Most resorts in Alaska are seasonal, and many – like those in Denali National Park – exist primarily to serve cruise travelers on overland cruise tours destined for Fairbanks, Anchorage, and the seaports of Seward and Whittier. Many rarely rise above the three-star hotel level and are often "run hard" – operational speak for hotel accommodations that are on the tired side.
Not Alyeska Resort. The 304-room luxury hotel first opened its doors in 1994 and has been steadily improving its feature roster ever since, from fine dining at the Seven Glaciers Restaurant to the 60-passenger tram that ascends 2,300 feet up the mountain to its entrance.
The resort’s most recent additions include two Veilbreaker Skybridges that rise 2,500 feet above the peaks of Alyeska Mountain, Mighty Mite and Glacier Bowl, and span 600 feet across. Both opened in summer 2023, and test the mettle of would-be explorers – and reward them with breathtaking views of Turnagain Arm.
A more sedate option might be found at the Resort's 50,000-square-foot outdoor Nordic Spa experience that opened in 2022, the perfect balm for those who've hiked the mountains or prefer to just admire their natural beauty.
Cruise Critic spent two days at Alyeska Resort prior to a luxury Alaska cruise aboard Regent's lavish Seven Seas Explorer, and found it pairs well with Regent's luxury experience, offering plenty of reasons to return, pre- or post-Alaska cruise.
A stay at Alyeska Resort is a bit of an independent affair. It's not something that Regent or many other cruise lines offer as a package -- chances are you'll have to book it independently -- but doing so, and getting to and from the ship, is easily accomplished.
You don't see Alyeska Resort until you're almost right upon it. The building has been so cleverly nestled into the forest outside the town of Girdwood that you’d never know it was there.
That’s by design: The entire ethos of Alyeska Resort is to be sumptuous and unobtrusive, to blend into its surroundings while soothing its guests. Yet, the resort is also grand: You’ll see it as soon as you step into the lobby, with its soaring three-story atrium topped by faux northern lights and presided over by a model of a bear. It sets the tone for what’s to come.
Rooms and amenities are in the process of being refurbished, and Cruise Critic was fortunate to be able to occupy a recently refitted room on the eighth floor – also known as the “Black Diamond Club” floor. These rooms are about the size of your average hotel room, but everything from soft and hard furnishings to décor and bathrooms has been completely redone.
The resort has beds that rival those on the best luxury cruise ships and proved difficult to extract ourselves from each day. Bath amenities hail from London and France, and Alaskan products are sourced everywhere from the gift shops to the onsite bars and restaurants.
The resort is open year-round and differentiates itself from other Alaskan hotels that are typically seasonal affairs in its little details: the hotel presents such a cozy air that you might be tempted to not even leave it, thanks to its seating areas bordered by fireplaces and its indoor saltwater swimming pool.
But outside is where the action is, from the onsite tram to the new Veilbreaker Skybridges. A multitude of hiking paths encircle the property, and bicycles (and e-bikes) can be rented for a small fee.
Of course, the other popular pastime at Alyeska Resort has nothing to do with being active at all. In fact, it's rather the opposite – but provides the same sense of reset.
Opened in 2022, the Alyeska Nordic Spa is a unique experience in Alaska. Developed and run by the same company that debuted its Kananaskis Nordic Spa in the Canadian mountains of Alberta, this outdoor hydrotherapy experience is based around traditional Nordic bathing rituals that mix hot, cold and relaxation pools with saunas, steam rooms and fire pits for relaxation.
All of it takes place outdoors, and people are welcomed to stay as long as they'd like and to use the pools in the manner that suits them best, or to follow the spa’s prescribed method of hot, cold and rest.
The Spa is so cleverly designed that you’ll forget where you are. The hotel isn’t readily visible from the spa site despite being just across the street, and within minutes you’d be forgiven for not know what the day of the week is.
An onsite bistro offers healthy foods and beverages, and guests are encouraged to simply wear their robes and bathing suites around the facility for a completely immersive experience.
