It is very hard for me not to give Afognak Wilderness Lodge five stars. However, certain events and issues can't be ignored, hence the four star rating. Let me explain, starting with the good.
My husband, daughter and I spent four magical days at Afognak Wilderness Lodge, and I must admit it is one of the most enchanting destinations to which I've ever been, and I'm well traveled. The well-made, hand-hewed long cabins and lodge are snug and cozy, as well as spacious. The kitchy decorating in the guest cabins could probably be updated (my husband felt a little out of place surrounded by frilly curtains and cutesie knick knacks), but overall the lodging is delightful, especially set among mossy pathways that bring 'The Hobbit' to mind. One suggestion I do have for the owner is that it would be great if they put a little table in cabin 3 (not sure if the other cabins have a table or not). There was a basket filled with magazines and playing cards but nowhere to really play. There is plenty of room for a table, that's for sure.
Fishing on and around Afognak is excellent. The three of us came back with less than half the fish we actually caught and we brought back over 150 lbs of silver salmon, halibut, yellow eyes, lingcod and black bass. Garrett, our faithful fishing guide, worked hard to put us on the fish, and put us on them he did. It was rare for us to drop our jigs and not have a fish on almost immediately. Cranking those fish up some 150 - 200 feet took a lot of muscle and we often found ourselves having to rest awhile after landing them. We never did hook into a 'barn door' halibut but it wasn't for lack of trying.
The food at the Lodge was delicious and plentiful. Brian, the chef, knows how to cook, and his creative and thoughtful dishes never failed to please. Fresh baked breads and pastries adorned the table each morning, along with egg dishes, oatmeal, yogurt, fresh fruit, potatoes, and much, much more. Dinners were equally tantalizing, and we had everything from seafood to island harvested venison (the best wild game I've ever had, and we're hunters). Side dishes were varied and desserts, just perfect. One of the guests had dietary restrictions and Brian still managed to please every palate.
Upon arrival we were warmly greeted by most of the friendly staff. We were led to our cozy cabin in the woods where we changed clothes and booked it down to the dock to go fishing. Here is where things get a little shakey with the four instead of five star rating...
Guests share boats with other guests. That is all good and well if everyone is on the same page with expectations and wish lists. I would have to say each guest staying at the lodge when we were there had far different expectations and preferences. Sometimes it just goes that way. One couple only really wanted to photograph wildlife, though they did fish part of a day. Another couple, who had been guests of the lodge six years prior, hoped for a repeat of their previous stay which amounted to their having their own guide and a boat exclusively for them. Given what we paid for our stay I can understand wanting more one-on-one attention. We wanted to fish hard, see some whales, a bear or two, and fish some more. We did have one day all alone with our guide and it was really special, but we also had two great days fishing with Garrett's family who was visiting from Seattle. Garrett still primarily catered to our needs first and foremost and we had a lot of fun visiting with these down-to-earth people and fishing with them.
Thankfully, we only had one tense day on the water largely due to sea sickness and guests with mixed expectations. It was the very first day out and the expectations issue was remedied on our boat the next day when, after regrouping, two guests were moved to another boat. As I mentioned, we had a good time with all our boat mates but there were issues on the other boat that carried over to land and made meals and socializing rather strained at times. Besides having different trip expectations (fishing vs. photo ops), these two couples sharing a boat had pretty strong political opinions- one couple leaning hard left and the other, hard right. Not a good combination, especially in close quarters. Heated discussions even came up around the dinner table. Though my husband, daughter and I are very politically informed and have strong opinions ourselves, we did not feel it was the time or place for such discussion as no one was about to change his or her mind. This did put a damper on meals. One morning two of the guests stormed away from the table when another guest snapped and said something the others found offensive. I think it had something to do with an 'event' on the boat the previous day.
Another complaint was that as nice and darling as the girls were, the housekeeping staff was lacking in the housekeeping department (they were amazing 'deck hands, though, and can really process the fish!). We really would have liked to have had new towels each day as nothing dries there, and it was drizzly most of the time. We finally went down to the lodge and got our own replacements. We even brought our 'dirty' towels down. We were led to believe each day the girls would freshen up the cabin, replace dirty coffee cups, and so on. We made our own beds though we were told that was one of their perks. On the first full day of our stay our adult daughter found her bed remade which was strange as my husband's and my bed wasn't remade and our daughter makes a better bed than I do!
