Holland America Celebrates Opening Of Denali Square At McKinley Chalet Resort

Open Jaw
by Bruce Parkinson

Ribbon Cutting: HAL President Orlando Ashford cuts the ribbon to celebrate the opening of Denali Square.

The view from Denali Square.

A Denali tundra wilderness tour offers incredible scenery and the opportunity to see wild animals in their native element. 

The patio at Karstens Public House.

Holland America wants the land experience of its Alaska guests to mirror the quality, ambience and social connectedness they enjoy aboard its ships. The opening of the Denali Square dining, entertainment and shopping area at its McKinley Chalet Resort represents a significant step in that direction.

The inauguration ceremony was a big day for HAL and its parent Carnival Corp., as evidenced by the presence of Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald, Holland America Group CEO Stein Kruse and Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford.

Carnival Corp.’s importance to Alaska tourism was reinforced by the attendance of Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski and Don Striker, superintendent of Denali National Park and Preserve, one of the planet’s most important - and truly stunning - wilderness areas.

McKinley Chalet Resort is located on the edge of the park, as is sister property Denali Princess Wilderness Lodge. Together, the 2 resorts total over 1,100 rooms, and either one would be the largest property in Alaska on its own.

The 60 acre, 478 room McKinley Chalet Resort is set on the banks of the Nenana River, with deluxe rooms located on a hillside closer to the highway into Denali, while on the riverside below, large cedar lodges each feature a dozen well-appointed mini-suites, some with balconies.

The concept behind Denali Square was to offer a dining, drinking, entertainment and relaxation space for the 2/3 of guests staying below the upper-level accommodations. It was also designed to give guests a space to interact with each other, an increasingly important element of the Holland America philosophy.

“We are constantly looking for things we can do to elevate the guest experience,” said HAL President Ashford. “We’re all about connections – between our guests and with the destination. People who travel with us are collecting experiences and for 143 years music, wine and food are things we’ve done very well at sea. We want to create similar experiences on land.”

Denali Square offers all of the above. It’s an airy, indoor/outdoor setting with plenty of al fresco seating and gas-powered fire circles for warmth and ambience. There’s an amphitheatre with a covered stage for musical performances and presentations by park rangers.

The centrepiece of Denali Square is the 7,800 sq. ft. Karstens Public House, named to honour Harry Karstens, the 1st superintendent of what was then Mount McKinley National Park, before it and North America’s tallest mountain were rechristened with the Athabaskan word Denali, or ‘great one.’

Karstens serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and features a spacious bar area and seating both inside and out. There’s a coffee shop integrated into the space as well. The ambience is natural wood, glass and stone combined with chic industrial touches. There’s a good selection of Alaskan craft beers and an innovative menu including local ingredients like caribou, Alaskan king crab and salmon.

As well as Karstens, the square features the Gold Nugget Saloon, where guests and other visitors can spend an evening that includes an all-you-can-eat meal of salmon and BBQ meat, followed by a musical comedy show celebrating the first men to reach the 20,300 ft. summit of Denali.

There are several upscale gift shops in the square, including one featuring Alaska Railroad branded merchandise and a photo studio offering both touristy costumed photos and the amazing nature photography of proprietor Jimmy Tohill.

Denali Square also features a space for an artist-in-residence. A series of artists will spend 1 or 2 weeks there, both creating and engaging with guests about their craft.

Two important Alaskans voiced their approval of the Denali Square addition at the inauguration ceremony. Senator Murkowski called the development “a wonderful addition to what God put here,” while Park Superintendent Striker said: “Thank you for helping make Alaska the destination that everybody wants to see before they die.”

And indeed, Denali Square is a great success. In a place of incredible scenic beauty, its architecture and ambience doesn’t feel like an intrusion.

“At the end of the day, the hero is still the mountain, the park and nature,” said Ashford.

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