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Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park

Alaska’s Kenai Fjords National Park
By Candyce H. Stapen

Most large cruise ships plying the Inside Passage depart from Seward, which is about 127 miles south of Anchorage. We took advantage of the time before our 10 day cruise to explore another part of Alaska’s temperate rain forest: the Kenai Fjords National Park. We boarded a 150-passenger ship for a half-day cruise. Unlike the huge luxury liners, such small vessels can access narrow fjords. That’s how we had our close encounter with critters and calving glaciers.

Almost as soon as we left the dock, our ship’s naturalist guide spotted a sea otter floating on his back, the tips of his flippers sticking out of the ocean. Every few minutes, in a comical gesture, the otter rolled completely around like a log. En route to the glacier, we glided by shorelines of green spruce, brown windblown mountains, and craggy peninsulas covered in mist. The ship came close to an islet where the members of a sea lion colony lounged belly-down on the rocks. We watched two bulls face off against each other, growling for positions near a female while the babies honked and slid over their moms. My children and I honked back to the bulls.

Soon after our ship glided by a puffin rookery, home to hundreds of the black birds with orange curls of feathers. Then the naturalist guide shouted “Thar she blows” and we, like everyone else, raced to the port side. We caught a glimpse of a humpback whale’s forty-foot, barnacled head before he dove under and out of sight. Minutes later, the whale reappeared on our starboard, causing another stampede on deck. This time, we saw the black bony ridges on his back loop above the water before the tip of his fluke slid seamlessly below the surface. Smaller minke whales and orcas also swam past us on our day outing.

Our destination and turn-around point brought us about 100-yards from a massive glacier. Standing on the deck, we gained a true perspective of the height of this sheer wall of ice and its color, not white, but an iridescent blue created by the reflected sun. When the captain cut the engines, we heard the thunderous sound of the glacier’s “calving” as huge chunks broke off and fell into the sea. We huddled together on the deck, and posed for what became our future holiday card—the four of us fronting a vast glacier. We still vividly remember this scene.

The dramatic setting made us not care (much) about freezing despite wearing fleece pullovers and windbreakers. On the return to port we begged blankets from the captain. For respites from the cold, we warmed up in the indoor heated cabin, but prone to seasickness, my family and I needed the deck’s fresh — if bracing — air.

Carnival Cruises, Celebrity, Holland America, Princess and Royal Caribbean are among the lines sailing Alaskan waters. Book these popular cruises in advance.

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