Glacier & Wildlife Cruises
Some of Alaska's most spectacular scenery lives along the coast, where rocky beaches and misty rainforest alternate with craggy, steep-walled fjords carved out by ancient glaciers. Most glacier and wildlife cruises are day trips, weaving through icebergs and tracing the rugged coastline to view Alaska’s amazing marine wildlife.
Day cruises offer some of the best opportunities for Alaska whale watching. Species including humpback whales, orcas, gray whales, fin whales, and minke whales can be seen feeding and socializing in Alaska’s nutrient-rich waters. Their fascinating familial bonds and dynamic behaviors, including breaching, spy-hopping, spouting, and tail slapping, make whale watching a highlight of many visitors’ trips to Alaska. Migratory whale species can only be seen during certain months, with gray whales traveling along the Alaska coastline in the spring and fall on their annual migration to Arctic waters, and humpback whales taking up residence in Alaska from May through October to spend the summer feeding before returning to their winter breeding grounds in Hawaii. Resident species like orcas can be seen in Alaska year-round.
Alaska’s glaciers are another highlight of day cruises in the state. Many cruises visit at least one glacier along the route, while some glacier-focused cruises view dozens of glaciers on a half-day tour. The experienced captains will navigate the boats to the end of glacially-carved fjords and bays to view the towering walls of ice. Once there, they will stop the vessel, and sometimes even turn off the engine, so you can listen to the cracks and booms caused by the glacier’s constant motion. Watching glacier calving, where huge chunks of ice break off the face of the glacier and crash into the water, is a thrilling experience.
Not to be outshone by the larger marine mammals, Alaska’s waters are home to abundant marine wildlife that add excitement to day cruises. Steller sea lion colonies haul out on rocks and are an entertaining sight as they let bark loudly and dive into the water. Adorable sea otters can sometimes be seen linking arms and gathering in groups of over 100, called rafts of otters. Harbor seals haul out on icebergs with their pups, and Dall’s porpoises surf along the boat’s wake with amazing speed. Hundreds of species of marine birds can be seen nesting along the rocky shoreline, including puffins, cormorants, common murres, and kittiwakes.
The Day-Cruise Experience
Most day cruise ships have warm, indoor cabins that you can retreat to if things get chilly or wet. But bad weather can mean good things for the views: believe it or not, a gray, drizzly day often makes for great whale watching, because the cool temperatures and limited sun bring the whales’ food closer to the surface. Clouds also make the stunning deep blues of glaciers more vibrant.
The boat's crewmembers double as naturalist guides, pointing out the best sights and helping you spot wildlife. Cruises that explore national parks will often have National Park Rangers onboard to provide narration. Many day cruises offer lunch or dinner options onboard, and a few also offer short side excursions like hiking or kayaking. Cruises range from a couple of hours to full-day, with a wide variety of routes and budget options.
Explore Alaska glacier and wildlife cruise options below.
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