Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Yosemite: Curry Village Review

I want to wrap up my series of posts on our recent visit to Yosemite with a review of the overall Yosemite experience, particularly the facilities.

Yosemite, as hopefully has been illustrated by my photos of just a few of Yosemite's wonders -- see the related links at the end of this post -- is truly one of the world's natural wonders and should be seen if at all possible. My posts have barely scratched the surface of all there is to see and do. Visiting Yosemite is an experience you'll always remember.

The Yosemite experience is not without its problems, however, and I thought future visitors in particular might benefit from some advance knowledge.

There are three basic levels of accommodation in Yosemite Valley: to use Disney World jargon, the "Deluxe," most expensive experience is the Ahwahnee (described here). The "Moderate" price point is Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, built in 1915:

The "Value" accommodations are scattered throughout Curry Village, historically known as Camp Curry:

Curry Village includes a smallish but nice hotel; we stayed there in the late '90s and our room was spacious (3 beds, including one in a loft) and immaculately maintained.

Further down in price at Curry Village are wooden cabins (some come with bath, some without), tent cabins, and "housekeeping camp," which provides tents and, unlike the cabins, allows cooking.

Here's a view of tent cabins and wooden cabins:

A closeup of a wood cabin without bath:

Tent Cabins:

Reservations far in advance are recommended, but if you decide you'd like to visit shortly before you're able to make the trip, don't despair. In the case of Curry Village -- I'm not certain about the other lodgings -- cancellations must be made at least 7 days in advance of a reservation date in order not to lose the deposit. Last-minute guests can take advantage of other guests' cancellations in order to book a room within a few days of a trip.

On both our visits we have started phoning or checking the website a couple weeks before our intended stay, and in each case we have successfully obtained reservations even though the park was "fully booked" days and weeks before. This may take persistence for a few days, but we also know others who have successfully used this method to book last-minute rooms. You may not have your first choice in where you stay, but you'll be able to make the visit.

The immaculately maintained pool at Camp Curry:

I love the beautiful view from this pool, which never lets you forget that you're in Yosemite.

Staying inside Yosemite Valley is highly recommended, as the Wawona Hotel, located just inside the park's Southern entrance, and hotels outside the Southern and Western entrances are at least 45 minutes away, and lodging along the 395, outside the eastern Tioga Pass entrance, is 2 hours from the Valley.

Camp Curry, founded in 1899, has a rich history which is well documented in a fine book, YOSEMITE'S INNKEEPERS: THE STORY OF A GREAT PARK AND ITS CHIEF CONCESSIONAIRES by Yosemite historian Shirley Sargent. This book is available via the Yosemite Store. Among the evening programs available at Camp Curry is a Huell Howser show on the fascinating history of the park's firefall.

Good angles to staying in Yosemite Valley include easy access to many of the park's most famous sights, and an excellent bus system with clean, well-maintained buses which run frequently. You will want to park your car upon arrival -- it can be challenging to find a space -- and rely on the buses until you leave. Camp Curry has something of the feel of a jolly international summer camp; I'd estimate that at least one-third of the voices we heard were speaking with foreign accents or in foreign languages.

Our cabin was adequately maintained, given its age, and was clean other than the apple stickers someone had left behind on the furniture, and bedspreads which were stained and had seen better days. (I preferred to put my own bedding, available since we had our camping gear with us, on top of the bed.) Two electric lights, four electrical outlets, and a small fan are the concessions to modernity. Unfortunately the cabins are rather stuffy and windows must be kept shut when you're away if you have food in the cabin, due to the prevalence of bears in the area.

This cub was in the tree outside our cabin:

The bad: other than the Ahwahnee dining room (which I haven't yet experienced myself) and the extremely busy Pizza Patio at Curry Village, the food is uninspired, overpriced, and all around pretty awful. Our impressions of Yosemite foodwise are shared by other family members and friends who have discussed their Yosemite experiences with us.

Additionally, janitorial service in the outdoor eating areas was inadequate; when we ate at the Pizza Patio we never saw a soul sweeping or wiping tables.

Sadly, the concessionaire running the restaurants takes advantage of having no competition and a captive audience, since dining outside the Valley requires a lengthy drive which most park guests are unlikely to make, particularly in the dark or after a long day hiking. The dinner buffet at Camp Curry made my daughter's USC dining hall look like a gourmet restaurant, by comparison. We attended on a night when turkey and chicken fried steak were served. The salad bar, if you can call it that, consisted of a bowl of wilted lettuce and a small handful of toppings. What a colossal waste of money.

