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A glacier cruise is the best way to see that quintessential Alaskan coastal scenery you've dreamed of: seals, whales, puffins—not to mention towers of ice crashing into the water. (Thanks to underwater microphones, you might also hear the thrilling, unearthly song of whales.) Passing through gorgeous inlets and fjords, you'll also get to look for bears, mountain goats and bald eagles.
Happily, such cruises are among the most affordable and accessible tours you can do.
Near Anchorage, lots of day cruises depart from Whittier and Seward. The Inside Passage features other spectacular day cruise locations.
Here's a comparison of your options:
Prince William Sound (departing from Whittier): With iceberg-choked inlets and great mountain scenery, PWS has the densest concentration of tidewater glaciers in the world, but wildlife spottings are less reliable. Waters are very calm. Prince William Sound is 1.5 hours south of Anchorage, by car or rail.
Kenai Fjords (Seward): With emerald green fjords, rugged cliffs and coves, this is the route to choose if viewing wildlife is your priority. You'll see a few glaciers, but have an excellent chance of spotting sea lions, harbor seals, even bears or mountain goats along the shore. There's also There's the greatest variety of tours here, some involving stopping ashore for hiking, kayaking or even staying overnight in a lodge. The one downside: Tours that go past Resurrection Bay and into Kenai Fjords National Park can be choppy. Note: Seward is 2.5 hours south of Anchorage by car or 4 hours by rail.
Juneau: If your heart is set on seeing whales, do your day cruise here. You're virtually guaranteed to see whales. Humpbacks, orcas, and even grey or minke whales are seen near Juneau.
Ketchikan: This Southeast town offers natural-history-style cruises, focusing on the Misty Fjords Monument. You'll see cliffs and amazing waterfalls, but it's not as predictable for seeing wildlife, including whales.
Tracy Arm: This fjord near Juneau is not huge, but wildly dramatic. Giant cliffs, seals hauled out on icebergs, and mountain goats or bears along the shoreline icebergs. It doesn't have the sheer quantity of glaciers—there are only two here—but what you see seems bigger and bluer than other places.
Glacier Bay: Dramatic glaciers-a lot to see condensed into the 25 miles-but whale sightings can be unreliable. Sometimes the ice can be so heavy that boats can't get in.
Sitka: Great wildlife—sea otters abound here, along with plenty of whales—and you'll be close to the open sea.
Portage Glacier: There's only one glacier here, but it's an option for someone who doesn't have time to go into Prince William Sound—it's just one hour from Anchorage.
Read more about glacier and wildlife cruises...
Phillips 26 Glacier Cruise, out of Whittier, will take you to 26 different glaciers in just 5 hours. Enjoy cozy comforts on the high-speed catamaran and wander its outdoor decks as you come within 300 feet of massive tidewater glaciers. In addition to glaciers, the captain will be on the lookout for wildlife like otters, whales, harbor seals, and marine birds. The trip takes place in the afternoon, and a hot lunch is included in your tour.
Phillips 26 Glacier Cruise, out of Whittier, will take you to 26 different glaciers in just…
Lazy Otter offers classic tours, but this is water taxi, so they’ll also take you anywhere you want to go within Price William Sound—or just customize a tour to whatever you want to see. Maybe that's glaciers, or whales,—or maybe it’s quiet time on a secluded beach, or a peaceful morning kayak among sea life such as otters and puffins. Lazy Otter can also help facilitate taking you and your family on a camping trip. You're not held to any strict schedule, either: if, on a day tour, you can spend more time in one spot if you want to see if a glacier will calve.
Lazy Otter offers classic tours, but this is water taxi, so they’ll also take you…
Toll Free: 800-587-6887
This family-run company operating out of Valdez will show you the best glaciers, with great customer service along the way. On any given day trip you’ll likely see huge rafts of sea otters, horned and tufted puffins, cormorants, humpback whales, or even bald eagles. Stan Stephens offers two daily tours, one of which features Columbia Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in South Central Alaska. And the company prides itself on staffing its vessels with all local Alaskans.
This family-run company operating out of Valdez will show you the best glaciers, with great…
Major Marine Tours will take you into Prince William Sound, which has the world’s densest concentration of tidewater glaciers and calm waters for cruising. You can choose from the 4.5-hour Blackstone Glacier Tour or the new Surprise Glacier Tour that began in 2012. Both offer heated cabins, outdoor viewing decks, and an all-you-can-eat salmon and prime rib buffet.
Major Marine Tours will take you into Prince William Sound, which has the world’s…
Toll Free: 800-764-7300
When it comes to finding big halibut or teeming schools of salmon, no one in town has more experience: Whittier Marine Charters has been running fishing charters longer than anyone. And because it is a small company, owner Matt Kopec captains most trips, so you’ll go with an expert who’s been fishing these waters since 1997.
When it comes to finding big halibut or teeming schools of salmon, no one in town has more…
Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords are great places to see wildlife and glaciers. And Major Marine’s vessels, which have cozy heated cabins and an outdoor viewing area, can take you out to see both. The half- and full-day excursions offer an all-you-can-eat salmon and prime rib buffet to enjoy while you take in the scenery.
Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords are great places to see wildlife and glaciers. And Major…
A fleet of fast, modern boats takes you to specifically selected tidewater glaciers as you watch for puffins, cormorants, sea otters, Dall’s porpoises, sea lions, and more. This veteran tour operator offers a lot of variety with its day trips into Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords National Park. Some tours are designed to please birders or shutterbugs, while some are perfect for families with little kids. You’ll hear the captain’s narration on all of them, sharing his deep knowledge of the Seward area’s history and terrain.
A fleet of fast, modern boats takes you to specifically selected tidewater glaciers as you…
Plenty of whale tours let you watch the orcas and humpbacks as they breach and spout from the water—but not many also let you eavesdrop on the big mammals' conversations. This 3.5-hour tour out of Juneau is equipped with an amplified hydrophone system; listen to the whales underwater while enjoying the lush rainforest views. Onboard the North Star—a 48-passenger jet boat with large windows, an outside viewing deck, and a comfortable inside seating area—you’ll stay warm and dry while you listen to the whales and the narration of an onboard naturalist.
Plenty of whale tours let you watch the orcas and humpbacks as they breach and spout from…
Just an hour’s drive from Anchorage, the MV Ptarmigan let you get within 300 feet of the towering ice wall called Portage Glacier. You can also book a narrated motorcoach tour to take you to Portage Glacier.
Just an hour’s drive from Anchorage, the MV Ptarmigan let you get within 300 feet of…