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Is Connoisseur escorted worth it on a land/cruise to Alaska?


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Decided to do a land/cruise on the Coral Princess.Looking at prices and wonder if the Connoisseur escorted tour is worth the extra money? Looking for advice on with or without the Connoisseur for anyone who did it!
Thank's in advance!

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I highly recommend the escorted if you can.  We thoroughly enjoyed it on our fist visit to Alaska.  Our dedicated escort was fantastic and took care of details such as dinner reservations at the lodges, and even menu recommendations.  

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It's a totally personal decision. The Connoisseur Cruise Tours are definitely more expensive than the "on your own" type of cruise tours. We have done Alaska cruise tours twice and both times did the Connoisseur tours. In 2016 we did a 13 day Connoisseur tour that included 6 days on land and then 7 days southbound cruising. We visited the Fairbanks lodge, the Denali lodge, and the McKinley lodge. It was freaking GREAT!!!  We enjoyed it so much that in 2019 we did a 15 day Connoisseur tour that had 8 days on land before the 7 day southbound cruise. On that trip we visited the Fairbanks lodge, the Denali lodge, the Copper River lodge, and the Kenai lodge. Our favorite was the Kenai lodge. We found both trips entirely worth the extra cost. It's nice having your lodging and meals handled for you and we seemed to get good spots in the lodges. The "arranged" dinners in Fairbanks and Kenai were really nice with great food and with beer and wine included. Eating in the restaurants in the lodges and having it included in the price was also great as you just ordered what you wanted to eat regardless of the menu price. For those meals though you did have to pay for your alcohol. We loved the Tundra Wilderness Tour that was included both times. On the first trip we had a fairly long and close up Wolf encounter which was very cool and on the second trip we had the unexpected experience of a Lynx crossing in front of us and then hiding out in the bushes next to the road. Everybody got great looks at it on the camera and my wife and I were right up front with great direct views. On both trips we also got some good Grizzly views.

 

We have also visited Alaska on a 10 day round trip from San Francisco - our first cruise in 2011 - and on a 7 week camping trip where we camped up through Canada all the way up into Alaska as far as Fairbanks.  We seem to like Alaska. 😎

 

The next time we cruise Alaska it will either be an "on your own" cruise tour or else a cruise that visits Sitka. We haven't been to Sitka and would like to check it out. I certainly hope we will be able to cruise to Alaska again in the future. Like I said above, the choice of the "regular" or the connoisseur tour is a personal thing. We may not choose the connoisseur tour the next time but are extremely glad to have done it the last two times.

 

Whatever you decide, I would definitely recommend doing a land tour in Alaska.

Edited by Thrak
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We did a Connoisseur tour and were very glad we did.

 

o Almost every meal was included. Restaurant prices are high in Alaska. It was good to look at a dinner menu and not have to decide between the steak or spaghetti dinner because of price.

 

o I think the rooms we had at the lodges had the better views.

 

o Tundra Wilderness Tour was included at Denali National Park. Did not have to upgrade from the lesser tour. Our wilderness tour bus only had people from our group on it.

 

o Our tour guide was knowledgeable and helpful. Even took care of dinner reservations for us at each lodge.

 

Our report of our tour is at 

 

Photobucket makes the photos hard to see, but the text is fine.  Restaurant prices are 8 years old and have no doubt increased since then. Some other things have changed since then such as having a better snack on the wilderness tour bus and a different seating arrangement on the Princess train cars.

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6 hours ago, caribill said:

some other things have changed since then such as having a better snack on the wilderness tour bus and a different seating arrangement on the Princess train cars.

 

We went last year.  The seating arrangements on the train have changed ONLY on some trips.  Our train ride was from McKinley Lodge to the ship.  We had the "old" setup.

 

We did Denali Explorer and not connoisseur.  When I researched I saw any post where people asked, everyone raved about the Connoisseur.  Very little posted about Denali Explorer trips.  We saw the difference in price and looked at menus at the restaurants online and decided to not pay for connoisseur.  Our trip was fantastic and we feel we ate what we wanted and paid less.  Our rooms in the lodges were fine and locations were fine.  We upgraded to Tundra Wilderness Tour which can be done at anytime by your TA.  In fact, we had a late tour but when we were there we got on standby for an earlier tour and made it.  I guess some people just don't show up for various reasons.  Maybe they were on standby for an even earlier tour!

 

If you can easily afford the connoisseur then by all means do it but don't feel that bad if it is a stretch for you as Princess has been doing this for years and knows how to do it right.

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Though it is considerably more, if you appreciate good food, it’s totally worth it. They allow you to go hog wild with king crab legs, whatever you want, with multiple courses. Also, it’s a stress reliever to know it’s all taken care of, you don’t have to find a place to eat, and you can really try Alaskan specialties. Food is very expensive in Alaska, so take that into consideration, too. 

