Want to wake up every day to spectacular views of Denali, North America's tallest mountain? Well, you can't. Alaska's soaring giant -- the name means "the high one," and at 20,310 feet, Denali qualifies -- is under cloud cover much of the time, meaning that you only have a 30 percent chance of seeing the mountain.
You can maximize your chances of Denali-spotting with a stay at Princess Cruise's Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Located within 40 miles of the actual mountain, the lodge is the cruise line's second largest in Alaska and provides a perfect jumping-off point for wilderness excursions, fishing and flightseeing. The quirky Alaska town of Talkeetna, the inspiration for the '90s TV show "Northern Exposure," is a shuttle ride away. And, when the mountain does "come out," you get a fantastic view from the multistory windows in the lodge's Great Room, as well as its specially built Treehouse event facility.
If you're trying to choose between Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge and Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge, the important differences are proximity to the mountain (you can only see it directly from Mt. McKinley lodge), remoteness (Talkeetna is an hour away) and busyness (Mt. McKinley Princess is smaller and generally less hectic than Denali Princess).
The 460 rooms at Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge are located in 23 different buildings around the well-landscaped property. The resort has 182 rooms with king-size beds, located in buildings 6, 8, 9 and 16, and 257 with double queens in buildings 3, 4, 12, 14 and 15. The other buildings have a mix of rooms.
Amenities in most rooms include a generic coffee maker with coffee and tea, a flat-screen TV with a limited choice of channels (that sometimes comes in blurry), a vanity and a nightstand, a small closet, a round table with two chairs and a small bench for your suitcase. There's an alert system for emergencies, and a phone and USB ports for charging near the bed.
The resort has six suites. The only difference is that those rooms have a Keurig-brand coffee maker and more space.
The bathroom has dispensers for shampoo, conditioner and body wash, and a small heater that can warm up the room fairly fast. A hair dryer is mounted to the wall.
While the rooms could be cozier -- you won't find individual wood stoves here -- they are spacious and comfortable. Decor is not as Alaskan as you might expect from the main lodge building and restaurants; it's all rather beige with forest-green accents. If it wasn't for the lamps and mirrors with iron bear and moose on them, you could be anywhere.
The lodge rooms do not have Wi-Fi or internet. To stay connected, go to the resort's main lobby, the 20,320 Alaskan Grill or the Fireside Patio.
Most excursions (as well as most of the resort's restaurants) leave from the main lodge building, so if you'd like to be close to that, look for rooms in buildings 1, 10 and 11. Buildings 11, 14 and 17 are close to 20,320 Alaskan Grill, the resort's more casual bar and grill.
A shuttle runs continuously around the property from 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and guests can always call the guest service desk to arrange one.
The resort has plenty of different restaurants, whether you want a full meal with Alaskan delicacies, such as wild salmon, halibut and king crab, or just a simple pizza, coffee or bagel. Depending on what cruise tour you booked, meals might be included with a voucher as part of your trip or priced a la carte. Several excursions include snacks, breakfast or lunch boxes.
Note that this is not a place for midnight snacks. All restaurants close by 9 p.m. and the Base Camp Bar is open until 11 p.m.
North Fork Restaurant: The lodge's main restaurant is open for breakfast and dinner. It's the place to go in the morning if you're craving smoked salmon eggs Benedict, blueberry buttermilk pancakes or hearty egg dishes like the Iditarod scramble.
At dinner, the North Fork becomes a steak and seafood house, although you can also get dishes like chicken and pasta. If you've come for fish, go for the Alaskan duo of salmon and king crab, or the crab-stuffed halibut. Vouchers on the meal plan include an appetizer, an entree, a dessert and a nonalcoholic beverage; portions are Alaskan-size so this is a fairly large meal.
20,320 Alaskan Grill: The name alludes to Denali's height (which was shortened 10 feet in official measurement in 2015). Located in a separate building from the main lodge, the grill oozes Alaska with climbing gear from actual Denali expeditions. You can come here for breakfast, lunch, dinner and bar food almost anytime -- it's open from 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., with a break from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. between breakfast and lunch.
Breakfast has many of the same items as North Fork but has even more options, particularly on the hearty scramble side. The lunch and dinner menus are the same, plus quirkier options than you find in the other restaurant (reindeer poutine, anyone?). A full array of sandwiches and flatbread pizzas can be found here, as well as dinner entrees such as reindeer meatloaf, blueberry salmon and slow-roasted prime rib.
