Travelers who wish to take a boat tour in a new area are often confronted with a plethora of opportunities. Typically, there are several competing companies, and each company may have several offerings. That was the scenario that Tim and I faced when we were trying to book a cruise from Seward to Kenai Fjords National Park. How to choose, how to choose?
Kenai Fjords Tours came highly recommended by several people, and options ranged from a dinner cruise to a nine-hour tour. We read far fewer comments about Major Marine Tours, but we decided to look at the offerings for both. Ultimately, we ended up choosing one of the tours with Major Marine. There were several factors that led us to that decision.
First, we wanted a tour that was long enough to get all of the way into Kenai Fjords National Park. We also preferred a smaller boat. But for us, the deciding factor was that National Park rangers accompany most of the Major Marine cruises. Many cruises with Kenai Fjords Tours include a stop at an island with a presentation by a National Park ranger, but we weren’t too interested in spending time on an island. We also eliminated the longest tour offered by Major Marine on the smallest boat because no ranger would be on board. So, after careful consideration, we selected the seven and one-half hour tour on a relatively small boat. Decision made!
Did we make the right decision? We will never know. We do know that we thoroughly enjoyed our tour and that the presentation by Ranger Chad added so much to our experience. With that said, I’m guessing that almost any cruise would have been an amazing experience.
We had selected Saturday for our cruise because the weather forecast was a bit more promising than the steady rain that Seward had been experiencing. It was still cloudy when we headed out of the harbor into Resurrection Bay on the Orca Song. Within ten minutes, we had our first wildlife sighting of the day – sea otters swimming not too far from shore. Those little critters are always such a treat to watch.
|The Orca Song - It Was Sunny When We Returned to the Dock|
|Leaving the Harbor|
|Clouds Over Resurrection Bay|
|See Otters Always Elicit a Smile|
Once we rounded Aialik Cape and cruised into Aialik Bay, we were finally in Kenai Fjords National Park. Kenai Fjords National Park is a land of ice. The Harding Icefield covers over half of the park, and nearly 40 glaciers flow from this massive ice sheet expanse. Fjords created by the receding ice provide access to many of the tidewater glaciers. Aialik Bay is one of these fjords.
Soon after crossing into the bay, we had our second significant wildlife sighting, and one that I was most looking forward to – orca, or killer, whales. We joined several other boats, and it appeared as if each one tried to reposition itself for the best views. Although I was thrilled to see orcas for the first time since arriving in Alaska, the experience was a bit disconcerting. The boats seemed to form a circle around the whales, as if we were rounding them up. I have to trust that our behavior was not harmful to the whales, but I’m not so sure. I was almost relieved when we finally moved on.
|What Magnificent Creatures|
|The Orcas Stayed Around for Quite a While|
|Everyone Had a Great View|
|I Think That's Blue Sky Ahead|
|The West Arm of Holgate Glacier|
An added treat while stopped at Holgate Glacier was watching a lone kayaker making his way among the sea of ice. He looked so small out there, almost minuscule against the face of the glacier. That was a brave soul.
|Jagged Peaks Pierce the Sky|
|Kayaker vs. Glacier|
After waiting with little success for Holgate Glacier to provide us some calving action, we moved on and back into Aialik Bay. Our longer tour gave us the opportunity to also visit Aialik Glacier, and it was a sight to behold. Although its size cannot compare to the giant Columbia Glacier that we visited while we were in Valdez, I was still impressed. I must admit that we’ve been spoiled. However, size isn’t everything! In some ways Aialik Glacier was more impressive because it stood out so against the deep blue sky. I was happy to stand out on deck and just stare.
|Aialik Glacier Is a Magnificent Thing to See|
|One Side of Aialik Glacier|
|It Was Hard to Stop Taking Photos|
Once again, we saw very little calving, but I was happy with all that we did see. A sailboat and several small tour boats joined us in front of the glacier, but I didn’t mind because they provided a sense of scale that was otherwise difficult to judge. These glaciers are much taller than they first appear to be.
We were also in a perfect spot to watch harbor seals as they lounged on the chunks of ice floating in the bay. This was our best opportunity so far to study these lovable mammals, and they didn’t seem to mind our presence.
On our way back to Seward we stopped to visit nesting areas for several of the seabirds that can be found in these waters. We also were treated to another visit by a pod of orcas, and these whales stayed with us for quite some time. At one point, a few humpback whales joined in, which Ranger Chad thought was somewhat unusual.
|A Perfect Spot for Nesting Seabirds|
|It's Always a Thrill to Spot Whales|
|Let's Stick Together|
Tim and I really enjoyed our cruise with Major Marine Tours. Ranger Chad shared so much with us, and it was clear that he really loves what he is doing. He is a retired schoolteacher who moved to Seward about 30 years. He fell in love with the region and now enjoys sharing this special place with others. His enthusiasm was contagious.
Since arriving in Alaska, Tim and I have taken three cruises in different parts of the state to view glaciers and wildlife. I cannot imagine visiting Alaska without getting out on the water. Although these cruises shared certain similarities, I will remember each one for different reasons. For example, I will especially remember the cruise in Glacier Bay National Park for the wilderness experience that it offered, as well as the unusually perfect weather that we experienced. Those are two things that we have encountered nowhere else.
The enormity of the glacier itself was the highlight of the Columbia Glacier cruise in Prince William Sound. I’ve never been so close to a glacier that large. Our first orca sightings and Ranger Chad’s insights are what I will take with me from our day in Kenai Fjords National Park. He is a great ambassador for the National Park Service. And, of course, it goes without saying that I will remember each glacier and all of the wildlife that we were able to see.