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11 hours ago, caribill said:

We did a Connoisseur tour and were very glad we did.

 

o Almost every meal was included. Restaurant prices are high in Alaska. It was good to look at a dinner menu and not have to decide between the steak or spaghetti dinner because of price.

 

o I think the rooms we had at the lodges had the better views.

 

o Tundra Wilderness Tour was included at Denali National Park. Did not have to upgrade from the lesser tour. Our wilderness tour bus only had people from our group on it.

 

o Our tour guide was knowledgeable and helpful. Even took care of dinner reservations for us at each lodge.

 

Our report of our tour is at 

 

Photobucket makes the photos hard to see, but the text is fine.  Restaurant prices are 8 years old and have no doubt increased since then. Some other things have changed since then such as having a better snack on the wilderness tour bus and a different seating arrangement on the Princess train cars.

 

This review is a major reason we took our first Connoisseur Cruise Tour. I've pointed a number of folks to this old review as it''s still relevant and very informative. It's a great source of info for those who are wondering whether or not to go with this type of tour.

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22 hours ago, Harrylinden said:

Decided to do a land/cruise on the Coral Princess.Looking at prices and wonder if the Connoisseur escorted tour is worth the extra money? Looking for advice on with or without the Connoisseur for anyone who did it!
Thank's in advance!

We have done it twice, worth every penny.We may do it again.

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Whether the Connoisseur guided tour is "worth it" is totally dependent on your preferences and budget.  We did an Alaskan cruise tour with Princess in 2016, but did not do the Connoisseur tour.  At that time it cost several thousand dollars more, and I was able to price out would have been included, and we were able to do all of our meals and extra excursions at a much lower price.  We do not feel we missed out on anything.  Our room locations and travel between the lodges and cruise ship were fine, even without the deluxe tour version.  It is nice to have everything arranged for you, and paid for ahead of time.  But I like to plan and explore all of the available options.  So we chose what worked best for us considering our comfort level with independent travel arrangements and budget.

 

As mentioned earlier, I also would definitely recommend some sort of land tour, be it the regular or Connoisseur version.  Alaska is beautiful & magnificent!  Also check out the Alaska Ports of Call boards for lots more information:   https://boards.cruisecritic.com/forum/33-alaska/

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We took one of the regular tours eight years ago. We flew into Fairbanks for two nights, took the train to the Denali lodge for one night, then bus to Mt. McKinley lodge for one night, and bus to Anchorage for one night at the Captain Cook Hotel. Our tour included the steamboat excursion and gold dredge excursion in Fairbanks and the Natural History Tour in Denali. We paid to upgrade to the Tundra Wilderness Tour and were very glad we did after talking to others who stuck with the Natural History Tour. 

 

If I had to do it again, I'd look for a tour that included two nights at Denali instead of just one. I did not find the prices in the restaurants to be too high--but that's because we did not go to the fine dining restaurants at the lodges. There were casual options available at all three of the lodges that served good food. One of my favorites was the smoked salmon chowder.

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4 hours ago, geoherb said:

 

 

If I had to do it again, I'd look for a tour that included two nights at Denali instead of just one.

 

I alweays suggest two nights at every lodge. That gives you a full day without travel at each of them.

 

With only one night,. you likely arrive in the afternoon and must leave the next morning, not giving you enough time to really enjoy each area.

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We are trying to decide on whether to go on the 15 day Connisseur tour or the 17 day tour with Copper River. We were wondering if the Copper River portion was worth the extra time and money or whether we should just do the 15 day. Thanks

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Copper River was wonderful. It is really beautiful. We took the ATV excursion and it was a blast.When leaving Copper Ricer they took us from Copper River to Valdez and then a jet boat across Prince William directly to the ship - it was superb.

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We are hopefully doing the catamaran from Copper River to Valdez next summer. Any info on that would be appreciated.  Are there places to eat when you get to Valdez, before getting on the catamaran?  What is the scenery like on the trip? When you get to Whittier, how do you get from the catamaran to the boat?  

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We did the Connoisseur tour and enjoyed most of it but if I did it again I would skip the Tundra Wilderness Tour.  Being stuck on a bus with very few bathroom stops for 8 hours is not pleasurable.

 

If I did it again I would opt to do a plane flight that could take me to places I can't see on the bus.  I would then have extra time to do other stuff vs spending all day hoping to see the mountain or hoping to see wildlife.

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5 hours ago, ambelina said:

We are trying to decide on whether to go on the 15 day Connisseur tour or the 17 day tour with Copper River. We were wondering if the Copper River portion was worth the extra time and money or whether we should just do the 15 day. Thanks

 

Copper river is nice but... The bus ride was horrendous. 8 hours in a bus on poor roads. It was a very looooooooooooooooooooong day. Of course it was made worse for us because we had a driver who never shut up. He wasn't the guide - he was the driver. He was incredibly boring and everybody thought so but him.

