We are back from our Alaskan cruise and tour to Denali. I would like to extend a very sincere thank you to all those that gave their input and advice on visiting Denali. When I last wrote, our tour was going to be the NHT. I am very happy to report that we were able to change from that tour to the TWT! As you all noted, it is so worth doing the longer tour vs the NHT. It was an amazing day in Denali and all six of us loved every minute of it.
It was not an easy task to change the tour and especially when you are dealing w/ HAL. Were it not for the advice everyone gave me, I would have given up and gone on the NHT.
To make a long story short, I was very persistent and determined to take the TWT and was not going to take no for an answer. That said, I called the hotel 4 or 5 days prior to our leaving for Fairbanks and the hotel told me it was not a problem to change the tour. I gave them all the info for the 6 of us and gave my credit card to pay for the 6 upgrades. The hotel told me there would be 6 tickets waiting for us when we arrived. This did not happen as someone did not process my credit card when I made the tour change.
We got to the hotel about 12:45 pm, my husband and I jumped off the bus that brought us from the railroad station to the hotel, ran into the reservation office to get our tickets, and were told we had no tickets. The reservation clerk then left us standing there and went off into another room. She came back w/ another young lady to assist us. Thankfully, this person was able to straighten out the mess and off we went to get on the bus. We had about 20 min. to spare til the tour departed.
As others have noted, the "luxury tour bus" was nothing more than a school bus. The seats were not very wide and the leg room was very tight. There are overhead shelves where you can put any personal items and leave them there throughout the tour. We were provided w/ box lunches, and there were cases of bottled water in the overhead shelves.
We had an absolutely fabulous driver by the name of Bruce (didn't get his last name). His credentials were outstanding as far as his knowledge of the park, history, etc. He was very interesting and not boring at all. As we progressed into the park, if he sighted any wildlife he would stop the bus, tell us to be quiet and note where he was seeing the wildlife. We saw lots of grizzlies and cubs, caribou, dall sheep. He gave everyone sufficient to get up out of their seats and take pictures. He also had video screens on the bus and would show the close up views of the bears, etc. on the screens. I personally found this to be very helpful as sometimes the bears were a distance away and you were able to see them very close up on the cameras.
Our trip was 8 hr. in length, we stopped about every 1.5 hr. for the proverbial porta potty stop and to stretch our legs. We saw lots of dall sheep high up in the mountains also. We were able to get off the bus and use our binoculars (an absolute must have) to see the sheep up close.
As we approached the 15 mile mark, we realized that this would have been the extent of the NHT and we were so happy that we were doing the longer tour. We did not sight any wildlife up to the 15 mile mark. While something is better than nothing if you do the NHT, we were definitely appreciating the TWT.
We met several of the shuttle busses along the way and those exiting the park would have signs posted on the front windshield if the bus was full. We also saw bikers and hikers along the way. I would have to say that the shuttle busses looked exactly the same as our luxury tour bus. LOL If we were going back to Denali, I would simply book the shuttle bus and call it a day. Because we were trying to upgrade our tour, we were not able to do the shuttle busses.
I would also suggest that you bring some food w/ you other than the box lunch provided. While it is sufficient to keep you from starving, it was certainly not all that appealing. The lunch had a small can of chix salad (no mayo), a roll, a packet of carrot stix w/ ranch dressing, bag of chips, and a large choc chip cookie. It was a "no refrigeration required" lunch.
Our turnaround point was at the Toklat River. We got out of the bus and simply stared at the amazing scenery all around us. An awesome place for pictures! We headed back to our hotel and Bruce was still providing narration on the outbound trip. We had some hairpin turns along the way! Just as we were entering the parking lot of the hotel, Bruce stopped the bus and said "quiet". There was a moose coming out of the bushes on the side of the road. He walked across the road in front of our bus, then turned around and headed back into the woods. It was like he was putting on a show for us! Awesome.
Our 8 hrs. passed very quickly, we were amazed at all the spectacular scenery, the changing landscape of Denali and the absolutely amazing wildlife we were able to see. The best part of the trip was that we were able to see a partial view of Mt. McKinley. A sight to behold! The weather was warm, sunny, and in the 70's. The clouds were rolling in as we approached the point where we could see McKinley. All in all, a spectacular day in Denali was enjoyed by all. My quest to see Denali was fulfilled.
Thank you all again for your advice!
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