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Seward, Alaska: An Incredible Day in the Kenai Fjords with Major Marine

Updated: Nov 7, 2021

Summary: Our second day in Seward, Alaska was spent on an 8.5 hour Cruise in Kenai Fjords National Park with Major Marine Tours. This was a highlight of our entire summer vacation. The cruise takes you to the awe-inspiring Northwestern Glacier but it was the wildlife that we saw along that way that made this day unforgettable. This is a "do not miss," experience when visiting Alaska. Also, fair warning: this is a picture-heavy post. This is a photographer's dream destination.

What Gear To Bring. During our visit in June, it was still fairly chilly. We brought extra layers, knit hats, gloves, scarves, and still we had moments when we were chilled. The inside of the boat is kept warm so while the view is better from outside, you can always go inside to defrost. Hot tea and coffee is also available inside. If you have any nice camera equipment, this would be the place to bring it. The photo opportunities are non-stop.

About the Major Marine Experience. First, a note about Major Marine. We picked this company based on their good reviews and it very well lived up to it's reputation. At $239/person, it is not a cheap experience. However, we say spend the money; it will be worth it. The ship is clean, well-maintained, and beautifully run by an all-women crew (at least the day we went). The top deck consists of open air seating and also places to stand. The bottom deck also has standing room, together with an enclosed interior that had heaters going to warm you up. The ship captain narrated all-day providing information about the history of the area, wildlife, and most expertly, finding where all the wildlife were at any given time. Coffee, tea and drinks are included, as well as a brown bag lunch which included a pre-ordered sandwich, fruit, chips and cookie. Don't forget to bring cash to tip the crew. They did an excellent job. (We didn't actually get a photo of the boat of all things! We did get some group shots on the boat though....)

Beautiful Cruise. The 8.5 hour cruise is an 8.5 hour out and back cruise to Northwestern Glacier. With the early departure time, we ran into some fog but as it cleared, it made for some beautiful photos.

Northwestern Glacier. The turn-around point for the day is at Northwestern Glacier. The Glacier is named in 1909 by a field geologist that was a professor at Northwestern University. From a distance, the Glacier does not look that big, however it's a trick of the eye. In reality, even when the boat gets as close as safely possible, the entire ship is dwarfed by the Glacier. Even so, it is a fraction of the size of it was just 100 years ago, having retreated 6 miles since then. You can before and after photos here.

In 1909 U.S. Grant was a field geologist for the USGS for the summer and was also professor and chair of the Northwestern University geology department at the time. Grant decided to honor his alma mater by naming this incredible glacier after it. Northwestern has retreated at least 6 miles since then and has revealed a spectacular fjord with sweeping granite faces and terrain that is unique in the park. The current terminus of Northwestern glacier cannot be seen in this photo, although it is still a tidewater glacier for now. Ogive glacier, which once was one of many glaciers that fed into Northwestern glacier, is seen center left descending to the water.

Seals Floating on the Ice. All along the inlet in front of Glacier are large chucks of ice that have fallen into the water. Sitting on top of a vast majority of those chucks of ice are seals sunbathing in the sun. Mothers with their pups pop in and out of the water and then thrust themselves on the ice to sit back and take a nap. They are adorable.

Wildlife. Apart from viewing Northwestern Glacier, we would say the whole point of the day is to catch views of Alaska's amazing wildlife. In this regard, our day with Major Marine far exceeded our expectations. In addition to seals, on the way out and back from Northwestern Glacier, we saw an assortment of what Alaska has to offer.

Whales: Fin, Orcas, aka "Killer Whales", Dolphins, and Humpback Whales. These were all a little harder to catch on camera but all of these amazing ocean-creatures popped up and said hello during our cruise.

Harbor Seals. Throughout the cruise, there are seals all along the waterfronts and islands. Watching these playful creatures never gets old.

Sea Otters. Adorable!

Birds like the Bald Eagle and Horned Puffin. We're not birders but we could imagine this would be a particularly great spot for bird lovers. For wildlife photographers, it's not half bad either. We have too many photos to post but here are some of our favorites.

Trip back to Seward. A quick word about seasickness. This writer (the Mom here), did briefly get seasick on this trip. The waves this day were mild but on the way back, I did get a bit green. The ship helpers had ginger chews and expertly told me to stand in the back and watch the wake behind the boat. The chews, along with the breeze, did the trick.

About Seward. We understand some Major Marine clients came all the way from Anchorage as a day trip. This is a long day as it is and you're really going to miss out on a lovely little town if you do not at least stay for one night. Located on the Kenai Peninsula, the Town of Seward was founded in 1903 by John E. Ballaine, who was also the founder of the Alaska Railroad Company. Ballaine had established Resurrection Bay, upon which Seward sits, as the beginning stop of his railroad company. In naming the town Seward, in honor of William H. Seward, President Lincoln’s Secretary of State, Ballaine is cited as saying "That city deserves to be named in honor of the man responsible for making Alaska American territory." Today, Seward has two main industries, fishing and tourism. In the main harbor, you will find both private, small boat fisherman, as well as large commercial operations. If you are looking for a place to stay, we loved our little AirBnB in the woods, just minutes away from downtown.

Do this! Whether you come just for the day or decide to stay, we highly recommend spending a day with Major Marine. It was truly a memorable experience.

1 Comment

Amy Curtis
Amy Curtis
Aug 23, 2021

You’re right - this place is a photographer’s dream! I don’t know which is more breathtaking: the scenery or the wildlife. Great article!

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