Review of The Ahwahnee Hotel

Yosemite National Park, California

Valentines Day, 2006

by Jess Stryker

The Ahwahnee Hotel
The Ahwahnee Hotel, viewed from the meadow.

Our Trip to the Ahwahnee Hotel

Julie and I began our trip from Southern California with the long drive up California´s Great Central Valley on Highway 99. At Fresno we turned off Highway 99 and took Highway 41 up into Yosemite National Park. Coming in from the south on Highway 41 the road winds through much of the park, past the historic Wawona Hotel (a classic Queen-Ann style wood hotel with buildings dating from 1876 to 1918), up to the Glacier Point turnoff, then back down the mountain into Yosemite Valley. The Highway 41 "southern" entrance to Yosemite Valley is by far the most impressive of the 3 routes into Yosemite Valley. A brief glimpse of half Dome in the distance teases you as you wind down into the valley. Then the road plunges into a long tunnel and you emerge from the tunnel to the famous "Tunnel View"; a breathtakingly spectacular view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridelveil Falls! Julie groaned as I insisted on stopping for a photo, as I have dozens of times before. After quickly snapping a few photos we continued down to the Valley Floor.

Click on any photo for a larger image.

1st view of Yosemite Valley on hwy 41     Exiting tunnel on hwy 41     Exiting tunnel on hwy 41     View from Tunnel View vista point on hwy 41    

As it was about dinner time when we arrived in the valley, we decided to head straight for the Yosemite Lodge Cafeteria for a quick dinner. They were in the process of working on the roads in the Village area of the Valley, so we were forced to detour up through the residential area behind the Village. This took us past the Magistrate´s Court, which I designed the irrigation system for many years ago, then down warehouse row, past the park administration building, and the new Yosemite Falls trailhead.

Upon arriving at the former cafeteria we discovered it had been remodeled and is now called the “Food Court”. The Yosemite Lodge has also been renamed the “Yosemite Lodge at the Falls”. Dinner at the Food Court was as would be expected, not the best bowl of stew I´ve ever had, but not the worst either. The staff was friendly and relaxed, one of the advantages of visiting early mid-week during the winter, when crowds are thin.

After a quick dinner we drove over to the Ahwahnee Hotel and checked in. The Ahwahnee is just what you would expect of any 4-star hotel, it was built to be the luxury hotel for Yosemite, and remains so today.

I had requested a “top floor room” which is my standard request for hotels as we dislike listening to the elephants that always seem to have rented the room above us. Since we were checking in on a Monday in the winter there was almost no one at the hotel. The very friendly and courteous young lady staffing the front desk told us that they were giving us a room on the 6th floor, and that it was a lovely room with a view of Half-Dome from one window and Glacier Point from the other. This sounded very nice to us. All members of the hotel staff were always friendly, courteous and helpful. All staff members greeted us pleasantly whenever we came across them in the hotel. (They were also very helpful and patient with me as I snooped around the hotel over the next two days, sticking my nose into various places I really had no business being in.)

We took the elevator up (there´s only one public elevator and one service elevator), noting with pleasure that the 6th floor was indeed the top floor. Stepping out of the elevator we found ourselves in a small lobby area, and that the 6th floor was very small. Our room was labeled “The Spencer” on the door.

Door to the Spencer Room    
Door to the Spencer Room.

Walking into the room we found it was indeed a lovely corner room. It was dark outside, but there was enough moonlight to see that the views out of the beveled, leaded glass windows were indeed breathtaking. The windows appear to be original, with 3 separate panels in each side-hung window that swung outward to open. New sliding screens had been added on the inside of the windows. Above each window was a transom window which was opened using a lever mechanism mounted on the outside of the window below it. It was not a large room, but not small either, with a king bed, and two end tables with lamps next to the bed. The remainder of the room was furnished with a tile mosaic-topped table, floor lamp, two semi-rustic leather strap chairs and an armoire. The table had a coffee maker with coffee, tea, bottled water, ceramic coffee mugs and foam “take-out” coffee cups with lids. Inside the armoire were a TV (who needs a TV in Yosemite?) and a small refrigerator. None of the furniture appeared to be original or even particularly old. Historic photos and a very large mirror hung on the walls. The carpet was the standard commercial carpet found in most hotels.

Room 607     Room 607     Room 607     Room 607    
Room 607     Room 607    
Photos of room 607, the Spencer Room.

Off the main room was a walk-through closet with a built-in cabinet and drawers, a safe, two nice linen bathrobes, and an iron and ironing board. Walking through the closet you enter into a small bathroom with a combination tub/shower. The bathroom featured a typical tub-shower and toilet, however the sink was a pedestal type in keeping with the age of the hotel. All of the fixtures were non-original, but were made in a style typical of years gone by. The sink and shower faucets were chrome with white porcelain handles. The bathroom was the best supplied I have ever seen in a hotel. Soaps, lotion, shampoo, a glass container filled with cotton balls and cotton swabs. A scale was sitting in a corner in case you want to see how much weight you have gained on your vacation. The housekeeping staff had left examples of their towel origami skills. To top it all off, a small, yellow, rubber duck sat on the edge of the bathtub!

