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Trip Review: Connoisseur Land & Sea (RB8) June 19 - July 4, 2018

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I feel bad that you were unable to see the TREE HOUSE and it certainly wasn’t from your lack of trying. DH and I watched the episode on TV as well and are excited to see it someday. I am so surprised they don’t have golf carts or other types of transportation that will get people to the tree house. That is disappointing actually. Over a year ago, we booked this exact 15 day connoisseur tour/cruise you just did. Ours was leaving last week on June 29th and we would of just boarded the ship yesterday. We canceled our trip because the arthritis in my knee was getting so bad that it was starting to severely limit my activities. We didn’t want to take such a fabulous trip and feel limited by my knee so we canceled the trip and will do it in the future. Knowing how painful joint pain can be, I give you so much credit for attempting to walk there. On the bright side, I did have a total knee replacement this past January and after the many months of rehab and now almost 6 months post-op, I am so happy I did it and wished I didn’t wait so long. So with all of this said, your review is really helping build excitement for when we re-book our trip. We are elite with Princess and in all our cruises, we have never done a cruise tour so it’s nice to hear that it is worth the money.

 

Aww thanks. Yes, we, too, were disappointed we weren't able to get to the tree house. And I agree, they need the shuttle to get closer to the tree house. But there is still a steep gravel hill leading up to it. Perhaps if that is paved some day they can get a shuttle/cart up there. I think the whole thing is too new for them and they are still working on the logistics.

Actually these joint issues came on us both fast and hard. We thought about canceling, but I had put so dang much work and research into it all for so long, and we were so looking forward to it, so we said we'd go and do what we could. DH and I talked about it since returning on July 4th, and we both felt that really the only thing we missed out on were taking some hikes. At Mendenhall glacier in Juneau, we were unable to walk down to the glacier and Nugget Falls, but we were happy with seeing both from the Visitor's Center. All in all, it was a bit of a struggle at times; the cane helped me a lot, but we did okay and are so happy we went.

Glad to hear your operation and rehab went well. It's what we hear from a lot of people. We are not ones, who like others, waited too long, but we are going to be really happy to be on the other side of these surgeries. For DH a knee and for me two hip replacements. I keep saying next year I'll be running marathons LOL!:')

I hope you re-book and try this land tour. It's pricey to be sure, but Alaska is pricey. We felt it was worth the money.

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Day #6 June 25, 2018

Chilly this morning--only 44, windless and cloudy.

This is the one day in the land portion of our trip where we have nothing planned, and boy was that nice! DH and I just chilled the day away and rejuvenated.

 

We walked down to the main lodge to the Rod and Reel restaurant for breakfast. (If you are here and do not have a meal voucher and do not want to go to the restaurant, the only other spot is in the reception area, and it's a window through which you can buy coffee and sweet rolls and snacks). Both DH and I had the corned beef hash and poached eggs, again excellent. Each morning the restaurant offers a buffet breakfast as well with all the usual fare.

 

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After breakfast we decided to call the shuttle and have it take us down to the Kenai River. You can walk down to the river, but it's a steep hill. There is an easy trail at the river and three trails off the main trail with with wooden decks built out onto the river. The river is a beautiful, fast-flowing river that is a gorgeous blue-green color--much unlike the waters we have seen so often so far that are mainly dark grey due to glacial silt. We found two of the three deck areas, and in one of them watched a guide with two other people in a boat fishing.

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At the bottom of the hill and at the end of the looping trail where we began is a house phone to call for the shuttle again. We were picked up and delivered to our room where DH built a nice fire, and we just put our feet up and relaxed --happy to have no other plans for the day.

 

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Great review! We are doing a shorter cruisetour in September 2019, booked on the Coral Princess. Your photos are wonderful.

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This evening Michael hosted a cocktail party on the deck and bought everyone a drink. It was a beautiful evening--partly sunny, no wind, and no rain. The setting is breathtaking. Huge mountains all around us and the rushing Kenai River below us.

 

We went in to have dinner at 7 PM. This evening we were assigned to dine with a couple from Jersey, the island in the English Chanel between Britain and France. We have met up with them multiple times on this tour, and they are a delightful couple. This evening DH had the halibut, and I had the lasagna. The lasagna was very good, but the halibut was excellent, as usual. John had a great looking pork chop. Janet had the shrimp cocktail for a starter. John had the crab appetizer, and I had the salad. I think DH ordered the calamari as a starter.

 

Halibut on mashed potatoes with shredded onion bits on top

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I know the lasagna appears over done, but it was really very good

 

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Crab appenhance

 

 

Calamari

 

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Great review! We are doing a shorter cruisetour in September 2019, booked on the Coral Princess. Your photos are wonderful.

