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A Beautiful One Day Sea Cruise from Whittier

July 16

First night in Anchorage was uneventful. We checked into Springhill Suites in Anchorage around 3:00PM. There was a drizzle when we arrived at the hotel and the sky was full of dark clouds. Springhill Suites is owned by Marriot hotels and we had booked a luxury suite for us. We were planning to spend three days in Anchorage and we wanted a big comfortable room in the best hotel we could get. Our room had two queen beds, a sitting area with a sofa and a writing table.
We left our bags in the room, relaxed for about one hour and then went to the city centre. Anchorage also has a farmers market on Saturdays and Sundays. It was more like a country fair with food stalls and souvenir shops. We bought a picture showing three occurrences of Aurora Borealis. Each event is unique showing different colours and patterns. We had dinner in the city in a restaurant called Simon & Seafort’s Saloon and Grill. The food was tasty and we had a satisfying dinner.

Farmers Market at Anchorage

Next morning we had planned our one day Sea Cruise to see tidal glaciers from Whittier. This turned out to be the best one day cruise we could have taken. We booked transport from Anchorage to Whittier and then a five and half hour sea cruise in the Prince William Sound area by Major Marine Tours. There are several companies who are doing these day tours. The first part of the tour is to travel to Whittier from Anchorage. We could have used our vehicle, but for a change we decided to take a complete rest and get a coach to take us to Whittier and back. The other option was to take a train from Anchorage to Whittier.

Our coach driver was picking us up at another hotel called Embassy Suites. We drove and parked our car at Embassy Suites and waited for the coach. The coach driver happened to be a young boy called Jaylan Brown. He is from Anchorage and is studying to become a pilot. He is doing odd jobs to collect money to earn air hours needed to become a pilot. He picked the three of us from Anchorage and was planning to pick six more people from Girdwood. Girdwood is about thirty miles from Anchorage and on the way to Whittier. Jaylan gave us some useful information about places of interest in Anchorage. While driving, he explained some of the places we saw on our way. We were driving on the Seward Highway along Turnagian Arm.

To explain more about Turnagain Arm, we need a little knowledge of the Cooks Inlet. Cooks inlet stretches 180 miles from the gulf of Alaska to Anchorage. It branches into the Knit arm and the Turnagain Arm. It appears like a huge lake. Captain Cook is the person who initially gave its name. Turnagain arm exhibits a huge tidal bore, as high as six feet and it travels at fifteen miles per hour on high Spring tides.

Turnagain Arm is very shallow during low tide and is well known for its silty bottom. It is exposed during low tide making marine navigation difficult. The silt forms a mud slat making it dangerous to walk on. It is like quicksand and there are stories of people getting stuck in the mud and having to be rescued. We could see the Turnagain Arm on our right side till we drove to Girdwood. Jaylon picked up the six passengers from Alyeska Lodge in Girdwood. We later found they are from Indianapolis and travelled to Alaska for a short holiday. Jaylan explained to us that Girdwood is a Ski resort in winter and is equally popular as a holiday resort in summer.

Access to Whittier village is through a long tunnel which is 2.2 miles long. It is so narrow that it allows only one way traffic. At the same time this tunnel has to be shared between motor traffic and trains. The train gets the highest priority. So when a train comes, other traffic is stopped and the train is allowed to pass. Normally all vehicles wait for about one hour to get a chance to go through this tunnel. We drove through this tunnel and after waiting in a queue to check our tickets, got into the cruise vessel. The cruise vessel was a big boat with an upper deck and a lower deck with enough seating accommodation for about 200 people. The three of us got seats on the lower deck. There was a couple seated next to us. They have come from Salt Lake City. They drove a motor bike and came all the way on the Alaska Highway.

Before the Cruise Andrew and Mala near the boat

Luckily for us it was a very clear sunny day. The captain said this was the best sunny day they had in the last two months. He made announcements from time to time, but there was another guide to explain the proceedings. He gave a brief description of our expected route and the things we can expect to see during the trip. Within a few hundred metres from the starting point, we saw a whale coming to the water surface We only saw its tail disappearing into the water. Everybody including the captain got excited and the boat did a couple of circles looking for the whale. We could not take a photo of the whale.

The next destination of the cruise boat was the sea lion rock. The captain moved the boat very close to a rock and we saw more than ten sea lions lying on the rock and sunbathing. We managed to take a few photos of the sea lions. The sea lions simply ignored us and did not try to move away from the boat.

Sea Lions relaxing on a rock

We spent some time on the upper deck outside the glass enclosure observing the sea lions. We were requested to come inside the glass enclosure and the boat started moving at a high speed towards the tide water glaciers. We kept looking for any signs of whales and also looking for any signs of Bald Eagles or Dhal sheep in the surrounding mountains. The cabin crew in the mean time started preparing the lunch bar for us. We paid for our lunch separately, but it was good value for money. It was an “All you can eat” type buffet lunch. We could eat unlimited king salmon, beef, rice and salad. For dessert, we had cheese cake, brownies and fruit salad.

As we were getting closer to the Glaciers we could see several glaciers. The Glaciers are rivers of snow or ice. In the case of a normal river, water continuously flows into the sea. In the case of a Tide Water Glacier, the solidified snow or ice slowly flows into the ocean. The ice may be moving only a few centimetres a day, but there is continuous movement of ice.

The entire area including the surrounding mountains and the sea where we were looking for Glaciers is known as Prince William Sound. It covers a huge area and is the home to many small and large glaciers. It is not possible to have a close look at all the glaciers in one day. This cruise covers one big tide water glacier called Surprise Glacier. When we got very close to the Glacier, we could see the enormity of it. It was like a huge mountain of ice hundreds of feet high above the sea surface. The tour guide told us that the sea at this point is about three hundred feet deep and the ice wall formed at the entrance to the water extends all the way to the bottom of the sea. The most amazing scene was when the ice wall cracked in some places and fell into the sea with a huge noise. Once, a huge chunk of ice fell into the water, sending sea water in all directions. This phenomenon of ice cracking with a noise happened several times while we were there. In this area, the sea is covered with floating ice chunks. They all come from the falling ice.
Surprise Glacier from a distance

Surprise glacier in the background

Glacier Ice wall in the background

We also saw large groups of Sea Otters swimming on the sea surface. They are small creatures and were difficult to get a closer look. When the boat comes close to them they dive into water and disappear under water. Malisha somehow managed to get a few photos showing them moving round and back peddling on the water.

Sea Otter – close look – back peddling

Glacier Margarita

On our way back, the captain announced that we could buy Glacier Margarita. They have scooped out a chunk of Glacier ice from the sea and used it to combine with other ingredients to make Margarita. I and Mala bought two Margaritas and tasted them. We still haven’t finished. The boat slowly moved towards a huge rock on the right side of our path. The guide asked us to have a closer look at the rock. I first saw some water falls starting all the way up in the mountain and cascading down. But a closer look showed something else which we did not notice earlier. There were thousands and thousands of birds circling these water falls and sitting on the steep banks of the rock. The guide explained that these birds migrate here annually in summer time. There could be Bald Eagles flying around to catch some of these birds, but we did not see any of them.

The Birds sitting on the rock near the waterfall

We can say luck was with us to be able to see all these spectacular scenes in one day. We came back to Anchorage around 7 p.m and had dinner in a near by Chinese Restaurant. The dinner was hopeless and nothing like the Chinese food we get in Australia.

Posted by fernando65 19:20 Tagged glacier anchorage whittier "sea otters" "bald eagles"

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Wow that cruise looks great! I am so jealous

by Janahan

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