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Why You Should Go on a Boat Tour in Seward, Alaska

Why You Should Go on a Boat Tour in Seward, Alaska

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seward alaska boat tours

So, you find yourself in Seward, Alaska. Perhaps you’ve already done a hike or two, visited the Alaska Sealife Center, and eaten seafood to your heart’s content. I would call that a good visit to this small oceanside town, but it’s missing one key component: taking a boat tour in Seward.

Taking a boat tour out of the small boat harbor in Seward has the capacity to transform your trip from great to life-changing.

(Call me dramatic, but I believe it!)

Below I’ve written up an overview of my background with working at tour companies, the different boat tours in Seward, and I also explain why I believe it’s imperative (dramatic, again) to book one for yourself.

Why You Should Book a Boat Tour in Seward, Alaska

the harbor in seward alaska

Seward Small Boat Harbor

My Experiences with Boat Tours in Seward

In order to provide a bit of context as to why I’m writing this in the first place, it’s necessary to briefly explain my background.

Working for a Boat Tour Company

In the summer of 2019, I moved up to Seward, Alaska in order to work for a boat tour company aptly named Kenai Fjords Tours (the boat tours often explore the coastline of Kenai Fjords National Park). This would be my first ever experience working for a company like this, as well as going on boat tours through the fjords of the Kenai Peninsula.

After having an amazing experience that season, which includes but is not limited to meeting my now girlfriend who worked for the same company, we both decided to come back up to Alaska in 2020 (…sigh…2020).

I went back to work for Kenai Fjords Tours while my girlfriend, Ireland, decided to try out another boat tour company: Major Marine Tours.

After another great season (albeit a rather strange one with Covid in the mix), we stayed in Seward over the winter. With summer now around the corner, Ireland has started back at Major Marine Tours, and I have left the boat tour “realm” for now, opting to work in a restaurant in town.

Many, many boat tours.

One of the major perks of working for companies like these is the free/greatly discounted boat tours. Many of our coworkers would go on a boat every weekend!

This is an opportunity that not many people have experienced, and I am very grateful for it.

With the numerous tours and multiple places of work between the two of us, I believe we have a good handle on what to do when it comes to boat tours in Seward.

best boat tours in seward alaska

Why Should I Even Go on a Boat Tour in Seward? Is it Worth it?

Yes.

With that out of the way, let’s move on….

Just kidding, I’ll elaborate.

I’m so quick to answer yes to the question “is it worth it?” because I have seen countless guests come off the boats with a huge smile on their face and a very clear appreciation for what they have just witnessed.

For many people, a trip like this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to view some of the most remote locations and wildlife they have ever seen. The pictures and memories they hold onto for years to come will serve as a reminder of the feeling they had when skirting around a rocky peninsula to catch the first sight of a glacier. It’s hard to forget an experience as epic as that.

tourists on a seward alaska boat tour

Aaron taking in the view

What can I see on a boat that I can’t see on land?

Kenai Fjords National Park is a uniquely challenging park to visit, due to the fact that most of it is only accessible by the water.

If you have already walked up to the toe of Exit Glacier, or even hiked the 4 miles up to the Harding Icefield, that pretty much exhausts every foot-accessible option in the National Park.

When you take a boat tour, your experience of the National Park and surrounding areas shifts dramatically. All of a sudden you’re able to see parts of the park you were only dreaming of.

Why should I bother paying to see a glacier on a boat when I’ve already seen Exit Glacier?

Exit Glacier is definitely a must-see for visitors looking for an opportunity to get up-close and personal with a glacier. Standing on the outwash plains, looking up at the glacier is one of my favorite places to decompress after a long week.

However, Exit Glacier is only one kind, or form, of glaciers that are possible to see in the National Park. Exit is an alpine glacier, meaning that it is surrounded on all sides by mountain terrain, often resulting in a river flowing out from the terminus. This is undoubtedly a breathtaking formation.

Within Kenai Fjords National Park, there is another glacial formation called a tidewater glacier. When you hop on a boat in order to see a glacier, a tidewater glacier is what you will end up in front of.

These differ from alpine glaciers in one major way: the terminus of the glacier ends in the ocean, rather than on land. If you’ve seen videos of large chunks of ice detaching from a glacier and falling into the ocean, known as calving, you witnessed a tidewater glacier.

a view of aialik glacier in seward alaska

Aialik Glacier

Words can barely describe the feeling of hearing the thunderous boom of a tidewater glacier calving into the ocean, sending waves of water hurling towards the boat, only to see it float in the ocean as a newly formed iceberg. It is a truly grand event.

