8/5/2014 – Seward Day Cruise Kenai Fjords National Park
Both Kevin and I had the Gilligan’s Island theme song stuck in our heads the entire ride back down to Seward on Tuesday morning. We didn’t talk about it until we got there, and when we found out the other was thinking the same thing, we laughed and said “You too?!?, No way! What a dork!.” Since our tour is 6.5 hours long and not a 3 hour tour, we figure we’ll be ok.
We boarded around 11am, and were under way around 11:30. It wasn’t 10 minutes after leaving that we started seeing wildlife. The tour was designed to travel out of Resurrection Bay (where Seward is located), out into the gulf of Alaska, en route to view the Holgate glacier in Aialik Bay. We saw so much wildlife in the first part of Resurrection Bay, we actually had to start skipping viewings of animals we’d seen before so we could make the entire 100 mi trip on time.
Right out of the gate, this sea otter was just hanging out in the bay, floating on its back, and didn’t seem to care about the giant boat full of people excitedly trying to get pictures of him.
Next, we saw a group of Dall’s Porpoise, playing in the bow wave of the boat. They were too difficult to capture with our camera (too far away and fast moving), but fun to watch in person. Their top speed in the water is something like 30 mi/hr, which is faster than the top speed of our cruise ship.
Next, we saw humpback whales in the calm water of the bay, which apparently is a bit unusual. They were difficult to photo, as you could only see a bit of their backs when they surfaced or maybe a tail when they dove. At this point we’d travelled about 16 mi out of 100.
Leaving the calm waters of Resurrection Bay proved to be not so great for me. The waters in the gulf between the bays weren’t really that rough, but 5-6 foot waves were enough to make me feel sick. I had taken motion sickness medication, but it wasn’t enough. The verbal pre-departure briefing given by the crew at the beginning implied that sea sickness is a regular occurrence on these trips. They were very clear; do not go to the head (bathrooms). There are only 4 for the whole ship, it would be rude to occupy one, and it will only get worse in the tiny enclosed room. Nope, go to the open deck on the second level at the back. There’s no one below you there, and you can breathe fresh air (and also exhaust, which they did not mention). I never did lose it, but I hung out on the second deck in the cold and rain with the pukers like a champ for both crossings, clutching the outer railing and keeping my eyes on the horizon. I dunno, they might do this on purpose. Lunch is served after the first crossing, once in the calm waters of Aialik Bay. The lunch is an amazing all you can eat buffet serving salmon and prime rib. It felt a bit like a cruel joke. They left it out long enough that I felt well enough to eat some of it (and actually enjoy it), but it still wasn’t much. As always, Kevin ate his money’s worth, and then went back for a giant plate of seconds.
There were ice chunks floating in the water approaching Holgate glacier. You could hear the ice cracking and moving, and occasionally see a little bit fall off. The noise when this happened was louder than expected.
There was a pod (or maybe 2 pods) of Orcas/Killer Whales in the gulf on the way out. Rougher water and lack of zoom lens made them difficult to photograph, but they were great to see in person, although they never got too close to the boat.
The tour with Major Marine Tours was fantastic, even with slightly dicey weather. The boat was large and really nice (and it was telling that it was designed with so much space inside). I’m not sure how many of their tours see so much wildlife, but we saw just about everything on the list (maybe it’s a carefully curated list?). In addition to the animals mentioned, we saw mountain goats, and lots of sea birds, including Cormorants, common murres, and our favorite, Puffins. The crew was great, and there was a Park Ranger on board, narrating and providing information about the various wildlife, glaciers, and the local ecosystem. Very fun, and definitely, definitely worth the trip (take your motion sickness meds before you go.)