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

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Kathy, when you referenced following up on room assignments, did you follow up directly with the lodges or with the special needs sept?

 

I actually ended up following up with both. Special Needs just kept telling me that the request had been made and it would be taken care of re the request. But we have had bad experiences with various hotels not assigning a wheelchair accessible room which has a roll in shower and so I ended up contacting the lodges directly. I found out that the lodges don't actually open until around mid May, but I followed up directly with the lodges as soon as they opened. It was a good thing I did because the general Lodge reservations had only considered the roll in shower portion a request, not a necessity, and we had been assigned to rooms at one of the hotels without a roll in shower. This was changed as a result of my call.

 

I also realized that I didn't include our experience at Kenai on the Kenai Fjords National Park Boat Tour which the OP mentioned in his review. At the time we booked, this tour was a part of the overall tour, not a separate shore excursion. That changed within the two years we originally booked, but our original booking was honored. The bus which took us to/from Seward for this tour was the same one we took the day before and had a lift. There were several buses of cruise passengers who went on this tour. We were assigned a table next to a window where wheelchair passengers were placed and the deck outside of the window was roped off so passengers couldn't stand in front of you. We did have to do a transfer to the seat at the table and the wheelchair was taken away but remained on the boat in case we needed it. There was no room at the tables for wheelchairs and so they were removed and either left at the dock (for passengers who could walk) or put in a front area of the boat. The tour was good except that our disabled passenger was not allowed to go outside on the deck and had to remain at the table. The views were generally good, but if the activity was not on that side of the ship, then we couldn't see it. (although I did go out on deck sometimes for photos).

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Kathy, thanks for the great info!!

 

We too have had issues with hotel rooms. In fact we were just at a Hilton property in ND in June where the ADA room was not compliant at all. The shower head was so high that the water didn’t reach the bench. Also, the shower head would not fit in the bar next to the bench. No one in a chair would have been able to reach up and get the head down. I had to stand on my tiptoes to reach it. We got both nights free as a result. The kicker is we had been there seven months earlier and had reported it then. They did nothing to fix it in all that time.

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Wonderful review. We did the same tour 2 years ago and loved reliving it with you.

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We are both widows who traveled extensively before we lost our husbands and miss travelling and this one really appeals to us. We thought of 2020 but I am not getting any younger so will splurge for 2019.

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We are both widows who traveled extensively before we lost our husbands and miss travelling and this one really appeals to us. We thought of 2020 but I am not getting any younger so will splurge for 2019.

 

We had two ladies on our tour in the exact situation. They had a grand time! We had dinner with them one evening in the lodge. They loved the tour! I’m glad to hear you’ll be doing it sooner rather than later. ;)

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My Husband and I traveled to Alaska twice, once for 2 weeks on our own and again in 2006 on our very first Princess cruise. My sister and I (both widows) just booked this exact tour for June 25, 2019. Reading your review helped us decide that since this will be a once in a lifetime trip, we would do it up and opted for the Connoisseur tour. Thanks for the great review and pictures.

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My Husband and I traveled to Alaska twice, once for 2 weeks on our own and again in 2006 on our very first Princess cruise. My sister and I (both widows) just booked this exact tour for June 25, 2019. Reading your review helped us decide that since this will be a once in a lifetime trip, we would do it up and opted for the Connoisseur tour. Thanks for the great review and pictures.

 

Pat, I'm so glad my review was able to help you make this important decision. I'm sure you and your sister won't be disappointed. The food in the lodges is phenomenal; the sights on land and at sea are unparalleled.

Wishing you wonderful weather and the making of many new friends!

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What a fantastic review! (And I now have a new bucket list item...)!

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great review thanks a lot we are planning a similare tour next year

i agree with you on michael he is really great he was our tour director 3 years ago in hystoric america cruise tour

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Thank you so much for this wonderful review and fabulous pictures! We did a 12 day cruisetour in August 2015 (a "bucket list" trip)and your review brought back so many "once-in-a-lifetime" memories. Friends and family thought I was such a terrific photographer, but I found that you cannot really take a terrible picture in Alaska. Just point and shoot...awesome! :D

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great review thanks a lot we are planning a similare tour next year

i agree with you on michael he is really great he was our tour director 3 years ago in hystoric america cruise tour

 

Thanks for reading!

Yes, Michael is the best. Wish everyone could have him as a guide.

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Thanks for the detailed review. Been trying to figure out which cruise to take for our 50th anniversary in 2020 and this solved that dilemma for me! Hubby was stationed on Kodiak, AK with the US Navy when we got married and we lived there for almost a year. Been on two Alaska cruises and had talked about a cruisetour but this review and caribill's made up my mind. What better way to celebrate 50 years than where it all started! We are thinking about going several days (a week??) early and taking the ferry to Kodiak and back then starting the land tour portion. My TA is probably going to have grey hair before I get all the details nailed down on this...LOL

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Thanks for the detailed review. Been trying to figure out which cruise to take for our 50th anniversary in 2020 and this solved that dilemma for me! Hubby was stationed on Kodiak, AK with the US Navy when we got married and we lived there for almost a year. Been on two Alaska cruises and had talked about a cruisetour but this review and caribill's made up my mind. What better way to celebrate 50 years than where it all started! We are thinking about going several days (a week??) early and taking the ferry to Kodiak and back then starting the land tour portion. My TA is probably going to have grey hair before I get all the details nailed down on this...LOL

 

This would be the perfect way to celebrate your 50th anniversary!

