Alaska Wildlife on Display

A catamaran cruise take visitors to see Alaska wildlife in Kenai Fjords By: Christopher Batin
Boats get up close to wildlife. // © 2013 CIRI Alaska Tourism Corporation
Boats get up close to wildlife. // © 2013 CIRI Alaska Tourism Corporation

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The Details

Kenai Fjords Tours

Tours cost $174 for adults and $87 for children.

When I boarded the 82-foot catamaran Voyager in Seward, Alaska, I expected to have the typical wildlife and glacier tour. Prior to the cruise, I observed some whales and other wildlife from a distance and I hoped to take a few photos with my telephoto lens.

Within the first hour of the nine-hour cruise, however, I knew this wasn’t an ordinary tour. As the fresh-made cinnamon rolls and hot beverages helped passengers settle in for a day of exploration, we were motoring to one of the most spectacularly scenic and rugged coastal areas of Alaska: the outer Kenai Peninsula.

Kenai Fjords Tours offers the only day tour into the Northwestern Fjord, a 150-mile roundtrip during which passengers get up close and personal with wildlife, such as puffins and orcas, as well as three spectacular tidewater glaciers. Marine life is abundantly visible as the cruise courses through the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge. Dee Buchanon, Kenai Fjords Tours’ marketing director, said that its captains have an average of 12 years’ experience on these waters, which explains why the wildlife and history narrative from the captain was one of the best that I have heard.

The boat’s slow speed in narrow fjords surrounded by towering alpine and tidewater glaciers is another reason why I enjoyed the tour. Forget viewing from a distance — the captain got us so close to one glacier that I had to use my wide-angle lens to fit it in the frame and was able to capture the calving ice cascading off canyon walls.

Orcas were plentiful that day, along with seals on ice floes, sea lions and puffins. The catamaran would ease into the deepwater coves under towering cliffs as puffins and other seabirds flew above the boat or surfaced nearby with mouthfuls of needlefish.

On the return, we stopped for an overnight stay on Fox Island at the Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge. The lodge features gourmet cuisine and comfortable cabins and is located on a pebble beach that borders a sapphire blue inlet. I could see 30 feet into the water and watched as salmon swam past jellyfish hanging lazily in the current. Fox Island is home to two state parks, Sunny Cove State Marine Park and Sandspit Point State Marine Park, which are easily explored on guided kayak tours or hikes.

The next day, I added an extension to the Kenai Fjords trip and booked a fishing outing with a smaller charter going after saltwater silver and pink salmon. I found this captain and crew to be experienced and skilled.

We overnighted in the Seward Windsong Lodge, located near Exit Glacier just outside of Seward. We trekked on hiking trails bordering stunning mountain and rainforest scenery, then satiated our appetite over a dinner at the Resurrection Roadhouse, which offers a panoramic view of the Resurrection River Valley. The menu includes a variety of wild Alaska seafood prepared by award-winning chefs. The semolina-crusted halibut is now a favored addition to my recipe files — just another reminder of why I want to return to Kenai Fjords next year.

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