Most 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 enjoying ‘excursions’ along the way.
Upon pulling into port in Alaska, they’re 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.
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 and otters on a day in Kenai Fjords.
The Perfect Cruise: Major Marine Tours
In the past three years, I’ve done two cruises with Major Marine Tours… that’s probably more than most local Alaskans!
In each occasion, the weather could not have been more different: the first featured sapphire blue skies and smooth seas and the second was rainy and eight- to twelve-foot swells.
On my second trip, Mr. Valise helped me shoot some video, which I’ve put together here.
Admittedly, I spent most of the cruise with my head on my arms feeling very motion sick – my #1 pro-tip is to bring Dramamine if you’ve got a sensitive stomach!
Aboard a Major Marine Cruise, you’ll spend 3.5-8 hours cruising through the open bay and fjords of Kenai Fjords National Park. During that time, you’ll see glaciers, wildlife, and stunning scenery.
Click below to explore the Major Marine Tours options:
- 3.5 Hour Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise
- 5 Hour Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise
- 6 Hour Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise
- 7.5 Hour Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise
- 8.5 Hour Kenai Fjords Northwestern Fjord Cruise
I took the 8.5-hour tour in 2014, and the 6-hour tour in 2017.
Exploring Kenai Fjords National Park
You might wonder, as a visitor to Alaska who’s just gotten off a cruise ship, why to do a cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park.
Kenai Fjords, the local’s shorthand name, is a 1,000 square-foot 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 600ft to 1000ft deep.
Kenai Fjords is also home to almost every land mammal, sea mammal, and sea bird that calls Alaska home. It’s not uncommon to see mountain goats, killer whales, sea otters, and puffins. At certain times of the year, you’ll also see migratory birds, humpback whales, and Steller sea lion in surprisingly large numbers.
While there’s no guarantee you’ll see wildlife in Kenai Fjords, you’ve got great chances. On large ships that cruise to and from Alaska, most wildlife will give the ships a wide berth. These smaller ships have better chances of seeing whales and other sea life since they’re less disruptive. Sometimes, the whales going about their business – feeding, breathing – come quite close!
Kenai Fjords National Park is one of the most accessible for visitors who come to Southcentral Alaska, a 90-minute drive from Anchorage. For most visitors, it makes sense to stay a night or two in Seward, so read on for a guide to that small Alaskan city.
A Guide to Seward, Alaska
Seward is a small town on the southern coast of Alaska, home to 2,700 hardy souls. Established in 1793 as a trading post by Russian fur trader Alexander Baranov, Seward grew through World War II, and gained notoriety for the massive damage it sustained in the 1964 earthquake. Over time, the town has begun to grow beyond its fishing roots with restaurants, bars, and tourist sights developing to support the cruising tour operators.
One such must-see is the Alaska Sea Life Center. Located at the edge of town near the waterfront, the Sea Life Center is a research facility and aquarium; it’s home to a variety of species including some animals receiving rehabilitation services.
On our visit this year, I was astounded how complex the aquarium exhibits are. Inside, you can learn about the full life cycle of salmon, seals, sea lions, and otters, and step into a huge sea bird exhibit… Watch out, as the birds like to skim right overhead!
For eating options there is a wide variety, from long-time local restaurants to hip dining spots. My favorite by far is Seward Brewing Company. It’s the kind of place that you’ll be surprised to find in a small fishing city. Inside, you’ll find exposed rafters, cool metal elements, a great beer, and a stunning food menu. Think salmon poke, salted watermelon salad, and a salmon pastrami tostada… it was delicious!
Seward is home to a variety of accommodations, most in the 2-star and 3-star range. I recommend:
- The Van Gilder Hotel (in town). From $129/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- The Seward Windsong Lodge (out of town). From $276/night, book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
That’s just about all you need to have a great day aboard a Major Marine Tours cruise from Seward. Let me know if you have any additional questions in the comments!
A Few Quick Tips to Wrap It All Up
∙ Want to know more about Alaska? Snag a Lonely Planet Alaska Guidebook.
∙ Take great photos of Alaska! I shoot on a Sony A6000 & my iPhone 11 Pro.
∙ Or get pro photos of your Alaska trip: Book a Flytographer shoot.
∙ You can never go wrong with travel insurance: I recommend World Nomads.
This post was produced in partnership with Major Marine Tours, in exchange for my two trips in the past several years. It was originally published in September 2014 and updated in August 2017.