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Worldtraveler 4727

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

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Thanks for the detailed review. Been trying to figure out which cruise to take for our 50th anniversary in 2020 and this solved that dilemma for me! Hubby was stationed on Kodiak, AK with the US Navy when we got married and we lived there for almost a year. Been on two Alaska cruises and had talked about a cruisetour but this review and caribill's made up my mind. What better way to celebrate 50 years than where it all started! We are thinking about going several days (a week??) early and taking the ferry to Kodiak and back then starting the land tour portion. My TA is probably going to have grey hair before I get all the details nailed down on this...LOL

 

This would be the perfect way to celebrate your 50th anniversary!

I would recommend spending as much time in Alaska as your budget will allow. It's a long way to go, so make the most of it.

Wishing you a memorable anniversary and Alaskan adventure!

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Day #3 June 22, 2018

Another very early day.

We set the alarm for 4AM as we needed to grab a cup of coffee and bit of breakfast before meeting our group at the main lodge for the Tundra Wilderness Tour. Our voucher was good at the buffet at the Denali Music Theater, or the small grab 'n go spot in our A/B building, or the slightly larger one in the lower level of the main lodge. We grabbed a cup of coffee and croissant at the little counter in the A/B building. We took the shuttle down to the main lodge, and only a few minutes later Michael showed up. He was not going on the tour with us, but he met us there early that morning to be sure all went well for us. (Have I mentioned how hard-working this guy is??)

 

Our bus arrived at 6AM and we were very lucky-- as we found out as we made our way through the 63 miles of Denali National Park-- that we scored Lisa as our driver. She told delightful stories of life in Alaska since she moved there in 1981, her life and home on Kodiak Island, and of all her various jobs including commercial fishing (which her husband still does). She displayed vast knowledge of the park, its founders and provided nuggets of history that kept us entertained the entire way. She was extremely conscientious about stopping at each possible rest stop. The bus was better than a school bus but not quite a coach bus (no bathroom onboard). Our bus was one of the newer park models wth padded seats. The seats were small and close together. Lisa shared with us that this new bus had a better camera system than the older ones, and the drop-down screen worked well.

 

When we boarded the bus the seats already our box lunches on them, which included a sausage stick, a granola bar, some crisp veggie chips and cookies. Bottles of water were passed out as well. Although there is a Subway across the street from the Denali lodge (as well as a liquor store if you care to have drinks in your room), no one brought any other food onboard, and the box lunch proved to be quite sufficient for our time on the road.

 

I took careful notes on all aspects of this trip from multiple CC threads, and one bit of advice was to sit on the left side of the bus. As it turned out, the left side did have more open areas and thus more of an opportunity to spot animals. The situation was, of course, reversed on the way back. Bottom line: it didn't matter too much.

 

Lisa instructed us to watch for animals and to shout STOP, quickly say either left or right and an approximate direction, such as 3 o'clock or 10 o'clock. If the command came from the back of the bus, it needed to be relayed to the front so Lisa could hear what was needed, what direction we were all to look, and animal we were all to look for. She then trained the camera on the area, and it showed up on the pull down tv screens in the bus. On our 63 mile journey, we saw 6 - 7 caribou, and several groups of Dall sheep, but by far the most exciting were the three Grizzly bears! Since Grizzly bears do not roam in packs, Lisa explained that the three were likely a mother and two cubs who were already a year or so old. Grizzly cubs stay with their mother for 2 - 3 years. It was hard to discern the difference among the three of them, all were pretty big. None of these animals were particularly close to the bus/road, but almost everyone had binoculars and some sort of camera to capture whatever images they could. Some people took photographs of the television screen since Lisa was able to zoom in on the animals.

 

The tour lasted between 7 and 8 hours. We had fairly good weather with a good deal of sun and temps in the 60's. But weather in Alaska and particularly in the mountainous/tundra areas around Denali, the weather changes by the minute. As we approached the turn around point where we might've been able to capture a glimpse of the mountain, clouds and drizzle developed. So although we felt we had a successful day in seeing animals, the mountain herself eluded us.

