My family stayed at Chena over the Spring Equinox weekend, a busy time for the resort. We arrived late morning so could not check in until 3 p.m., but we were given pool passes that gave us immediate access to the pool and hot springs, which we used and appreciated.
We had booked a Signature Room, which was essentially a two double-bed dorm-style room with very basic amenities, in a two-story, eight room building. We were on the ground floor, which meant that it was very disruptive when anyone from one of the other seven rooms came in or exited the building. There were, between the hot springs staying open until midnight, and those heading out through the night to check on the aurora, dozens of instances of the main door banging shut and people tromping up the stairs beside our room. I wasn't expecting a full night's sleep (we, too, hoped to do some aurora-viewing), but the noise of the constant coming-and-going got annoying.
We got up to view the aurora at 3:30 a.m., having been awoken by a staff member who was knocking on our neighbor's door, saying "The lights are out, the lights are out!" This was a welcome interruption, and we headed out as well, walking up the dark hillside to the "aurorium" viewing area. The aurora was not dramatic that night, but we felt fortunate to see them at all, and none of the negativity in this review has anything to do with not getting a better "show". We had heard that the resort did wake-up calls for when the aurora was out but when I asked a staff member about this she thought that we couldn't rely on them as they sometimes "fell by the wayside."
We ate all three of our meals in the main dining room, and in a Groundhod Day-type moment ended up at the same table in a dark interior room all three times. The skinny on the meals: reasonably-priced, decent main courses, salads were as fresh as anything in Alaska (thanks to the greenhouse on site), the service was mediocre. Lots of waiting (for tables, even when there were empty ones), for someone to take our order, to get our check.
There are some things Chena Hot Springs Resort is to be commended upon, especially given its remote location, such as the thermal energy plant and the greenhouse production. But there are so many small touches that could truly set it apart that would cost next to nothing. The dining room often had heavy curtains drawn that unnecessarily blocked out a lot of natural light; extra chairs and tables were dumped just outside the restaurant in the restroom area that gave it the feeling of being a dead zone; historical photos of the area could have been much more prominently featured instead of hung in forgotten corners. And the poolhouse changerooms could have benefited from one of those spinning quick-dryers to get most of the moisture out of bathing suits that were about to be packed in luggage for the trip home. Sometimes, doing things the "Alaskan way" can be charming and quirky, at Chena this mainly means it is amateurish.
Another small but important improvement that would be so easy to make: the pool reception area also serves as a quasi-pharmacy, selling everything from disposable bathing suits to shampoo and toiletries. But seeing condoms and anti-diarrhea products on sale AT THE POOL did nothing to enhance the quality of my experience. Sure, we're 50 miles from the closest drug store, but for goodness sake, sell those items somewhere else on the property.
The rock pool outside (no kids under 18) was the main attraction for me, and it was glorious to stand in the sun, look at the surrounding peaks, and relax. Some areas of the pool have extremely hot water on the surface, and those with sensitive skin need to be careful about where they travel within the pool. At one point walking through a certain section I felt like I was scalding my stomach. Other areas do not suffer from this, but the heat can quickly get overwhelming.
The resort also needs more staff oversight of the hot springs. In several visits to the rock pool over two days, I never saw a staff person out there, and once when I walked past late at night (on an aurora-seeking mission), there were a bunch of younger yahoos in the springs with open liquor bottles. Glass (and alcohol, for that matter) in the pool is not cool. Guests should not have to be policing that.
Overall, I was glad to visit, Chena does have its natural beauty and location going for it, but on the service and accommodation front it falls well short of where many would place their expectations. Having been once, I do not expect to return.
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- Also Known As:
- Chena Hot Springs Hotel Pleasant Valley