It was a perfect day – sunny, clear blue skies, and calm winds. After multiple rainy days, the weather finally broke. We were so excited about the weather because we were taking the Major Marine Boat Tour to the Kenai Fjords National Park that day. We had reserved the 7.5 hour boat tour with the National Park ranger several weeks ago without knowing what the weather would be. Looks like we chose a great day!
The most common ways to visit the Kenai National Park is either by sea on a boat or kayaking tour or by air on a flightseeing tour. There are no roads into the interior of this National Park. The Harding Icefield covers over half of the area of the park and there are 38 glaciers scattered all over the region. Exit Glacier is the only glacier that you can visit in your car (see previous post). Also, the glacial fjords are home to many marine species and sea birds. Many of these animals come from other continents to spend the summer in Alaska. While the tour was pricey for us, it was the only way that we could see much of the landscape and the wildlife of this National Park.
We visited the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward the day before our boat tour. The SeaLife Center is both an aquarium and a marine mammal rehabilitation and research center. Like the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center near Girdwood (see previous post), the Center is a non-profit organization that focuses just on the northern marine environment. While we were there, we saw a baby otter that had been rescued and was being cared for by the staff. Also, we saw other mammals such as Steller sea lions and otters. There were salmon, eels, king crabs, octopuses, sea stars, and many other fish in their large holding tanks.
In addition, there was an aviary with many seabirds such as tufted puffins, common murres, cormorants, and more. It was a very nice SeaLife Center and we were glad that we took the time to visit it and learn more about the marine life that we would be seeing the following day.
On the day of our boat tour, we boarded the vessel about 9:30 AM and left the harbor about 10:00 AM. The crew was very friendly and helpful and the national park ranger provided salient information along the way. We left our things at our assigned table and made our way up to the upper viewing deck where we spent most of the day. It was windy and cool but we had come prepared with lots of layers of clothing so we were fine.
To our surprise, some of our friends that we had met in Canada on the Alaska Highway, Wendy and Dennis, were on the cruise too. We enjoyed catching up with them. It’s always fun when you bump into friends again on the road.
The boat took us out of Resurrection Bay into the Gulf of Alaska and back into Aialik Bay. On our way to Aialik Bay we spotted our first humpback whale. The captain stopped the boat and we watched the whale for a while as it fed alongside one of the many rock islands. It was an amazing sight. By the time we returned at the end of the day, we had seen 6 whales. We also saw many otters and a seal. There were lot of fishing boats everywhere that day.
We made our way into Aialik Bay where we saw two glaciers up close – Aialik Glacier and Holgate Glacier. It is hard to capture the size of these glaciers. The Holgate Glacier was a mile wide! We were fortunate to get to see both of the glaciers calve icebergs. It was a thunderous sound when the ice broke off and fell into the water below. We spent well over 30 minutes at each one just taking in the whole experience. We were not alone. At the Aialik Glacier there were also a group of kayakers enjoying the view.
On our way back to Seward, we stopped near several other islands near the Gulf of Alaska. On one there were thousands of sea birds nesting there. It was amazing to see so many birds in this one place. On a number of other islands and along the rocky coast, there were Steller sea lions basking in the sunshine and jumping into the water. It was so fun to watch them.
On the return trip, the captain invited any of the passengers who were interested to come up to the Bridge. David and Kimberly joined a small group and they had a great chat with her.
We arrived back in the Seward harbor about 5:30 PM. It had been a bucket list item for us to do this boat tour here in Seward and it was even more special that we got to share it with our daughters. It was an indescribably wonderful and unforgettable day!
Notes for the boat tours:
- Be sure to bring lots of layers of clothing including warm hats and gloves. The wind off the water and the glaciers is cold even in summer. You do not have to be out in the wind and cold if you do not want to because you can enjoy the scenery below deck since the boat has lots of large windows on all sides.
- The day we traveled the waters were calm but the captain said that there are days when there are 10 foot swells so you might want to take some anti-nausea medicine before departing. You can purchase it at the Marina or on board the ship.
- The tour group offers a salmon and prime rib lunch for an additional charge. We thought the lunch was delicious and worth the additional cost. You can always pack a lunch too if you do not want to purchase the one provided by the tour group.