Author: Bob Zimmerman
Date of Trip: July 2012
We signed up for the Princess Cruise seven day cruise from Vancouver to Whittier and then a four day cruise tour to Denali National/State Park via train and motor coach. When we disembarked in Whittier are train was waiting for us. Princess is well organized so getting our bags from ship to train to hotel is all handled seamlessly. All you do is put your bags out the night before. The train ride from Whittier to Denali National Park is ten hours long which makes for a very long day indeed. Fortunately we had a sunny clear day so the surroundings were very beautiful. Unfortunately the train was very crowded and we were seated at a table directly across from the bar area which limited our access to the scenary on the other side of the train. We had friends with us so that made the time pass a little quicker. The train ride is slow and the narrative from our Princess host while informative, got irritating at times, when we just wanted quiet solitude to enjoy the beauty of Alaska. Upon our arrival at Princess Wilderness Lodge in Alaska our rooms were ready for us as we had been given our room and keys when we boarded the train in Whittier. The rooms are very nice by National Park standards and very roomy. We went to the dining room and had a nice dinner and cocktails, both very good. The train travel made us tired so we retired early. The next day we grabbed a quick breakfast of scones and latte’s and boarded our bus for the four hour naturalist tour around a small section of the park. It was nice and was included in the cost of our tour. We got to hear a local indian tribe spokesperson talk about how her tribe lives partly off the land by hunting and party by doing what we all do, shopping at Costco, Wall Mart, etc. It was an interesting talk. We also got closeup view of moose but not much else wildlife. We then took a quick lunch before boarding buses to transport us southwest to Denali Mt. McKinley Lodge which is located an hours drive from Talkeetna and is 40 miles from Mt. McKinley. The day we got there the mountain was not visable, but we enjoyed the lodge which is very nice, and somehow we lucked out when Princess upgraded us to a suite. We had dinner at the 20,320 Restaurant which was pretty good and not too pricey. We also had breakfast there once and breakfast at the lodge once. Both were good. On July 4th the lodge was decorated in red, white, & blue, and was very festive. On the fourth we took an extra cost excursion into Talkeetna to visit a dog sledding training facility. We lucked out because free of charge we also got to see a small town 4th of July parade which was very nice. We then walked over to where the dog sled tour place was located and we were loaded into two small vans to take us to where the dogs were being trained. Upon arrival we were surprised to see 60 dogs all chained up with 25 foot long chains that allowed them to run around their individual dog houses in a 25′ radius. One of my friends was very taken aback by the sight of this because he viewed the chaining as animal cruelty and he refused to go on the sled ride. The tour guide should have explained beforehand what we were going to see so we would not have been so surprised. That said, the dogs were all excited to see us because they knew 1/3 of them would be selected to take us on the sled ride, which is part of their training. The sled isn’t really a sled but a golf cart and although the dogs are running up ahead of the cart, they really aren’t pulling it with their own power. My wife was sort of disappointed by that but it was fun nonetheless. At the halfway point of the run, the dogs were allowed to cool off by jumping into one of the local creeks and that was a sight to behold. Upon completion of the run we were allowed to play with the puppies they were raising and then we got a briefing on the major sled run from Anchorage to Nome every year which has a $ 600,000 prize for the winning team. That was very interesting but we should have been given the briefing at the start of our tour rather than the end. Other then that it was a fun tour and the dogs were not mistreated except my wife pointed out one of the problems was not enough shade for the animals.
After that tour we ate at one of the local recommended restaurants which was pretty good, and then headed by to the lodge. On the way back our bus driver said we were in luck, that Mt. McKinley could be seen from the lodge. This happens all too rarely and some visitors come to Alaska and never see the majestic mountain. When we arrived we all ran over to the viewing spot at the back of the lodge and shot lots of photos while the mountain was still visible. The next day we checked out and took a three hour bus trip to Anchorage, where we spent the afternoon at the beautiful Anchorage City Museum which has a fantastic exhibition of all of the native tribes in Alaska. They also did a great job on the entire history of Alaska from the ice age land bridge. On the top floor they had an exhibit of the photography of one of the great photographers of Alaska who was in the Air Force. That was also worth while. Highly recommend this museum. We spent one night at the Captain Cook hotel which has a nice lounge/restaurant on the 20th floor to view the city. Great place for a cocktail. We had dinner on the ground floor at Fletcher’s a pub like restaurant which was also good. Oh, and Princess had upgraded us to a corner suite at the Captain Cook too, so we took advantage and ordered room service on our last day in Alaska where we could take in the beauty of the mountains surrounding Anchorage. Princess had our luggage loaded on our bus to the airport and we were on our way home. A nice cruisetour.