Most boat tour companies in Seward will take you to one of the two main tidewater glaciers located in the National Park: Holgate Glacier and Aialik Glacier. Both of these are equally stunning to view.

Some companies will also offer a trip to the Northwestern Fjord, which is home to three different tidewater glaciers.

Is the cost of a boat tour in Seward justified for the experience?

Probably the largest hurdle that guests have to overcome in order to encounter the magic of Kenai Fjords National Park is the cost of a tour.

This is probably the factor most often cited as a reason for not taking a tour, and that is perfectly understandable.

If you do have the funds for a tour, I am here to say that the price of admission is definitely worth it for the 4 – 8 hours of time on the water.

While it may be one of the most expensive parts of your trip to Seward, spending time on the water is sure to make you fall in love with Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska.

bear glacier in seward alaska

Bear Glacier in the distance

What wildlife could I see in Kenai Fjords National Park?

Besides the monstrous glaciers you may see on the boat tour, the Kenai Fjords National Park is also home to a plethora of wildlife.

Here is a list of the most common wild animals to spot during your tour:

Whales:

  • Humpback Whales
  • Orcas (Killer Whales)
  • Gray Whales
  • Fin Whales
  • Minke Whales

Marine Mammals:

  • Dall’s Porpoise
  • Stellar Sea Lions
  • Harbor Seals
  • Sea Otters

Birds:

  • Bald Eagles
  • Tufted Puffins
  • Horned Puffins
  • Black-Legged Kittiwakes
  • Common Murres
  • Oystercatchers
  • Cormorants

Land Mammals:

  • Mountains Goats
  • Black Bears

As you can see, the possibilities for wildlife sightings are vast.

With these animals being wild, of course, no tour company will ever guarantee any sightings. But, from the experiences I’ve had on the boats, I can say that the chances for seeing at least a few varieties of wildlife are pretty high.

sea lions chilling out in seward alaska

Some Stellar Sea Lions chilling out

harbor seals laying on bergy bits in front of aialik glacier

Harbor seals love to lay on bergy bits in front of Aialik Glacier

The 4 Main Companies That Run Boat Tours in Seward

Seward has quite a few tour companies that will accommodate many different needs and requests for their guests. Below are four of the main companies that run boat tours in Seward:

Kenai Fjords Tours

Kenai Fjords Tours has been around forever. It has been transferred from owner to owner, but still remains as a staple in the Seward tourism business.

As I said before, I worked for KFT for two seasons, and am very grateful to have had the opportunity. My coworkers, both inside the main office and the deckhands out on the boats, were enthusiastic about their jobs and loved what they did (for the most part).

THE BOATS

Kenai Fjords Tours is a large company that runs large boats. Typically, a KFT boat will be Coast Guard Certified to hold about 250 people. A tour will usually only take 150 people at max, however.

When the boats are being run at max capacity, with 149 other people on the same boat, things can feel a little cramped. Everybody wants to get a view of the Humpback or Orca that’s been sighted off the bow of the boat, but there is limited space. This can cause a little bit of frustration in some cases, especially for those who are trying to get the best pictures possible.

With that being said, a KFT boat is perfectly fine for most people who are just trying to enjoy their time in Alaska, and maybe trying to spot a humpback for the first time. And if you have children with you, a bigger boat with more people might be just what you are looking for.

Taken from Kenai Fjords Tours’ website, here’s a quote about their boats:

The 9 ships in the fleet hold up to 150 passengers and feature multi-level, walk-around viewing decks, spacious heated cabins, large windows, comfortable indoor seating for all guests and a snack bar. All vessels are restroom-equipped and the newer vessels … were designed to accommodate guests with limited mobility.

Kenai Fjords Tours
The Alaskan explorer boat from Kenai Fjords Tours

The Alaskan Explorer (Kenai Fjords Tours)

THE TOURS

As of right now, for the 2021 season, Kenai Fjords Tours will be running five different tours. These tours vary in duration, destination, accommodations, and cost:

  • Gray Whale Watch Tour
    • Duration: 4 hours
    • Destination: Cruising around Resurrection Bay into the Gulf of Alaska
    • Accommodations: Included lunch
    • Cost: $80/adult
  • Resurrection Bay Tour
    • Duration: 5 hours
    • Destination: Cruising around Resurrection Bay
    • Accommodations: Included lunch
    • Cost: $105/adult
  • Kenai Fjords National Park Tour
    • Duration: 6 hours
    • Destination: Kenai Fjords National Park, Tidewater glacier
    • Accommodations: Included lunch
    • Cost: $153/adult
  • Kenai Fjords National Park Tour with Dinner on Fox Island
    • Duration: 8.5 hours
    • Destination: Tidewater glacier, Fox Island
    • Accommodations: Included dinner on Fox Island
    • Cost: $179/adult
  • Northwestern Fjord Tour
    • Duration: 7 hours
    • Destination: Northwestern Fjord, Tidewater glaciers
    • Accommodations: Included lunch
    • Cost: $179/adult

Keep in mind that different tours are offered at different points throughout the season, as well as having different departure times, so be sure to check KFT’s website before setting your heart on a certain tour.