 

This evening Michael had our group scheduled for the 5:15PM Denali Music Theater dinner program. It consisted of six hard-working young people who served dinner and then provided a musical show about the first men known to scale Denali. We were seated in a large room at log tables with chairs. The six young servers/entertainers really hustle to get the food on and off the table and then perform the show. I wondered out loud if the same group of six do all three shows and servings for dinner every night, or if there are several groups of six. It would be pretty exhausting for the same six to do all that serving and clearing and entertaining. The food was okay. It consisted of thinly sliced beef brisket with some barbecue sauce, salmon with a sauce over it (by far the best of all the offerings), succotash, salad, mashed potatoes, biscuits, and pitchers of iced tea and water. All was served family style, and while you could request more of whatever the table may want, the service was rather rushed and there was little opportunity for that. Dessert was baked apple crisp and coffee.

The dinner and show sells for $69.95 per person and $34.95 per child. It was included in our Connoisseur package. It was an interesting addition to our day, but if it had not been included in the package, we would not have done it. I would have preferred a dinner voucher for the main restaurant as the food there was excellent.

 

It was only about 7:30PM when the dinner and show concluded, but these early mornings and long days and set lag are all catching up to us. We turned in early and were happy to fall asleep once again listening to the rushing rapids in the river outside our window.

 

We did this tour in reverse June 2016. I loved all the lodges. Denali theater was the only thing I didn't like; the kids did a great job, but the food was mediocre at best. We were seated in the middle and didn't get the salmon until the 3rd platter was passed. One group of 4 were really piling on the food as if it were their last meal!

However, all my crab dinners were excellent and hot.

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We did this tour in reverse June 2016. I loved all the lodges. Denali theater was the only thing I didn't like; the kids did a great job, but the food was mediocre at best. We were seated in the middle and didn't get the salmon until the 3rd platter was passed. One group of 4 were really piling on the food as if it were their last meal!

However, all my crab dinners were excellent and hot.

 

I agree, the food in the theater--compared to the lodges--was not the best. I would have much rather have had dinner in the dining room. The kids in the show worked hard serving, then dancing and singing, but I could have done without the dinner/show as well.

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These comments are on the late side but here goes:

 

We agree about pairing up at dinner. It turned out to be great each time and we got to know folks in our tour group who we would later see on the cruise portion of the trip.

 

Your original cabin was B731 on Coral Princess. We had that cabin for a 17 day Panama Canal full transit in 2015 and have booked it again for an upcoming 19 day Partial Transit of the canal. We love the location. As for the window mini-suite: We also took an upsell (on a different cruise where we didn't have B731 booked) and had C702. No balcony but the balcony space is included in the room dimensions so it's quite big. We had no idea these window mini-suites existed but loved the size of the cabin. There is a difference between the aft viewing deck and the forward viewing deck however. As shown in your photo there is no furniture on the forward deck. The aft viewing deck has loungers all across the deck which were very under-utilized so it was like having a huge semi-private balcony with furniture.

 

Many thanks again for your excellent review. I'm certain it has helped many people make their decision to go with the connoisseur tour.

 

Note: We agree with you about the Music of Denali Dinner Theater. We found the show to be totally hokey and the dinner disappointing. For our 15 day connoisseur tour next May we will be requesting a refund of the $70 each and will skip that particular "treat" and use the money for a nice dinner in the restaurant.

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These comments are on the late side but here goes:

 

We agree about pairing up at dinner. It turned out to be great each time and we got to know folks in our tour group who we would later see on the cruise portion of the trip.

 

Your original cabin was B731 on Coral Princess. We had that cabin for a 17 day Panama Canal full transit in 2015 and have booked it again for an upcoming 19 day Partial Transit of the canal. We love the location. As for the window mini-suite: We also took an upsell (on a different cruise where we didn't have B731 booked) and had C702. No balcony but the balcony space is included in the room dimensions so it's quite big. We had no idea these window mini-suites existed but loved the size of the cabin. There is a difference between the aft viewing deck and the forward viewing deck however. As shown in your photo there is no furniture on the forward deck. The aft viewing deck has loungers all across the deck which were very under-utilized so it was like having a huge semi-private balcony with furniture.

