I agree, he was a huge part of making the trip as wonderful as it was for us. I don't know if you can request a certain tour guide, but if I were to go again, I'd sure try to get Michael.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks so much for taking the time to give a current report on the connoisseur tour. Looking forward to the rest of your report as doing a 6 day connoisseur tour the end of August. Although several things will be different for us finding your report very informative.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Forums

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

World Traveler, Great info. First time I've seen advice for the paddle wheel boat. We will be having lunch on the train. Are there only 4 items at lunch or were their any additional items on the next page. No worries if you don't have that info. :D

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks so much for the review. We are planning to do a connoisseur tour in the future (probably a long one like you).

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

WorldTraveler, Thank you so much for this excellent review. All of the time and detail that you are putting into this review are so appreciated. I will be following along till the end. THANK YOU!!!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks so much for taking the time to give a current report on the connoisseur tour. Looking forward to the rest of your report as doing a 6 day connoisseur tour the end of August. Although several things will be different for us finding your report very informative.

 

 

Sent from my iPhone using Forums

 

Thank you!

You will have a great time!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thanks so much for the review. We are planning to do a connoisseur tour in the future (probably a long one like you).

 

So glad you are enjoying it!

We've not been sorry we chose the long tour.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
World Traveler, Great info. First time I've seen advice for the paddle wheel boat. We will be having lunch on the train. Are there only 4 items at lunch or were their any additional items on the next page. No worries if you don't have that info. :D

 

We were there for breakfast, so I really didn't pay attention to the lunch options at all, but I looked at the photo again in larger form, and it looks to me like the options continue on the next page.

Glad you are reading along!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
WorldTraveler, Thank you so much for this excellent review. All of the time and detail that you are putting into this review are so appreciated. I will be following along till the end. THANK YOU!!!

 

Thank you for following along! It's nice to know readers are out there!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Footnote to Denali: When we arrived, Michael gathered us up in the courtyard of our A/B building with the mountains and the river in the background and had a photo taken of our group of 26. On our last night together, we all received a color 8x10 in a folder with a slip of paper inside identifying each of us by name and stating the photo was taken on the Summer Solstice: sunrise 3:30 AM, sundown 12:54 AM 21 hrs 24 mins of daylight, 2 hrs 36 mins of darkness.

It is really a nice keepsake of a great trip.

Michael also coordinated collecting an email from us all. It will be nice to keep in touch with several of the couples we spent a lot of time with. It was also nice while on the Coral for 7 days to already know and to see the other 24 people here and there.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you Worldtraveler 4727 for a great review. In 2014 a group of us took this connoisseur tour and loved it. Another group of us are going to take this tour next year. Your review will be helpful to all the members of that group.

I think Princess sets high standards for the tour directors. The one we had in 2014, Jack Curtiss, was every bit as good as you describe your tour director.

I am looking forward to seeing the rest of your review as are the rest of my group.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Day #4 June 23, 2018

We have apparently finally folded into more of a touring/vacationing routine, and were able to sleep fairly well last night.

This morning required that our bags be outside our room in the hall by 7 AM with the DPL (Denali Princess Lodge) tags off, and the new MPL (McKinley Princess Lodge) tags on ready to be transported to our next stop: McKInley Lodge.

 

Speaking of luggage...we met a couple on the lodge shuttle who said one of their pieces of luggage was lost for over a day and a night. She had been quite panicked about it, but it did finally show up. Honestly, it's a wonder that this sort of thing doesn't happen more often. The shuttling and shuffling of the massive quantities of luggage over literally miles of lodge rooms has to be a logistical nightmare.

 

Our breakfast voucher entitled us to a breakfast buffet in the Denali music theater, or a made to order breakfast in the King Salmon restaurant, or a much lighter breakfast at one of the grab 'n go venues on the properties. Since we had 2.5 hours before we needed to meet the bus at our A/B lodge entrance, DH and I decided to take the shuttle to the King Salmon restaurant and enjoy a leisurely breakfast. The restaurant is truly beautiful, and we were seated at a table for two by a window overlooking the trees at the back of the property. DH was fairly hungry and ordered the king crab stuffed omelette with pan fried red potato cubes and toast. I have a hard time eating early morning breakfasts, especially when we have dinner at 8 or later the night before. I ordered the yogurt with blueberries and granola. Quite enough for me this morning. After your meal, you just place your vouchers on the table, and the wait staff will collect them. Often we were asked to just sign the voucher on the back. Sometimes we received a paper receipt and were asked to sign that as well. The vouchers work very simply, and you can order whatever you'd like. I know the cost of the food is all folded into the cost of the package, but it was a real treat to look at menus and try new and different things. After breakfast we took the shuttle back to our room, picked up our backpack, and relaxed in the lounge area with the others until the bus showed up.

 

The coach bus ride was only 2 hours long and shortly after leaving the lodge, we came across a cow moose right on the shoulder of the highway like she was looking to cross the road! Michael told us that 300 moose are killed on this stretch of highway every year!

