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
- 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
- Reservation Options:
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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