The crown jewel of Alyeska Resort is its Seven Glaciers Restaurant. We dined on a four-course prix fixe menu that featured dishes like Alaskan salmon, fresh oysters and the largest king crab legs we’ve seen. It’s not a cheap meal -- you'll want to budget about $300 per couple -- but it is one that can’t be beat in terms of quality in Alaska, thanks to its abundance of local ingredients, its spectacular lobster bisque and its breathtaking views from high atop Mount Alyeska.
Come a little early, too, and have a drink from the low-slung bar that offers exceptional views that are never impeded by the bartender, who walks on a sunken floor inset behind the bar.
Reservations are required for this indulgent experience.
When it came time to bid Alyeska Resort farewell, getting to Seward to embark Seven Seas Explorer was a snap – a luxurious snap.
Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic passenger train offers daily summer service between Anchorage, Girdwood and Seward, departing from Anchorage at 6:45 a.m. and arriving into Seward at 11:20 a.m. – with plenty of time to spare for our 12:30 p.m. embarkation time onto the ship.
Staying at Alyeska Resort means not having to wake up at an ungodly hour, either: Alaska Railroad's Coastal Classic departs Girdwood, near the Resort, at a very humane 8:05 a.m. Glacier Valley Transit offers a complimentary shuttle throughout Girdwood, including a stop at the Resort that is timed perfectly to take passengers down to Girdwood station to catch the train.
Calling Girdwood Station a “station” is a bit generous: this is Alaska, and the “station” is merely a wooden shack that offers a modicum of shelter from the elements, situated next to a porta-potty at the end of a paved laneway.
Alaska Railroad offers two types of passenger service: Adventure Class and GoldStar Service. Adventure Class has all the basics: comfortable coach seating that all faces forward, onboard guides, and meals and beverages for purchase.
But since we were destined for a luxury cruise – and had stayed at a luxury resort – splurging for GoldStar Service seemed appropriate. These fares include the use of a massive domed observation car; a special dining car where complimentary meals and beverages are served (including two alcoholic ones); and even an outdoor observation platform.
The Coastal Classic came around the mountain bend right on time, it’s blue-and-yellow-liveried EMD locomotives chugging along proudly. It slowed first so employees could load luggage into the baggage car, then moved forward to allow passengers to embark. By the time I’d taken my assigned seat in the observation car, the train gave a lurch forward and started the three-hour journey from Girdwood to Seward.
The scenery is, mile-to-mile, breathtaking. The Coastal Classic traversed steep mountain grades, crossed massive canyons framed by roaring rapids and steamed flat-out over the marshy shoreline of Turnagain Arm. Eagles flew past and, at one point, an enormous moose thundered back into the bush after a blast from the lead locomotive’s whistle.
It poured rain -- it didn't matter. The full-length dome car allowed for spectacular vistas from all angles, and the upper-level observation platform at the end of the car is also semi-enclosed.
Then came the call for breakfast, and passengers descended a spiral staircase to the dining car. Complimentary breakfast is included for GoldStar passengers, along with two alcoholic beverages. This is no boxed breakfast, either: It’s a fully plated meal prepared right from the train’s onboard galley, complemented by piping hot coffee and generously proportioned mimosas.
It's also a great experience for families, even in GoldStar class: The onboard crew delighted in serving the youngest members traveling in our car and showed genuine interest in them even while imparting historic information for the rest of the passengers over the public address. It's great for families who are all planning to catch a cruise together out of Seward, but who don't want to compromise on quality.
The train arrived in Seward as scheduled just after 11 a.m. On a good day, it’s about an eight-minute walk to the Seward Cruise Terminal but given the rain, we opted to take the free city shuttle, which took about 20 minutes, with the terminal being the last stop on the loop.
It was the ideal end to our first few days in Alaska – and the perfect pairing for our luxury cruise of Alaska that was still to come. If you think you know what resorts in Alaska are like, Alyeska Resort & Spa challenges those expectations – in the best way possible.
Stays at Alyeska Resort can be booked online via the Resort's website. The Resort can assist with travel arrangements but, because the Alaska Railroad often sells out, it's best to book tickets online well in advance of your arrival date, particularly if you're travelling as a large group.
Some cruise lines -- like Celebrity and Holland America -- do offer select packages that stop at Girdwood and Alyeska Resort, so it's always a good idea to check with your cruise line to see if they offer a cruise tour there.