 

Thank you!

We don't have any special camera equipment at all, but the food sure looks good, doesn't it? ;)

Next up after the land tour review, I will write a review of our 7 days on the Coral, southbound from Whittier to Vancouver.

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Day #7 June 26, 2018

 

This morning dawned bright and beautiful with lots of su and 50 degrees climbing into the 60's today.

We decided to have the buffet breakfast this morning rather than ordering from the menu. They offered scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, breakfast potatoes, cooked oatmeal, cereals, yogurt, granola, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and make-your-own toast machine. As with most buffets, it was all about room temperature. A better option is to take advantage of the made to order breakfast.

 

We then waited in the lobby for our coach bus to the Kenai Fjords Boat Tour. We booked this through Princess as soon as it became available on our Personalizer as I knew this was the one excursion we wanted to take. Great reviews. New Princess requirements include you pay for it when you book it (many months out). You can cancel it up to three days before. A couple tried to cancel the tour the morning of and despite asking several people at reception/tour desk and in several different ways, the answer was a no. I am not sure how long they take people signing up for the trip. We had two full buses going from the Kenai lodge. The boat holds about 200 people.

 

Note: One question I had posed on CC beforehand regarded booking private excursions from the lodges. We are DIYers, as I mentioned before, and always book small, private excursions. The answers I received were basically no--the lodges are far too remote. This is not accurate. At Denali there is an area directly across the highway from the lodge that offers various private venues including fly fishing and helicopter rides. There was also a "stand" nearby where young people had multiple bikes for rent. Kenai is the remotest lodge, and I paid particular attention on the drive in and out of the area and saw several, small, private signs along the side of the road for fishing guides and rafting trips etc. The replies I received on CC also included the idea that Princess would forbid outsiders to come onto the Princess properties. I can tell you that at Denali, the driveways are wide open and front a busy highway with private cars coming and going all over the place. And even at Kenai, there is no way to stop anyone from driving onto the property. There are no manned gates or anything like that. In fact, Micheal mentioned that a lot of locals come to eat at the Rod and Reel since it's the nicest restaurant in the area. (Kenai also has a RV park to one side of the road on the way onto the property along with a little camp store and laundry.) So....if you are interested in a private company taking you fishing or rafting etc, go ahead and look into it. Discuss with the company being picked up at the Princess lodge--at worst at McKinley you might have to walk across the street to hitch up with them. I don't think there'd be any problems at all, and I'm pretty sure the cost would be a lot less than Princess charges, and for sure involved a lot fewer people. This Kenai Fjord excursion through Princess was $249 pp.

 

Not knowing what sort of weather and temps we'd encounter, we armed ourselves in layers and brought along hats, gloves and Dramamine. Fortunately, we had great weather. Lots of sun and calm waters. It did become cloudy in the afternoon, but no rain, and the water remained calm.

 

The coach bus took us one hour to Seward, and there we boarded the touring ship. The only advice I was able to find regarding where to sit was: on the ground level and near an outside door. Most seating was three seats facing three seats with a table in between. Despite the seats flipping up, it's tight. DH and I didn't want to sit in two outside seats as we knew the people sitting on the inside seats would be wanting to jump in and out as wildlife presented itself outside in the water. And vice versa. We didn't want to disturb others on the end if we sat on the inside seats. What to do? We grabbed what looked like the only two seat table in the covered, bottom floor. It was directly across from a door leading to the deck outside. Perfect, right? Well, it was COLD and WINDY on the water, and every time the door opened--BRRR. Also, when the dang door was opened too wide, it caught and stayed open. I had to jump up multiple times to unhook it and close the door. There was some seating in the inside upper level of the boat, and that was snatched up immediately by people in front of us, but again, the seating was the same upstairs with the three seats facing three seats over a table. There were also outside chairs, and since it was a beautiful sunny day at the dock, many people sat there. However, as soon as the boat started to go, it got cold and windy up there outside. AND when lunch was served, all those people outside were herded inside and told to find random seats to sit so they could eat lunch. I think if I went again, I'd take the same two seats. Putting up with a bit of cold and wind was no big deal overall. I was dressed for it for the day.

 

The tour was scheduled for 11 AM and left just a few minutes after. We got about 25 minutes away from the dock and into the fjord when the captain came on and made an announcement. He said, "Well, this is a new one on me, but we've been directed to return to the dock to pick up late passengers." All 200 people, almost in unison, said, "WHAT??"

Back we went and 8 - 10 people boarded. Then we were off again having wasted more than an hour's time of 190 people. Don't know what was up with that.

A little ways into the fjord, there was a flock of seagulls circling above the water. The captain said that is normally an indication there are whales feeding. And sure enough, five humpback whales were bubble netting. We got very close and got a few good pictures.

