Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise – Trip Report & Tips

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Our road trip from Los Angeles to Alaska was filled with many unforgettable moments, but one of the absolute best was the Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise with Major Marine Tours.

In this article, we're going to share our experiences and photos from this adventure on the sea. We'll also give you some practical tips to help you plan your own successful cruise in the Kenai Fjords.

Read on for a closer look at our trip, including the incredible sights and wildlife we encountered. Whether you're planning your Alaska journey or just dreaming about it, our story and advice might just be what you need to get started.

Choosing Our Adventure: The Kenai Fjords Cruise

Deciding on the Perfect Activity

Alaska is a playground of outdoor adventures, from sky-high flights over mountains to kayaking among orcas. The possibilities seem endless, each day offering something new and thrilling.

However, with a budget to consider, we knew we had to select just a couple of standout experiences and enjoy the rest of Alaska's beauty through more affordable means.

We wanted something memorable but not too strenuous, something that would leave us all in awe without leaving us exhausted. As enthusiasts of the National Parks, a boat tour in Kenai Fjords National Park seemed like the ideal choice.

Promising stunning views and the chance to witness ice calving - a dramatic natural event where ice breaks off a glacier - it seemed perfect for our family's Alaska itinerary.

Why Major Marine Tours?

After researching and comparing, we opted for Major Marine Tours' 6-hour Kenai Fjords Cruise. Their offer of a blogger discount was a generous bonus, making the most expensive day of our trip feel worth the investment.

Seward, our departure point, captivated us for three days, though we left feeling there was still much more to explore.

You can read here about all the beautiful things to do in Seward, Alaska.

Booking and Weather Concerns

Booking was straightforward, done over the phone with hopes of catching the best weather possible.

Despite a gloomy forecast for Seward - rain was predicted for our entire visit - we lucked out. Our cruise day was the singular break in the weather, a stroke of fortune that made our experience all the more special.

This section of our journey highlights the decision-making behind our chosen activity and underlines the unpredictable nature of Alaskan weather and the importance of selecting an experience that aligns with your interests and physical capabilities.

Our choice of the Kenai Fjords Cruise with Major Marine Tours proved to be a highlight, offering breathtaking natural beauty and a unique glimpse into the dynamic landscape of Alaska.

Boarding the Cruise: Tips and Observations

Getting Set for Departure

On the day of our cruise, we were greeted by cloudy skies over Resurrection Bay and Seward Harbor, but thankfully, no rain. We parked our vehicle in the South Parking Lot, conveniently close to the Major Marine Tours office.

Parking and Check-In

Choosing between the South and North Parking Lot? Both are convenient, depending on whether you prefer proximity to the Major Marine Tours office or the departure point. The harbor itself is scenic, with the tour office easily identifiable by its vibrant decor and marine-themed decorations.

We arrived 30 minutes early for our 11:30 cruise, as suggested, and found the check-in process to be swift and hassle-free, without any lines.

Heading to the Boat

After receiving our tickets, we were directed to the nearby Harbor 360 hotel, a short walk away, where our boat awaited. The sight of the boat ramped up our excitement for the adventure ahead.

Noticing a queue forming at the gate, we opted to wait inside the hotel until boarding commenced. This brings us to an important tip: With reserved seating on the boat, there's no need to queue early. Simply wait for the line to start moving before joining.

This approach not only made our boarding process smoother but also more enjoyable, sparing us the discomfort of standing in line unnecessarily.

Packing Essentials for a Kenai Fjords Cruise

What We Brought Along

For our Kenai Fjords cruise, we packed two large backpacks filled with:

  • Warm clothing, including gloves, mittens, and wooly hats for the whole family.
  • A high-quality camera that is separate from our phones.
  • Additional batteries for the camera and our phones.
  • Binoculars for a closer look at the wildlife and glaciers.
  • A variety of snacks and food items.
  • A thermos filled with hot coffee, anticipating the chilly air.
  • Even more warm clothing and extra batteries, just to be safe.