The third disappointment was having to pay for fish processing - $1 a pound for anything we brought home (keep in mind we were already paying $3200/person for four days of fishing). It's for this reason we only brought back 150 lbs. of fish between the three of us. We caught far more but we had limited funds and we still had to pay for freezer space per box in Anchorage upon our return from Afognak, as well as baggage fees to get them all the way home to Colorado. Furthermore, my husband helped filet and bag the salmon. No big deal on that as he enjoyed the comaraderie, but still, most lodges I looked at do include the processing in the package price. As an aside, I wish we'd requested different cuts of fish - filets AND steaks. I am sure the staff would have been happy to do this. We just didn't think to ask.
Fourth, I know it was due to a combination of things but we were supposed to be out on the boat by 9:00 a.m. each morning and that rarely if ever happened. Do I feel cheated or think we didn't get enought boat time? Not really. Garrett fished us hard and by day's end we were usually ready to go in, especially since the weather wasn't always cooperative. HOWEVER, we could have stayed out forever the day we were into the silvers. That was the only time we got to the dock after the other boat.
The 'event' that probably had the biggest effect on my four star review had to do a misunderstanding, if you will. The evening before our last day of fishing we asked Garrett if we would be by ourselves in the boat the following day? He said yes. No new guests were coming until the day we were leaving. One of the other staffers confirmed this. We asked Garrett if we could go out earlier than usual in the morning and he said, "If you want to I'll be ready when you are." Next morning we hurried through breakfast and headed down to the dock. On the way we ran into the lodge owner's son, also a guide, and told him we were off to fish. "No you aren't," he said. Turns out there were two men coming in on a plane in an hour or so and we had to wait for them as they were slated to fish with us. Someone forgot to inform our guide and the staffers of this fact. The owner's son continued to inform us that he was 'taking the day off from guiding' to do paper work. Please don't get me wrong. It takes a lot of organization to run a successful business, but there are three boats and three guides at the lodge and under the circumstances couldn't or shouldn't this young man have put the customer first, especially after learning about Garrett's and our plans for the day, as well as the lack of communication about the arriving fishermen (I heard Garrett insist to the fellow that he did not have these incoming men on his schedule)? However, the owner's son refused to change his plans and we had to wait almost two hours to get out in the boat. We did have fun with the two new boat mates but it just left a bad taste in our mouths.
The final blow to missing the five star rating had to do with gratuities. I had set a certain amount aside that I believed generous for the guide and the help staff. How surprised I was, though, when, at the end of the trip, the lodge owner informed me most guests tip 10% of their total bill! We were already paying $3200/person for the four-day trip, not to mention airfare to and from Kodiak, and now she was suggesting (not pressuring, mind you) that I pay another $960 to be divided by the guide and four staffers, and in a way I didn't necessarily agree with.. I was too tongue-tied to make my wishes known. I should have checked with the owner BEFORE our trip so that I could have planned accordingly. Most online sources suggest $50-60/day to the guide. Ironically, when we were in Kodiak we ran into one of the couples who had left the lodge when we did. When I mentioned the gratuity issue they were appalled and said they didn't leave anywhere near 10%, nor, they said, did the other couple who was there with all of us. Had I been taken? I don't know. The owner is a nice lady. We did call the lodge when we got to Anchorage and asked the owner to cancel our credit card tip, which she graciously did. When we got home I sent a check for the gratuity. I actually did 'up' the tips from what I'd originally planned but divided them the way I felt fair and reasonable. Still, the whole incident threw my family and me for a loop.
On a more positive note, Garrett took us on a bear walk at which time we saw nine Kodiak brown bears including sows and their cubs. It was an adrenaline rush for sure. Additionally, the day we fished for silvers Garrett fired up the grill and we enjoyed fresh caught salmon right then and there as we reeled them in! He also made sure we got our fill of upclose (but not unsafe) encounters with humpbacks and dall porpoises. We even saw killer whales out a ways In short, we saw everything and more that we'd hoped to see and Garrett did his utmost to give us a wonderful time.
In short, it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. I doubt we'll ever go back to the lodge, but not because we don't want to. Between airfare and travel expenses on top of lodge fees this isn't the kind of trip we can afford to take very often. Hopefully we will go back to Alaska one day, and if we do we will undoubtedly glance out in the direction of Afognak, point and say, "What a magical place, and what adventures we had at Afognak Wilderness Lodge!"
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- We are located in the heart of a coastal state park with a wide variety & abundance of land/marine wildlife plus outstanding fresh/saltwater fishing and we've been one of Alaska's favorite true-wilderness lodges since 1974. To reach us, you fly to Anchorage, connect to & overnight in Kodiak then, the next morning, the float-plane service will pick you up from your hotel lobby, have you on our dock by 9:00am . . . and the adventure begins. ... more less
- Also Known As:
- Afognak Wilderness Hotel Kodiak Island