TALKEETNA, Alaska -- There are a lot of reasons to choose
Princess Tours' new Mount McKinley Princess Lodge as part of an
Alaska land tour, but, in the final analysis, there really is one
that stands out -- the mountain. The new, $20 million hotel has the
best views of North America's highest peak of any property in
When Mount McKinley is visible -- and common wisdom is that it
occurs only between 15% and 20% of the time -- there is nothing
like this view. The lodge's main building was designed so that an
expansive lobby, with floor-to-ceiling windows, and outdoor deck
both face north, straight at McKinley. Rows of comfortable chairs
in the lobby and on the deck all point north, and there is no
better place to be when the mountain is visible.
On an early season trip that showcased the then month-old hotel,
visitors got one of the biggest thrills available here -- a
spectacular, gradually unfolding view of the mountain in the late
afternoon. A cloudy day turned into a brilliant evening as layers
of clouds slowly slipped away from the peak, revealing, bit by bit,
its towering white-capped dome. Those gathered on the deck watched
in awe and many found it hard to turn in for the night, even after
sunset at 11:30 p.m., when McKinley's outline loomed large against
the clear, still-light sky.
Even the lodge's dining room was designed with views of McKinley
in mind; its tables and booths each face large northward windows;
at breakfast the next morning our weather luck continued and we
again enjoyed the mountain on a picture-perfect, cloudless day.
Nature put on quite a show for guests at Princess' newest hotel
early in its maiden season. In the first 30 days after its opening
in mid-May, McKinley, or Denali, as many locals know it, was
visible on 20 days. Those not fortunate enough to get a glimpse of
McKinley during their stay still have a panorama of the jagged
snow-capped peaks of the Alaska Range surrounding it.
The 164-room hotel is part of Princess' long-anticipated
expansion of wilderness lodging facilities in Alaska's interior.
Since 1988, the company has operated the Denali Princess Lodge, a
220-room hotel at the entrance of the park on the north side of
Mount McKinley. Mount McKinley lodge, the first major hotel built
in the south Denali area, is an hour by motorcoach from the rail
station at Talkeetna, a small town known for its colorful
characters and as a staging area for mountain climbers headed for
Most of Princess' post-cruise tours now offer a choice of either
a two-night stay at the Denali Princess or McKinley Princess lodge.
The stays are between overnights in Fairbanks and Anchorage and are
a midpoint on the rail trip on Princess' Midnight Sun Express.
Guests at the new Princess property are offered an array of
activities, including flightseeing around McKinley, jetboat and
rafting trips on the nearby Chulitna River, kayaking, nature hikes,
horseback riding or historical walking tours of the town of
Talkeetna. The 51,000-square-foot main lounge of the 17-acre lodge
features a dining room, a more casual coffee shop, a cocktail
lounge and a small espresso bar in the lobby that serves bagels and
pastries for breakfast. There also is a large gift shop, several
meeting rooms and a tour desk.
The dining room food naturally leans toward Alaskan favorites,
such as salmon and halibut, and breakfast treats include sourdough
pancakes with a choice of Alaskan syrups and accompanied by
optional reindeer sausage. Fruits of the Forest pie, made from a
delicious assortment of local berries, was a favorite.
The 160 guest rooms are spread over 13 one-story buildings
connected by winding walkways to the lodge. The rooms are similar
in style to Princess' other Alaskan wilderness lodges, although
some guests found the bathroom vanity areas to be small. In-room
televisions receive CNN, ESPN and two movie channels. Clients who
have trouble walking might want to ask for rooms close to the
lodge: The farthest rooms from the lodge are about a five-minute
walk away, and there is a bit of a hill. The hotel includes six
rooms for travelers with disabilities and four suites over the main
lodge building, which are the hotel's only rooms that have views of
The hotel is currently open from mid-May to mid-September, but
Princess officials said they hope to eventually keep it open
year-round to accommodate visitors who want to view the Northern
Lights in February and March or try their hand at snowmobiling,
which is growing in popularity around Talkeetna.
This summer, 40% of the hotel's guests were independent and not
associated with a Princess cruise-tour. The remaining 60% were some
of the estimated 64,000 passengers Princess expected to host on
Alaskan land tours.
Rates start at $99 for a standard room for May and September
(low season) and climb to $175 for the June 16 to Aug. 31 (high
season). The four one-bedroom suites range from $199 in low season
to $275 in high season. For information, contact Princess Tours at
(800) 426-0500 or (206) 728-4202.