It’s hard to convince the non-cruising crowd of the value found in a lodge owned and operated by a cruise line. Especially when those non-cruisers are fellow Alaskans; but I’m going to do my best. And, my best will be even better for those who do cruise, do like structure in their family vacation, and love the style and services of such a property. Welcome, friends, to Mount McKinley Princess Lodge, located in the heart of Denali State Park along the scenic Parks Highway, just north of Talkeetna.
While our family falls somewhere in the middle between full-service and indie travel needs and wants, we continue to be impressed by McKinley Princess. We’ve stayed overnight several times, and stopped by for a meal or snack heading to or from Denali National Park or Fairbanks.Be it rain or shine, crowded with buses or quiet enough to hear the river below, many positives strike a chord with our kid, and us.
Perhaps its the deck, wide enough for several families and several camera tripods, which you’ll need if you venture outside. Mount McKinley (Denali) is right there, showing off her rugged lines, as close as you’ll get outside the Park. On a clear afternoon she’s all Alaska brilliance, on a cloudy, stormy day she’s just as moody as the weather, coming out and popping back behind the streaks of rain on a whim.
Maybe what we like is the ever-increasing slate of child-friendly activities and ‘extras’ that make a family vacation worth the time and effort to stay this far from town. Nature trails, kids’-only activities, a table of coloring and art supplies, and a Youth Adventure Quest scavenger hunt are just some of the ways Princess Lodges seeks to connect with kids, knowing, really, that many, many children visit their properties. We noticed during this trip that sort of attention; a huge stack of games were easily accessible at the front desk, wagon rides were available all day long, Bird Treatment and Learning Center has weekend programs for the whole family, Denali State Park rangers staff their own information desk, all day, every day. AK Kid was running and jumping and learning something new every minute, and that wasn’t even the best part.
Two reasons brought us to the McKinley Princess, last weekend.
Fire, and Santa.
Yep, hot and cold were the themes on this late-summer Saturday, with the long-awaited opening of the new McKinley Princess Fire Pits, and the exciting arrival of You-Know-Who for a little shindig appropriately called “Christmas in August.”
The former got me all a’twitter; I love campfires, pitted or otherwise, and McKinley Princess has a doozy, with several rings made from old sections of the Alyeska Pipeline, and comfortable chairs nestled closely around the rocky perimeter. We lingered, and lounged, and lingered again, enjoying s’mores (you can buy a little pre-made kit for about $5), conversation, and the stunning view of the Mountain, valley, and fast-approaching stars. It was divine, I tell you. We closed the place down, AK Fam did.
The latter was the goofiest summer event I’ve attended all year, and that’s saying a lot, because we get around. The whole “Christmas in August” thing started in 1912, when an early snowstorm struck Yellowstone National Park, causing an entire lodge full of guests to be suddenly snowbound. Making the best of an unusual and unexpected situation, guests and lodge staff decided to have Christmas, with decorations, popcorn, music – the works. Now, each August 24 and 25 (or thereabouts), many western national parks take a day or two in celebration.
We had wreaths around statues, cookies in the Great Room, holiday tunes ringing out over the PA system (I LOVED that part), and a visit from jolly St. Nick, who obviously had been working with the reindeer, ’cause he showed up in red suspenders and dungarees. Around that new firepit, staff read “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,” and front office personnel dressed up in their tackiest Christmas sweaters. Gosh, it just warmed my heart.
McKinley Princess is open for another month, and for those visiting the lodge, deals and specials abound like gifts under a Christmas tree. Rates as low as $79/night, fewer crowds, golden leaves, and that mountain, dusted with snow, right out the back door. Our three-hour trip from Anchorage was pretty easy, too. Folks even have the option of taking the train to Beautiful Downtown Talkeetna, and arriving by motorcoach to the lodge. Kids will love the ride.
Just relax about the cruise line thing. Relax, and have a marshmallow while ogling the goodness of Alaska. Hang around by the fire and visit with the other members of humanity who decided to visit the Last Frontier and this place.
You just might be surprised.
You might also enjoy previous posts about McKinley Princess, the village of Talkeetna, and Denali National Park: