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“Don't trust their reservation confirmation!”

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Denali Backcountry Lodge
Certificate of Excellence
Reviewed 16 September 2013

The Denali Backcountry Lodge may be a nice place to stay, but we never got to find out. We had reservations there for three nights in mid-August 2013. To get to any of the several lodges at the end of the 90-mile road from the entrance to Denali National Park, you need to take a bus, sent by the individual lodge, at the train depot. We got on the bus for the Backcountry Lodge and enjoyed the 6 ½ hour drive to the Lodge while the bus driver told us about the park and stopped for the animals that appeared.

When we arrived at the Backcountry Lodge, the general manager Bob Zuern got on the bus to read out names and room numbers. He called everyone but us and then asked, as if he didn’t know that we would be coming, “Is there anyone whose name I haven’t called?” When we indicated that we hadn’t received a room number, he told us that we would “get the scoop” when we stepped out of the bus.

When we did, his wife Eva Zuern informed us in a very haughty and perfunctory manner that the lodge was overbooked and that they were sending us to their “sister lodge”, the Kantishna Roadhouse, which we had passed a couple of miles back. No explanation, no smile, no apology. We protested that we had made the reservations months before but Ms. Zuern told us that “there was nothing they could do – the matter was out of their hands”. When we asked whose hands they were in, we received no response. A“Don’t bother us – it’s not our problem” attitude.

Since it was already 7:30 pm, we reluctantly got back in a van and were driven to Kantishna Roadhouse (which, by the way, is owned by a different company, so it’s not really a “sister lodge”). The gentleman at the desk told us that two other couples had been subjected to the same behavior just a couple of nights before we arrived. And the manager of the Kantishna Roadhouse told us later during our stay that Denali Backcountry Lodge had been having similar troubles all summer and that “something must have gone haywire with their reservation system.”

We know that there are occasional instances when hotels and airlines overbook, but the manner by which the Zuerns handled the situation was outrageous. They should have notified us at the train depot before we got on the bus so that we could have taken the Kantishna Roadhouse bus instead. We would have met the other people we would be staying with, would not have had to go further than necessary, only to be driven back to a different lodge and arrive later than everyone else, missing an orientation. They could have been apologetic and understanding of the situation that they had put us in rather than coldly calculating. They could have offered us some compensation – even airlines do that when they bump you from a flight. They did none of this. Clearly they consider that their guests with reservations are inanimate pawns to be moved around the chessboard rather than human beings with expectations and feelings. I would not recommend relying on their confirmation of reservations – you will never know if they plan to honor them.

I will add that two weeks ago, I sent a copy of this evaluation to Paul B. Dykstra, President and CEO of VIAD, the company that owns Backcountry Lodge. I have not received a response.

Update: A week after I posted this review originally, on Sept. 8, 2013, I received a letter from Thomas McAleer, Vice-President and General Manager of Alaska Denali Travel, which is a subsidiary of VIAD. He wrote a very apologetic letter, in which he showed an understanding of what we had been through. He offered us a night's worth of compensation as a refund. Perhaps they will fine-tune their reservation system and be more careful about their guests in the future.

Jane M., Los Angeles

  • Stayed: August 2013, travelled as a couple
    • Service
39  Thank Jane M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Christopher H, General Manager at Denali Backcountry Lodge, responded to this reviewResponded 14 April 2014

Jane M,

We appreciate the time that you have taken to review your trip and share it with other travelers. It is certainly a vital way of contributing to our overall growth and improvement as our business moves forward each and every day. I sincerely apologize for the experience that you had while traveling in Denali National Park in 2013, and while staying in the beautiful Kantishna area.

It is my understanding that you received a satisfactory solution to the problems that you experienced, and I hope that we can continue to not only meet, but exceed, each and every guest’s expectations while they are in our care.

While mistakes are certainly not 100% avoidable, they can be handled with care and sensitivity to each and every traveler. The proper care and responsiveness in such situations shows how important each one of our guests is to our future success.

We have continued to learn and grow as we enter the 2014 season here in Alaska, and I can assure you that such an experience will not be duplicated. As the Operations Manager for Alaska Denali Travel, and as the GM of the Denali Backcountry Lodge, I will personally attend to and ensure the satisfaction of each and every guest, along with the rest of our professional staff!

Denali National Park holds a special place in many of our hearts and provides a lifetime of lasting memories for guests that travel here. Whether it is the opportunity to see wolves, bears, Dall sheep, moose, caribou, or even the Willow Ptarmigan; Denali National Park has a myriad of surprises in its vast 6 million acres. Not the least of which includes North America’s highest and largest mountain, Mt. Denali (McKinley). With the highest vertical relief of any mountain in the world, it is not surprising that the local terrain is nothing short of awe-inspiring!

Our location in the mining district of Kantishna, affords guests the opportunity to learn about the century old Gold Rush that help mold Alaska’s history into what it is today.

With the added experience of participating in guided hiking activities, fishing for trout or grayling in our local waters, mountain biking on the park road, having an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Aurora Borealis, or relaxing in remote stillness; each and every guest is sure to return home with a love for Denali that they will hold in their hearts forever.

If you have any further concerns please contact me directly.

Thanks,


Christopher Hudson
Operations Manager – Denali Alaska Travel
General Manager – Denali Backcountry Lodge

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205 - 211 of 364 reviews

Reviewed 16 September 2013

If you are looking for a safari style trip to see the park then this is not the place to stay. There are no facilities or activities for anyone with restricted mobility and the management and most staff totally ignore you if you cannot hike with them. On the long journey - 6 hours - to the lodge we were offered one can of coca-cola and a biscuit not even a bottle of water. Whilst the cabins were satisfactory the food was adequate but bland and served up canteen style with little choice, usually just meat or meat !! On the return journey we were dumped at the rail depot more than 2 hours before the train was due.
It was a very depressing place to stay tempered only by the sight of Mt. Mckinley and the fact that the tundra was in fall colours, if not it would have seemed even worse.

  • Stayed: September 2013, travelled with friends
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14  Thank toddmre
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Christopher H, General Manager at Denali Backcountry Lodge, responded to this reviewResponded 16 April 2014

Todd,

Thank you for your feedback in regards to your experience during your stay at Denali Backcountry Lodge in 2013. We realize how vital your feedback is in allowing us to improve our business on a daily basis. I apologize that we were not able to meet or exceed your expectations during your stay with us.

We seek to exceed all guests’ expectations while they travel through the park with one of our knowledgeable driver guides. Each trip in and out of the park includes multiple stops for restrooms, snacks, photos, and scenery. Restrooms stops also include many snack and beverage items including: granola bars, fruit snacks, mixed nuts, crackers, fresh baked cookies, Coke, diet Coke, Sprite, diet Sprite, Dr Pepper, diet Dr Pepper, water, coffee, hot chocolate, hot apple cider, and hot tea.

In addition we make sure that we leave plenty of time to stop along the way as we see wildlife throughout the park. Moose, bears, wolves, caribou, and Dall sheep are the large animals that everyone enjoys seeing throughout the park. Each trip is highlighted by even the slightest glimpse of the largest mountain in North America, Mt. Denali (McKinley)!

The 2014 summer season promises to be fun and exciting as we welcome a new chef to our team. Food choices will be plentiful during each guests stay with fresh new soups, salads, and entrées to be served up at Denali Backcountry Lodge.

In addition we will continue to offer the same great activities that we have always offered, along with the added opportunity to relax with more family oriented games and activities for those who wish to relax during their stay at the lodge.

If you have any further concerns please contact me directly.

Thanks,

Christopher Hudson
Operations Manager – Denali Alaska Travel
General Manager – Denali Backcountry Lodge

Report response as inappropriate
This response is the subjective opinion of the management representative and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 14 September 2013

After a long bus trip through Denali National Park it was nice to get to the cabin, have a nice dinner and relax. The superior king cabin was comfortable and quiet with modern bathroom facilities despite its very remote location. The Lodge package includes all meals and snacks and some non-alcoholic drinks. The bus trip, the lodgings and the food do, however, cost a pretty penny! So, be advised that it was around $1,000 per night for this relaxing stopover. There were several opportunities for hiking and nature walks and a shuttle to Wonder Lake for excellent views of Mt. McKinley. We were fortunate to have several days of clear weather and "The Tall One" was on view every day. Food, service and bus operators were all excellent and friendly.

  • Stayed: August 2013, travelled with family
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5  Thank Tom1Florida
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 4 September 2013

Well run facility- no frills, but staff was friendly & helpful. Food excellent. Weather was perfect- hikes & night programs informative. This would have a been a tough place in the rain. Long ride into there, but bus driver quite entertaining. Fortunately saw Mt. McKinley- big treat.

