Grand Alaska - Review and Tips

We took this tour in August 2018. Since it is unique among Tauck tours (billed as a land tour, it includes a large ship cruise), I thought it deserved some extra information for travelers.

Overall review: A very good tour. Tauck has been doing this tour for many years and definitely has it down. The tour utilizes Princess lodges (except in Anchorage) and a Princess ship. This is because Princess has the best lodging facilities available near the national parks. You could do this trip through Princess, if you wanted. The advantage would be the ability to custom choose the excursions. The disadvantage would be in larger group sizes for the excursions and not having a Tauck TD to look after you. I can't speak to any difference in cost.

Weather: We went in August thinking Alaska summer. Due to Alaska's short summer, it's really more like autumn. Go in June or July for the warmest weather. Expect cloudy days and rain. In August, they say it will rain every other day. Only 30% of the people who visit Denali actually get to see the mountain (we didn't). We weren't bothered by many mosquitos at all, but all of the Alaskans said we were lucky (apparently it was a dry spring). The mosquito is the Alaska State Bird (or so the joke goes), so be prepared.

Group size: One bus load, (about 40 people).

Float Plane Trip: Due to bad weather, the float plane trip was canceled. We went by bus instead. We're supposed to get a refund, but I haven't received it yet. {Update: $350 per person refund received about 5 weeks after the end of the trip} If small planes make you nervous, you could presumably ride the bus, as the same bus drops you off and picks you up after the flight (or so I was told).

Hotels: The hotels were all the best available, but not five star luxury. Still very comfortable. Wifi in the lodges is only in the common rooms. The lodges near Denali are quit large and can be a bit hectic at times. The Copper River lodge near Wrangell - St. Elias is much smaller (86 rooms) and more relaxed.

Northern Lights: The lodges will do a wake up call when the Aurora Borealis is visible. We didn't do this and missed them at Copper River. Expect to be woken up at 1 or 2 in the morning if you do this.

Wildlife: We saw moose, bears (grizzly and black), many bald eagles, caribou and Dall sheep (white dots on the mountains). No wolves. The buses at Denali have a video system with a long lens so that they zoom in on the wildlife. Results may vary. If you go for a hike, they recommend that you travel in groups of three or more. You may also want to have a bear bell, or buy one in the gift shop (singing or talking loudly also works).

Bus ride to Copper River: This trip takes up a full day. About 120 miles of the trip is unpaved. The road is hard packed and well maintained, but still a bit bumpy.

Necessary facilities: While Tauck does their best to find nice accommodations, a few of the restroom stops are of the rustic park service variety.

Excursions: The excursions are very well chosen. The sled dog experience and the visit to the homestead were both very entertaining - much better than I thought they would be. Even my wife, who is not a dog person, fell in love with the husky pups. You will get your fill of glaciers.

Princess cruise: Our ship (The Golden Princess) was about 2600 passengers. This was our first experience with a ship of this size. Generally, the crowds are well managed, but there sometimes can be a line for the dining room (not too bad - maybe 10 minutes). There will be a big long line to get off the ship when the gangway is first opened. We were supposed to get priority exit one day, but due to a delay, we had to wait in the big line.

Princess dining: The main dining rooms are quite good. The one time we tried the buffet, we were extremely disappointed (maybe we're spoiled living in Vegas), so I would avoid the buffet. Tauck made reservations and paid the upcharge for the specialty dining rooms (the steakhouse and the Italian restaurant). Those meals were excellent. For fast, lighter meals, the International Cafe has pastries and egg sandwiches at breakfast. They also have salads and hot sandwiches later in the day. There is also a grill that serves pretty good burgers and sausages near the pool. There is also a pizza place near the pool, but it didn't look very good. Tauck includes the "premier beverage plan" which gets you alcoholic and non-alchoholic drinks. Very expensive drinks may result in a upchange, but most everything is included.

The jacket question: Princess has two formal nights (I don't know why they still so this). They say that this means a tux, a dark suit, or a jacket and slacks. Most of the men wore a jacket and tie. They will seat you in slacks and an nice shirt, but you will be one of a handful out of hundreds not wearing a jacket. Shorts and sandals will definitely get you booted out. So I would bring a jacket, but it's up to you. You could eat in the buffet instead, but the quality is a big step down. One of the formal nights was a night we were in a specialty restaurant, so you wouldn't want to miss that.

Entertainment on board: The shows in the theater are well produced. They run an hour or less. Get there early to get a seat. They also show vintage reruns of "The Love Boat" on the TV.

Happy Travels!







Comments

  • Thank you for your comprehensive review as I am considering this trip or the family Call of the Wild Alaska for June/July 2019. Did you go on the raft trip through Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve? If so, what level rafting experience would you say it was? My granddaughter is a mature 12 year old. Do you think she would enjoy this itinerary? Were there any young people on board? Your response would be greatly appreciated.
  • Pepper87-

    The raft trip was very mild. The river is a very shallow "braided" river, i.e. wide with lots of sandbars. The only trick is not getting hung up in the shallows. I would call it class 1 1/2 - barely. LOTS of bald eagles. Definately worth doing.

    We didn't have any young people on our trip and there were very few on the Princess cruise ship. Outside of the Bridges program, kids on a Tauck trip are the exception, rather than the rule. I think your granddaughter would enjoy this trip, despite being surround by adults, mostly seniors. However, if you're looking for her to have the company of other kids, the Tauck Bridges trip would definately be the way to go.


  • pepper87 wrote:
    Thank you for your comprehensive review as I am considering this trip or the family Call of the Wild Alaska for June/July 2019. Did you go on the raft trip through Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve? If so, what level rafting experience would you say it was? My granddaughter is a mature 12 year old. Do you think she would enjoy this itinerary? Were there any young people on board? Your response would be greatly appreciated.
    We are taking our 13 year old grandson on the Bridges Call of Alaska next July. It’s our 8th Tauck trip and 1st Bridges. Looking forward to another great adventure.
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