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The Denali Debate Known To Cruisers


We’ve been lucky enough to visit Alaska twice, in 2009 and earlier this year, both times while cruising on Princess ships, first the Coral Princess and then the Star Princess

On both occasions, we heard the tale of the Mount McKinley versus Denali name debate, which was new to us. On both occasions, we concluded that the vast majority of the people of Alaska thought the mountain should be called Denali, its native and original name. And on both occasions, we came away thinking the stalemate was such that it wouldn’t happen in our lifetime.

Last week, in case you hadn’t heard, it happened.

Denali it is.

As another Alaska cruise season concludes this month, passengers currently extending their time on land tours are the first to see Denali with its “new” name.

This has been a never-ending political debate. McKinley was a Republican U.S. President who never visited Alaska but who had the misfortune of being assassinated 114 years ago. Alaskans started trying to re-instate Denali — “The Big One” to the Athabaskan people — 40 years ago, when the name of the national park became Denali. Through various means, mostly technicalities, it was blocked by a congressman (Ralph Regula) from Ohio, President McKinley’s home state.

In layman’s terms, the statute of limitations ran out on the stalemate, and last week President Obama instructed Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to change the name to Denali. Yet the political debate never dies. Yesterday on CNN, there was former Alaska governor Sarah Palin, dismissing (or dissing) the loss of the McKinley name.

Palin is, of course, Republican.

Cruise passengers who get to see “The Big One” in person and who listen to guides and Alaskans alike know that last week’s decision was not so much political as it was the will of the people.

They’ve known the mountain as Denali for a long, long time.

In the news…

• Norwegian Epic's winter home to be Fort Lauderdale, not Miami
• Puerto Rico Quality Service Program to enhance tourism service
• Royal Caribbean President's Cruise set back a week to Sept. 18, 2016

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Holland America Zuiderdam
17 nights
December 11, 2015
Fort Lauderdale (return): Half Moon Cay, Aruba, Bonaire, Panama Canal, Colon, Puerto Limon, Fort Lauderdale, Half Moon Cay, Falmouth, Grand Cayman, Cozumel
Inside: $1,360
Cost per day: $80

Story Telling at Denali National Park

​DENALI, Alaska — She stands, proud and alone, at a place 16 miles into Denali National Park called Primrose Ridge. She is a small woman and her bright blue sweatshirt fits loosely below the long greying hair that tells you she is probably a grandma. Miniature carvings hang from her ears, another one from her necklace.

Her name is Linda Reid.

When she speaks, it is with clarity. When she sings, as she does briefly after greeting and educating a busload of passengers from the Star Princess, it is the sweet voice of history. She is there, or one of her people are, to give visitors a look at a family with roots deeper than many of the trees around them.

“I’m here on behalf of all native Alaskans,” she says with feeling. "The Eskimos from Barrow and Nome — they don’t want to be called Eskimos…the Klinket from the southeast, Sitka and Juneau…the Haida from the southeast…the Athabaskan from the interior — that’s what I am and we’re related to the Navajo… and the Aliut from the south — they’re half Russian. We speak different languages but today, I speak for all of us."

Linda Reid-8Linda Reid goes on to tell her story, and everybody has one.

“Four generations ago, one person came up here and made it…or I wouldn’t be here,” she says softly.

That would be her great-grandfather. He came north in the 19th century, became chief of the Arrowhead tribe and founded Minto, on the Tanana River. His son (her grandfather) traded with the Hudson’s Bay Company and taught his family members they had three seasons to get food off the land so they could make it through the winter.

She pauses, and smiles.

“Later in life, he was deaf and my Grandma was blind. When the phone would ring she’d say ‘Answer that noise’ so he did, and when she asked who it was he would say ‘Nobody home.’”

Her parents raised 10 children in a one-room log home. Her father was chief, council member and store manager. He hunted for meat, fished, picked berries, mushed dogs and built sleds and snowshoes. All were skills he passed along.

“He died five years ago,” she says. “They were together for 63 years. She made a potlach for him last fall and four months later she died at 84.”

This is her interpretation of her culture. She passes it along now every winter, as a volunteer teacher, passing it along to the little ones.

