Saturday, January 4, 2020

Alaska’s Hotel Captain Cook: Delight-Inducing Homage to the Age of Exploration

In the past few decades I've visited Alaska four times—but three of those visits were taken around 1990 (yes, essentially 30 years ago, if you’re doing the math). During those trips, I explored the Kenai Peninsula, Denali, Anchorage, and pretty much any spot accessible via paved road. I even drove the spectacularly scenic and solitary highway that parallels the Alaska Pipeline and links inland Fairbanks to coastal Valdez on Prince William Sound.

After three trips, I decided I’d seen everything there was to see, including every corner of Anchorage, the state’s largest city.

When I visited Anchorage recently, however, I realized I’d overlooked a spectacular spot smack dab in the city center.  Despite at least six previous stays, I somehow missed the sublime and historic Hotel Captain Cook. Set on the edge of downtown and overlooking the Cook Inlet, Anchorage’s best hotel is named for the British seafarer who explored the area and the Pacific Ocean in the 1700’s.

To me, history and pedigree are all good, but what sets the hotel apart is that quality that’s difficult for hotels anywhere to attain: absolute uniqueness. While Captain Cook’s exterior is rather bland and unremarkable (which might be the reason I overlooked it during previous visits), its interior, inspired by the classic wooden ships Cook sailed, couldn’t be more spectacular.

From a beamed breakfast room that resembles a below deck dining mess to corridors lined with original oil paintings depicting Cook’s travels and the peoples he encountered, the hotel is a romantic tribute to the Age of Exploration and a celebration of the rich cultures and dramatic landscapes of the Pacific Rim.

While the lobby and public areas were the chief sources of my delight, the rooms weren’t so bad either. With stylish and Pacific-themed d├ęcor, rooms approximate posh but lack the original art of the hotel’s public areas. That’s okay, though, as many offer dramatic views of the adjacent Cook Inlet (look for the ghost-like shapes of beluga whales in the water just below and snow capped volcanoes in the distance).

The restaurant that crowns the hotel offers the best views and finest fare in the state. On the main floor, expertly poured cocktails in the English pub-like restaurant are matched with decent food, though bar TVs distract from what is otherwise an aura of a previous era.

The hotel’s service is sometimes spotty. But that's easily overlooked, given the hotel's art and unique atmosphere. If you like hotels with a scintillating sense of place, don't follow my lead--visit on your first trip to Alaska.

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