Reflecting on Our Packing Choices

Looking back, we realized we overpacked on food and didn't need the coffee. The cruise offered the option to pre-order meals, which we did, and the portions provided were both large and satisfying.

The excitement of the cruise, coupled with some seasickness, meant we weren't as hungry as anticipated. Additional snacks could easily be purchased from the onboard snack bar at reasonable prices.

However, packing multiple layers of warm clothing was a decision we didn't regret. The deck got especially cold when the boat picked up speed or as we approached the glacier.

Dressing in at least three layers, along with mittens and hats, kept us comfortable throughout the journey.

A Critical Oversight

Despite our thorough preparation, we forgot the memory card for our camera. Luckily, a crew member generously offered us a memory card from his personal phone, which we bought for $50.

Although it was a bit pricey for 32GB, it was a small price to pay for the memories we captured.

Additional Tips for Future Travelers

  • Double-check your camera and phone to ensure you have enough batteries and memory cards. Bringing extras is always a good idea.
  • Consider limiting the amount of food you bring. The cruise provides substantial meals, and additional snacks are available for purchase onboard.
  • Dress warmly in layers, and don't underestimate the chill, especially near the glacier or when the boat moves quickly.

By sharing our experience, we hope to help you better prepare for your Kenai Fjords cruise, ensuring you enjoy every moment without any hiccups.

Highlights from the Kenai Fjords Cruise

Setting Sail on the Spirit of Adventure

Once we boarded the Spirit of Adventure, the anticipation was palpable. We settled into our seats and started browsing through the informational booklets provided at each table.

The journey began with a comprehensive safety briefing, emphasizing the importance of taking Dramamine for those susceptible to seasickness—a piece of advice I wished I had heeded more seriously.

Meet the Crew

Captain Terry took a moment to introduce himself and share that this voyage would be his season's last. We were also introduced to Ranger Lynn, a national park ranger aboard our cruise.

Having a knowledgeable ranger onboard was a significant factor in choosing Major Marine Tours, promising an educational experience alongside the breathtaking views.

Learning as We Cruise

As we navigated away from the harbor, Ranger Lynn offered insights into the Kenai Fjords National Park's unique geology and rich wildlife.

This educational aspect transformed our cruise into not just a sightseeing experience but a deep dive into the natural history of this stunning Alaskan wilderness.

Experiencing the Open Sea and Dining Aboard

Embracing the Open Air

As the ship left the harbor, I sought refuge in the open air, hoping the horizon's steady line would ward off seasickness.

The journey began smoothly as we glided out of Resurrection Bay, offering spectacular views of Seward's southern landscapes. Initially, the strategy seemed to work—no seasickness, just a serene ride with stunning vistas.

Heading Towards Aialik Glacier

Our voyage aimed for the Aialik Glacier, deep within Aialik Bay. This required navigating the open sea, where conditions shifted, marking our smooth journey's end. Captain Terry reassured us this was mild compared to usual, yet the rolling waves soon brought on seasickness.

Despite the discomfort, the adventure continued. The children found joy in the deck's windswept excitement, likening it to an amusement park ride amidst the cold gusts.

Retreating indoors, I found solace in knowing I wasn't alone in my discomfort as the crew distributed sickness bags.

Thankfully, I managed without needing to use mine, and it seemed others did as well. Eventually, we entered the calmer waters of Aialik Bay, a welcome reprieve.

Calm Waters and Meal Service

With the sea's tranquility, the boat's pace slowed, signaling the start of meal service. Still recovering from seasickness, my appetite was minimal, but the spread was not rushed, allowing me to tentatively enjoy some salmon later on.

The service was prompt, with a buffet offering fresh local salmon, roast beef, seasoned rice, and salad. Despite my lingering nausea, the sight of well-prepared, generous portions was inviting, emphasizing the quality of onboard dining.

The option for seconds ensured no one left hungry, a testament to the crew's efficiency and the meal's appeal.