 

Many thanks again for your excellent review. I'm certain it has helped many people make their decision to go with the connoisseur tour.

 

Note: We agree with you about the Music of Denali Dinner Theater. We found the show to be totally hokey and the dinner disappointing. For our 15 day connoisseur tour next May we will be requesting a refund of the $70 each and will skip that particular "treat" and use the money for a nice dinner in the restaurant.

 

I think I read your comments on B731 before I booked that cabin. We were happy enough with it until the second upsell offer came in. We LOVED the window mini-suite! We would not have used a balcony. Although we had fabulous weather, it was still too chilly to sit on a balcony. In addition, the forward viewing deck was just steps away, and when it was sunny (docking in Ketchikan) we enjoyed being out there watching all the float planes come in, and that area was not crowded on glacier viewing days either.

 

I also read that you are doing another Connoisseur tour that includes Copper River this time. I would have loved to have experienced that one as well. I wish a tour included all four lodges.

 

Having been on a Connoisseur tour before, you know about the Music of the Denali show. What a great idea to ask for a refund for it and use that money in the lodge restaurant! I hope they honor your request. I certainly would do that next time around too.

 

Thanks for reading along and commenting, Thrak. My hope in writing the review was to update caribill's review from 2012, (which really helped me) and to help readers decide whether or not the money for the Connoisseur tour would be worth it for them.

 

I hope Denali comes out for you again like it did for you last time. You definitely have the BEST photo of it I've ever seen.

Happy Travels.

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I finally got around to reading your great review -- it was fun to compare your experience to our Off the Beaten Path (non-Connoisseur) 7-day tour that we did at the end of May/beginning June. We started in Anchorage, went to Copper River, Fairbanks, Denali, and Mt. McKinley. We also were on the Coral and enjoyed it very much! We chose the regular cruisetour partly due to the cost, and also wanted more flexibility with meals on the land portion. That worked for us -- the two nights we were in Fairbanks, we had dinner at other restaurants, and chose to eat dinner in the grills at the other lodges. Some people on our tour paid extra for meal vouchers but I'm glad we decided to just do "pay-as-you-go."

Despite seeing a lot of comments on these boards about DIY landtour, we really didn't want to hassle with driving, and knew we would have two long bus days going into it. We really liked the Copper River Lodge, it is worth the travel!

I also agree with your comments about the Riverboat "cruise" and Gold Dredge in Fairbanks. They were included in our tour otherwise wouldn't have done them. We figured it would be a cheesy tourist thing but found we enjoyed it more than expected and learned quite a lot!

This was our second Alaska trip (the 1st was in 2002 with a 4-day land portion) with both doing the land part first. It was nice after living out of the suitcases for a week to unpack once on the ship, as well as having those two ship days to chill before the ports. Just my two cents worth.

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I finally got around to reading your great review -- it was fun to compare your experience to our Off the Beaten Path (non-Connoisseur) 7-day tour that we did at the end of May/beginning June. We started in Anchorage, went to Copper River, Fairbanks, Denali, and Mt. McKinley. We also were on the Coral and enjoyed it very much! We chose the regular cruisetour partly due to the cost, and also wanted more flexibility with meals on the land portion. That worked for us -- the two nights we were in Fairbanks, we had dinner at other restaurants, and chose to eat dinner in the grills at the other lodges. Some people on our tour paid extra for meal vouchers but I'm glad we decided to just do "pay-as-you-go."

Despite seeing a lot of comments on these boards about DIY landtour, we really didn't want to hassle with driving, and knew we would have two long bus days going into it. We really liked the Copper River Lodge, it is worth the travel!

I also agree with your comments about the Riverboat "cruise" and Gold Dredge in Fairbanks. They were included in our tour otherwise wouldn't have done them. We figured it would be a cheesy tourist thing but found we enjoyed it more than expected and learned quite a lot!