The bar serves beer brewed locally by the Denali Brewing Company; beer tastings are held at noon and 2:30 p.m. for a $10 fee.
Base Camp Bar: If you're looking for a nosh for lunch or after regular meal hours, the Base Camp Bar is the place to go. Come here for burgers, fish and chips, wings, sandwiches (we heard the salmon BLT was awesome), local beer and wines by the glass.
Coffee Bruin Espresso: If you need a Starbucks fix, come here. Lattes and other specialty coffees are available, as well as grab-and-go snacks like yogurt, muffins, pastries and snacks.
If you take an approved Princess fishing excursion, you can participate in the line's "Cook My Catch" program and get your salmon served up for a $20 fee.
Because Talkeetna is on the Alaska rail route and only a few hours from Anchorage, it's faster to get to Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge than the cruise line's other lodge in Denali Village. You'll find it as a stop for shorter cruise tours to Alaska's interior; you can even visit as an overnight and still find time to play in the midnight sun (in early summer).
It's also a stop on more leisurely journeys that go on to Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge or the Fairbanks Princess Riverside Lodge.
A full menu of for-fee shore excursions are available at Mt. McKinley Princess Wilderness Lodge. Options include sportfishing, rafting, ATV rides, ziplining, gold panning, visiting a dog sled kennel, kayaking, trail rides and nature hikes. Flightseeing is also popular here, given the closeness of Denali; you can choose to land on a glacier, fly around the summit or go heli-hiking.
The lodge has some attractions for your nonexcursion hours. There are a few hiking trails around the attractively landscaped property, including one to the lodge's special event space, the Treehouse. Built during an episode of Animal Planet's "Treehouse Masters," the Treehouse hosts an array of events, including a daily trivia session, an afternoon Sappy Hour where you listen to a naturalist talk about birch sap (and sample birch syrup and candy) and the Sourdough Expedition, a guided hike where you enjoy doughnuts and hot chocolate. The last two events carry a $10 per person fee.
Outside the Treehouse, the lodge has a list of daily activities that usually include several naturalist presentations (free) and a daily talk from an actual Denali climber (also free). The lodge also has the Hudson Theater, located in a building adjacent to the 20,320 Alaskan Grill. The theater shows wide-screen programming on natural phenomenon such as the aurora borealis. Film showings cost $8 per person and last 40 minutes. A restored 1939 Luscombe bush plane originally owned by piloting pioneer Cliff Hudson is outside the theater and good for photo ops.
The Fireside Patio is a large fire pit that's open in the evenings from 5 to 10 p.m., weather permitting. On some nights, an acoustic musician plays and "fireside hosts" give talks, again weather permitting.
Shuttles run into Talkeetna every hour for guests who want to check out the town. Highlights there include a visit to the ranger station (a mandatory visit for Denali climbers) where you can see a movie, art galleries, souvenir shops, the Denali Brewing Company brew pub, food trucks, ice cream vendors, bakeries and restaurants. It's a $10 round trip fee into town and the trip takes about 50 minutes.
The main lodge building has a large guest services desk and the shore excursion desk. At both, you'll find maps, daily activity schedules and excursion booklets. During late August and September, you can set a northern lights wake-up call from guest services.
Besides the restaurants, cafes and bars, the lodge has puzzles and games. There are also computers set up for people who prefer to use a desktop instead of mobile phones to access the internet.
The Great Room is extremely comfortable, with a massive fireplace and deck for Denali viewing. Finding a premium seat facing the mountain can be difficult during peak hours. A few TVs are located in a secondary gathering room near the coffee stand.
The sprawling main building also has a gift shop, with an array of Alaska-themed paraphernalia. People who packed too lightly can find rain gear and sweatshirts, as well as toiletries, here.
The resort has two small outdoor hot tubs, located in building 5. Changing rooms, showers and fresh towels are available. There's also a very small fitness center, with one treadmill and one elliptical machine.
Families will appreciate the small playground, located closest to buildings 17, 18 and 19.
Coin-operated laundry rooms are located in buildings 14, 18, 19, 20, 21, 23, 24 and 25. Detergent vending machines and change machines are available in each location.
The resort has 15 rooms that are ADA compliant. The ADA rooms are located throughout the resort and include a mix of bed types. Three have roll-in showers and the others have bathtubs with a bench seat.
The Treehouse event space is not ADA accessible; however, the main lodge building and the building housing the Hudson Theater and 20,320 Alaskan Grill are. One of the hot tubs has a chair lift.
Updated October 10, 2019