Awe at Aialik Glacier and Whale Encounters

Arrival at Aialik Glacier

As we enjoyed our meal, the boat ventured deeper into Aialik Bay, bringing us to the breathtaking Aialik Glacier. This glacier, part of the expansive Harding Icefield that feeds the Kenai Fjords, resembles a slow-moving river of ice extending to the sea.

Witnessing the glacier's activity was a highlight—seeing and hearing the ice break off and splash into the water below was an experience like no other. Despite being late August, we observed the glacier calving, a spectacle often most active in May and June.

Captain Terry expertly maneuvered the boat to a safe distance, allowing us a clear view of the glacier's grandeur and the surrounding icy waters.

Only through our camera's zoom did we fully appreciate the glacier's size, spotting seals resting on ice floes at its base.

The Sound of Ice Melting

On deck, the glacier's constant movement created a symphony of natural sounds, with the crackling and thundering of ice breaking away echoing around us.

Capturing a significant calving event became a game of patience and timing, with every tourist hoping their camera was pointed in the right direction when the ice fell.

We captured incredible moments, including shots of seals against the ice backdrop.

Spending half an hour immersed in this natural wonder, we were reminded of the power and beauty of nature as time seemed to stand still while we watched the ice melt.

Whale Watching in Kenai Fjords National Park!

Although our cruise was focused on the glacier, Captain Terry noted that any wildlife sightings would be a bonus.

whales in alaska

Past whale-watching tours had set our expectations, but nothing could prepare us for the thrill of seeing Orca whales during our return journey.

These majestic creatures, more common in the spring, made a rare late-season appearance, leaving us in awe as they glided through the water.

The encounter with the Orcas, alongside sightings of seals, sea lions, puffins, and otters, enriched our cruise experience, making it unforgettable.

Witnessing these animals in their natural habitat, especially the Orcas, was a highlight that underscored the unpredictable and exciting nature of exploring the Kenai Fjords.

Encountering Humpback Whales

As our journey progressed, Captain Terry had yet another remarkable experience in store for us. He navigated towards a scenic area with small islands, a known feeding ground for humpback whales.

To our delight, we spotted three massive humpback whales engaging in their feeding rituals.

The excitement on the deck was palpable as everyone scrambled to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures. The whales surfaced repeatedly, their spouts and fins creating a spectacular display against the backdrop of Alaska's pristine wilderness.

Although we mostly saw the whales' spouts and fins, the sheer number of sightings and the proximity of these gentle giants made for an exhilarating experience.

This encounter, coming a close second to our Orca sighting, further highlighted the rich marine biodiversity of the Kenai Fjords.

It was a reminder that even without setting out on a specific whale-watching tour, the waters around Alaska are teeming with life, offering spontaneous moments of wonder.

A Sweet Conclusion

The cruise concluded with a smooth sail back to Seward, complemented by a delightful serving of desserts. With the seasickness behind me, I fully indulged in the sweet offerings of brownies, cheesecake, and fruit salad, enjoying seconds without hesitation.

This sweet end to an adventurous day was the perfect way to reflect on our incredible experiences, surrounded by Alaska's natural beauty.

Essential Tips for Your Kenai Fjords Cruise Experience

Maximizing your Kenai Fjords cruise involves a bit of planning and preparation. Here are some essential tips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable adventure:

  1. Book Early: Weather in Alaska can be unpredictable, but don't let that stop you from securing your spot on the cruise. Reservations are crucial.
  2. Parking at Seward Harbor: The parking fee is $10 for three days, and Major Marine Tours offers a refund for this expense.
  3. Reserved Seating: No need to queue early for boarding since your seats are reserved. Arrive on time and board the boat without the hassle.
  4. Layer Up: The temperature can drop significantly, especially near the glaciers. Dress in layers and bring extra warm clothing to stay comfortable.
  5. Protect Your Eyes: Sunglasses are a must-have for sunny days to combat the glare from the water and ice.
  6. Camera Ready: With so much to capture, ensure your camera and phones are charged and have ample storage. Extra batteries and memory cards are advisable.
  7. Combat Seasickness: If prone to seasickness, consider taking Dramamine. Purchase it beforehand or on the boat, and follow the crew's timing advice to be effective.
  8. Opt for the Meal Plan: The meal provided on board is filling and worth the cost. Generous portions mean you likely won't need additional snacks.
  9. Snacks and Drinks: Feel free to bring your snacks, although food and drinks are available for purchase on board.
  10. Junior Ranger Program: If traveling with children, the Kenai Fjords National Park Junior Ranger program is a fantastic educational activity. It’s an excellent way for kids to learn and engage during the trip.
  11. Best Time for Wildlife: Early season increases your chances of whale sightings. Wildlife is unpredictable, but timing your visit can improve your odds.

This comprehensive review of our Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise with Major Marine Tours highlights the preparation and considerations that made our trip a standout experience.

We hope these tips assist in planning your cruise and making it as memorable as ours. Should you have any questions or wish to share your own experiences, feel free to contribute in the comments.

For those plotting their Alaskan adventure, explore with our guides: 11 Awesome Things to Do in Seward, Alaska, Alaska's National Parks, and activity recommendations for Fairbanks and Anchorage. Don't miss our budgeting tips to make your Alaska trip more affordable.

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  1. Ypu started one segment with: “And then we saw Orca Whales.” You either saw “Orcas” or “Killer Whales,” alternate names for the same creature. However, that creature IS NOT a whale! It is a dolphin, the largest of dolphins.

    • Thanks for the comment, Steve. I guess I was just writing about our experience and not as a zoologist so I wasn’t paying attention to the exact wording. I am aware of their classification as dolphins and I’m sure many readers will find your comment helpful. If I may share a tip about humans in return – it never hurts to be polite and friendly when offering feedback.

  2. Thanks for sharing the trip details and tips.We are visiting Alaska during last week of August2019.We were thinking about the cruise options whether to take 3.5hrs cruise or 6hrs cruise.We are more inclined towards glaciers and snow mountain views.
    6hrs cruise only includes Aialik glacier?or any other glaciers?
    Does this has snow mountain views?

    • Hi Priyanka,
      Our 6-hour cruise only included the Aialik glacier. If memory serves me right, that’s the nearest tidal glacier to Seward. I don’t think you’ll be able to get there on a shorter trip, so I would go for the longer of the two trips. The mountains en route didn’t have snow caps on them, but there were the glaciers themselves. We only saw some snow on mountain tops a week later, when it started snowing in high elevations again. I hope this helps and enjoy your trip!

  3. Me and my wife are planning a trip to AK between Aug 16 through Aug 24. Any chance of seeing Grey whales at that time of the year?

  4. Hi! Thank you for the great post on this and all other Alaska articles.
    I had a question – Kenai Fjord Tours (the other option to Major Marine Tours) offers a 3 PM cruise too. Any potential downsides you see to taking an afternoon cruise vs the 11:30 AM one?

    • Hi Navish,
      The only thing that comes to mind is how long the trip is and what time of the year it is. Alaska has very long days during July/August, so I see no problem then. Later in the season, I would check to see when sunset times are.

  5. After reading you post regarding the cruise, I’m a little concerned about the sea sickness because I get extremely car sick. Thoughts?

    • I would definitely take that anti-sickness pill they give you. On our cruise, they were selling them for $2 a piece at the beginning of the trip and I really regretted not taking one. I do think the trip is worth the risk, and hopefully mitigated by the pills, you’ll be able to enjoy it. Also, dress very warmly so you can sit outside in the fresh air. I had the worse of the sickness happen when I was inside.

  6. Thank you for sharing your experience! We are debating if we will take this or a similar tour from Seward in August 2018. I enjoyed your account and your photos and videos. It looks like a great tour! I’m going to go back and read your full Seward post.

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