Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge

Time to change to The Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge

We had one more day but it was at The Mt McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Say bye-bye to The Denali Princess Lodge. Our luggage was picked up at 7 am but our bus didn’t leave until 11 am so we had time for a nice leisurely breakfast. The sun had finally come out and with the sun the mosquitos. You have to understand that Alaskans consider the mosquito the unofficial state bird. They are huge!

On the road againigloo

At 11 am our bus pulled out. Along the way we passed an abandoned “igloo”

Moose scrambles up the bankShortly after that the bus to bus radio crackled to life. There was a grizzly chasing a moose along side the road. The lead bus gave us the mile marker but by the time we got there they were gone. No sign of either moose or bear. A bit farther along the way we spotted another moose. This one was also trotting along the side of the road. Just as my window came even it turned and scrambled up the bank toward the woods. 

The new lodge

antler door handlesThis lodge was pretty unique right down to the antler door handles. A shuttle bus took you around the property. The main activity here seemed to be Denali watching. It’s rare when the clouds clear to give a view of the peak. They even have an alert system so when Denali is visible you can check it out. We were lucky. A good portion of the mountain was visible the whole time we were there.


New Life Begins

Our Alaska visit was coming to an end but Alaska was coming to life as we prepared to leave. The baby animals we wanted to see were finally being born. A Mama moose has a pair of twins right near the lodge. Ms. Moose kept her babies well hidden until they could get strong enough to move. Clearly we had made our trip a week or two too early in the season. We will be leaving for Anchorage in the morning where we will catch our plane back to real life.

mama moose


Dog Sledding in the Great Land

This trip has gone to the dogs!

The afternoon excursion was a chance to go dog sledding. To our surprise there wasn’t any snow when we got to the kennels. There was snow everywhere else. I wondered how we were going to go dog sledding without snow. When we arrived the first thing I saw were the puppies, those wonderful wiggling bundles of fur. They weren’t tiny either. Before I knew it I had 25 lbs of happy, squirming puppy in my arms. I found myself laughing as I tried to keep my face away from the enthusiastic doggy kisses.


Our Sled Awaits

As we played with the dogs a huge  monster of a vehicle was pulled into view. It had a sturdy metal frame, rubber tires and 3 bench seats that had  been rescued from some old junk cars. It even had a roof and a front windshield of scratched Plexiglas. I was convinced it would be too heavy for these poor dogs to pull. But the mushers were busy hitching a pack of excited dogs to the front.

It must roll easier than it looks

Some really happy dogs

We loaded into this wheeled thing adding all of our human weigh but when the musher yelled mush, these dogs put their shoulders into the harness and we were off. This was really fun and the dogs were having fun too. The course was pretty short but if the dogs had their way we’d have gone around again. Stopping was harder than getting us started.

All About the Iditarod

After our puppy fix and the dog sled experience, we entered a shelter where a veteran musher told us about the art of dog sledding. He told us stories of running the Iditarod and relying on his dogs to get him safely to each checkpoint. He considers his dog team partners not master and animal. It was a very interesting presentation. I really enjoyed this excursion and would definitely recommend it to any and all animal lovers. So much fun playing with these dogs!

Come on! Let’s go!

The Great White North

North to Denali

The farther north we went the easier it was to see that spring hadn’t really sprung yet. The scenery was spectacular but it was snow and ice. As the Denali Express rumbled over a trestle bridge we could look down into the steep chasm below. This was pretty rugged country.Trestle bridge shadow

raindeerA pair of caribou raced across a frozen river as we passed by. At one stop some mushers came on to talk to us about dog sledding. About that time someone spotted a coupled of grizzly bears fresh out of hibernation. They were just tiny dots in the distance. After the first excitement of the train ride wore off it began to get a bit long. Lots of people used the time to nap. The 9 1/2 hour trip seemed endless. Probably because it stretched to 11 hours before we pulled into the station in Denali.


Off the train and onto a bus

We all tumbled off the train and were immediately loaded onto a bus for the short trip to the Denali Princess Wilderness lodge.  The accommodations weren’t bad. And even if the weather was cold we had the warm Alaskan welcome to shake off the chill.