With all of these different options, you are sure to find the best tour for you and your group.

a view of aialik glacier in seward alaska

Aialik Glacier

Major Marine Tours

Major Marine is another behemoth in the Seward tourism business. They are a locally owned and operated company that clearly cares about both their guests and their employees. As I mentioned above, my girlfriend, Ireland, is returning to work at Major Marine for her second season as a Front Desk Agent. She could not be happier to be back!

Major Marine and KFT are pretty similar companies in terms of what they offer. There are a few things that set each company apart, but they generally offer a lot of the same experiences.

THE BOATS

If you peruse the Major Marine website, you may come across the page where they list their vessels.

Major Marine seems to take a lot of pride in their boats, and that is for good reason. With a new vessel that was built in 2017, and the brand new Spirit of Matushka that will see its first tour in 2021, the Major Marine fleet nothing to scoff at.

Similar to KFT, Major Marine’s larger boats will hold anywhere from 150 – 190 people on board. They also have a couple of smaller boats that hold 30 – 60 passengers.

Here is an excerpt from Major Marine Tours’ website about their boats:

Our modern Coast Guard-certified vessels are designed for your cruising comfort. Each of our non-smoking vessels features viewing decks, heated cabins, large fog-free picture windows, and clean restrooms. Our experienced and friendly crew will ensure your comfort and safety at all times

Major Marine Tours

If you book a tour with MMT, expect to have a packed boat. Both of these large tour companies are not trying to waste money, so when they are able to they will put as many people as they can on the boats.

The Kenai Fjords 360 from Major Marine

The Kenai Fjords 360 (Major Marine)

THE TOURS

For the 2021 season, Major Marine Tours will be running five different tours. Let’s take a look at how these tours differ:

  • Gray Whale Watching Cruise
    • Duration: 4 hours
    • Destination: Cruising around Resurrection Bay into the Gulf of Alaska
    • Accommodations: Complimentary coffee, water, tea
    • Cost: $89/adult
  • Kenai Fjords National Park Cruise
    • Duration: 6 hours
    • Destination: Kenai Fjords National Park, Tidewater glacier
    • Accommodations: Included lunch
    • Cost: $169/adult
  • Orca Quest Cruise
    • Duration: 4 hours
    • Destination: Cruising Resurrection Bay in search of Orcas
    • Accommodations: Additional cost for snacks
    • Cost: $94/adult
  • Kenai Fjords Wildlife Cruise
    • Duration: 3.5 hours
    • Destination: Cruising around Resurrection Bay
    • Accommodations: Additional cost for snacks
    • Cost: $94/adult
  • Northwestern Fjord Cruise
    • Duration: 8.5 hours
    • Destination: Northwestern Fjord, Tidewater glaciers
    • Accommodations: Included breakfast and lunch
    • Cost: $239/adult (children under 12 not allowed)
tourists enjoying a boat tour in seward alaska

Ireland soaking in the sun on our first tour of 2021

At a glance, there are quite a few differences from KFT when it comes to accommodations. Major Marine Tours does not offer complimentary meals on every tour like Kenai Fjords Tours does, but I would not let this be a “dealbreaker” for you. While it is free food, it won’t exactly be a five star meal. And, as I would prefer to do, you are welcome to bring your own food on any of these two tour companies’ boats.

Another difference to note is the Northwestern Fjord Tour: Major Marine takes a smaller capacity boat to this distant fjord, and therefore doesn’t allow children under 12 years old to join. Kenai Fjords Tours opts to take a larger vessel to the Northwestern Fjord, shaves off 1.5 hours compared to Major Marine, and allows children.

best boat tours in seward alaska

Seward Ocean Excursions

Sidenote: I will not be going as in-depth with the next two companies as I have with the previous two, and that’s mainly because I don’t have any experience with them. With that being said, I wanted to include these two smaller companies in order to show the diversity of experience that is available to those who search for it.

