The most exciting thing to do in Seward is to get on a tour boat out into Resurrection Bay or into some nearby fjords. This is the cruise for seeing marine wildlife. On a good day, you could see humpbacks and orcas, plus porpoises, seals, sea otters, sea lions, hundreds of puffins, kittiwakes, auklets, and the occasional bald eagle and oystercatcher. Half-day trips take you around nearby Resurrection Bay and out as far as Rugged Island, while longer voyages include Aialik Bay, Holgate Glacier (with calving icebergs), and the Chiswell Islands (with a Steller sea lion rookery and nesting seabirds—most notably puffins). The latter is a far more interesting trip and actually goes inside Kenai Fjords National Park rather than to its edge, but the waters are often rough, so take seasickness pills. Unfortunately, over-the-counter pills cause drowsiness, so you may want to try ginger capsules or a prescription to Scopolamine (used as a patch behind your ear).
Tour boats operate daily throughout the season, with gray whale trips mid-March-mid-May, and a multitude of other tour options mid-May-early October. Visit early or late in the season and you’re likely to find lower prices and fewer people onboard. Binoculars and telephoto lenses are handy, and a light jacket is wise. These trips are guaranteed to be a highlight of your Alaskan visit. Some Seward B&Bs and hostels offer 10 percent discounts on Resurrection Bay tours; ask your lodging place if these are available before booking a tour.
Seward’s largest tour company, Kenai Fjords Tours (907/224-8068 or 888/478-3346) operates 10 surprisingly large 95-foot vessels, each of which holds up to 150 people. They offer a wide variety of cruises, starting with a too-quick 3.5-hour dinner trip to Fox Island ($69 adults, $35 kids ages 2-11). Better options are a 4.5-hour Resurrection Bay tour ($99 adults, $50 kids) that includes a lunch stop on Fox Island; a six-hour trip with time in Kenai Fjords National Park plus lunch ($149 adults, $75 kids); or an excellent nine-hour sail to Northwestern Fjord ($184 adults, $92 kids) that includes breakfast and lunch. Their most popular voyage—and my favorite—is an 8.5-hour trip ($172 adults, $86 kids) to Aialik Bay that includes lunch plus an hour-long stop on Fox Island where you’re served a big salmon and prime rib buffet dinner at Kenai Fjords Wilderness Lodge. In addition to their standard boats, Kenai Fjords Tours offers six-hour catamaran tours ($149 adults, $75 kids) once daily. These are more stable than other vessels, making them perfect for those who worry about seasickness. Spring trips (late Mar.-mid-May) follow the gray whale migration (four-hour tour $89 adults, $45 kids). Kenai Fjords Tours is owned by CIRI, an Anchorage-based Native Alaskan corporation.
Major Marine Tours (907/224-8030 or 800/764-7300) offers half-day cruises to Resurrection Bay ($79-84 adults, $40-42 ages 2-11) and all-day trips to Holgate or Aialik Glacier in Aialik Bay ($154-169 adults, $77-85 kids). Add $19 for an all-you-can-eat salmon and prime rib buffet. Boats heading to Aialik Bay are speedy and stable catamarans, helpful when seas are rough. These are very large vessels, holding up to 250 passengers. Early in the year (Apr.-mid-May), Major Marine has four-hour gray whale watching trips ($84 adults, $42 kids). A National Park Service ranger provides expert narration and commentary on all Major Marine tours; this is the only local company providing this service.
For a more personalized adventure, Alaska Saltwater Lodge (907/224-5271) has customized small-group trips ($239 adults, $110 kids) into the park, with a maximum of 15 passengers. (The larger operators sometimes have upward of 250 people onboard.) Two other good companies with small boats and personalized trips are Northern Latitude Adventures (907/362-2035) and Alaska Fjord Charters (907/362-7763).
Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Anchorage, Denali & the Kenai Peninsula.