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Royal Princess part 2 - Denali Land Tour

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Hi everyone, here are the details and observations of the land tour.   It was a beautiful trip.  



Princess Cruise / Land Tour – August 19 – Royal Princess.  This is a review of the Land Tour – the Cruise report is in an earlier post. We did the Connoisseur escorted tour – 2 nights at Denali, 2 nights Talkeetna and final night in Anchorage

Husband and I, mid-fifties.  Our first multi night group type tour.   Pretty easy-going and manage to have a good time regardless of the circumstance.

We prefer vacationing independently; cruising / group touring is not our first choice.  We chose this vacation based on itinerary and time frame.

Never been to Alaska or Pacific North West.

I expect to have a great time on my vacations, but also expect that not everything will go as planned.  Being able to roll with the punches and enjoy every moment is important.  We thoroughly enjoyed Royal Princess and even with the handful of things I didn’t like I would cruise with them again – and on Royal again.


Connoisseur Land Tour

Overall what we liked:

·         Convenient and easy way to see the interior of Alaska

·         Escorted tour was more expensive – but nice to have prepaid meals and to have someone watching out for you.

·         Luggage transfers and room transfers handled beautifully

·         Narrators on all transportation – this was great.  However – some folks did talk a LOT which I found tiring.


Overall what we didn’t like:

·         Long transportation days.  Very much a drive around on a bus / train type tour.

·         Became saturated with all the scenery – for us - I think we should have picked a different itinerary and I will discuss below.


Special Circumstances

·         Two things happened which may be influencing my review of this tour. 

o   1) Upon arrival in Denali we received word from our son that our beloved dog was critically ill and we had to make the decision to euthanize her. 

o   2) My husband – very healthy never sick - picked up a cold on the last day of the cruise.  He continued to get worse with a respiratory type virus.  He was diagnosed with Pneumonia the morning after we arrived home. 



Day 1 – Train to Whittier

·         Disembarkation was organized and easy.

·         You send some luggage to your final destination (Anchorage), some luggage to your next night and you can carry 1 piece each with you.  Luggage handling was great and always showed up.

·         Train Ride was long.  9 hours with a motor transfer to lodge.  Because we were doing the National Parks Tundra tour the next day – I am not sure it was worth 2 days of scenery. 

·         Meal on train was included and food was good quality and well prepared. 

·         Seating in the dining car was very cramped.  I am a larger woman, but not morbidly obese.  I am active and fit.  I carry my weight in my abdomen.  The tables were very narrow and uncomfortable.


Denali Park Lodge

·         We had good cell service

·         We were in a very nice building with its own lobby, small bar a viewing deck of mountains and river.  Room was spacious and clean.  However, it was a good walk to the main lobby – but they had plenty of shuttles.

·         Dining venues were crowded, reservations were needed or a long wait.  First night we had no reservations, but tour director made them for second night.  We ate at the counter service restaurant first night and it was delicious.  The other restaurant we tried was salmon king and it was also very good. 

·         Lodge had a small village of gift shops that were locally owned and fun to browse through.


Denali Excursions - The main reason to go here is to go on one of the national park service tours into Denali.  A few things to know:

·         There are two options – the Tundra Tour (8 hours) or the Natural History (4 hours)

·         We did the Tundra Tour. It was a beautiful day and we saw Denali completely opened up top to bottom.  This is very rare to see the entire mountain. Be warned – you may drive for 8 hours and see clouds / fog.

·         We saw some wildlife.  This is a LARGE park and not a zoo.  We saw a bear, some moose, caribou, lots of birds and sheep. 

·         Plenty of breaks - but hold off the coffee 😊

·         Breaks were quick, I would have like more time to look around.

·         Viewing was difficult out the bus windows – they had a sash across the middle.

·         Polychrome Pass – this is very scary. You are driving on a narrow road with 1,200 feet drop and no guard rails.   (We have driven mountain ranges in Europe – but this was much scarier)

·         Looking back - I would have picked either the train or the tundra tour.  (Motor Coach is about half the time, but not as scenic).  If I took the train – then I would have done the 4-hour Tundra – which also avoided the high pass.  

·         Packed lunch available at the coffee shop for the tour was awful.  The tour does provide snacks, we should have just bought a couple extra granola bars.

·         If you are on the escorted tour, you can use your meal voucher at the coffee stand and get additional snacks etc. this was a great way to get a quick breakfast and some treats for the road.


