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Major Marine Tours Review: Seward’s Best Day Cruise (& My Personal Fave!)

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Many people want to go to Alaska to take a cruise: they board a ship in Seattle or Vancouver, spend seven days wending their way north, and enjoy a few excursions along the way. Upon pulling into port in Alaska – usually in Seward or Whittier – they’re then eager to explore Alaska by land: they see the sights in Anchorage, maybe explore the outdoors a bit (maybe by hiking), and try to catch a glimpse of Denali. Most visitors don’t necessarily think to hop back on a boat and explore the waterways looking for wildlife; they skip the chance to explore these two northern ports entirely!

After a lifetime of traveling in Alaska – growing up there, visiting repeatedly since my family moved away – day cruises are one of my favorite Alaskan activities. There’s nothing like boarding the ship in Seward, eager to see whales, otters, puffins, and glaciers on a day in Kenai Fjords National Park.

Major Marine Tours Review Hero

In this post, I’m going to share my thoughts on one of the two bigger day cruise providers in Seward: Major Marine Tours. For an unknown reason, my parents exclusively cruised with Major Marine when I was a kid growing up in Alaska; it’s become my favorite of the two main cruise operators (the other being Kenai Fjords Tours) that you can book to take a day cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park from Seward.

If you’re researching Kenai Fjords cruise options and have discovered Major Marine, you might wonder if they are any good. In my Major Marine Tours review, I’ll cover all you need to know to decide whether to cruise with them: the different tours they offer, what you’ll experience, and more.

In this post, I promote travel to a destination that is the traditional lands of the Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.

This post was originally published in August 2017 and was updated most recently in April 2024.

Why Cruise in Kenai Fjords?

You might wonder – especially as a visitor to Alaska who’s just gotten off a cruise ship –, “Why do a cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park?

As an introduction, Kenai Fjords National Park is a 607,805-acre park established in 1980. The park is home to Harding Ice Field, which is the source of 38 glaciers, including Exit Glacier. Like their Norwegian namesake, Kenai Fjords are glacially carved fjords that range from 600-1000 feet deep; the mountains tower up to 6,500 feet above sea level. As such, within the park, there are some incredible mountain and fjord views! The landscape alone is stunning.

Many people visit Kenai Fjords to try and see wildlife. Some of the most common animals you’ll spot in the park include sea birds – the puffin is a crowd favorite – and sea otters. Don’t be surprised if you see so many of these cuties during the day that they aren’t as exciting by the end of the cruise! (This is a mixed blessing since large otter populations indicate that the species has recovered since the Exxon Valdez oil spill in the 1980s, but they can decimate the populations of critters they eat including shellfish and urchin which help keep the water quality stable.) You might also spot other animals like mountain goats, harbor seals, and Stellar sea lions while out on the water.

Perhaps the most exciting animal you’ll see in Kenai Fjords is whales – this is one aspect where Seward/Kenai Fjords is actually a better destination than Whittier/Prince William Sound since you’re more likely to see whales in Kenai Fjords than PWS. (Read my full comparison of Seward and Whittier here.) The two most commonly spotted whale species are Humpback whales and Orcas (Killer whales). You might also see Fin whales if you’re really lucky.

Finally, Kenai Fjords is a great place to see glaciers; Major Marine Tours’ longer routes will take you to one or more glaciers where you can learn about these rivers of ice and watch to see if any ice falls off (a process called calving).

Major Marine Tours Cruise Options

In recent years (since I’ve become an adult and started this blog), I’ve done three cruises with Major Marine Tours… that’s probably more than most local Alaskans!

On each occasion, the weather could not have been more different: the first featured sapphire blue skies and smooth seas, the second was rainy and 8-12 foot swells, and the third started out rainy and windy but ended up beautiful and sunny.

Regardless of the weather, aboard a Major Marine cruise, you’ll spend 4-8.5 hours cruising through Resurrection Bay and the fjords of Kenai Fjords National Park. During that time, you’ll see glaciers, wildlife, and stunning scenery; all cruises also include food and/or drink options too.

Click below to explore the Major Marine Tours options in 2024:

Tour NameDates
(2024)
Price
4-hour Kenai Fjords Wildlife CruiseJune 17 – October 13$139
6-hour Kenai Fjords National Park CruiseMay 4 – September 22*$219
7.5-hour Kenai Fjords National Park CruiseMay 24 – September 8**$239
8.5-hour Northwestern Fjord CruiseMay 31 – September 2$289

*The morning departure runs for these dates; there is also an afternoon departure running June 7 to August 18, 2024.
**There are also cruises on May 10 and May 17, as well as September 13, 2024.

I took the 7.5-hour tour in 2014, the 6-hour tour in 2017, and the 8.5-hour tour in 2022. Today, I recommend the 8.5-hour Northwestern Fjord Cruise, which ranks most highly among Major Marine Tours on my ranked list of the best Kenai Fjords cruises.

Major Marine Tours Review (What You’ll Experience)

As mentioned, I’ve done several of the different lengths of Major Marine tours over the years; this section reflects on my most recent experience on the 8.5-hour Northwestern Fjords cruise that I took in 2022.

After checking in at the new Major Marine Tours desk in the Hotel 360 (one of the top places I recommend staying in Seward), you’ll queue up out on the docks to board your ship. Most of the tours leave around the same time, so be sure to check in with staff outside to make sure you get in the correct line.

Once aboard your boat, the crew will give a safety briefing as you begin to navigate out of Seward Harbor and into Resurrection Bay. Typically, there isn’t much to see in the way of wildlife as you start your cruise, but there are great views of the town of Seward on the starboard (right) side as you head out into the open water.

