The MMT Blog / Guest Blogger: A Spectacular Glacier Cruise in Alaska’s Prince William Sound
This post was written by Canadian-based travel writer John M. Smith for Belleville News and was posted here with the author’s permission.
When my wife and I took the Holland America cruise and land tour package from Vancouver into Alaska and the Yukon, our tour ended in Anchorage. We’d already decided that we’d spend some extra time in this fascinating destination before flying back home, so we set up a day tour to nearby Prince William Sound. After all, it’s known for its calm waters, high concentration of glaciers, its deep carved fjords, and its abundance of wildlife. This seemed to be a perfect way for us to spend a day – and it was!
We didn’t have a car here, so we were able to arrange a “Cruise and Rail Transportation Package”. We boarded the Discovery Glacier Train in Anchorage at 9:45 am, and it took us to Whittier. We boarded the Kenai Star for our 4.5 hour cruise with Major Marine Tours, and then we took the train back to Anchorage that evening, arriving at about 9:15 pm. It made for a rather long, full day, but it was well worth it for the memories.
Perhaps surprisingly, we discovered that the train trip itself was part of the adventure, for we passed magnificent coastal views of Turnagain Arm as we departed Anchorage. After all, we were traversing an area known for having the second highest tides in the world (the highest are in Canada’s very own Bay of Fundy), and the vast mud flats at low tide, adorned by a plethora of waterfowl, makes for quite a scene. We also encountered immense forests, towering waterfalls, and spectacular glaciers along this route. Just prior to reaching our destination of Whittier, we went through the longest combined rail-highway use tunnel of them all, the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel. This was particularly unique, for it’s used by both trains and motor vehicles, but not at the same time. This toll tunnel has scheduled times for the motor vehicle traffic, so this traffic has to simply stop and wait while our train goes through.
Upon arrival in Whittier, we soon boarded our cruise ship for our exploration of Prince William Sound. One of the wonderful aspects of this particular area, a “claim to fame” if you will, is that it’s so calm and protected here that there’s a “no seasickness” guarantee. We simply glided along over the smooth water and enjoyed the scenery. We were surrounded by pieces of floating ice, but the ride itself was very gentle. Indeed, our only real problem was that it was an overcast day, and there was even some rain. We worried that this would hurt our photo ops, but our captain announced that this type of day actually often was the best kind of day for witnessing a calving, where chunks of ancient glacial ice suddenly break off and crash into the water. It was only a few minutes later, while next to a glacier, that we, indeed, witnessed this very phenomenon! What a sight! There was a sudden loud noise, followed by an actual gigantic calving! It was almost as if this scene was following a Hollywood script, for first came the captain’s suggestion and then came this incredible experience!
We had our very own Chugach National Forest Ranger on board with us, to provide us with pertinent information and to answer any specific questions. Even she commented about how unusually large and spectacular that particular calving had been. One of us captured the actual calving on video, so then we were all able to sign up to receive a copy of this video via email. It’s a great memory of that special moment at the Blackstone Glacier!
We not only had an ‘up close and personal look’ at several active glaciers on this excursion, but our crew even grabbed chunks of the floating ice directly out of Prince William Sound for us. We could then view and even taste this melting ice. Now that’s a cold, refreshing drink!
Complimentary binoculars were also available on board, for many of us were also on the lookout for wildlife, including bald eagles, whales, sea otters, and harbor seals. Our biggest find of the day on this particular trip was of a very large kittiwake rookery, for thousands of these black-legged birds were flying and nesting along the rocky cliffs.
We also visited Hidden Falls, which is tucked away around a corner in Prince William Sound, and this was another great photo op. We were even close enough to feel the mist from this enormous waterfall that’s located along the rugged coastline.
Yet another important part of this 4.5 hour cruise is the inclusion of an all-you-can-eat buffet style dinner of Alaska salmon and prime rib. It’s quite a feast!
We eventually completed our exploration of Prince William Sound and returned to Whittier, where we again boarded the train and returned to Anchorage. We concluded that our day trip by train and our Prince William Sound Glacier Cruise had been a very worthwhile excursion and a great adventure!