This was our second Alaska trip (the 1st was in 2002 with a 4-day land portion) with both doing the land part first. It was nice after living out of the suitcases for a week to unpack once on the ship, as well as having those two ship days to chill before the ports. Just my two cents worth.

 

Glad you enjoyed the review. :D

There are so many great ways to see Alaska. We certainly enjoyed seeing inland and the coast. They are very different. I would love to take in Copper River next time.

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I loved your review!! We have been to Alaska numerous times and are going again next July/August. You mentioned Sheep Creek where they deposit salmon. I looked it up and Sheep Creek is 4 miles southeast of Juneau. Can you get there by car? I thought that might be something different to do in Juneau. :D

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Glad you enjoyed the review. :D

There are so many great ways to see Alaska. We certainly enjoyed seeing inland and the coast. They are very different. I would love to take in Copper River next time.

 

Copper River was our favorite lodge, not as big and "busy" as the others. I've read where people have said it's "in the middle of nowhere" and there's "nothing to do" there -- that's exactly why we wanted to go there! We did the Copper Country Discovery Tour and got a wonderful tour of the area.

If we ever get back to Alaska, I'd like to to spend some time on the Kenai Penninsula!

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On 10/8/2018 at 10:12 AM, CruzinNoony said:

I loved your review!! We have been to Alaska numerous times and are going again next July/August. You mentioned Sheep Creek where they deposit salmon. I looked it up and Sheep Creek is 4 miles southeast of Juneau. Can you get there by car? I thought that might be something different to do in Juneau. :D

Thanks for your kind comments.

I believe you mean STEEP CREEK. Steep Creek is a Forest Service fish viewing site, with runs of sockeye and coho salmon that start in mid-July and continue into October. The site is very easy to visit. It is adjacent to the Mendenhall glacier visitors' center about 10 miles from downtown Juneau. There are no permits, fees or restrictions for the visitation. There's a 1/3 mile loop trail, part of which forms an elevated boardwalk.

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On 10/8/2018 at 11:10 AM, WisCruiser2 said:

 

Copper River was our favorite lodge, not as big and "busy" as the others. I've read where people have said it's "in the middle of nowhere" and there's "nothing to do" there -- that's exactly why we wanted to go there! We did the Copper Country Discovery Tour and got a wonderful tour of the area.

If we ever get back to Alaska, I'd like to to spend some time on the Kenai Penninsula!

The Kenai is such a beautiful area! And the Kenai Princess individual lodges with their little fireplaces was one of our favorite stops on the whole trip. They, too, are in the middle of nowhere, but so are a lot of places in Alaska one visits, and the whole point for many of us! 😉 But as far as "nothing to do," well, sometimes it is best to just "be." 😊

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Worldtraveler,

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience.  Also a thank you to Caribill for the 2012 version.

 

We are doing the 5 day version of this tour on June 17, 2019 starting in Anchorage.  Sort of a shorter, reverse tour. We are an extended family.  Grandparents (us), our daughter, our son-in-law, and our grandkids (13 and 11).  Of course the Grandkids are the real reason for the trip.

 

We are spending two nights each at the Princess Mt. McKinley and Delani Lodges.

 I have excursions booked on the full days at each location.  My question relates to the shorter arrival days.  One each around noon or so.  I noticed the Activity sheet that you provided for each lodge.  There are some good activities that we could do on those days arrival days.  My current plan is not to book any excursions on those days and just wing it.  I think exploring the area and taking advantage of some of the activities would be worthwhile.

 

What is your opinion of that plan?

I thank you again for you excellent report.  Without the photos of the activity sheets, I would have probably just booked another excursion.

 

P.S.

I see  you reside in Wisconsin.  Our daughter resides in West Bend and we live in Northern IL.  Where do you live In Wisconsin?

Edited by jagoffee

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1 hour ago, jagoffee said:

 

 

Worldtraveler,

Thank you very much for taking the time to share your experience.  Also a thank you to Caribill for the 2012 version.

