Kelly and iceberg2023alaska org untitled

Kelly Bender

Co-owner, Lazy Otter Charters


Kelly and mike at the glacier2023alaska org untitled

Kelly and Mike Bender

Kelly spent decades working on small cruise ships and tour boats in the Pacific Northwest, Kenai Fjords, and Southeast Alaska and Prince William Sound.

Her husband Mike started Lazy Otter as a water taxi in Prince William Sound. Mike and Kelly grew Lazy Otter Charters from a water taxi to an all-around charter business. They provide visitors more access to Prince William Sound, one of the world’s great glacier playgrounds. Their charters offer flexibility, so visitors can spend more time before massive tidewater glaciers, or can be dropped off in hidden coves to camp and explore by kayak.

Q. What makes Alaska special for you?

I love the lifestyle. We just do things a little bit different here. I love that everybody lives here for a reason – usually related to a spirit of adventure, the wide open spaces, and that fact that confinements of the “Lower 48” don’t apply in Alaska.

Kelly Bender WP 20160918 11 36 57 Pro

Q. What are your favorite places and/or experiences in Alaska? What do you remember most about them? What have you learned from them?

Kelly Bender blackstone calving

Blackstone Glacier calving

I have some pretty strong feelings about Tracy Arm in Southeast Alaska, but Prince William Sound has always been my favorite place. I love Harriman Fjord. There are glaciers literally everywhere you look.

Prince William Sound is perfect for me, because I need the mountains and the sea. You are never far from shore, and the mountains rise right up from the water. The contrast is striking.

I’ve had many outstanding and heart-pumping experiences with whales and other wildlife, mostly from my years of working on boats in the Sound and in Southeast.

Q. Tell us a favorite story from an Alaska trip.

It was raining heavily on one of my favorite trips up Tracy Arm. This is a true fjord, where the mountains rise up into sheer cliffs and vegetation clings to the sides.

With the heavy rain there were waterfalls everywhere!

We got to the head of the fjord and the sky opened up. The rain stopped. It was a spectacular contrast: white glaciers, green vegetation on the mountains and brilliant blue skies overhead.

As we headed out the fjord, all the waterfalls had stopped. I felt so lucky to see it both ways.

Q. How does the Alaskan wilderness make you feel?

The miles and miles of open spaces with no houses or roads can be astounding. When you get off on a beach in the Sound, you feel like you are the first person to ever step there. Wild places are so important. Many people in the world don’t have them, and can’t even fathom that kind of unaltered space.

I love looking at our untouched shoreline through the eyes of outsiders. We all experience the awe and mystery of the wilderness. We must be watchful, a bit guarded, and protective. Once you take wilderness away, you cannot get it back.

Kelly Bender Lazy Otter Blackstone Glacier Cruise

Q. What inspired you to go into the Alaska tourism industry? What feeling or memory or change would you like your visitors to leave with?

I grew up in Anchorage and hadn’t been south of Girdwood until after high school. I studied tourism in high school, thinking I’d work in the airline or cruise ship industry.

I started working on day tour boats in 1984 and it became my career. I loved seeing people get excited about what they were seeing. I realized it was much more intimate and rewarding to work smaller ships – to really experience the experience.

I want visitors to leave with the awe and wonder and wildness of Alaska.

Q.’s mission is to show visitors a more authentic Alaska experience. What are those qualities? How does it change an Alaska vacation?

Kelly Bender Toboggan beach May

It is easy to find manufactured experiences anywhere, even in Alaska. And they can be fun and even exciting.

But heart-pounding, soul-moving, “touch it, taste it, feel it” moments are what truly moves you, and what you will remember.

Being authentic means giving guests the opportunities to have those moments. We are able to offer intimate experiences in small vessels, with a small group. We find out their priorities and build the trip around their hopes.

Q. What are 3 words that sum up what Alaska means to you?

Wild. Independent. Inspiring.

Explore Further