TRIP REPORT: Kenai Fjords Tours’ Northwestern Fjord cruise

In Alaska Travelgram by scott

Capt. Eric Simpson noses the Orca Voyager closer to Northwestern Fjord in Kenai Fjords National Park.

For day cruises from Seward, the Northwestern Fjord cruise is the grandaddy of day tours. The tour boats burn a lot of gas to go deep in the park. Travelers get a rare glimpse at some freshly-scrubbed land that’s just emerging from under the ice.

A closer look at Northwestern Glacier

Along the way, be ready to see all manner of wildlife. PRO TIP: bring your own binoculars. I grabbed mine at the last minute….SO GLAD I did, for an up-close look at the Orca killer whales and the humpback whales we saw on the trip. But there also were opportunities for close-up views of black-legged kittiwakes and their chicks, of Stellar sea lions, of puffins, seals and otters…and lots of other sites.

Nosing in for a closer look at some waterfalls on the Orca Voyager

My photo set-up isn’t what it used to be, so I missed the breaching humpback whales. And I couldn’t zoom in enough with my iPhone to catch the Orcas as they swam in front of us.

Capt. Eric Simpson at the helm of the Orca Voyager. He also gave a comprehensive narration on the cruise.

The cruise starts at 9:00 a.m. Kenai Fjords Tours wants you to check in an hour early, which is helpful if you need to park in their lot. It’s just a couple of blocks away—and they have a free shuttle.

Because of the start time, you need to make plans to stay the night before in Seward…or plan for an early wake-up in Anchorage (4:45 a.m.).

Our boat, the Orca Voyager , is a fast cat that cruises at 25 knots. At the helm is Capt. Eric Simpson, who also acts as narrator.  Eric did a great job giving us a helpful narration on the glaciers and wildlife along the route. Also, he paid special attention to the geologic qualities of the park, explaining hanging glaciers, fjords, retreating glaciers and the history of climate change in the park.

Zoom in to see the sea lions. PRO TIP: Bring your own binoculars.

The first part of the cruise is all about the wildlife. After a brief stop at Fox Island, we ran into a pod of Orca “killer” whales, which kept us entertained for at least a half an hour. The boat is equipped with a hydrophone—but the whales were too far off to pick up much of a conversation. Later, a couple of the whales swam closer to the boat. It was a real thrill to see these critters in the wild.

Leaving Northwestern Fjord.

Making our way out of Resurrection Bay to Northwestern Fjord, Capt. Eric took us by several sea lion rookeries. Along the way, we saw LOTS of seabirds, their nests and their chicks. The weather was perfect: not too hot and partly sunny. The water was smooth in the bay and flat as a pancake once we got in the fjord.

Zoom in to see the harbor seals hanging out on the ice.

Northwestern Fjord is different than Aialik Fjord—which is where you sail on the regular “National Park Cruise”. The fjord is made up mostly of stone, ice and snow. There’s less vegetation because the glaciers have retreated rapidly in the fjord and there hasn’t been enough time for things to grow.

One of many glaciers in Northwestern Fjord.

Also, Northwestern Fjord unfolds one turn at a time. There are many other hanging glaciers to see in addition to Northwestern Glacier.

The best whale shot I could get.

After spending a good amount of time just watching the glacier, Capt. Eric said we had to get back to Seward. But there was enough time to watch two humpack whales put on a show for us. Lots of breaching, tail-slapping and general merriment. Then we nosed in to some waterfalls and saw some more bird rookeries. By that time, everyone was kind of wiped out—and started taking naps in their seats.

We all perked up as the staff haded out some fresh-baked cookies.

Cost is $179 per person (when you book online). The cruise sails each day through Aug. 29, 2021. The crew serves a chicken wrap for lunch, followed by those delicious cookies!

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