  • Stayed: August 2013, travelled as a couple
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2  Thank dexter033
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 3 September 2013

Finding the Denali Backcountry Lodge during one of our day hikes left us wishing that we had chosen to stay there. Bob and Eva were the most generous and gracious of hosts while providing information about the property. The cedar cabins looked awesome and the grounds were very well maintained. We will be back!. Scott & Lisa St. Thomas VI

  • Stayed: August 2013, travelled as a couple
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2  Thank Scott M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 1 September 2013

after a 6 hour bus ride its good not to have to face the same journey back on the same day. however you do PAY for the privilege not returning the same day and getting the bus the next day.
Maybe I didn't research enough on this one, but I had expected better views from the lodge, but you had to take a ride back in the shuttle and hike to the lake to get any views of Mt McKinley.
The cabins are comfortable and the staff are friendly and helpful, but unless you stay a while there is not all that much you can fit in before the bus out the next day, you can get one hike in in the morning.
If you are short on time and don't want to ride the bus for 12 hours, then consider flying out, it is less expensive than staying the night at the lodge.
Also consider the National Park buses, we thought they may have been too crowded but there seemed to be plenty of them and they weren't overcrowded

  • Stayed: August 2013, travelled as a couple
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2  Thank amotogo
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 1 September 2013

We have been reading the August reviews, well we must have been in a slightly different place! At $1,000 a night, you have to stay 2 or you would arrive after 8pm and leave at 6am. OK, we were happy to do that, a once in a lifetime stay as others state. We expected too much maybe? I don't think so! There were 18 of us independent travellers who arrived on the bus, about 8pm. Went to our cabins, all quite nice but I'm sure I was shown independent cabins when we booked, not a long row of wooden rooms. For $1,000 a night I do expect to have a nice meal at the end of the day - not bay marie food, kept warm, ready & waiting for us to help ourselves! Dessert was no better, sponge cake for goodness sake! Don't tell me they are a long way from supplies, the driver said 100 buses a day go in and out of the park. Yes, the girls were great and we did have a lovely walk to Wonder Lake, but then the rain came & came & came. No one can help that, so some of us thought we'd go to the lounge room, have a drink and sit around the fire - comments - "the bar isn't open" - "the fire is broken" - "we don't know how to light the fire" - so we went back to our rooms until the evening meal. The Sou Chef (What does this mean?) grandly announced his latest delights & left, all again in heated bay maries, this time I think we had frozen veg, tough pork, lumpy mashed potatoes & spiced sponge cake for dessert.
The morning we were to leave, everyone was on board at 6am as required, we all sat quietly waiting, waiting, waiting, eventually the driver turned up, told us we shouldn't be on the bus before he's warmed it up. He told us he was retired - big deal - he said he had to warm the engine up and he hadn't even loaded the luggage. To add insult to injury a family of 5 wanted to fly out but due to the weather (which was terrible) couldn't - so they all held us up even more by not wanting to go on the bus. Finally, about 45 mins later we were off. On the way in we had hot drinks, 3 toilet stops and all was sweet and lovely, on the way out it seemed it was OUR fault we were running late, so one short toilet stop, a biscuit each and nothing to drink. Fortunately we had water but others had nothing, expecting a stop for a drink as we did coming in. Seems there were cans of drink loaded but not issued. A guest on the bus asked for a drink stop, twice & was totally ignored by the driver. We knew we would be woken at 5am to be ready for the bus leaving 6am but when the driver arrives unhappy then blames the guests for the late arrival at Denali to get the train, it's just not good enough. I am writing to Denali Back Country Lodge and Alaska Denali Travel once we are home. By what others have written I really think we were given shoddy treatment, several others were to make complaints and hopefully they will add their notes to this site as promised. Arriving in to Denali & taking the 12.30pm train meant most of us had not had a drink since 5.30am, just not good enough at - I say again - $1,000 a night!

  • Stayed: August 2013, travelled as a couple
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12  Thank davmar70
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Additional Information about Denali Backcountry Lodge

Address: Mile 95 Denali Park Road, Denali National Park and Preserve, AK 99755
Phone Number:
Region: United States > Alaska > Denali National Park and Preserve
Amenities:
Bar / Lounge Free Breakfast Free Parking Restaurant Shuttle Bus service Spa Suites Wheelchair access
Hotel Style:
Ranked #1 of 7 Hotels in Denali National Park and Preserve
Price Range: £833 - £841 (Based on Average Rates for a Standard Room)
Number of rooms: 42
Official Description (provided by the hotel):
When planning your Alaska vacation don't settle for just another Denali hotel! Journey with us winding through the Alaska Range, deep into the heart of the Denali National Park, with opportunities to see Denali's famed wildlife: Grizzlies, Caribou, Moose, Dall Sheep, Wolves, and Eagles. At the very end of the Denali Park road, past Wonder Lake, you'll find a unique enclave in the park known as Kantishna. This area is home to Denali Backcountry Lodge. ... more   less 
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Also Known As:
Denali Backcountry Hotel Denali National Park And Preserve
Hotel Denali Backcountry
Denali Backcountry Lodge Alaska/Denali National Park And Preserve

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