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Along the way the captain pointed out various rock formations and discussed how the fjord was created. Eventually, about 3 hours into the tour, we came to the turn around point: Holgate glacier (I think). It is enormous! We stayed at the glacier at least a half an hour with the boat turning around several times so that people standing on all sides and in the front and back could get a good and very close look. (The day we sailed into Glacier Bay, we were very glad we had been able to get this close to a glacier since we did not sail very close to them in Glacier Bay.) The glacier calved several times. Not huge pieces of ice, but enough to make quite a thunderous noise. One of the crew members dipped a net into the water and brought up a piece of glacial ice for everyone to look at and touch. This is the end of the fjord and the turn around point.

 

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It's difficult to comprehend in a photo how big glaciers are!

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was the boat easy to get on and off as I have some balance issues with moving targets like getting on some boats and on and off escalators - which we no longer do

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was the boat easy to get on and off as I have some balance issues with moving targets like getting on some boats and on and off escalators - which we no longer do

 

Yes, definitely.

I walked on and off and around the boat using a cane.

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thanks - your posting may a deciding factor in booking either the 12 day or going for now the 15 day with that excursion - which looks amazing...much appreciated :D

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As we were approaching the dock again, the captain asked us to fill out a survey and he also reminded us of how lucky we were that day with the weather. He said the weather will likely change to being rainy with much choppier water--the usual scenario in the Kenai Fjord and the reason why so many people advised taking along Dramamine. We got back to the dock about 5:30, and the drive back to the lodge was one hour.

 

We returned to our little cabin in time to change and freshen up and then meet our assigned couple for dinner at 7:45. We were seated immediately, and by this third night there, pretty much knew the menu by heart. As I mentioned earlier, you can "swap out" one element for another and we ordered an appetizer and a salad with an entree (no dessert).

 

We were having a lovely time chatting with a couple from southern California, when I suddenly thought to myself, Shouldn't we have gotten some food by now? I glanced at my watch and it was 8:55--more than an HOUR after we were seated and had ordered. The dining room was never fully packed, and there were never people waiting in line for tables. I caught our waiter, and he mumbled something about he was trying to get the food out. About 10 minutes later, a man I assumed to be the restaurant manager, brought our appetizers to the table, apologized, and said he'd be sure to get our food out right away. I mentioned that we also had salads before our entrees, and he said Ok. We finished our appetizers, and the waiter brought our salads. We finished those, and the waiter brought out our main dishes: two prime rib and two halibut. All four were room temperature at best. None of the four of them were hot at all. This only happens when food sits in the window in the kitchen for a while. Certainly everything is hot when the chef plates the food. The dining room manager came over to ask us how our dinner was, and we said unfortunately, our dinners are cold. He apologized and offered to have them re-made, but by this time we had been sitting at the table for well over 2 hours, we were all exhausted from another long day, and we all just needed for this dinner to be over. The halibut dish at the Kenai is outstanding, and I had looked forward to having it one last time this evening. I was so disappointed that our last meal ended on that note.

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thanks - your posting may a deciding factor in booking either the 12 day or going for now the 15 day with that excursion - which looks amazing...much appreciated :D

 

If I remember correctly, the 12 day does not include the Kenai Princess Lodge??

It was a favorite of ours as was the excursion into the Kenai Fjord.

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you are correct...just the others

 

still deciding - need to make a decision soon for next summer:cool:

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Day #8 June 27, 2018

 

Day 8 is the transition day between land and sea. We needed to have our luggage out on our cabin porch at 8:30 AM and board our coach bus at 10 AM. We needed to remove all luggage tags except for the ones you might have with your name and address for the airlines, and put on the ones you or your TA printed from your Cruise Personalizer for your ship and cabin.

 

We were up in plenty of time to re-pack everything from the drawers and closet and to have a leisurely breakfast before we boarded the bus.

 

Today is also the day we say good bye to Michael and give him his well-deserved tip. The Tour Itinerary recommends $5 - $7 per day per person. Before the trip, DH and I had wondered what a tour director would do for us as we are pretty independent travelers. Well, as I've described, Michael did a lot. And the best way to put it is he anticipated our every need before we even knew we needed it. His tip from us was a handsome and heartfelt one.

 

It began to drizzle once we were on the bus, and we had a fair amount of rain along the way. Again, the only rain we had this whole trip so far were on our travel days.

 

Michael tried to point out several glaciers along the way since we were going through the Valley of Twelve Glaciers, but the clouds were very low, and the rain on the windows obscured almost everything.