I would recommend spending as much time in Alaska as your budget will allow. It's a long way to go, so make the most of it.

Wishing you a memorable anniversary and Alaskan adventure!

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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.

 

We did this tour in reverse June 2016. I loved all the lodges. Denali theater was the only thing I didn't like; the kids did a great job, but the food was mediocre at best. We were seated in the middle and didn't get the salmon until the 3rd platter was passed. One group of 4 were really piling on the food as if it were their last meal!

However, all my crab dinners were excellent and hot.

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We did this tour in reverse June 2016. I loved all the lodges. Denali theater was the only thing I didn't like; the kids did a great job, but the food was mediocre at best. We were seated in the middle and didn't get the salmon until the 3rd platter was passed. One group of 4 were really piling on the food as if it were their last meal!

However, all my crab dinners were excellent and hot.

 

I agree, the food in the theater--compared to the lodges--was not the best. I would have much rather have had dinner in the dining room. The kids in the show worked hard serving, then dancing and singing, but I could have done without the dinner/show as well.

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These comments are on the late side but here goes:

 

We agree about pairing up at dinner. It turned out to be great each time and we got to know folks in our tour group who we would later see on the cruise portion of the trip.

 

Your original cabin was B731 on Coral Princess. We had that cabin for a 17 day Panama Canal full transit in 2015 and have booked it again for an upcoming 19 day Partial Transit of the canal. We love the location. As for the window mini-suite: We also took an upsell (on a different cruise where we didn't have B731 booked) and had C702. No balcony but the balcony space is included in the room dimensions so it's quite big. We had no idea these window mini-suites existed but loved the size of the cabin. There is a difference between the aft viewing deck and the forward viewing deck however. As shown in your photo there is no furniture on the forward deck. The aft viewing deck has loungers all across the deck which were very under-utilized so it was like having a huge semi-private balcony with furniture.

 

Many thanks again for your excellent review. I'm certain it has helped many people make their decision to go with the connoisseur tour.

 

Note: We agree with you about the Music of Denali Dinner Theater. We found the show to be totally hokey and the dinner disappointing. For our 15 day connoisseur tour next May we will be requesting a refund of the $70 each and will skip that particular "treat" and use the money for a nice dinner in the restaurant.

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These comments are on the late side but here goes:

 

We agree about pairing up at dinner. It turned out to be great each time and we got to know folks in our tour group who we would later see on the cruise portion of the trip.

 

Your original cabin was B731 on Coral Princess. We had that cabin for a 17 day Panama Canal full transit in 2015 and have booked it again for an upcoming 19 day Partial Transit of the canal. We love the location. As for the window mini-suite: We also took an upsell (on a different cruise where we didn't have B731 booked) and had C702. No balcony but the balcony space is included in the room dimensions so it's quite big. We had no idea these window mini-suites existed but loved the size of the cabin. There is a difference between the aft viewing deck and the forward viewing deck however. As shown in your photo there is no furniture on the forward deck. The aft viewing deck has loungers all across the deck which were very under-utilized so it was like having a huge semi-private balcony with furniture.

 

Many thanks again for your excellent review. I'm certain it has helped many people make their decision to go with the connoisseur tour.

 

Note: We agree with you about the Music of Denali Dinner Theater. We found the show to be totally hokey and the dinner disappointing. For our 15 day connoisseur tour next May we will be requesting a refund of the $70 each and will skip that particular "treat" and use the money for a nice dinner in the restaurant.

 

I think I read your comments on B731 before I booked that cabin. We were happy enough with it until the second upsell offer came in. We LOVED the window mini-suite! We would not have used a balcony. Although we had fabulous weather, it was still too chilly to sit on a balcony. In addition, the forward viewing deck was just steps away, and when it was sunny (docking in Ketchikan) we enjoyed being out there watching all the float planes come in, and that area was not crowded on glacier viewing days either.

 

I also read that you are doing another Connoisseur tour that includes Copper River this time. I would have loved to have experienced that one as well. I wish a tour included all four lodges.

 

Having been on a Connoisseur tour before, you know about the Music of the Denali show. What a great idea to ask for a refund for it and use that money in the lodge restaurant! I hope they honor your request. I certainly would do that next time around too.

 

Thanks for reading along and commenting, Thrak. My hope in writing the review was to update caribill's review from 2012, (which really helped me) and to help readers decide whether or not the money for the Connoisseur tour would be worth it for them.

 

I hope Denali comes out for you again like it did for you last time. You definitely have the BEST photo of it I've ever seen.

Happy Travels.