 

We are doing the 5 day version of this tour on June 17, 2019 starting in Anchorage.  Sort of a shorter, reverse tour. We are an extended family.  Grandparents (us), our daughter, our son-in-law, and our grandkids (13 and 11).  Of course the Grandkids are the real reason for the trip.

 

We are spending two nights each at the Princess Mt. McKinley and Delani Lodges.

 I have excursions booked on the full days at each location.  My question relates to the shorter arrival days.  One each around noon or so.  I noticed the Activity sheet that you provided for each lodge.  There are some good activities that we could do on those days arrival days.  My current plan is not to book any excursions on those days and just wing it.  I think exploring the area and taking advantage of some of the activities would be worthwhile.

 

What is your opinion of that plan?

I thank you again for you excellent report.  Without the photos of the activity sheets, I would have probably just booked another excursion.

 

P.S.

I see  you reside in Wisconsin.  Our daughter resides in West Bend and we live in Northern IL.  Where do you live In Wisconsin?

 

I am so very pleased that my Alaskan Trip Report is still helping people make plans for their adventures in that awesome state!

 

I completely understand your question and dilemma. As a parent and a grandparent, the ideal is maintaining a balance between activities and a bit of down time for everyone. And of course, all kids are different, so I think you have to ask yourself whether the kids, (and their parents, you'd your husband?) are hikers. If so, no problem at either place! Plenty of places to hike and explore. 

 

At Denali, there are not only trails, but other activities such as the dog sled demo by the National Park Rangers (great show, and you can get very up close and personal with the dogs), but besides that, visitors have several options of activities across the street to choose from. These are private (non-Princess) activities. If you look at page 1 again of my report, entry #17, you will see a photo of the complex, and you can also see across the road what I am referring to--the private tour operators. I believe these links below will take you to the listing of these tour operators. You can look at each, email them and ask if reservations in mid-June are required, or if you can decide once you are there. 

 

https://www.tripadvisor.com/AttractionsNear-g11914881-d277993-Denali_Princess_Wilderness_Lodge-McKinley_Village_Denali_National_Park_and_Preserve_Alaska.html

 

https://www.denalioutdoorcenter.com

 

McKinley is MUCH more remote than Denali. Again, there are trail hikes, free Nature Talks, free lectures (like Todd Huston), and of course, the Treehouse to see. However, if you need to be busier than that, you'd have to look into a Princess-operated excursion.

 

You asked my opinion of what I thought of your plan to wing it those two, half days. I, personally, would not overbook myself or the kids. Denali has much more to chose from, and I don't think you need to worry about finding enough to do. Don't forget that a lot of time will be eaten up by the time you get to the lodge, get settled in your rooms, and have lunch.

As for McKinley, if the kids know in advance that their two half days will be filled with arriving at the lodge, getting settled, having some lunch and then taking in a few trails, I'd leave it at that. They have a full day of activity to look forward to the next day. But you certainly know your children and grandchildren best. If you are all happy to spend a couple hours on the back deck of McKinley playing cards (etc) and watching for "the mountain to come out," then by all means, use your two half days to relax a bit and take in the gorgeous scenery and hope you are among the lucky 30% who get to see the mountain. But if the kids are going to be restless and unhappy, well then, book them up.

 

I wish you clear skies, moderate temps, an abundance of animal sightings, and the making of some grand family memories! 

 

 

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Worldtraveler4727, 

 

Thank you for your quick reply and advice.  I will study the links that you have provided.  My Grandkids love to explore and hike.  

 

Your input is is very much appreciated.

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Worldtraveler,

You are a gem.  You are terrific and so helpful with everyone's questions.    You must be a joy to travel with.   Thanks

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11 hours ago, compozer said:

Worldtraveler,

You are a gem.  You are terrific and so helpful with everyone's questions.    You must be a joy to travel with.   Thanks

 

Thanks so much for your kind words, Compozer. You made my day!:classic_biggrin:

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