“And,” she says with a big grin, “I am the proud Grandma of ten little Indians.”

Before the Princess Cruisetours visitors leave, she sings a short song from her great-grandfather’s era and passes along a few words of Athabaskan.


Thank you, my friend.

There, you learned something new today, and so did we.

In the news…

• Italian culinary expert Fabio Cucchelli to update Costa menus
• Guy Harvey artwork being applied to Norwegian Escape
• Wider variety of shore excursions coming for AIDA Cruises

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Norwegian Sky
4 nights
October 12, 2015
Miami (return): Grand Bahama Island, Nassau, Great Stirrup Cay
Inside: $259
Cost per day: $64

Wildlife In Alaska Often Surprising


ALASKA — For a few days, we thought our views of Alaskan wildlife might be the mosquito on the sidewalk in Anchorage, the crazed woman standing on the side of the Parks Highway menacingly cradling a rock in her hand and a moose of uncertain gender and size that we spotted from the seat of a de Havilland Beaver, flying 2,000 feet above the Chulitna River.

Then, along came Mother Moose.

That’s her in the picture, leading her two offspring through the non-wilderness at Denali National Park.


This picture was taken about 50 feet from Mama and her kids, on the doorstep of the park’s Visitor Center. There were probably 300 people who in those minutes were this DSCN8449close to the moose family, and not much further away were 10 or 12 buses. We’d just disembarked from one of them, and this was the first stop of the Princess Cruises’ Natural Wilderness Tour.

It was the last place we expected to see a moose, especially one so close.

There are two types of wilderness you see in Alaska. On land tours like this one, particularly in Denali, you can hope to see not just moose but also bears and cariboo and dall sheep. Also mosquitoes, of which there are 13 species, all of which bite. On cruise ship tours in the Alaska ports, you can hope to see whales…as well as bears and cariboo and dall sheep.

The key word is “hope.”

In Alaska, seeing wildlife can be a challenge. Often it takes you by surprise, as it did when we were hiking a mile to the Mendenhall Glacier during a Star Princess shore excursion IMG_2049called Mendenhall Glacier and Whale Quest, which our bus driver called the best tour in Juneau, and he wouldn’t get an argument from us. One of the unexpected wildlife events was seeing this porcupine not six feet off the path where we walked. This wasn’t our first porcupine, but it was our first in natural habitat, and he/she seemed okay with the clicking camera phones.

The second half of that six-hour tour delivered the whales. Whales were not just a promised, they were guaranteed…or you get your money back. At least at this time of IMG_5802year, when the humpbacks are back from their winter vacations in Hawaii, tour guides are more than comfortable throwing down that gauntlet, and the first whales we spotted were just 15 minutes or so after leaving Juneau.

How many did we see?

Too many to count. A couple of (pods) of between six and 10. We saw them creating bubble nets (as if surrounding a school of fish), and we saw them breaching (below)Whales— apparently you seldom see them do both on the same trip, or at the same time. 

The experts say that whales are smart, so maybe they just know when to put on a show.

Maybe the moose knew, too.

In the news…

• Low water levels in Europe forcing river cruise lines to change itineraries
• American Cruise Lines' Mississippi riverboat named America to debut in 2016
• Holland America 'Explore 4' promotion for booking early rewards for 2016-17

Today at portsandbows.com: The changing world of cruise dining

Carnival Liberty
7 nights
September 27, 2015
San Juan (return): St. Thomas, Barbados, St. Lucia, St. Kitts, St. Maarten
Inside: $409
Cost per day: $58

Princess's Diamond In The Wilderness

LodgeDENALI, Alaska — Of the five lodges that Princess Cruises operates in Alaska, the one on the doorstep of Denali National Park has the size, the reputation and the history that a flagship hotel — or a flagship anything — should have.

At 656 rooms, it is the biggest of the five lodges with which Princess cruise passengers have become familiar. 

At 656 rooms, it is the biggest hotel in Alaska.

The lodge at Denali is a destination. From it, you drive only three miles to see the sights of the park. From it, you drive only three miles to board the train for a nine-hour trip to Whittier, the Princess port in Alaska. 