Closet     Sink     Toilet    
Tub/Shower     Rubber duckie    
Bathroom of room 607.

The room was fully modernized, with forced air heat and air-conditioning, and plenty of electrical outlets. The original radiators used for heat have been removed from the rooms, although they are still used in the hotel's ground floor public rooms.

At this point I need to note that our room was not a standard guest room, it is the next grade up. The standard rooms do not have two windows, and the windows are not beveled, leaded glass (only the ground floor and 6th floor have leaded glass windows). The layout of our room was different due to the 6th floor location (more on that later.) However, the bathroom fixtures, room furnishings, supplies, and décor are typical of all the non-suite rooms.

Beveled glass window, room 607.    
Beveled, leaded glass window, room 607.

Since it was late when we arrived, we took some pictures of the room (before we messed it up) unloaded our luggage and then went to bed.

The next morning we had breakfast in the Ahwahnee Dining Room. The dining room is simply spectacular! Our room was a package deal that included a cooked to order or buffet breakfast, we chose the breakfast buffet. The buffet featured a good selection of the usual items, scrambled eggs with cheese, bacon, sausage, cold cereal, oatmeal, hash browns, and lots of breads and muffins. In addition they had thin sliced salmon, eggs benedict, and a few other things that a simple guy like me couldn´t identify. The food was good, but nothing outstanding (after all it was pre-cooked buffet food.) If you want a cooked-to-order breakfast, a full breakfast menu is available, and I'm sure it is excellent. The wait staff was very friendly and attentive. After breakfast we spent the rest of the morning snooping around the hotel.

Breakfast at Ahwahnee    
Julie & Jess at breakfast in the Ahwahnee Dining Room.

Shortly before noon we drove up to our favorite ski area, historic Badger Pass, where we had lunch in the Day Lodge at the downhill ski area. We then went over to the Glacier Point X-country ski trailhead and skied to a point about ½ mile beyond Summit Meadow. The snow conditions were pretty icy despite the sun shine, and soon small clouds were drifting over. So we headed back to the truck before the snow got any icier. Neither of us are great skiers and we don´t get much pleasure from slipping around on icy snow. With our short X-Country track skis we don´t have metal edges to grip the ice and control becomes difficult. So we goofed around a bit back at the trail head, then packed up and headed back to our hotel.

Unloading our truck     Glacier Point trailhead     Parking Lot     Downhill area.     Downhill area     Badger Pass Day Lodge     Downhill area    
Cross-Country Sking at Badger Pass.
Julie takes on the "big hill"!

After we finished skiing we headed back to the Valley, and took a few more photos of the Valley as we drove through to the hotel. That evening we again went over to the Food Court at the "Yosemite Lodge at the Falls" for dinner. This time I had pizza, which was surprisingly good. I guess the Food Court wasn´t the most romantic dinner for Valentines Day, I probably should have taken Julie to one of the other two restaurants at the Yosemite Lodge, both of which have table service. Oh well, too late now.

Bridleveil Fall    
Bridleveil Fall
El Capitan    
El Capitan

As I´m writing this it is just after 9 pm on Valentine´s Day and I am sitting with my laptop on a sofa in the Great Lounge of the Ahwahnee Hotel. The Dining Room is a popular place on Valentine´s Day; many couples come up to the hotel for an elegant and romantic dinner. I can hear the grand piano and singing coming from the Dining Room on the other side of the Elevator Lobby. (No, I´m not neglecting Julie on Valentine´s Day, she´s sitting next to me on the sofa, and she has received plenty of love and chocolate today!) I confess to not having eaten dinner in the hotel Dining Room. I´ve broken my budget already on the room and breakfast, but I understand dinner at the Dining Room is excellent. (Expect to spend at least $50.00 per person plus tax & tip on dinner, much more if your taste runs to the high end of the menu and you get a good bottle of wine.) There is a dress code for dinner, enquire as each year it seems to become more relaxed. No dress code for breakfast or lunch, although I don´t suggest “slumming it”, as you will feel out of place.

There were a lot of couples enjoying a special Valentines dinner in the Dining Room and we watched with some amusement as they stumbled out just before 10 PM when the entertainment ended. I guess when you buy a very expensive bottle of wine for dinner you feel the need to drink the whole thing! They were definitely having a great time and fortunately most of them were staying in the hotel, so they wouldn´t be mowing-down deer on the narrow park roads. We did note a few rental limos outside; apparently some couples had wisely hired a limo to bring them up to Yosemite for dinner and were returning back to Fresno, or wherever they lived, after dinner. A little after 10 PM we headed upstairs to our "penthouse" room for bed.

