What to do in Seward, Alaska
Late last September we planned a fun-packed, family weekend in Seward. We made reservations at the Harbor 360º Hotel overlooking the harbor, which has the only hotel swimming pool in Seward. We also booked our dates for a 6-hour Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise with Major Marine Tours. Our group included my husband Wayne, our four-year-old daughter Maizie, myself, and Wayne’s parents, known in our family as Nama and Papa.
“Did you pack my fishing rod?” Maizie asked as we loaded our bags into the truck. Not this time, we told her. We explained we would not be fishing but instead were going on an ocean tour to see glaciers and wildlife. “But Mom, can I use your binoculars?” she asked. Our girl is always up for an adventure.
Driving from Anchorage to Seward
The Saturday morning drive for our Major Marine Kenai Fjords National Parks cruise was a pleasant one this late in the season. It was a beautiful, scenic drive down the Seward Highway surrounded by fall colors with the road scant of visitors.
Parking near the hotel, we checked in for the tour right in the lobby then walked out the back door to the dock where the 86-foot catamaran, the Spirit of Adventure, was waiting. People started to line up just ahead of the 11:30 departure time. Their friendly staff greeted passengers and collected tickets as we made our way on the ship. The reserved seating makes it easy to get on board and get your group situated.
Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise
The Kenai Fjords tour began with an introduction of the crew outlining what the day had in store and the mic was quickly passed to Ranger Jillian, a National Park Ranger. “Who wants to be a Junior Ranger?” she asked. “All you have to do is complete a certain number of assignments in the Junior Ranger Adventure Guide, make a pledge to protect National Parks and act in accordance with Junior Ranger code. It’s for children ages four through twelve.” Maizie’s eyes grew big and she nodded accepting the challenge. With the season winding down the boat was less than half full and it turned out Maizie was the only kid on board old enough to become a Kenai Fjords Junior Ranger. She had to complete four assignments in the booklet, three marked with an otter graphic indicating her age group and one of her choice.
Leaving the harbor, we immediately saw a bald eagle. Our country’s majestic icon sat perched looking proud. As many eagles as I’ve seen in Alaska, it is cool to watch folks from all over the world appreciating their rarity surrounded by the beautiful Kenai Fjords National Park.
We cruised out of the harbor in Resurrection Bay, heading south past Fox Island out into the Gulf of Alaska towards the Chiswell islands then past Cape Aialik into Aialik Bay. There is plenty of room for people to spread out on the Spirit of Adventure with its two interior levels and three exterior decks. Once you enter Aialik Bay, the crew serves an optional salmon and prime rib buffet complete with beverage and dessert. Just before that Ranger Jillian announced the presence of a Dall’s porpoise on the starboard side of the ship. There were two of them! Everyone rushed over to see. There was plenty of room to weave in and get photos.
Kenai Fjords glacier sightseeing
We enjoyed their tasty lunch. There was an array of beverages, beer, and cocktails for sale throughout the day. We cruised through lunch until we arrived at Aialik Glacier to spend time in front of the calving tidewater glacier. It is phenomenal to watch and listen, and just be near this glacier. The ethereal blue color shining through the ice is stunning. I got caught up staring at the fascinating shapes in the ice and listening to the ice chunks calve into the sea. All while shivering from the cold air temperature that plummets near the glacier.
Back out in the Gulf near the entrance to the bay, we saw orca whales breaching and playing. Then we saw some more! The captain kept distance from the whales to respect their space. Soon after, we came up to Steller sea lion colonies to watch them congregated on the rocky ledges. We were more than pleased; the Kenai Fjords trip was filled with wildlife and scenery.
Nearing the end of the Kenai Fjords trip, Ranger Jillian sought out Maizie to review her booklet. She verified Maizie had completed the assignments with accuracy and very little help. “As a Junior Ranger, I promise to help protect Kenai Fjords National Park, my community, and the earth. I will explore and discover the natural world and other cultures wherever I go!” The entire boatful of people listened on as Maizie repeated the oath into the microphone in her eloquent yet tiny voice following Ranger Jillian bits at a time. Jillian bequeathed the Junior Ranger badge to our daughter who went back to the table to get it affixed to her sweat shirt.
“Come with me, Daddy,” Maizie took Wayne’s hand, then went from person to person on the boat explaining she is a Junior Ranger and asking if they are safe. Everyone felt safe that day thanks to Maizie the Junior Ranger, the adept staff at Major Marine Tours, their quality vessel, and the soothing pleasantness of Ranger Jillian.
Staying in Seward
Checking in to the Harbor 360º Hotel after our Kenai Fjords cruise, we were immensely pleased with our room. It was large, clean, and new. Two queen-size beds were perfect for our little family of three and the room was really spacious.
We connected with Nama and Papa to walk to a nearby waterfront restaurant for some local seafood. After dinner we headed back to spend a little time in the Harbor 360º pool and hot tub. We didn’t last long since it was a big day, but we made fast fun of it and headed back to the room to put the kiddo to bed.
The next morning our group enjoyed an extensive breakfast buffet provided at the hotel. Eggs, bacon, fruit, bagels, muffins, cereal, pancakes—it was seemingly endless as far as included hotel breakfasts go.
We parted ways with Nama and Papa and parked near the Alaska Sealife Center at the other end of Seward, which takes five minutes to get to by truck. Our daughter stacked the visit on the front end, reluctant to depart from the play ship equipped with captain’s wheel, horn, buoys, and toy stuffed sockeye.
After another hour or so at the Sealife Center watching puffins dive and sea lions play, we timed the drive back to our home north of Anchorage around Maizie’s nap. It was the perfect family weekend staycation.
Melissa Norris is Publisher of Fish Alaska and Hunt Alaska magazines. She feels privileged and grateful for all the amazing trips she and her family have gotten to enjoy around Alaska.
This blog originally appeared as part of the Alaska Traveler column in the April 2019 issue of Fish Alaska.