One thing that has always sounded cool to me was to do a Glacier Cruise while in Alaska. As y’all know, I love glaciers and since my friend Megan was coming up from the South to visit, I thought it would be a perfect experience.
I booked our cruise with the Phillips 26 Glacier Cruise company. My cruise was free, due to a familiarization offer I received since Big Wildlife Runs helps recommend attractions for runners who travel in from out of town. All opinions are my own. I paid for Megan & Matt’s cruise.
We chose to do our cruise on Saturday, June 8th. It leaves out of Whittier, Alaska, a town about an hour south of Anchorage. In my opinion, there are two cool things in Whittier: going out on the water and going through the amazing tunnel. The Whittier Tunnel is a 2.5 mile long tunnel carved through a mountain that connects the town of Whittier to the rest of Alaska, basically. It’s one lane, so you have to queue up to go through, and trains also pass through it. It’s really cool, and definitely something to do once if you’re in the area. It’s also $12 to go through it (roundtrip), so definitely plan some type of activity in Whittier if you’re going through.
We left Anchorage around 9:15 to catch the 10:30 tunnel and made it just in time! Had we missed the tunnel, we would have to wait for the 11:30, and that would have been pushing it to make it to the 12:30 cruise on time.
Once we got through the tunnel, we parked at the cruise location (parking is $12) and went to check in and grab our boarding passes. Check-in was super easy, and the girl (Cameron) working the desk was so friendly and welcoming. She told us we had 45 minutes before boarding, so we walked around Whittier a little to show off the town to Megan.
It was super chilly and rainy, but that’s the norm for Whittier. After walking the boardwalk, we stopped at a food stand to grab Alaskan beers to drink while we waited for the 11:45 boarding time.
When booking a cruise with the Phillips Cruises, you’ve got two tour options: a 3.5 hour Glacier Quest or a 5 hour 26 Glacier Cruise. We elected to do the 26 Glaciers, and I’m so glad we did! Here was the route:
The boat that you travel on is actually a specially designed catamaran, designed for the Phillips Cruise Co. out of Australia. It seats over 300 people, offers 360 degree views of the water, and goes really fast! This enabled us to cover 140 miles of water in such a short time!
When we boarded the boat, there were plenty of friendly faces on the staff member as they escorted us to our assigned tables. Both cruises offer an included lunch where you can select from chicken, gluten-free/vegitarian, kid’s meal, or beer-battered alaskan cod. We chose the alaskan cod, which is the most popular option. It was a delicious choice, and more food than I could consume, so per usual, Matt graciously finished off my plate for me!
There are tables and seats for everyone on the cruise, and you have the option to stay in your spot after eating, or go and enjoy the cruise from any of the three decks on the boat. Since it was a chilly day, we stayed inside except when we saw wildlife or cool glaciers. Then Megan & I ran outside to snap pictures and giddily wave at sea otters.
We had the luck of being seated at a table with a family who had a young child. The little boy was adorable, and really well-behaved! His personal narration pointing out ‘ghosts’, ‘unicorns’ and other adorable things made some of the downtime on the cruise pass quickly.
I really loved how the cruise had an actual U.S. Forest Ranger on board, narrating the cruise, pointing out wildlife, teaching about glacier types, and answering any question you had. Megan & I tend to be on the inquisitive side, so we were constantly waving our ranger down to ask about everything that popped in our mind. She was so good natured and friendly about it, answering every question with a smile or laugh.
Another cool thing about having involvement with the U.S. Forest Rangers was that the kids on board got to participate in the Junior Ranger program while on board. I think it was a great way to help keep kids entertained and teach them. The kid at our table loved filling out his workbook, and at the end of the cruise there was an award ceremony where he recieved a Jr. Ranger badge!
While out on the water, we saw a lot of wildlife. We were lucky to see sea otters, harbor seals, eagles, kittihawks, AND HUMPBACK WHALES! We saw at least 3 whales, and one was playing near our boat so we spent a long time out on the deck watching the water for him to jump out of the water. We now understand why videos of whales are always in slow-motion: it’s a surprisingly fast experience that left me absolutely captivated! I didn’t get a single picture of the whales as I was just mesmerized by them. I did, however, get a cute picture of some sea otters hanging in the freezing cold water!
Because of the fog, we were unable to go into the College Fjord. That was sad, but it meant we were able to spend more time in the Harriman Fjord. We went to visit Surprise glacier, a MASSIVE glacier that has been dropping ice bergs into the water with high frequency. The water around it looked like what I imagine the Titanic was pushing through.
My favorite thing that they did with the piece of glacier/iceberg they fished out was use it to make Glacier Margaritas! The drink was the color of glacier water (an incredibly rich blue) and I think the glacier added a special taste to the drink. Regardless, Megan & I had two each on the cruise.
We also spent a lot of time in Harriman Fjord at the Barry Glacier.
We spent a lot of time at the Barry Glacier, watching it calve. Calving is when pieces of ice fall off the glaciers. I kept trying to catch a video of it, but the glacier was so massive, I kept pointing my phone at the wrong part. I did get a cool video of a big splash though!
Phillip’s Cruises had a lot of great things on board to keep the passengers interested and having fun. On top of the U.S. Forest Ranger answering questions, she brought animal pelts and provided a lot of information about glaciers, Alaska, and earthquakes.
There was a full bar that you could order beer, wine, or liquor; as well as food in case you didn’t fill up on the included lunch.
At the Barry Glacier, they brought out signs you could pose with and create your own Christmas cards! They even had a staff member taking pictures with your own camera: they didn’t charge extra. This was a huge plus to me: I feel like so many tour companies try to milk whatever extra penny they can get out of you, and charging for photos tends to be a great way to get some from tourists caught up in a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
The Junior Ranger program was also free to participate in.
At the end of the cruise, they even provided warm, ooey-gooey delicious chocolate chip cookies to everyone! It was a perfectly warm way to end the event!
I also appreciated the fact that they pay their staff well-enough to where you don’t have to tip. They had a lot of signage saying that gratuity is not expected, which was another surprise to me. When we were in China, they actually charged us a gratuity of $8 per day per person that we had to pay on top of what we shelled out for the trip. The fact that the cruise employees were paid well enough to not be dependent on tips was awesome: it showed me that their friendly personalities meant they actually like their jobs. They did have a tip box if you wanted to show your appreciation though, and I saw a lot of people putting money into it.
Overall, this was amazing. The weather didn’t hold us back enough to matter, and the boat was filled with fun activities to ensure there was no boredom. I would highly recommend this to anyone wanting to see glaciers and wildlife: it’s a perfect full-day activity. When I was researching other glacier companies, Phillips stood out to me because they covered the most ground. After experiencing their hospitality, I would say what they offer couldn’t possibly be matched!
If you decide to come to Anchorage and embark on this cruise, let me know! I’m looking for any excuse to go again, and hopefully see more whales!