Porcupyn's Blog

July 13, 2017

Alaska Trip – Day 10

Filed under: Family,Travel — Porcupyn @ 11:22 pm

The two day cruises we had taken from Whittier had both departed right after noon; the reporting time had been after 11 am. However, the cruise that we were signed up for out of Seward was leaving at 10 am and the reporting time was just after 9 am, so we had to hurry up to get there in time. If we left at about 7:30 am, we thought it would be sufficient for us to get there in time.

The day before though, we ran into our elderly neighbour at the Airbnb, who said that it would take about two hours and likely even more if there were to be traffic and/or accidents. We would also need to wait for a tunnel. He kindly offered to give us a newspaper that had detailed information. Listening to him, I was confused. I didn’t recall reading anything about a tunnel to Seward – but as he obviously had visited in the recent past, I thought maybe I had missed something.

To be on the safe side, I decided to talk about it with our host. He confirmed that there was no tunnel and that if we left at 7:30 am, it should not be an issue, unless there was an accident somewhere! I decided that the neighbour must have – for whatever reason – mixed up Seward and Whittier!

Because we had to wake up really early, though the accommodation was comfortable, we had a fitful sleep. Besides, I was hoping for good weather and smooth seas. As it turned out, our day couldn’t have been much better. We woke up at about 6 am to a sunny day, quickly got ready with butter and jam sandwiches for lunch and left on time. The route to Seward is quite scenic with mountains on both sides and for the most part of the route, we had Kenai Lake to our right (though I didn’t realize it was one lake until I looked closely at the map upon returning!). We passed through the little town of Moose Pass along the way – this had been one of the places to stay that I had researched, but hadn’t found anything decent that fit our budget. Though it is much closer to Seward, I was thankful we didn’t pick it as it didn’t appear that there was much to the town (I am sure folks who have stayed there might have better information of things to do!).

As we started to see the outskirts of Seward, I realized that we were well ahead of schedule. It was about 8:15 am, so when I saw the road sign to Exit Glacier, I decided to take that fork. I thought that if we went about 15 minutes and didn’t get to the end of the road, we would turn right around. It was less than 15 minutes when we could see the glacier from the road itself. So, we decided to go all the way and take a couple of photos. But once we got closer and parked at the entrance parking lot, we found that we could no longer see the glacier among the mountain and the trees. So, we made the best of the visit by checking out the visitor center and using the restrooms.

We then retraced our path back into Seward, which was impressively bigger than Whittier (and we never did go all the way to the end of Seward). We were impressed, too, that it had a Subway, a Safeway and many restaurants as well, should we need food later in the evening.

The Major Marine Tours office in Seward

The Major Marine Tours office in Seward

Without much ado, I was able to get our boarding passes at Major Marine Tours’ office. We were unsure where to park, though I recalled reading that MMT would refund the parking fee for the day. At this point, we had parked at a nearby two hour parking zone. The agent informed me that we needed to turn onto the main road, and make a left to park at the paid parking lot. They would reimburse us for the parking fee in the evening after the cruise.

Shortly, it was time for us all to board. And here is my biggest peeve with MMT: on our first cruise from Whittier, we got the front seating in the boat (not that we stayed on the seat for the whole duration of the cruise). On the second cruise also, we got seats that were by the window though not in front. I didn’t ask, but I assumed that we got our seat assignment based on when we had purchased the tickets.

But on the cruise out of Seward, we got assigned a bench in the middle of the boat … on the UPPER deck! This would not have been an issue if we were travelling without my mother; and even that would not have been a problem had the restrooms and the coffee/tea been available on both decks. But no, for that one needed to come down then go back up. So, I asked the crew (Sean) if he could accommodate us on the lower deck, as my mother would’ve difficulty going up and down (one thing I had realized from the previous two days was that my mother would need to get tea – she preferred to get it herself to mix in the right amount of sugar and half-and-half – and use the restroom multiple times during the cruise).

When Sean expressed his inability as the boat was full, we had no other option but to proceed up the stairs. As the passengers were not being informed which seat was reserved for them, I thought that he could’ve rearranged it such that we were on the lower deck and some other – fitter – party could’ve been moved to the upper deck.

Be that as it may, I decided to hang around on the lower deck in case someone didn’t make it. As the boat almost filled up, I grabbed a spot on one of the cushioned seats by the windows that was still vacant. When I noticed that there were no more passengers waiting in line to be checked in by Sean, I approached him and asked him if we could have the seats I was sitting at. He said that we could (I was so glad!). I immediately rushed up the stairs and got everyone downstairs. That worked out perfectly.

I thought that as I had bought our tickets so far in advance (March), we should have gotten the lower deck or at least, we should’ve been asked if we have a preference. Since returning home, though, I have realized that probably even purchasing in March might not have been sufficiently enough in advance to get prime seating locations (though I never got a firm answer as to how they determine their seat allotments).