Mt McKinley Lodge

·         Least favorite property.  Parts of the lodge were run down and worn out. I was rather shocked.  State of the carpets were appalling.( some were stapled ???? )

·         Dining was a step below other venues.  Service was inconsistent.  Unless you ate at off times, long waits for the restaurants.  I preferred the 20320 grill over the finer dining North Fork.

·         Cloudy and didn’t even get a peek at the mountain, that may have made it more interesting for us.

·         Extremely hilly although there are shuttles, but you waste a lot of time riding around if you take one.

·         Only rainy day entire trip and with DH being sick, we took this as a rest day.

·         It’s in the middle of nowhere.  The next hamlet Talkeetna is an hour away. I could not face getting on a bus again for any reason.

·         There are a few low cost / free activities around the lodge, but again my husband was getting sicker - so we hung out in the room.

·         Did see the Aurora Symphony – which is a slide show of the Northern Lights set to music.  This was boring.  However, we did realize that we did not need to spend $$$ to try to see northern lights.  If we ever managed it by chance fine.

·         Best thing here was the fireside hosted patio.  It was an outdoor bar with firepits, chairs and a musician.  It was wonderful to sit by the fire and have a drink and listen to music.  There was a young bald eagle in a nearby tree who kept swooping around.  Very cool. 



·         We had a bonus stop on our transfer back to the Iditarod headquarters.  We took a sled dog ride on the “dirt” sled (cart on wheels) for $10 and saw sled dog puppies.   This was great fun, very inexpensive.

·         Captain Cook Hotel was very nice, we had a room with a view of the bay. Too bad there wasn’t a casual eatery in the hotel since we were tired at this point.

·         2 blocks up there was a really good pizza place called Uncle Joe’s eatery. Great pizza, good prices.

·         Ate dinner at Glacial Brewing Company. Called for a reservation, told me they were full, we went early at 5:30 and ate at the bar with no wait.  Delicious food.

·         Transfer to airport went great.  Security was slow in Anchorage - so plan accordingly.


Overall great trip.  I’d go on another Alaskan cruise, but maybe rethink the land version.  If you do go to Alaska be sure to buy trip insurance with medical evacuation included.  At times you are far from facilities and may need to be flown to Anchorage for care.

Princess did a nice job with the escorted tour.  Not our usual way to travel (we tend to center in one town or area for several days and immerse ourselves.) but it was convenient and managed well.



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most people suggest doing the land tour first ... as it is the most physical , then 'relaxing' on the cruise

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That was our original intent, but it cost a lot less for us to do it in reverse. ( and fit in better with our schedules )

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Did this in 2016 we loved it. Did the land first and actually had a bear walk up to a vehicle and get up on his hind legs in Denali. Was a great photo as well as the rest of the trip. We went up early and flew into Barrow, got the ultimate best pictures of Mt. Denali, 36,000 feet in the air. The top was above the clouds  actually put the picture on canvas when we got home.


Enjoyed every bit of the three weeks even if we only had two days of sunshine, the rest was all rain. But the rain did cut down on foot traffic which meant easier sightseeing. Would do it again without even thinking twice.

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Thank you for your review.  In July we did a Denali Explorer 6 day land cruise with cruise after.  Best way to do it.  With that one our train ride was 5.5 hours.  Can't imagine 9 hours and then the next day an all day bus tour!  


I have read on here how everyone seems to love their connoisseur tours.  I read how their guide makes the reservations at the restaurants.  Not sure why yours did not do that on the first night.  In July we had no issue with no reservations going around 6 pm or so to a restaurant.


Only other comment I have is that our room at the McKinley Lodge was the nicest of all three lodges we stayed at!  Our room was completely renovated with what looked like new carpeting, furniture, etc.  My dh did not like that we had no internet in the room.  He asked at front desk and they said it is because they are in the wilderness.  My dh replied he has had internet in the middle of the Pacific Ocean 😉 


Sorry about your dog and that your dh got sick at the end.  Sickness has happened to my dh 2x with one time turning into pneumonia after we got home.  That was on another cruise line.


I hope as time passes the good far outweighs the bad.

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I did love the land tour, and you are right the long train and the bus were hard back to back.  One of the problems with the restaurants is that one of the Princess Lodges ( Kanaii ) got displaced by the fires - so I think they were busier than expected.  The tour director wasn;t able to make the reservations because we were getting in late.  Then our first night in McKinley we had to share a table.  We got the most obnoxious couple imaginable and left early.  ( Although our sharing a cruise ship table was much better ).  


If I ever went again  - I would go in  reverse ! 




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