Seward Ocean Excursions is a small company that offers a wide range of boat tours in Seward. They are a family business that is the only company in Seward to offer year-round boat excursions. Find yourself in Seward in the off-season? Not a problem! Call up Seward Ocean Excursions and they will give you the Alaskan winter experience you’ve always wanted.

THE BOATS

Seward Ocean Excursions has a fleet that currently consists of two, 5 – 6 passenger vessels, and they also have a third boat on the way for the 2021 season!

Here is an excerpt from their site about the Lost Lynx and Missing Lynx:

Their simple seating arrangement and window layout allows for nearly 360-degree views from inside the warmth and protection of the cabins. Even on those blustery winter days or rainier summer days, one can enjoy the surroundings without venturing outside into the elements! … The Missing Lynx and Lost Lynx are capable of cruising at up 40 knots, but we generally cruise about 20 knots for a more comfortable ride. However, our high max speed means we can get to the wildlife and scenery fast if time is an issue!

Seward Ocean Excursions
the missing lynx seward ocean excusrisions

The Missing Lynx (Seward Ocean Excursions)

THE TOURS

With the small amount of passengers on board, SOE offers tours that feel much more intimate and personal than the larger companies’ trips. This factor definitely contributes to a higher price for most of their tours, so it will be up to you to determine whether it is worth it.

Here are the three main tours they offer:

  • Kenai Fjords and Resurrection Bay Half Day Tour
    • Duration: 3.5 hours
    • Destination: Resurrection Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park
    • Passengers: Minimum of 2, Maximum of 6
    • Cost: $164/person
  • 6 Hour Tour Deeper into Kenai Fjords National Park / Aialik Bay
    • Duration: 6 hours
    • Destination: Kenai Fjords National Park, Aialik Bay
    • Passengers: Minimum of 3, Maximum of 6
    • Cost: $245/person
  • Full Day Tour
    • Duration: 8 hours
    • Destination: Anywhere! (Basically)
    • Passengers: Minimum of 1, Maximum of 6
    • Cost: $1969 for up to 6 people, private / exclusive for your party

Seward Ocean Excursions also offers custom trips with “endless options”, as they say.

view from a boat tour in seward alaska

Seward Wildlife Tours

Another option for a small company that runs boat tours in Seward is Seward Wildlife Tours. They are a company that consists of two captains and two boats, so about as small as a business gets. Together, the captains have over 50 years of experience in the waters around Seward, so you can be sure to learn a great amount about Resurrection Bay and beyond.

THE BOATS

Similar to Seward Ocean Excursions, Seward Wildlife Tours has a fleet that consists of two 6 passenger vessels.

Here is an excerpt from their site about the Gray Light and Keep it Reel:

Each of our boats has a roomy and heated cabin, comfortable seating for all, a private restroom, and state-of-the-art marine electronics. Our boats are fast! Both boats can cruise at highway speeds, if necessary, but we generally like to slow down to a comfortable 25 miles per hour for our tours. That way, we can cover some territory and take you deep into the wilderness where the best glacier and wildlife viewing occur.

Seward Wildlife Tours
wildlife boat tours seward alaska
THE TOURS

Seward Wildlife Tours offers expertly guided, small group wildlife tours that are tailored to the interests of those on board. They believe they provide some of the best boat tours in Seward, and this is reflected in their prices.

Below are the three main cruise options they offer:

  • 4 Hour Tour
    • Destination: Resurrection Bay and the Gulf of Alaska
    • Passengers: Minimum of 3, Maximum of 6
    • Cost: $220/person
  • 6 Hour Tour
    • Destination: Resurrection Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park, Gulf of Alaska
    • Passengers: Minimum of 3, Maximum of 6
    • Cost: $245/person
  • 8 Hour Tour
    • Destination: Resurrection Bay, Kenai Fjords National Park, Gulf of Alaska
    • Passengers: Minimum of 3, Maximum of 6
    • Cost: $299/person

Unlike Seward Ocean Excursions, SWT does not offer a separate option for custom trips, but I believe this is because most of their tours are already “custom”, outside of the set duration.

best alaska boat tours

In Conclusion…

Seward, Alaska is a lively place with near endless opportunities for adventure. If you ask me, I say that going out on a boat during your visit to Seward is an integral part of the experience, and has the potential to create unforgettable memories.

No matter which route you decide to go, whether a smaller and more personalized tour, or one of the high-capacity cruises with set parameters, I’m confident you will feel happy with the choice you made. You can’t go wrong with any time spent on the water!

See you out there.

incredible boat tours seward alaska
boat tours in seward alaska

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