Soon, we were underway and immediately, I realized that the sea was much calmer than how it had been when we were at the Great Barrier Reef last year. This time, though, I was well prepared and had downed an anti-nausea pill. Soon, we were past the end of Seward town and in sight of our first glacier of the day.

The mighty Bear Glacier

The mighty Bear Glacier

A sea otter doing the backstroke (this was the favourite position of most of these creatures)

A sea otter doing the backstroke (this was the favourite position of most of these creatures)

We then got in position for some humpback whale action. Our boat had been trailing the Kenai Fjord Cruise’s boat, which had already gotten closer to the animals. But we came on the scene shortly as well, and were able to see the whales in action with their blow spouts. Needless to say, I cannot tell one kind of whale/shark apart from the other – and depended on the ranger on board, who was doing a great job sharing information with all of the passengers.

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

Humpback whales

Humpback whales

Rounding Aialik cape, we came across more humpbacks as well as a school (or is it a pod) of Orcas. Living in the Orlando area, I have been to Sea World and seen “Shamu” in action. However, we never managed to take the kids there – partly because we never thought about it, partly because I felt that the swimming pool was too restrictive for the giants and partly also because we had been busy. Anyway, since the drowning of a trainer a couple of years back, Sea World has stopped the Orca performance (I believe), so it felt nice to see Orcas in their natural habitat. This was a group of four, so I named them Shama, Shami, Shamo and Shamu 😉

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

I was not the only photographer around :-)

I was not the only photographer around 🙂

The Orcas I can identify and tell apart from the other - related or unrelated - species!

The Orcas I can identify and tell apart from the other – related or unrelated – species!

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


In addition to informing us of the sealife around us, our ranger did an excellent job of notating our trip on a map, which I took a photo of for posterity

For the concluding part of the day, all I can say was that it was really nice to go so close to these two glaciers – Holgate and Aialik – and though neither of them calved significantly, just standing on the boat and staring at them at that distance was something! One cannot get a sense of how monstrous these glaciers are when you are on the boat heading toward them – or after the boat has made its closest approach and is in a holding/circling pattern so everybody can get their photos. Unless I’m on one – that did not happen on this trip – I don’t think I can comprehend the size of one of those.

There were many micro icebergs floating all around is as we went close to the glaciers. Just like on the previous two cruises, crew members harnessed a chunk of ice and made drinks out of them for the passengers.

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

Holgate Glacier

Holgate Glacier

Aialik Glacier from a distance

Aialik Glacier from a distance

This was the only grizzly we got to see for the duration of our Alaska trip

This was the only grizzly we got to see for the duration of our Alaska trip


As we approached Aialik Glacier, we saw many kayaks on the water right below the sleeping grizzly. Oblivious of the action around him, he continued snoozing. On our way back from the glacier though, he had decided that enough was enough, woken up and wandered off back into the woods by the glacier.

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO

Aialik Glacier close up (see how puny our competitor boat - Kenai Fjord Tours - looks in comparison to the glacier)

Aialik Glacier close up (see how puny our competitor boat – Kenai Fjord Tours – looks in comparison to the glacier)

However, one thing that was really surprising and which stood out to us was that on the approach to each of these glaciers, we felt a draft of warm air. Where I thought we would be feeling the coldest, it turned out that it was the warmest feeling we had on the boat. I didn’t get a satisfactory explanation from the crew or from the ranger. Anyone here?

Bear Glacier on our way back

Bear Glacier on our way back

On the way back, once again we passed Bear Glacier with its huge moraines where three (or more) glaciers joined together to form it. Once we were back on land at about 5:30 pm, Baab and I noticed that some folks were being rushed off for their train journey. Upon enquiring, we were informed that the train to Seward comes in in the morning and stays there the whole day, returning only at about 6:00 pm. So, some of the folks on the boat needed to get to the train quickly.

Train getting ready to depart

Train getting ready to depart

We were glad that we didn’t have to leave just yet; besides, Baab and I thought that it would be nice to take some photos of the train departed Seward. So, we quickly hurried over – which, in retrospect, we didn’t have to because the railway station was not too far away – and found an ideal location to take photos and video.

Train departs to not much fanfare, and immediately afterwards, the employees closed up the station building for the night

Train departs to not much fanfare, and immediately afterwards, the employees closed up the station building for the night

 OOOOOOOO

OOOOOOOO


After the train had left, we wandered back into town and spent some time at the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor center where we got some souvenirs; Mrs. Porcupyn and Katya went over to a couple of other shops for more curios.

At this point, we had ticked off everything that I had planned to do. I had wanted to go to the Exit Glacier for a hike, but was not interested in paying $100 (or thereabouts) per person to get a guided experience up to the Harding Icefield. At the place where we got souvenirs, the staff informed us that there was a ranger-led hike that departs the Exit Glacier visitor center at (IIRC) 10 am and goes up quite close to the glacier though you still cannot walk up and touch it. As this was something that would not be too strenuous and would only take about 90 minutes round-trip, we decided that all of us would go on it tomorrow, except my mother who we would leave in Cooper Landing until we returned right around lunch time.

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