Follow up:Experience Denali Tour vs Tundra Wilderness Tour
Many thanks to those who told us to ditch the Experience Denali Tour (a Princess offering). I called (in July) about the Tundra Wilderness Tour (http://www.reservedenali.com/tours.php)...it was full for the day we were there, Sunday, August 26. Was given a phone number to check on cancellations within 8 days of the trip.
I called while we were in Juneau...bingo...6 seats had opened for August 26...cept they were for the 6:40 am departure. Oh well, suck it up...this is a one time trip. We popped up very early, had breakfast at the 24 hr Subway across the Hiway and hiked the 1/4 mile to the other lodge (McKinley Chalet) to get on our bus.
IT WAS FABULOUS! We saw 12 grizzlies, a Boon and Crockett bull moose, dall sheep, caribou. All but the sheep were so close we could smell their bad breath! We had perfectly clear weather and a great tour bus driver. (and small critters-ptarmigan, showshoe hares, arctic ground squirrels, a rare falcon and some kinda overgrown mouse that I forget the name.)
It was just my wife and I from our group of ten. The other eight had other arrangements so they later went on the "Experience Denali Tour". They were sick. 20 minutes on the bus, a 1 mile hike and a little lecture by a naturalist. No bears. no caribou. no sheep. no moose.
While we had a fabulous trip, I have many other opinions about the various aspects of the Princess cruisetour. Some good, some less than great.
I will say that, on the cruise portion, we saw whales, porpoises, whales, otters, eagles, whales, sea lions. Did I mention whales??
Note: anyone who wants to book the Tundra Wilderness Tour should be aware that they are typically booked solid by sometime in February of a given year. We really 'lucked out' by getting a cancellation.
That's great that you were able to substantially improve your Denali experience. For folks who try to book the Tundra Wilderness Tour too late and find it full, though, the NPS shuttles give you pretty much the same experience (for 1/3 the cost). http://www.nps.gov/dena/planyourvisit/index.htm
i did not like the tundra wilderness tour at all. of course, i also traveled the dalton hwy which was an amazing experience of flora and fauna so my view of nature viewing may have been spoiled by the time i got to denali.
first of all, they overbooked... two people finally volunteered to get off the bus and take a different tour. me and my fiancee were almost separated by several aisles (which would have totally sucked since we only had one set of binoculars) until two people from our dalton hwy group were sweet enough to switch seats so we could be together. we ended up squished into the extra seats in the back. i started cramping up about an hour into the tour because of the lack of shoulder room(me and my fiancee had to take turns leaning forward so the other one could "un-hunch"). we saw very few animals (i know, luck of the draw), our driver had to focus so much on staying on whatever schedule she had that when we did stop to see an animal it wasn't for long. AND because it was so cramped i couldn't see a thing because everyone would stand up and block whatever view anyone in the back potentially had.
everyone from the dalton hwy group agreed it was a lousy tour. probably a better deal to use the other bus system that lets you hop on and off.
denali activities i DID enjoy were taking hikes on the entrance trails, horseback riding, and the husky demonstration at the visitor's center (now that's where we saw wildlife up close - a moose was munching grass literally 2 feet from our bus on the way over!) the denali salmon bake is also a really good place to eat... best fish tacos i have ever had. amazing fish and chips. good micro brews.