A storm was blowing into the area that evening and about 10:30 the wind started really screaming through the trees outside. I had opened the transom windows to help cool the room and the wind was whistling through them and making an awful noise, so I got up and closed them. Went back to bed, but about the time I was falling asleep the fire alarm bells went off. We dutifully got up and dressed, but a check of the hall didn´t indicate any smell of smoke, so we decided to stay put. We were both half-asleep, in retrospect I think we would have been wiser to head down toward the lobby, particularly since there is only one stairway down from the 6th floor and no fire escapes. The Ahwahnee was built as a fire resistant hotel, made primarily of concrete, but there is still a lot of wood in the hotel and it is nice and dry from age. The hotel does not have fire sprinklers. It turned out to be a false alarm; apparently some joker pulled one of the alarms. Too much expensive wine I guess! At any rate we stumbled back to bed.

The next morning we headed down to breakfast a lot earlier than the previous morning, and were able to get a window table. The sky had clouded over and was menacing looking. About half-way through breakfast it started to snow outside the window, and it was beautiful beyond words. After breakfast we returned to the room and reluctantly started packing to leave. Then we went out to shoot some more photos of the hotel and explore a few areas of it that we hadn´t got around to yet.

View from Dining Room    
View from the Ahwahnee Dining Room (note the reflection of the chandeliers in the window). It's lightly snowing.

When we headed back for a final visit to our room before checking out, we ran into another couple in the elevator who were staying in the Mary Curry Tressider suite. The Tressider suite was the former bedroom of Mary Curry Tressider, back when the entire 6th floor was her penthouse home. They invited us in to see their room, which was great. By the way, I guess I didn´t mention that the 6th floor is supposed to be haunted, more specifically the Tressider Suite is the prime “spirit” activity area. As if to not disappoint, the couple who had stayed in the room had gotten a good fright the night before. A large photo of Mary Curry Tressider hangs on the wall and it is one of those “eyes follow you” photos. As the lady staying in the room said “she´s been watching us ever since we arrived!” But this is far from the creepiest thing. The bed itself is a four poster bed. Above the bed are two reading lamps. These lamps are brass, and each lamp is shaped like a hand holding a (electric) candle. There is a left and a right hand. These disembodied hands protrude out from the wall over the bed. It´s more than a little creepy looking. Apparently they turned on these lights and decided to leave them on while they slept (I didn´t ask if they were scared of ghosts?) At any rate the night was a rather exciting one with both the storm and the fire alarm. After the alarm the couple went back to bed, leaving the lamps on. When they woke up the lamps were both off. They are convinced that a spirit turned the lamps off. They graciously allowed me to take a few photos of the room. We then took them to see our more humble room and ran into the housekeeper who was cleaning the Sunporch Room. She allowed us to come in and look at the room since the guests who rented it had already checked out. It is a beautiful room with huge windows on two walls. We thanked the housekeeper and left her a nice tip for her kindness.

View from the steel balcony of the Mary Curry Tressider suite.     Mary Curry Tressider suite dressing room/bath     Mary Curry Tressider photos on wall.     Mary Curry Tressider suite cabinets in bath.    
The Mary Curry Tressider Suite, view is from steel balcony off the room. Photo on wall is of Mary Curry Tressider.
Sunporch Room     Sunporch Room    
Sunporch Parlor (sorry they're out of focus)

The drive home was rather slow due to the snow. We have a 4-wheel drive truck with snow tires, so snow isn´t an enormous problem for us, but it does really slow down the trip. Taking highway 41 out from the park to Fresno there are two passes you must go over that get significant amounts of snow. The first is inside the park between Yosemite Valley and Wawona. This one had only a small amount of snow, maybe an inch on the road, and was no problem at all. The second section is centered on the town of Fish Camp which is just outside the park boundary. For some reason this area gets lots of snow, and this time was no exception. There was about 3 inches of icy snow on the road. Traction with my truck was not bad and I was having no problem until we rounded a corner to find a car had stopped in the middle of the opposite lane of the road to put on chains- on a blind curve (dumb, dumb, dumb!) Another car was passing the first, and coming straight at us in our lane! Fortunately I was able to stop, but not without a lot of clunking from my anti-lock brakes. It gave us a bit of excitement and something to talk about for the rest of the drive home, which was uneventful.

OK, so now that I´ve bored you with my travel stories, I would like to give you a virtual tour of the world famous Ahwahnee Hotel. As with all my hotel tours I hope to give you a little more than just the basic drive-by experience! I´ll stick my head inside unlocked doors whenever I can, and try to dig up a few interesting tidbits along the way. Lucky for us they were remodeling during our visit, so you´ll even get a peak inside the walls! And yes, we will discover the secret behind at least some of the hotel “ghosts”!

More on the Ahwahnee Hotel:

Take a virtual tour of the Ahwahnee Hotel.
Planning your trip to the Ahwahnee Hotel.
A Brief History of The Ahwahnee Hotel.

All text and images by Jess Stryker, unless noted. Copyright © Jess Stryker, 2006-2009. All rights reserved.



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