We didn’t have long to linger in the room because dinner was being served along with a stage show. The waitstaff were also the performers and they were amazing. After the show it was time to head to bed. The sun was just setting this far north but we had an early morning tour. We were going into the National Park. Hopefully we’d finally see some animals. Our park adventure was a half day tour. Turns out the best tour would have been the all day trip but once again we relied on our travel agent when selecting the excursion. 

Into Denali National Park

Our Tour Bus Awaits

In the morning after a huge breakfast at one of the resort restaurants (which were not included in the package) we climbed aboard another bus for our trip into Denali National Park. We began to see a little more animal life. There were a couple of moose and some caribou but no bears. We really wanted to see bears. When the all day tour returned they said they has bears surround their bus. Clearly we should have taken the longer trip. 


The Land Part of our CruiseTour

Exploring the Land

Land and sea cruise tours are popular for Alaska. It’s such a big state. Loads of coastline for the “sea” but all that amazing interior. Some of it is really the last frontier. Look at all the TV shows. There’s Alaskan Bush People, Edge of Alaska, Life Below Zero, Alaska State Troopers, Wild West Alaska and the list goes on. Proof that Alaska is a fascinating place that has captured our imaginations. There was even a show about the Alaska Railroad. That’s how we planned to travel to Denali National Park, by train.

All Aboard the Princess Alaska Railroad

When you watch the Shows about Alaska, even the documentaries, the rail passengers are all seated in spacious rail cars, smiling and having a great time. On our itinerary we were arriving in Whittier in the morning but not boarding the train until the afternoon. There’d be time to explore this little town where everyone lives in one big building! Much of the ride would be at night since it was a 9 1/2 hour trip. That wasn’t what happened. We arrived in Whittier in the morning but we were sent immediately to the train. The seating was bench seats that faced each other with a table in between. Everything was bolted down so you couldn’t push back or move the table to get comfortable. With our carry-on luggage and bulky coats the seating was cramped. But it only got worse. Turns out that the seating wasn’t for 2 people. It was for 4!

The long and crowded ride

Our 9 1/2 hour trip actually turned into 11 hours. I did get a few photos and crawled over our seatmates a few times for bathroom breaks, a visit to the dining car and just to stretch my legs. The scenery was magnificent but it was hard to enjoy it when there was no room to turn around for a look. We had dome windows but it didn’t take too long to dampen any enthusiasm for looking out. This was very disappointing. Nothing like the experience we were told to expect. I found out after the fact that there is a commercial passenger train that goes to Denali but we weren’t on it. This train is owned and operated by Princess Cruise Lines. They packed us in like sardines so they could make a bigger profit. I can’t recommend this part of the journey.

Rating the Alaska Cruise

How Should I Rate the Cruise?

I’m going to rate the cruise portion of this vacation separate from the land part. I’ll fill you in on the Denali portion separately. I also checked the archives for the model train pictures. I’m not sure if you can see all of the comments but my sister asked if I have pictures of the little train at the Garden Party.

Choo Choo

Miniature train

When we went to the Garden Party the location was not just a little restaurant. It was a greenhouse, garden and glass blowing business. The gift shop was filled with delicate glass flowers and other hand made gifts. Throughout the grounds were lovely glass ornaments and other decorations. One of the most fun was the model train. It actually ran around the gardens. It wasn’t just sitting on display.

Train station in miniature

The Luncheon

glass drageonsI keep referring to the Garden Party. The lunch was actually at Jewell Gardens & Garden City Glassworks. I also looked up our meal. It was tea and salad. The main course was quiche. I’m not a fan of quiche so that was probably why the lunch was “forgettable” to me. I didn’t eat the dessert either  and can’t remember what it was. But I am getting off track. It’s time to rate the cruise.

glass fish

The Rating – 4 Stars

This was a pretty good cruise. Alaska is phenomenal. But I couldn’t give it 5 stars for a few reason.

  1. I got Sea Sick
  2. We went at the wrong time of year-weather
  3. Some of the meals (on the ship) were not up to cruise ship standards
  4. We didn’t see a lot of animals as our travel agent promised

All in all this wasn’t a bad cruise, just not as good as it could be. I was surprised by several of the meals in the dining room. The beef medallions one night were very tough and the American Night, a Thanksgiving dinner with all of the trimmings, was horrible. The lobster night was a huge success and my favorite meal of the cruise. Yes I think a 4 is a fair rating for the cruise portion of the trip.