 

Kenai is well worth the visit if you get the chance to visit but the next time we will skip Copper River due to that long bus ride.

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As I remember,  the catamaran ride was a couple of hours and it pulled right up to the dock and we got off and boarded directly on to the boat. We arrived at the ship in the afternoon (time for wine-cocktails/snacks etc before a great dinner). I do not remember any extra time in Valdez to eat as we went right from the bus from Copper River to the catamaran. There were snacks available on the catamaran. We took food/snacks with us from Copper River. The ride on the bus from Denali to Copper River was long but very interesting as we saw lots of back areas in Alaska we would never had seen otherwise. We stopped halfway at a little lodge restaurant in the middle of nowhere were we had a nice lunch. I hope to do this again as it was a great trip. I would like to add the Kenai on to my next time as well. This had been our second Princess cruise-tour in Alaska and they do them seamlessly.

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1 hour ago, pkamison said:

As I remember,  the catamaran ride was a couple of hours and it pulled right up to the dock and we got off and boarded directly on to the boat. We arrived at the ship in the afternoon (time for wine-cocktails/snacks etc before a great dinner). I do not remember any extra time in Valdez to eat as we went right from the bus from Copper River to the catamaran. There were snacks available on the catamaran. We took food/snacks with us from Copper River. The ride on the bus from Denali to Copper River was long but very interesting as we saw lots of back areas in Alaska we would never had seen otherwise. We stopped halfway at a little lodge restaurant in the middle of nowhere were we had a nice lunch. I hope to do this again as it was a great trip. I would like to add the Kenai on to my next time as well. This had been our second Princess cruise-tour in Alaska and they do them seamlessly.

IF you start at Copper River - cruise first - then you have the Catamaran ride and the bus ride when you go to Denali. IF you are going the other way - land tour first - the trip from Denali to Copper River is the long bus ride. Then there is another long trip from Copper River to Kenai. The lodges themselves were great as were the employees at the lodges. At Copper River we re-connected with two employees who had been on our 28 day Hawaii/South Pacific cruise. (Because they were Princess employees they sailed as passengers for only port fees and taxes.)

 

Having two long bus trips was too much - my wife didn't enjoy that portion at all although there was some good scenery along the way.

 

From our Travel Summary:

 

COACH:DENALI TO COPPER RIVER

Motorcoach:Denali to Copper River In an effort to provide you with the best Alaska experience in
the shortest period of time,this day of travel is extensive. Dress in layers and bring any
necessary medication.  Much of your travel today is on the Denali Highway,an unpaved gravel road.
Travel time is approximately 9 hours (248 miles) including rest stops and time for lunch on your
own.

 

COACH:COPPER TO KENAI

Motorcoach:Copper River to Kenai Travel time is approximately 9 hours.

 

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We had a17-day Connoisseur land tour cancelled this summer (Fairbanks, Denali, McKinley, Kenai, Copper River).  So, no experience (other than planning and anticipating) but I read a lot of trip reports before deciding to book a Connoisseur tour.  We were really looking forward to having everything taken care of (meals, transfers, gratuities), traveling with the same group of people and having a dedicated tour guide and driver.
 

That being said, we’re going back next summer but decided to work with a different company/DIY and customize a 13-day land tour before hopping on a southbound cruise.

 

Reasons why we chose not to rebook a Connoisseur tour in 2021:  

1.  the amount of time spent on buses.  Going from The Kenai lodge to Copper River involving a 13 hour bus trip is one example.  The 10-day land portion only had one train segment!  Rest of the time—motorcoach..... We decided if we were going to sit then let it be on a train with a drink in hand!

2.  Able to stay at some non-Princess wilderness lodges for different experiences—Denali Backcountry Lodge, Kenai Wilderness Lodge.  Princess didn’t have these options.

3.  Food.  We normally only eat one big meal a day so we were concerned about how much food we would waste on the connoisseur tour (no frig, microwave for leftovers, etc).  We live in California near SF.  Food prices don’t seem high to us when reviewing menus at the Princess lodges.  They look like California prices....


 


 

 

 

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59 minutes ago, Thrak said:

IF you start at Copper River - cruise first - then you have the Catamaran ride and the bus ride when you go to Denali. IF you are going the other way - land tour first - the trip from Denali to Copper River is the long bus ride. Then there is another long trip from Copper River to Kenai. The lodges themselves were great as were the employees at the lodges. At Copper River we re-connected with two employees who had been on our 28 day Hawaii/South Pacific cruise. (Because they were Princess employees they sailed as passengers for only port fees and taxes.)

 

Having two long bus trips was too much - my wife didn't enjoy that portion at all although there was some good scenery along the way.

