Alaska is a world class cruise destination. The state is lined with towering mountains, glowing glaciers, and vibrant forests, all of which can be seen from a ship’s deck. But you don’t need to cruise to Alaska to get this experience. There are also many companies that allow visitors to the state to charter smaller boats for cruises that only last a day – or even half of a day.
One of these cruise lines is Major Marine Cruises operating out of Seward. They offer a variety of exploratory boat tours, but only one runs in late winter: the Spring Wildlife Cruise. We recently had the chance to hop on the Spring Wildlife Cruise to check it out for ourselves, and we were definitely impressed.
This particular itinerary begins at the Harbor 360 Hotel. We arrived there, checked in, and immediately hopped on the boat. It was a small vessel, but it had two decks and two indoor seating areas. It also boasted a bar with some food options, though none of it was complementary on this trip. We sat down inside, and after a quick briefing, the ship was off.
For anyone wondering: yes, a cruise through the Kenai Fjords area of Alaska in March is cold. We bundled up with fleece, down, and windbreakers, but standing on the deck was still quite chilly. With a round trip time of four hours, though, the suffering seemed worth it to make sure that we didn’t miss anything. And to be sure, the cruise started off strong, making us even more convinced to stay on the deck the whole time. Within minutes, several bald eagles and otters had been sighted, and the cloudy Alaskan winter weather made for surprisingly perfect sightseeing.
As the boat sailed through Resurrection Bay, more animals were spotted. The captain did an excellent job of explaining all the wildlife in the area, giving us info on everything from fish to birds. We passed a massive group of sea lions warming up on a rock, but one of the biggest highlights was the mountain goats. The operators deftly pointed out two tiny white dots balancing high up on the cliffs above us. With the included binoculars, we could still just barely see them. Spying them in such a crazy position was pretty exciting.
One important thing to note, though, is that you may not have great odds of seeing a whale on this itinerary. Although Major Marine Cruise’s website teases the possibilities of spotting humpbacks and orcas, we saw nothing of the sort. In all honesty, the whales were probably enjoying much warmer waters far south of where we were. If whale watching is your goal, you may want to wait until a later season.
While the cruise was billed as a wildlife excursion, the surroundings themselves were an equally big draw. Resurrection Bay is an impressive, glacier-carved inlet that leads directly out to the open ocean, and it’s a sight to see in late winter. Snow-capped mountains rise directly out of the ocean, and the water has an icy stillness to it.
The environment feels almost hostile, but it has a sort of lonesome, aching beauty to it. This feeling is only heightened by the history of the area, which the captain seemed to be an expert on. Oceanside prisons and abandoned military facilities from WWII dotted the bay’s coast. Hearing about them deepened the cruise experience; with the harsh wind in our faces, it was easy to imagine the hardships of anyone who was faced with staying in this area for long periods at a time.
Winter and early spring will never be the most popular seasons for a boat tour in Alaska, but there are good reasons to book a cruise like the Spring Wildlife Cruise. It’s a unique experience, and at just $89, it’s a pretty affordable tour option for winter Alaskan tourists. If you’d like to learn more about this itinerary, check it out on the company’s website.