July 26, 2015

A Cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park

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

It was now time to visit a few glaciers.  As we made our way into Holgate Arm, we caught our first glimpse of a blue sky, which provided a perfect backdrop for the two arms of Holgate Glacier.  This tidewater glacier may be one of the smaller ones that we’ve seen, but it was still a beautiful sight.  The jagged peaks stood out so clearly against the sky, and the color was stunning as always.

I Think That's Blue Sky Ahead

The West Arm of Holgate Glacier

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.

A Sailboat Provides a Little Perspective on Size

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.

Is He Smiling?

Is It Time for a Swim?

I Hope This Ice Doesn't Melt

Sailing Away from Aialik Bay

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

Synchronized Swimmers

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.


  1. Major Marine had already stopped its cruise schedule for the year when we were there in August 2010, so we did the Kenai Fjords with the competition, choosing the dinner option on Fox Island ... hubby still raves about the crabs. Aialik did put on a show for us, but we didn't see any orcas on that cruise. I am surprised the boats formed a circle and the NPS ranger didn't say anything ... as far as I know what they did is a no, no ... but perhaps the circle was wide enough and far enough that it wasn't an issue.

    1. I do believe that any cruise in Kenai Fjords would offer a similar experience, except for the crabs! I bet they were good! I was concerned about the whales and did think we were too close. Since Ranger Chad didn't say anything, the boats may have been far enough away. I'm not familiar with the regulations, and even if I were, I'm terrible at judging distances.

  2. Beautiful pictures of a wonderful tour. It is great that you got to see Orcas - they aren't always around. I think the best is definitely the one with the sailboat - the scale shows just how amazingly large the glacier really is. You can't go wrong with any of the cruises...

    1. Thank you. I really liked the photo with the sailboat as well. It can be so hard to convey just how massive glaciers can be.


We love hearing from you and reading your comments.

To leave a comment, type what you'd like to say and then click on the arrow next to "Comment as:". You can select "Anonymous" if you'd like. Finally, click "Publish." That's it.