Most cruises head out and cross Resurrection Bay to cruise up the far side of Resurrection Bay; shorter cruises (3-5 hours in length) will stay in the Bay whereas longer ones (6+ hours) will continue further into Kenai Fjords National Park and other waterways of the park.

On the 8.5-hour Northwestern Fjords cruise, you’ll work up the east side of Resurrection Bay, then cut across the mouth of the Bay toward Aialik Bay or Harris Bay/Northwestern Lagoon depending on the weather (windier/wavier days will mean boats stay closer to land). Then the boat will cut into one of these bays, spending time at one or more glaciers before making its way back to Resurrection Bay and Seward.

Along the way, there will be ample opportunities to see glaciers – both alpine/cirque and tidewater glaciers that touch the water – as well as to see whales if they are in the areas. Boats will also typically divert toward whales if they’re spotted in the area, then maintain a safe distance from them while you watch.

At some point, on tours six hours or longer, you’ll also have lunch. Lunch is typically a simple affair: a sandwich, bag of chips, drink, and sweet snack. This is pretty standard for these day cruises in Alaska and not much to write home about (but also perfectly sufficient to keep you fueled up for the second half of your day on the water). (Also, if you’re looking for the best day cruise lunch, Phillips 26 Glacier Cruise in Whittier takes the cake based on my experience.)

Each captain also has their favorite spots in Kenai Fjords; on my cruise, the captain took us into Cataract Cove with its incredible waterfalls and also made a requested stop at Spire Cove (a scenic part of the park that I had never seen!). The great part about Major Marine – especially on longer tours with smaller boats – is that they make good time and can explore lots of different spots during the cruise thanks to its length.

All Major Marine Tours end where they began: pulling into Seward Harbor in the afternoon/evening. With any luck, you’ll have had great weather and smooth waters, seen tons of wildlife including whales, and watched a glacier calving! Have any questions about my Major Marine Tours review or what your experience will be like? Let me know in the comments below!


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Special thanks to Major Marine Tours, who have hosted me on each of these cruises – but who my readers also rave about!

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I was born on the East Coast and currently live in the Midwest – but my heart will always be out West. I lived for 15 years in Alaska, as well as four years each in California and Washington. I share travel resources and stories based on my personal experience and knowledge.

23 Comments

  • Nikki Gwin

    You are right. I never would have thought to get off the cruise ship and board a touring ship. BUT GREAT idea! Thanks! I am getting excited to try to plan a trip.
    🙂 gwingal

  • Becky White

    I can’t imagine doing a cruise but I’ve heard this is a must – I’m terrible at sitting/standing still but do love mountains and wildlife so I figure I’ll be entertained. What do you recommend – 6 or 8 hour tour. What are advantages/disadvantages of each?!

    • Valerie

      Becky, thanks for reading! Maybe a day cruise is a good fit for you instead of a longer cruise 🙂 The 8-hour tour is ideal if you don’t suffer from seasickness, because it gives you the chance to explore more of Kenai Fjords, see wildlife and glaciers, etc. If you have the time, the longer you can spend — the better!

        • Valerie

          Sorry you had a bad day, John, but that is the luck of the draw sometimes – and major Marine never guarantees what you’ll see. When you figure out how to command wildlife to show up on demand without abusing the animals, do let me know, won’t you?

  • Alana

    Hi Valerie! Can you recommend a kayak tour while adventuring the Kenai Peninsula? We are staying 2-3 in Seward and 1 night in Homer. I found a tour I liked to the Aialik Glacier, but it was very very pricey.
    TIA!

  • Helen Deverman

    Hi Valerie, We are planning a trip in 2022 with another couple…each celebrating our 59th anniversaries. We will be traveling by truck and camper (each couple). I’ve been reading all your articles, and find them very informative. I’m interested in the bundle, but what I want to know is about camping and campgrounds. Do you have or know where I can inquire about traveling by truck and staying in campgrounds. I do appreciate any help you could give us. Thank you.

    • Valerie

      Hi, Helen! It’s really common to travel by RV/camper in Alaska; in fact I’m working on a custom itinerary for a couple traveling by RV this summer right now! I don’t have any articles on it, but it is something I can accommodate with my custom itinerary service. Have fun planning!

  • Stanley

    Valerie,
    Don’t normally comment on web articles but you hit this dead on. Major Marine! Cruised with them twice, July 1993 (2 couples w/4 small children under 6 years old) and June 24, 2022 (2 couples, no kids…..take that back, 1 kid in her mid 50’s). Excellent cruises each time. Staff is very personable and each boat was very comfortable. Didn’t see mountain goats on either one but we saw everything else mentioned. Bonus was a Salmon Shark in 1993 and Humpback Whales that were Bubble Net Feeding in 2022.
    Also saw your Denali View article and I will attest to Talkeetna Alaskan Lodge. Beautiful viewpoint and great place to stay. I’ll have to check out your other articles.
    Stanley

    • Valerie

      Thanks for chiming in, Stanley! I always appreciate extra input so people see it’s not just my opinions or experience with the companies I recommend 🙂

  • MGM

    Read the review but looking for advice on which length you thought was best and why? PLEASE help as we are traveling this summer.

    • Valerie

      Hi! It’s pretty much universally agree: book the longest tour you can for the best chances of seeing more glaciers and whales.

  • Harish

    Hi Valerie – For the 6 hour tours, is it advisable to take the 8am or 11.30am tour? Are the waters calmer in the morning vs later in the afternoon?

    • Valerie

      There is no way to predict the weather, water, or wildlife, so you should just pick whichever one fits the rest of your schedule for Seward!

  • Ashish Sharma

    Hi Valerie, their website says that the 8.5-hour Northwestern Fjord Cruise is not suitable for children under 12.

    We have 2 children, 8 and 11. What tour would be best for us? Thanks!

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