 

enhance

We reached McKinley Lodge, and Michael gave us our packets with instructions and room keys, and the bus driver took us to Building 18. We all found our rooms (ground level). Some were ready and some were not, but you were able to place your hand luggage in them and go about your day until later. When we opened the door to our room (#1811), it smelled just terrible! The room had its bed stripped and the windows were closed. The only way I have been able to describe the smell in the room was that it was like an animal had died in it--perhaps somewhere in the walls. We once had a mouse die in the walls of our laundry room, and it smelled like this. It lasted for a long time, and DH finally had to open the wall in the laundry room. We immediately opened the window in the room, and that helped a bit, but we knew we were not going to be able to stay in this room. There was a young lady in the hallway with a cart cleaning rooms, and I asked her to step into the room for a moment. When I explained to her that the room smelled terrible, she said, "Oh yes! We always have trouble with this room. It always smells bad like this." Okay. That was enough for me. I pulled out my phone and called Michael. He answered his cell phone immediately and asked us to come up to the main lodge. He would meet us there and take care of it immediately. By the time we got to the main lodge (about 5 minutes later) Michael was there with the manager of the lodge. They both apologized profusely and gave us another room. This one was far from the others, but it didn't matter. We were in Building 6 (#601). They also gave us two tickets for a coffee at any of the Princess lodges. It was a minor blip and could happen anywhere as these lodges are all in remote areas.

 

While we were in the main lodge, we went to the reception desk to give them our cell phone number and to ask to be put on the Call List. I had read that you need to do this EACH DAY. Reception will call you 24 hours a day if the mountain comes out. I had read that everyone just comes out in their pajamas to take photos if the mountain comes out late at night. That's what my research had told me. Reality was, the woman at reception asked only for our room number and insisted that that they will only call the rooms. So if the mountain is out, and you happen to not be in your room, you won't get the notification.

 

The lodge looks and feels much older than the Denali Lodge, and there are really no rooms with a "view." Almost all of the windows look out onto trees, shrubs and grass. However, from the outside of Building 6 we were able to see a bit of the mountain through the trees.

 

After we got our new room key, we decided to go out onto the balcony behind the lodge and to see if "Denali was out." It was a partly cloudy day with temperatures in the mid 60's. Very pleasant, but there were clouds at the top of the mountain so it wasn't totally visible. There is a part of the deck that is used for food and drink service. We were given a seat in the sun, ordered a couple beers and a snack, and relaxed and just drank in the atmosphere. While we sat and mountain-watched and people-watched, we looked over the information in our packets. One of the things we had wanted to do was to get up to see the Tree House built by Pete Nelson. They did an episode on Tree Masters on the Animal Planet cable channel a while ago, and it is now open to the public. DH and I grabbed a shuttle as far as it would go and then set out on foot the rest of the way. It was not easy going for the two of us with the serious joint issues we were dealing with on this trip. We made it as far as where the hard road ended and the gravel path began. We could see the steep gravel hill up to the Tree House, and there was simply no way either of us could make it up or down that trail, so we had to turn around. It was disappointing. The view of the area is supposed to be wonderful from the Tree House.

 

After that mis-adventure to the Tree House, we returned to our room, and there were some chairs on the boardwalk outside our room. We had a room on the far end. The rooms in this building are motel-like in that they all have separate doors leading outside. (Building 18 where the others were had doors all inside a hallway, more hotel-like.) It was a beautiful afternoon, and we spent it just relaxing. We could see snippets of Denali through the trees from where we were sitting, so we kept our eye on it hoping the high clouds would dissipate. (Can you see the mountain in the background?)enhance

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Thank you Worldtraveler 4727 for a great review. In 2014 a group of us took this connoisseur tour and loved it. Another group of us are going to take this tour next year. Your review will be helpful to all the members of that group.

I think Princess sets high standards for the tour directors. The one we had in 2014, Jack Curtiss, was every bit as good as you describe your tour director.

I am looking forward to seeing the rest of your review as are the rest of my group.

 

Perfect! Let me know if you have any questions. :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

At 4:15 we caught the shuttle and went over to the theater building to see Todd Huston speak. He is a mountain climber and inspirational speaker. He lost his leg as a teen in a boating accident and went on to climb the highest peaks in all 50 states in, including Denali, in less time than anyone else. He was truly inspiring.

 

From there we went made our way to the deck in the back of the lodge and joined new friends for cocktails and to take a look at the mountain. The clouds had been clearing for most of the day. It was a windless, sunny afternoon. We were able to get a good look at the mountain. There were some low-level clouds near the bottom, but it was very clear midway and to the top. Michael stopped by our table, and I asked him if with this view of the mountain we could consider ourselves in the "30% Club." (It is said only 30% of everyone who tries to see Denali actually succeeds) He said he would consider all of us in the 10% Club! Yay! The shuttle drivers had mentioned to us that for the past two weeks the mountain had not been visible AT ALL. We felt very fortunate that we got to see it on this beautiful day.

 

enhance

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Once again our paperwork for today indicated the couple Michael paired us with for dinner in the North Fork Restaurant inside the main lodge at 7PM. He found us a little later in the afternoon and explained that the other couple had decided to go to a talk and wanted to have dinner much later, so Michael made reservations for just DH and me. This was our best meal so far. DH had the Tenderloin Oscar, and I had the Crab-stuffed Halibut. Both were out of this world. We decided to share half-and-half and had a bit of a surf and turf meal. I chose the salad with blueberries and candied pecans, and it was outstanding. DH chose the French onion soup, and it too was very good. Sometimes restaurants make this soup with a very salty dry mix, but this French onion soup was very, very good.

 

enhance

 

enhance

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Forum Jump
    • Categories
      • Explore the Night. Sweepstakes - Enter now for a chance to win win a free cruise for two with Azamara Club Cruises!
      • Forum Assistance
      • New Cruisers
      • Cruise Lines “A – O”
      • Cruise Lines “P – Z”
      • River Cruising
      • ROLL CALLS
      • Digital Photography & Cruise Technology
      • Member Cruise Reviews
      • Community Contests
      • Special Interest Cruising
      • Cruise Discussion Topics
      • UK Cruising
      • Australia & New Zealand Cruisers
      • North American Homeports
      • Ports of Call
      • Cruise Conversations
×