The Grill at Yosemite Village (below) produces adequate hamburgers, but barely so. And it closes at 6:00 p.m., so you're out of luck if you've been busy in the park and are ready for dinner at 6:00. The Curry Village Taqueria is inexplicably open only for lunch, so the few dining choices available shrink further at dinner.

Click to enlarge and read the Grill's menu:

When we visited in the late '90s the food situation was exactly the same, and nothing has been done in the years since. You'd think they'd at least have figured out how to serve more people faster at the Pizza Patio in the intervening years, but unfortunately we still had to stand in a long line on this trip, with it being over an hour from getting in line to being served the pizza.

To add insult to injury, the free breakfast tickets that came with our room indicated breakfast would be served in the Coffee Corner. After standing in line at the Coffee Corner for 20 minutes our first morning, we were directed to a completely different room for breakfast. An employee we spoke with, who had redirected another family just previous to us, said her supervisor knew about the ticket problem and just shrugged semi-apologetically.

Would it really have been so hard to print new breakfast tickets or put up a sign directing ticket holders to the correct room? In a nutshell, that experience speaks to an institutional laziness and lack of initiative on the part of both management and employees.

The hot items served at breakfast were adequate but nothing special. Fortunately it's hard to mess up cold cereal, toast and O.J. :)

The other significant issue throughout Yosemite Valley was poor maintenance of the bathrooms. It's a shame that so many park guests are slobs, but since they are, provision needs to be made by park management to deal with it. Long-term maintenance also needs to be addressed, as in some cases the bathroom equipment was sliding down the walls. Huge cobwebs and other things that needed to be cleaned were visible under the overhangs of the bathroom windows.

Farewell sign at Camp Curry:

If anyone wonders, I've shared these thoughts directly with Yosemite's concessionaire, Delaware North, via the survey they send guests after their stay.

Trip Advisor has dozens of reviews by other Camp Curry guests; many of them echo comments in this post.

The bottom line: Should you go to Yosemite? Absolutely! You'll have a wonderful time, and you'll always be glad you made the trip. Simply be mentally prepared for some inconveniences, including poor food and less-than-optimal bathroom maintenance. Pack plenty of healthy snacks to supplement anything you buy in Yosemite, but also be aware you can't store them in your car due to bears.

Related posts: Mariposa Grove, Vernal Fall, The Ahwahnee Hotel, and Yosemite Falls.


Blogger Irene said...

I'm sorry to hear of the slippage that has occurred in Yosemite. When we were there in the 70's we stayed in the lodge. If memory serves me correctly, the bus was more like a tram. I do not remember any food problems and our room was very nice.

I have enjoyed that Huell Howser program about the fire falls many times :)

8:26 AM  
Blogger Laura said...

They do still have trams that give tours, which are separate from the bus system that currently runs throughout the valley; in the late '90s I took the Valley Tram Tour, which was fun. It lasted a couple of hours, with a ranger along to give an informative spiel about what we were viewing. We also saw trams available for tours at Mariposa Grove this year.

Best wishes,

8:30 AM  
Blogger Shmulik said...

We (2 adults+ 2 children) have a reservation for a cabin with breakfast in Curry village (We still have to check if the breakfast is for 2 or 4)
Do we have other choices for breakfast than the buffet - restaurants, Cafes, grocery
Do you recommend to make a reservation w/o breakfast?

12:04 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

I would sign up for the breakfast again, although I wouldn't eat dinner in the cafeteria again. The breakfast consists of bacon, hashed brown potatoes, bread & muffins available to toast, cold cereals, juice, and more. It won't be the best breakfast you ever ate, but it was adequate and filling.

The only other option for breakfast is buying cereal or other food in the Curry Village market/souvenir shop or in the bigger marked by Yosemite Lodge. The only other restaurants in Curry Village are fast food (pizza and tacos) which aren't open for breakfast.

Depending on your travel plans, you may want to bring in your own cereal and a cooler with milk to save money, otherwise I'd go ahead and do the breakfast.

Have a great trip!
Best wishes,

12:13 PM  

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