Date of Trip: June 2009
We took a south bound Alaska cruise with Holland America Line but we elected to book the land portion on our own, even though it mirrored the HAL package. I compared the two and HAL was about $1000 more. About the only difference I saw was some of the luggage handling. We flew direct into Anchorage and stayed at the Comfort Inn Ship Creek. We called for the complimentary shuttle, and had to wait quite a while because they only have one and it kept getting filled up before they got to us. This turned out to be the one and only problem we had the entire vacation. We booked this hotel because it was next door to the train station, but it was also on the banks of Ship Creek, a local salmon fishing stream. We walked the shore for a while and saw lots of fishermen fly-fishing. The hotel is just below the main city area, and I grabbed the shuttle up the hill where he let me off at a nice microbrewery. It was about 10 PM, but they were open and I got a great pizza and munched on it while walking back to the hotel. It is clean, has a free breakfast, and competitively priced (expensive, like all hotels in Anchorage in the summer).
The next morning we walked next door, with our luggage, to the train station. I had pre-purchased two tickets on the McKinley Explorer, the same train that HAL uses. Everyone else on there had booked the land package through HAL, and all were on our cruise. The car, one of two, was not even half full. It was a wonderful ride up with a great tour guide who was a local high school teacher. We saw bear and moose, got some great pictures, and had a nice lunch in the dinning car. We arrived in Denali at the scheduled time.
Everyone else on the train was staying in Glitter Gulch at the McKinley Chalet. We did not want to stay near all of the hustle bustle, and elected to stay at the McKinley Village Lodge, the only property outside of Glitter Gulch. It is 8 miles south at mile marker 231. A completely new main building (front desk, restaurant, gift shop) just opened in May, and all of the guest rooms were remodeled and upgraded. I had to book my own transportation from the train station in Denali to the hotel, and that cost me $18 per person. But they met me at the train and we never saw our luggage. They removed it from the train and it was in our room when we got to the hotel. However, this is the 50th anniversary of Alaska statehood, and the rooms at Denali were on a special rate. The second night only cost $50, a savings of over $200. I don’t think HAL passed this savings along at all. So we only paid a net total of $160 per night, including tax. This more than offset the cost of the transportation, and I did not have to handle my luggage at all. Our room at the hotel was great; it was in the rear of the building next to the main lodge overlooking the Nanna River. It was very scenic and we walked the river each night. On the opposite shore a fellow guest saw a mother moose and her twin calves one evening. The hotel offered free scheduled shuttle service to Glitter Gulch and we went back the first night and shopped some before returning around 6 PM. We had the hotel shuttle take us two miles south to the 229 Restaurant, at mile marker 229. I won’t say much about it, except that it is run by one of the best know chefs in Alaska and is probably one of the best meals I have ever had. Google it and read the reviews. It is not to be missed and you will be amazed to find an upscale, absolutely wonderful restaurant of this caliber in this remote location.
We booked the Tundra Wilderness Tour into the park and the next morning the bus picked us up at the hotel. We made a second stop at the McKinley Chalet and more people boarded and then we went on the 8 hour tour into the park. Great tour. We saw caribou, moose, bear, golden eagle, Dall sheep and had a fantastic encounter with a wolf that walked next to the bus carrying his dinner in his mouth for about 15 minutes. After taking us back to the hotel, we rested and checked our email on the free WiFi they have in the hotel lobby. Then we caught another shuttle that took us to the Cabin Nite Dinner Theater. At the conclusion we exited the theater and got right on our bus to return to the hotel. How easy can that be?
Our cruise was set to sail from Seward at 8 PM. Because of timing you have to take the bus back. The train does not leave Denali until mid day and you can not get to Seward in time to make embarkation the same day. The bus is actually faster than the train and it stops twice, so the trip is broken up. We booked seats on the Park Connection Bus, a large motorcoach with a bathroom, again just like HAL. The bus picked us up at the hotel at 8 AM and we stopped a few hours later at the lovely Talkeetna Resort for about 30 minutes. A few hours later we were in Anchorage where they deposited us at the Anchorage Muesum. We had tickets for admission and a 90 minute layover, allowing us to walk around downtown and have lunch. We decided to go back to the same microbrewery and have the same pizza again. We spent about 45 minutes in the museum and then reboarded the bus for the trip to Seward. We stopped once on the way at a rest stop/overlook and made one quick stop at a resort property in Seward before the bus stopped directly at the cruise terminal in front of the Statedam. All of our fellow passengers already had tickets on their luggage, thanks to HAL. We stayed on board and the bus took us about 30 yards to the luggage check in where we got our bags and dropped them off to be tagged with our name and cabin number and then walked back over to passenger check in (a big tent really). We breezed through check in and were on board about 20 minutes after leaving the bus. It was about 6:00 PM.