Located just outside Alaska's major cruise ports -- 50 miles from Seward and 65 miles from Whittier -- Princess Cruises' Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge in Cooper Landing is perfectly situated for a serene stay along the Kenai River before or after your Alaska cruise, May through September.
The mountainous backdrop of the Kenai Peninsula creates a dramatically spectacular atmosphere as you hike the trails, fish the Russian River, kayak the Kenai Lake or simply float along the Upper Kenai River, whose turquoise waters stretch for more than 80 miles.
Cooper Landing, where the Princess lodge is situated, gained notoriety as the site of the first gold discovery in Alaska, in 1848. Fast forward 140 years, and Princess Cruises would stake their claim to the land that would become the grounds for the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge, opening its doors to guests in 1990. The decades Princess has spent investing in Alaska has established the company as the premier cruisetour operator in Alaska, but that doesn't make their offerings in any way outdated. The lodge, nestled in the wildly scenic Kenai Peninsula, is frequently refurbished so amenities stay current and the rooms are refreshed and comfortable.
There are 86 rooms available at the Princess Wilderness Lodge, with 38 rooms featuring king-sized beds and 48 rooms with two double beds. Keycards are used, similar to cruise cabins. All accommodations are organized in cabin blocks, with four individual rooms per cabin in some areas, and rows of rooms in others. The 100 through 600 blocks are located off to the left of the main lodge, offering double beds. The 700 block, just beyond, offers king-sized beds; any room dividers separating the living from sleeping space are in the process of being removed so it's one open space. To the right are the 800 through 1500 blocks, offering more king-sized beds than doubles.
All rooms feature the same elements, with only slightly different configurations. Expect a wood-burning stove, Hamilton Beach coffee maker with generic coffee and tea, a flat-screen TV that swivels with a handful of channels, a dresser with four drawers, a desk and chair, love seat, armchair, a closet with a full-mirror folding door, a hair dryer, dispensers for shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and heating units in the bathroom and main room. All rooms also come with a covered deck accessed by a sliding-glass door, including two plastic chairs and a small table. Outlets can be found by the sink, or by unplugging the alarm clock. Safe deposit boxes are available at the front desk. Irons and ironing boards can also be acquired upon request from the guest services desk.
One thing the rooms lack is a mini-fridge to keep leftovers and other Alaskan goodies, but the lodge is planning on adding them in an upcoming refurb.
We also think a bottle of complimentary water (especially given all the activity encouraged on the grounds) might be a nice touch.
Decor is rustic with high-vaulted wooden ceilings and walls, reds and forest greens accenting snow-white comforters. Artwork features eagles, bears and other indigenous wildlife you might encounter on or near the grounds. Fleece blankets and extra pillows are in the closet. Every room comes with a ceiling fan, decorated in antlers.
Despite the peace and quiet of your natural surroundings, walls can prove a little thin at times; we heard TV, conversation and even some light snoring at night from our neighbors.
Dependent on your cruisetour, meal vouchers might be included in your stay. Otherwise, all food and beverage is priced a la carte. To charge food or drink to your room, you must first establish credit at the front desk. If you are departing on an early-morning excursions, a breakfast box will be provided to you upon request -- these include your choice of juice or bottled water, piece of fruit, bagel or muffin and yogurt. Word to the wise: If you're on a fishing trip or stepping foot on a boat, do not bring a banana -- old maritime jinx.
Rafter's Bar & Lounge: Open from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., Rafter's is your all-day spot to grab a burger and a microbrew (food is served until 10:30 p.m.). Catch a game at the bar, located just next to the lobby area, or take in a memorable sunset (remember, those aren't until close to 10 p.m. in the summer) on the back deck, which overlooks the Kenai River with plenty of rockers and table-and-chair seating. A specialty cocktail, like the Alpenglow Cosmo, will cost about $10. A selection of local and other domestic beer is $5.75 and a glass of wine runs between $7.50 and $12. Entrees like blackened halibut tacos, apps such as smoked salmon dip and flatbread pizzas, salads, soups and sandwiches are all available for $10 to $13.
Eagle's Nest Restaurant: The main restaurant, located next to Rafter's, serves breakfast (7 a.m. to 11 a.m.), lunch (noon to 2:30 p.m.) and dinner (5:30 to 10 p.m.) daily. The restaurant is rather large, but prime seating consists of four tables (four-tops) along the windows to the back deck, providing a stellar view for your meal. Reservations are recommended for dinner as the earlier times fill fast.
Eggs Benedict, reindeer sausage, biscuits and gravy, blueberry pancakes and a selection of omelets comprise breakfast. For lunch, try the fish and chips (fresh, obviously), bison chili, salmon sliders or a portobello sandwich, among other soup, salad and sandwich options.
