Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Columbia Glacier and Wildlife Tour


Somehow we had managed to reach Valdez without purchasing our Tour Saver booklet. Along with the Milepost, the Tour Saver is considered a "must-have" when visiting Alaska. It has coupons for many tours, activities, cruises, flights, etc. basically at half price, or BOGO: By one, get one. Take one cruise, and it pays for itself. When we got to Safeway in Valdez, we snagged one, $99.95.


We walked to the small boat harbor to check out the tour boats. The one we saw in the harbor was the Valdez Spirit, a beautiful gigantic catamaran, with a gleaming logo, "Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises". It looked like an awesome boat to cruise around on, so we booked our tour, using our first coupon. Unfortunately, on the day of our cruise, that gleaming catamaran was nowhere to be found. Turns out it had been booked by a Korean reality show, whose contestants we later saw along the shores of an island. Who knows what they were up to. And in any case, our particular tour was never going to be on that big, shiny boat. Ours was always scheduled for the unmarked "Glacier Spirit", the one with no company logo.

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What we thought we were going to get (yeah, baby!) and what we actually got.

The "Glacier Spirt" is a monohull capable of running at around 18 knots. Even though it wasn't a full cruise and we had lots of places to move around, it wasn't a very comfortable boat. The seating reminded me of church pews, only not as cushy. By the end of our seven-hour cruise, I was knackered.

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The Prince William Sound, the Columbia Glacier and points in between have so much to offer, comfort is really not a factor. We cruised on a gorgeous and warm day, and saw one humpback whale feeding near shore, numerous sea otters and harbor seals, some with babies, and a ton of Stellar Sea Lions.  We saw Kittiwakes, Marbles Murrelets, Pigeon Guillemots, Murres, Eagles, Cormorants, Surf Scoters and Arctic Terns. Sadly, no Puffins. We will be taking another cruise out of Seward, so there is still a chance we might see them!

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This small humpback whale was quite a distance from the boat so we didn’t get to see much of him.

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The sea otters won the prize for the cutest animal of the day!

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Harbor seal acrobatics! There were hundreds of them along the water’s edge.

As if the wildlife wasn't enough, the real star of this cruising show was the stunning Columbia Glacier. Starting about 15-20 miles away, the waters filled with all kinds of floating ice. From a distance, as we approched, I thought, "What are all those sailboats doing out here?" Duh, it was icebergs! From cocktail-sized ice cubes, to the larger growlers, and my favorite, Bergie Bits, to massive icebergs, the fjord was choked with ice. Some were clear, some were glacier blue, and all had interesting shapes. Our able captain maneuvered the Glacier Spirit right through the ice until we reached the Columbia, where we parked about 1.5 miles away. It was breathtaking.

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It was a perfect day to be out on the water with not a cloud in the sky!

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The captain brought us close to iebergs of every shape and size.


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The Columbia Glacier is breathtaking to experience. The wind was icy cold outside for these photos.

A bonus wildlife viewing at the glacier. This mother and baby were doing some human spotting!


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When we arrived back at Valdez, fisherman were bringing in the day’s catch – Halibut and Rockfish.

We felt like the length of the tour was just about right. We dragged our stiff bodies out of the boat after 7 stimulating hours but, despite the uncomfortable seating, we would do it again in a heartbeat!


  1. looks like it was a great day for a cruise!!! thanks for sharing the fabulous photos, as always, Steven's photography is never a disappointment!!

    1. Thank you, Sue! Even though the boat was not all that comfortable, I was able to relax knowing I had my own photographer on board. That makes all the difference!

  2. With so many cruise options it has been difficult to select ones in advance. We'll likely just 'wing it', but this one looks interesting offering a bit of everything.

    1. Jeff, this was a great cruise, but it was long at nearly 7 hours. Most folks fell right asleep after we left the glacier. The other cruise (the big boat!) was 9 hours. Even in comfort, I'm not sure I would have lasted that long!

  3. Otters are simply the coolest animals on Earth. Not even close. Just sayin....

    1. I have to agree with you. They were pretty adorable.

  4. Haha, "seats like church pews but not as cushy." Good thing you had lots of wildlife and VERY COOL icebergs to keep you happily occupied for seven hours. I agree, the sea otters win the cuteness contest of the day!

    1. The icebergs were the stars of the day. Frozen cathedrals. With comfortable pews. :)

  5. We have not picked up Tour Saver book yet. The glacier tour looks fantastic! We will have to look into that one.

    1. There is a two for one coupon for a half day hike to the Root Glacier just beyond Kennicott. It would just about pay for your book if you use it!