CruiseSource is excited to welcome Tonya Hodgson to our growing list of cruise experts sharing their knowledge and experience with our readers. Tonya is Luxury Cruise Specialist at Cruise Holidays of Anchorage. She loves Alaska so much that she’s cruised Alaska 3 times! In a series of posts, Tonya will share her latest Alaska Cruisetour experience with great insight and photos… If you need help booking your Alaska Cruise, why not work with an agent who calls Alaska home!
The start of the 10-Night Island Princess Alaska Cruisetour
Thursday (August 12, 2010)
It was so nice starting my cruise tour in Anchorage! It only took me 15 minutes to get from my house to the Captain Cook and I knew if there was something I forgot that I could give my husband a call and he could just bring it down to me before the morning. The Captain Cook has a special room set aside for cruise guest so that they can check into the hotel and the cruise tour in one stop. When you check in they give you a packet of information about the land portion of your tour. On the outside of the packet was all the information that I would need such as when my luggage had to be ready the next morning, and when I needed to be downstairs to catch the transfer to the train. On the inside was a letter from my guide with all of his contact information, my room key for the Captain Cook, and two sets of baggage tags. One tag was for the bag that would travel with me to Talkeetna and Denali, and the other was for the bag with all my cruise clothes. (No point in lugging around two formals and four pairs of shoes if I didn’t have too) Our escorted cruise tour began with a group dinner, and it was a great way to get to know some of the 37 people that I would be traveling with for the next 11 days. Now if I was just better remembering names!!
After dinner it was time for bed since my luggage had to be ready to go by 6:20 am the next morning. Since I wasn’t bringing a bag with me on the train big enough for all my makeup that meant I needed to be ready to go by 6:20 am as well!
My impressions thus far are very positive. I am really excited to get a chance to see interior Alaska from the viewpoint of a visitor, and to do some of the things that I haven’t had a chance to do in the seven years I have lived here. I think it is easy to forget what a great state we live in.
Friday (August 13, 2010)
Princess Alaska Rail
Getting up at 5:30am to have your bags packed and ready by 6:20am seems a lot like work! The Captain Cook hotel is a beautiful hotel. I didn’t sleep well though. I am not sure if it had to do with the fact that I am not use to sleeping in a twin sized bed, or if room was a little too warm (the hotel doesn’t have air and I slept with the window closed because downtown Anchorage can be a little noisy. )The guy who was picking up my bags knocked on my door at 6:20am on the dot. So it is a good thing I didn’t sleep through my alarm. After the luggage was picked up I finished blow drying my hair and went downstairs in search of coffee. By 7:00am I was downstairs ready to get on my transfer to the Alaska Rail Road. It only took a couple of minutes by bus to get to the rail station but surprisingly the train was late. Our bus driver helped to pass the time and he was hysterical! He passed along all sorts of Alaska facts that even I coming from Anchorage didn’t know. I think in his off time he must have searched the “Anchorage Museum” for the most trivial and obscure knowledge he could find.
Getting on the Princess Rail car once it got to the station was very seamless. On our train boarding pass we were given a table number. Two of the seats faced forward and the other two sat backwards around a nice sized table. Each car had a bartender and a guide to point out interesting things along the way. I jumped into the forward facing seat to increase my chances of not getting sick from the motion. Surprisingly there is quite a bit of motion on the train, but the view was great! I was surprised how different everything looked. We didn’t see any wildlife but the mountain (Denali if you are from Alaska Mt. McKinley if you are from someplace else) did come out just as we were pulling into the Talkeetna station.
Mt. McKinley Princess Lodge: Outside of Talkeetna, Alaska
Living in Anchorage, I have stopped at the Mt McKinley Princess Lodge for a burger on the way to Fairbanks a couple of times. Staying there was a much different experience. I do want to say from the outset that my impressions of the hotel are somewhat colored by the fact that they put me in a handicapped accessible room. I don’t know why but every time I stay in an accessible room I don’t have a good stay. I think it has something to do with the fact that there is no where to put anything in the bathroom. The resort itself is lovely. It has a number of different buildings. Ours was the furthest away from the main lodge so I got some much needed exercise going to and from my room.
One of the things I like the best about the Mt McKinley Princess is that if Denali is out this is by far the best lodge to see it from. The thing to note is that while the lodge is located in Denali state park, there is no access to Denali national park from the Mt. McKinley lodge. I would love to say that I took advantage of the many different trails surrounding the property, but in truth I was so beat I went to my room after a quick bite of lunch and took a long and much needed nap.
For diner I went to the restaurant in the lodge. I had a peppercorn steak and the friend who I ate dinner with had the Alaska king crab legs. One word sums up the dining experience “YUM”. It wasn’t cheap but it was really good.
We had to have our bags outside our room by 7:00 am, so after dinner I went back to my room to turn in early. That seems to be the theme for this tour early to bed early to rise.
Saturday (August 14th, 2010)
Denali Princess Lodge: Denali National Park
We took a bus from one lodge to the next. What I enjoyed about the bus was it put you that much higher than riding in a car so you actually had a much better view that I would have thought. The morning started out with rain. It is Alaska and we a wet summer so it isn’t really that surprising. I didn’t pack any shorts for the land part of the trip so true to form it was warm when we hit Denali. We got to the Denali Princess Lodge around lunch time our rooms were ready! I threw my backpack in my room and went to the activities desk in the main lodge to sign up for white water rafting. I even talked a couple of ladies in our group to join me. Princesses rafting concessionaire sends a bus to the lodge to pick everyone up and take them to their location, where we were fitted into dry suits, signed waivers and were given the all important safety briefing. After all that was concluded we were split into two groups the ones who got to help paddle their rafts and the ones who didn’t we were then put back on the bus and taken to the launching location where the rafts put into the water. White water rafting was a BLAST. I wish I could insert a picture here of us soaking wet laughing our heart out, but there was no way to hold on to the raft and take pictures. I would do it again in a heart beat. The only thing I would do differently is I would have brought a dry pair of socks to put on after rafting as mine did get a little wet.
That evening we went to see the “Song of Denali” show at the Princess Lodge. The food is served family style, and the musicians are college students who come to Alaska every summer just to put on the show.
Sunday (August 15th 2010)
Denali Princess Lodge day 2
Had to catch the Denali Wilderness Tundra tour but as 7:00 am. This is the 8 hour tour that goes the furthest into the park. I was glad that we had the early morning time slot as I figured the animals would more likely be active in the morning than the afternoon. (The bus driver said that this was a common misconception though.) There isn’t a bathroom on the bus, but they are no longer using old school buses so it wasn’t as uncomfortable as it could have been. This was my first time going into the park.
Unlike most of the national parks I have been to in the lower 48 Denali restricts access by car, and I have put in for the Denali road lottery every year I have lived in Alaska and never been picked so this was a real treat! My goal for the day was to see Mt McKinley. I have seen the great one from my house but I wanted to see it close up. Mt McKinley is so large that it makes its own weather so not everyone gets a chance to see this wonder.
If you are wondering if we were among the roughly 20% who do get to see the mountain while in the park, the answer is no. The whole mountain wasn’t visible during our tour. We caught glimpse of it but it never showed its complete self.
Have questions about cruising Alaska? Feel free to leave questions in the comments or email Tonya directly at need2sailaway [at] msn [dot] com.