 

As usual, Michael regaled us with lots of interesting information about what we were trying to see along the way, what we could expect onboard the ship, and all this peppered with a few good jokes. Nothing like an Irishman telling a good joke!

 

We made one stop at a small gift store before we got to the Whittier tunnel. This tunnel is one way. It is used for cars and trains, so our bus had a specific entry time. Our time slot was 12:30. We arrived about noon, and the bus had to pay $127 to take our busload of people through the tunnel. Cars are charged $27. They only charge you one way as you are going into Whittier, not on the way back. Also, buses loaded with people receive priority going through. Once the bus is empty and coming the other way, it will have to wait.

 

Because we were about a half hour early and as we waited for the green light to go into the tunnel, Michael decided he would sing us a song in his native Gaelic. Just like everything Michael does, it was charming and delightful. Then he talked our bus driver, a young woman who is native to Alaska, to sing the Alaskan Flag Song. She took an Alaskan flag out of her backpack, attached it to the front window, and talked about how the flag came into being. She told how the blue background is symbolic of the Alaskan state flower, the Forget-Me-Not, how the stars are aligned in the shape of the Big Dipper--part of the Ursa Major (the bear) constellation, and that the last symbol is another gold star representing the North Star directing people north.

 

Then in a beautiful voice she sang the Flag Song. It was all very lovely.

 

We received the green light and proceeded through the tunnel. When we emerged in about 6 minutes, we saw the Coral Princess docked in the harbor of the tiny town of Whittier. The bus pulled directly up to the door of the embarking center. We were asked to take our passports and e-tickets inside and retrieve our room keys. All of this took approximately 5 minutes. We went through security, and we were quickly on the ship. Princess prides itself on this service: when they allow passengers on, the cabins are ready. We went to our room to drop off our backpack knowing our luggage would not arrive for a while, and we went off in search of a bit of lunch.

 

We had a wonderful 8 days on land, and we were now ready to embark on part 2 of our Alaskan adventure: 7 days at sea.

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Loving your review. We did a 13 day connoisseur tour in 2016 that did 2 days each at Denali and McKinley lodges. At McKinley we were lucky that ALL clouds disappeared from the mountain on the last day. My camera was packed so I only got a picture with the phone but it was amazing to see the whole mountain. enhance

 

 

We are planning to do another connoisseur tour that will be 15 days and include the Denali lodge plus Copper River and Kenai lodges. We visited Copper River lodge last year when on a 7 week camping trip but didn't actually stay there. We also visited the national park at Kenai but failed to visit the lodge. We want to actually stay in the lodges and explore a bit so the land tour would be great for us.

 

I am so pleased to be reading your review as it not only brings back wonderful memories but also give great information on the Kenai lodge we have never seen. Thank you for such a complete review of your land tour. It's a lot of time and effort on your part but it really is greatly appreciated.

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you are correct...just the others

 

still deciding - need to make a decision soon for next summer:cool:

 

Don't hesitate too long. The Connoisseur tours have limited numbers and do sell out.

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Loving your review. We did a 13 day connoisseur tour in 2016 that did 2 days each at Denali and McKinley lodges. At McKinley we were lucky that ALL clouds disappeared from the mountain on the last day. My camera was packed so I only got a picture with the phone but it was amazing to see the whole mountain. enhance

 

 

We are planning to do another connoisseur tour that will be 15 days and include the Denali lodge plus Copper River and Kenai lodges. We visited Copper River lodge last year when on a 7 week camping trip but didn't actually stay there. We also visited the national park at Kenai but failed to visit the lodge. We want to actually stay in the lodges and explore a bit so the land tour would be great for us.

 

I am so pleased to be reading your review as it not only brings back wonderful memories but also give great information on the Kenai lodge we have never seen. Thank you for such a complete review of your land tour. It's a lot of time and effort on your part but it really is greatly appreciated.

 

Thanks, Thrak.

Wow! Your photo is breathtaking and truly captures the jaw-dropping beauty that is interior Alaska.

I would love to stay at the Copper River lodge one day. When we were planning, I had wished there was a tour that included all four of the lodges.

Thank you for your kind words. I "talked notes" into emails each evening that I then sent to myself. There is no way a person can remember details even just days after returning. The review is taking up a lot of my time, but I am enjoying re-living it myself. Also, all the positive feedback I'm getting, and knowing it gives others pleasure, is appreciated, and helps them make decisions is the pay back I want to give for the hundreds of hours I've spent on CC gathering info.

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I'm really enjoying your review. While we haven't taken the Connoisseur tour previously, we will be on a land tour to Denali (for 2nd time) next month. We are excited. One of these days we'll be able to take more days away and do more inland! I just can't bring myself to do only an inland vacation--I love the cruise portion too much!

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