It’s a village unto itself, with shops and restaurants and attractions just moments from your room. It’s a busy place — occupancy is over 90 per cent May to September — and, Bonnie Westlundlike many Alaska tourist stops, it’s a temporary home to a younger demographic of tourist.

“In 1987 [the year the lodge first opened], the average visitor age was 76 years,” says Bonnie Westlund, the resort’s General Manager. “Now it’s 62. We’re now seeing more and more multi-generational families visit.”

In its early years, the Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge was a victim of the Curse of Good Friday. On the anniversary of the great earthquake (1964) and the Exxon Valdez oil spill (1989), a fire broke out Good Friday in 1996. It was a major blaze, burning the core of the property, yet the lodge was virtually re-built, opening in time for the annual spring season just six weeks later.

“I’m told they were literally moving furniture in as guests were arriving,” says Westlund.

Across the highway from what locals call Glitter Gulch — a ragtag collection of shops and hangouts that in other locations might be called a strip mall, the classy Denali Princess stretches almost the entire length of the “gulch.” Sitting high above the Susitna River, its Susitnaspectacular vistas on the other side do not include Mount McKinley, which is visible from the park, and give it the look and feel of a five-star cabin in the woods.

The signature restaurant is the King Salmon…no imagination necessary to know what that featured menu item is. There’s also a nightly dinner show at the Music of Denali Theater, built to replace (temporarily) the burned-out kitchen from the 1996 fire and now where Base CampVillageyoung performers double as waiters before singing in a musical, Alaska-style. And a third, pub-style eatery called Base Camp Bar & Grill overlooks the river.

The lodge is a “base camp” for atypical wilderness ventures, from aggressive hiking to helicopter rides to nearby (25 minutes) glaciers, but more than anything it is the entree to the national park.

Princess passengers can plan cruisetours so that they stay three or four days in what is — considering that you’re in the middle of the “last frontier” — a glorious contradiction.

When you’re managing a place like this, that contradiction can be explained by the need for WiFi:

“People tend to forget that we’re in the middle of nowhere,” laughs Bonnie Westlund. “They think the Internet grows on trees!”

In the wilderness, almost everything does.

In the news…

• Natalie Cole on Cunard's Queen Mary 2 for jazz club in October
• AIDA ships to offer flat rates to Internet customers

Today at portsandbows.com: All the latest cruise news

Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
July 10, 2015
Anchorage, Hubbard Glacier, Juneau, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, Ketchikan, Vancouver
Inside: $449
Cost per day: $64

Alaska cruising: A Time to Plan

While this hardly seems the time of year to be talking about places as cold as Alaska is right now, it's not a bad idea. This is when people start to make decisions for after The Thaw if they've got Alaska on their minds.

So, as a public service, here are some things you should know about Alaska cruises…

Holland America (139 scheduled trips in 2013) and Princess (119) are the industry leaders in volume, and both have seven ships touring the 49th state next year.

• For the complete package, you can't beat the cruisetours that Princess has perfected for seeing this beautiful state before or after your cruise.

Denali National Park is a must. And, if you happen to be 62 or older (and a U.S. resident), it's one of 10 places in Alaska where you can buy a lifetime National Park Pass for $10, for entry to any park in the U.S.

• Wildlife is a wish. If you want to be sure of it, find a way go to the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, where wild animals are being rehabilitated for release. Other than that, even in Denali, it can be hit and miss.

• Be prepared for whatever weather. Spring to fall, the climate can be wonderful or wistful, so you have to accept there could be impediments ranging from rain to cold to mosquitoes to fog.

• If you're a first-time, one-timer try to take a flight over either the glaciers or mountains, or both. The scenery from a small aircraft is jaw-dropping.

• Historical stops — and there are plenty — at the usual ports (Skagway, Ketchikan, Juneau) are enlightening and only costly if you buy some of the "stuff" they're selling.

Everybody should see Alaska once…at least.


Celebrity Millennium
7 nights
May 24, 2013
Vancouver, Ketchikan, Icy Strait Point, Juneau, Skagway, Anchorage
Inside: $699
Cost per day: $99

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