Dinner is the main event, with a nightly special (fresh scallops over black bean puree with rice and avocado for $40) and classics such as prime rib, roasted halibut, a roasted duckling or baby back ribs. Prices for entrees average $30. Bering Sea crab legs are a splurge for $52. Two signature items, like miso-crusted sable fish, are also featured.
Dessert, found around the lodge, is plentiful, with berry cobbler, creme brulee, pies, cakes and locally made ice cream in vanilla or huckleberry on the menu. A number of gluten-free options, such as a brownie or chocolate cake, are also available. Try a Russian River root beer float or have the spiked version. Dessert is $6 to $8, ice cream is $4. Dessert wines, ports and coffee with liquors are also on the menu.
Espresso Bar: Tucked into the corner of the main lodge across from the front desk, the Espresso Bar offers cold bottled drinks, snacks and a full menu of espresso beverages. Hours are listed from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., but we found the bar was closed throughout the day for brief periods of time. A small coffee is $2.50; a medium cappuccino is $3.95. Muffins, pastries, fruit, yogurt, candy, chips and oatmeal are all offered for a few bucks. A bottle of water is $1.50.
The Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge is mainly found on longer Princess Cruises' itineraries of 14 or 15 days, such as the "Off the Beaten Path" tour from Fairbanks to Vancouver or "Connoisseur Escorted" tours from Fairbanks to Vancouver (and reverse).
With all of the Kenai Peninsula at your fingertips, there are plenty of for-fee tour options available through the lodge, or independently. Embark on a scenic float down the Kenai River, take a guided hike along the nearby Russian River Falls, go horseback riding down Resurrection Bay or harken back to the early days of Cooper Landing with a little gold-panning in the backcountry. Excursions to downtown Seward, along with the Kenai Fjords National Park, are available with a travel time of one hour.
Not to be missed is the fishing -- even if you're a newbie, there are fish aplenty to be caught. The largest king salmon ever caught was in the Kenai River weighing in at 97 pounds! Depending on the season, plan on sport fishing for trout.
There are two nature trails located on the grounds of the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge. Choose from a half-mile or mile-long loop through the woods between the 600 and 700 blocks, or explore along the Kenai River with three observation deck platforms, which runs about a half-mile but down a steep incline.
Princess Cruises' locally immersive North to Alaska programming is not only available onboard your cruise ship, but also from the lodge. "Cook My Catch" is a chance to do just that: Catch your fresh fish dinner on a daily excursion and then have it prepared for that evening's meal. For the kids, a Youth Adventure Quest is available, with a guided walk around the property.
Housed in the main lodge, adjacent to the main parking lot, you will find the front desk with guest services and the tour desk. A lobby is also here with seating in front of a fireplace and a wall of windows. A small variety of board games and books are available to borrow from the front desk.
Internet access is complimentary, but only available within the main lodge. We saw plenty of fellow guests breaking out their laptops at breakfast or lunch to talk over travel plans or check email. One desktop computer is available for use.
Trading Post, the gift shop, is located just across from the main lodge. The shop offers a nice variety of souvenirs like jewelry, Ulu knives and Alaskan Christmas ornaments, as well as a wall of over the counter medications and some gear such as socks and sweatshirts. Vending machines and seating are located outside. Open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Between the 900 and 1000 room block, you will find the fitness center and hot tub. It's 52 steps to the top; otherwise, drive or call for a shuttle to park you nearby. The fitness center consists of a men's and women's bathroom, shower and changing facility, and four machines surrounded by mountain views -- two treadmills, a Stairmaster and an exercise bike. Anyone under the age of 16 must be accompanied by an adult to work out at the fitness center. Outside is the hot tub, which is handicap accessible, along with a small bench.
A coin-operated laundry room is located between the 400 and 500 blocks. There are four washers and four dryers that will spin for $2.50 each load. Soap, bleach and softeners are available for $1.25 each.
All main facilities (laundry, spa and fitness center) are open daily from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.
Ice and vending machines are located throughout the grounds.
For anything you forgot to bring, a general store is located a short walk from the main lodge, along the entrance, to the Princess RV park.
There is a conference room available for use, just next to the main lodge.
For accessible rooms at the Princess Wilderness lodge, choose from two ADA-compliant rooms with king-sized beds (1110 and 1508) or three accessible rooms with double beds (101, 102 or 1408).
For pickup or transportation around the grounds of the lodge, dial "0" from any phone.
The hot tub offers a chair lift.
Unless you have rented a car or are at the lodge as part of a tour group and are booked on various excursions, it can be challenging to get to downtown Cooper Landing or elsewhere, as the Kenai Princess Wilderness Lodge is tucked down a side road. Wildman's, in town, offers taxi service from the lodge about 4 miles into town, for $10 round trip. The lodge is looking into more independent shuttle options for guests.
Updated September 21, 2017