Alaskan Cruisetour Photo Gallery

Day 9/10 (May 25/26, 1999) - A Place in the Wilderness

Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge
Main building of the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge

Princess makes a big deal about the wilderness lodges it runs in Alaska (Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge, and Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge). We stayed at the Denali version of these lodges.

From reading the brochures and other literature, you half expect to find a rustic log cabin-style hotel out in the middle of the wilderness, with small, cozy public dens with roaring fireplaces to lounge in. While I didn't have very high expectations, the actual setting was even more disappointing than I was prepared for. In fact, we found little to recommend the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge.

The lodge is near the southern edge of the hotel city we saw just before disembarking the train. Wilderness? Not hardly. The town may be surrounded by majestic mountains and beautiful scenery, but it's still a town, and a town dedicated almost entirely to tourism.

The lodge is a complex of about 10 buildings constructed from logs - more likely, artificial logs, judging from appearance. The buildings all have a fairly boring sameness to them. Getting from one location to another in the complex is sort of like dodging taxis in New York City, thanks to heavy tour bus and tour van traffic and the crush of people. (Somehow, I found a moment with no traffic to take the first picture shown on this page.)

The one redeeming quality of the lodge is that it has an espresso bar. It wasn't great espresso, but it was certainly better than the coffee at the lodge or on the train.

Northern Exposure
Morning, day 10. Looking north from the observation platform behind the lodge. The building in the foreground is the restaurant. That's mostly new-fallen snow on the mountains that fell the night we were there. (The mountains shown here are the same mountains as seen in the previous photo.)

The rooms are small. No, that's not right - they're tiny. Not much larger than the staterooms on our cruise. The walls between rooms are nearly paper thin, judging by the noise we heard throughout our stay. If you're on the first floor, which we were, you will be subject to noise not unlike a torpedo being launched from a submarine - that's the sound of the people above you flushing their toilet.

You will not have your luggage while staying at the Denali lodge. Instead, you will need an overnight bag, as your luggage makes its way from Fairbanks to Anchorage (or vice versa).

Mom on restaurant deck, looking west toward Denali NP.

The food at the restaurant was reasonably good, but service was spotty at best, and the prices were quite expensive. In fact, I think the prices matched exactly the prices Princess tells you to expect while in Alaska. (My own experience in Anchorage was much more reasonable price-wise.)

We had dinner at the dinner theater on the premises of the lodge. This was a BIG mistake. For $35 each, you get an all-you-can-eat type of meal with salmon, barbecued ribs, veggies and potatoes, bread, ice tea, and dessert, plus the show. The food was at best so-so, with only the ribs striking me as being better than average. Coffee was bad and cold. Getting seconds on anything required yelling out a silly phrase while performing some sort of silly hand motions - the exact phrase and motions depending on your table.

Seating at the dinner theater was at wooden picnic tables. You were shown to your seat on entering the theater, and no argument was possible. We were told that we would sit where we told to sit, and we ended up facing away from the stage at the front of the theater. The benches were hard and unforgiving, and especially uncomfortable while the show took place.

The less said about the show, the better. It was just plain awful, with the acting very amateurish. The piano player played and sang with gusto, but was otherwise unremarkable.

If the whole experience wasn't bad enough, the performers/servers made it even more offensive toward the end of the evening with a quite blatant plea for tips. For $35 a person, Princess should certainly be able to pay these folks well enough that tips are not required.

Do yourself a favor and skip this show if you stay at the Denali lodge.

View South
Looking south from observation platform.

...from the lodge.


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Copyright © 1999, Pete Hanson