 

From our Travel Summary:

 

COACH:DENALI TO COPPER RIVER

Motorcoach:Denali to Copper River In an effort to provide you with the best Alaska experience in
the shortest period of time,this day of travel is extensive. Dress in layers and bring any
necessary medication.  Much of your travel today is on the Denali Highway,an unpaved gravel road.
Travel time is approximately 9 hours (248 miles) including rest stops and time for lunch on your
own.

 

COACH:COPPER TO KENAI

Motorcoach:Copper River to Kenai Travel time is approximately 9 hours.

 

Yes, the bus ride was long and the lunch stop was interesting, but it was an adventure. I think I would do it again.

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4 hours ago, Colorado Coasty said:

Yes, the bus ride was long and the lunch stop was interesting, but it was an adventure. I think I would do it again.

 

One bus ride is okay. It was having two of them fairly close together that was too much. If we are going to do one bus ride we will take Kenai over Copper River. At Copper River we had a "nice hotel room". At Kenai we had a "separate lodge with a porch and chairs on the porch as well as a wood stove inside and all the pre-cut wood we wanted". The view from main room at the lodge at Copper River was great. The view from our porch and outside chairs at Kenai was also great - but it was "our view". There was a good dinner at the restaurant at Copper River lodge. We had a catered dinner at Kenai - just for our group - with beer and wine included and the dinner was cooked perfectly.

 

A Note Regarding Staff:

The staff at both lodges was excellent. We had an issue at Copper River but the staff not only handled the issue but went well above and beyond in order to make it - not only right - but better. 

 

The Issue:

We tried to book a river raft excursion when we got to Copper River but it was too early in the season so the water was too low. Instead, we booked a fjord cruise out of Valdez. The staff person who sold us the tickets said to meet the bus at 8:00 AM. The printing on the tickets said to meet the bus at 8:00 AM. The bus left at 7:00 AM without us and nobody even looked for us - which is unusual for a Princess excursion.

 

When we asked where the bus was the desk person got really uncomfortable and said it had left and we would have to wait for a manager to come in to help us with the issue. We sat in the lobby for an hour and finally a manager came in, talked at the desk a bit, and then came over to speak with us. It seems that the excursion had always left at 8:00 AM but it had been changed recently so the tickets were showing the wrong info and the person who sold us the tickets had no idea as it was her second day. The manager was embarrassed and extremely apologetic.

 

Resolution to the issue:

The manager refunded our money. She had an employee who often drove excursions take us on a private trip to Valdez for the day - we couldn't do the cruise excursion - and he was at our disposal for the day. He gave us private stops at all of the awesome spots the regular bus would have just gone past while the driver "pointed them out" and we got private viewing and commentary at the stops. He was extremely knowledgeable and the stops were awesome. We toured around Valdez and had lunch and beers - on Princess. The guy who drove us was one of the younger people we had done the 28 day cruise with the year before. It was great. The manager also cancelled our "short hike" at Kenai the next day - and refunded the cost - and then substituted - at no charge at all - a more expensive and, in our opinion, much better fjord cruise near Kenai. It was actually one of the highlights of the trip. So... We got our money back, a private day trip, and the better cruise excursion. Also, when we checked into our cabin at Kenai, we found a bottle of wine and a card waiting for us. The way they handled the mess up was amazing.  This is the meaning of "above and beyond customer service" one can find with Princess.

 

Edited by Thrak
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Thank you for all the responses, it is really helping us make a decision. The 17 day tour we are looking at is land first and then southbound cruise. It includes 2 nights in Fairbanks, 2 in Denali, 2 in Mckinley, 2 in Kenai and 2 in Copper River and then the catamaran to the ship. We did a DIY land tour in 2015 visiting  all the places on the tour except Fairbanks and Copper River. It was a wonderful trip but thought that this time we would let someone else do all the driving but a 8 or 9 hour bus ride sounds a little too long. Thrak, was your long uncomfortable ride from Denali to Copper River or from Kenai. 

 

The 15 day tour has land first and then southbound cruise. The land portion is 2 nights in Fairbanks, 2 in Denali, 1 in Mckinley and 3 in Kenai. We are still trying to decide. Is the scenery in Copper River any different than other parts of Alaska or was there anything outstanding about it to make the long bus ride worthwhile. Thank you

 

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12 hours ago, ambelina said:

Thank you for all the responses, it is really helping us make a decision. The 17 day tour we are looking at is land first and then southbound cruise. It includes 2 nights in Fairbanks, 2 in Denali, 2 in Mckinley, 2 in Kenai and 2 in Copper River and then the catamaran to the ship.

 

Now that sounds like the way to do it. Catching the catamaran from Copper River to the ship with only one long ride between Kenai and Copper River. Between McKinley and Kenai shouldn't be as long and "might" even be via train. I'd have to check it out to see. I think my wife would maybe go for that. When is this (theoretically) scheduled to happen? We love Alaska. 🤩

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