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I finally got around to reading your great review -- it was fun to compare your experience to our Off the Beaten Path (non-Connoisseur) 7-day tour that we did at the end of May/beginning June. We started in Anchorage, went to Copper River, Fairbanks, Denali, and Mt. McKinley. We also were on the Coral and enjoyed it very much! We chose the regular cruisetour partly due to the cost, and also wanted more flexibility with meals on the land portion. That worked for us -- the two nights we were in Fairbanks, we had dinner at other restaurants, and chose to eat dinner in the grills at the other lodges. Some people on our tour paid extra for meal vouchers but I'm glad we decided to just do "pay-as-you-go."

Despite seeing a lot of comments on these boards about DIY landtour, we really didn't want to hassle with driving, and knew we would have two long bus days going into it. We really liked the Copper River Lodge, it is worth the travel!

I also agree with your comments about the Riverboat "cruise" and Gold Dredge in Fairbanks. They were included in our tour otherwise wouldn't have done them. We figured it would be a cheesy tourist thing but found we enjoyed it more than expected and learned quite a lot!

This was our second Alaska trip (the 1st was in 2002 with a 4-day land portion) with both doing the land part first. It was nice after living out of the suitcases for a week to unpack once on the ship, as well as having those two ship days to chill before the ports. Just my two cents worth.

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I finally got around to reading your great review -- it was fun to compare your experience to our Off the Beaten Path (non-Connoisseur) 7-day tour that we did at the end of May/beginning June. We started in Anchorage, went to Copper River, Fairbanks, Denali, and Mt. McKinley. We also were on the Coral and enjoyed it very much! We chose the regular cruisetour partly due to the cost, and also wanted more flexibility with meals on the land portion. That worked for us -- the two nights we were in Fairbanks, we had dinner at other restaurants, and chose to eat dinner in the grills at the other lodges. Some people on our tour paid extra for meal vouchers but I'm glad we decided to just do "pay-as-you-go."

Despite seeing a lot of comments on these boards about DIY landtour, we really didn't want to hassle with driving, and knew we would have two long bus days going into it. We really liked the Copper River Lodge, it is worth the travel!

I also agree with your comments about the Riverboat "cruise" and Gold Dredge in Fairbanks. They were included in our tour otherwise wouldn't have done them. We figured it would be a cheesy tourist thing but found we enjoyed it more than expected and learned quite a lot!

This was our second Alaska trip (the 1st was in 2002 with a 4-day land portion) with both doing the land part first. It was nice after living out of the suitcases for a week to unpack once on the ship, as well as having those two ship days to chill before the ports. Just my two cents worth.

 

Glad you enjoyed the review. :D

There are so many great ways to see Alaska. We certainly enjoyed seeing inland and the coast. They are very different. I would love to take in Copper River next time.

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I loved your review!! We have been to Alaska numerous times and are going again next July/August. You mentioned Sheep Creek where they deposit salmon. I looked it up and Sheep Creek is 4 miles southeast of Juneau. Can you get there by car? I thought that might be something different to do in Juneau. :D

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Glad you enjoyed the review. :D

There are so many great ways to see Alaska. We certainly enjoyed seeing inland and the coast. They are very different. I would love to take in Copper River next time.

 

Copper River was our favorite lodge, not as big and "busy" as the others. I've read where people have said it's "in the middle of nowhere" and there's "nothing to do" there -- that's exactly why we wanted to go there! We did the Copper Country Discovery Tour and got a wonderful tour of the area.

If we ever get back to Alaska, I'd like to to spend some time on the Kenai Penninsula!

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On 10/8/2018 at 10:12 AM, CruzinNoony said:

I loved your review!! We have been to Alaska numerous times and are going again next July/August. You mentioned Sheep Creek where they deposit salmon. I looked it up and Sheep Creek is 4 miles southeast of Juneau. Can you get there by car? I thought that might be something different to do in Juneau. :D

Thanks for your kind comments.

I believe you mean STEEP CREEK. Steep Creek is a Forest Service fish viewing site, with runs of sockeye and coho salmon that start in mid-July and continue into October. The site is very easy to visit. It is adjacent to the Mendenhall glacier visitors' center about 10 miles from downtown Juneau. There are no permits, fees or restrictions for the visitation. There's a 1/3 mile loop trail, part of which forms an elevated boardwalk.

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On 10/8/2018 at 11:10 AM, WisCruiser2 said:

 

Copper River was our favorite lodge, not as big and "busy" as the others. I've read where people have said it's "in the middle of nowhere" and there's "nothing to do" there -- that's exactly why we wanted to go there! We did the Copper Country Discovery Tour and got a wonderful tour of the area.

If we ever get back to Alaska, I'd like to to spend some time on the Kenai Penninsula!

The Kenai is such a beautiful area! And the Kenai Princess individual lodges with their little fireplaces was one of our favorite stops on the whole trip. They, too, are in the middle of nowhere, but so are a lot of places in Alaska one visits, and the whole point for many of us! 😉 But as far as "nothing to do," well, sometimes it is best to just "be." 😊

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