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2 1/2 Days in Alaska: Harding Glacier and Whale Watching in Seward Alaska

a woman holding an ice piece

So the benefit of Alaska’s 22 hour days is that when you have to leave at 5AM, it’s really bright outside. So I headed south down the Seward Highway excitedly, but more quietly, spotting several moose along the way.

I was surprised that as I headed south I saw lots more snow. I’d assumed the left over snow would be heavier north of Anchorage, but that just reaffirmed that I know nothing of whether patterns. As a side note, on the park the day before I’d learned that Denali doesn’t get much more snow than many other US states, but that whatever falls never melts and it just accumulates til spring.

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That was certainly true on my drive south where the drifts were often 4 to 5 feet deep. So it was pretty scenery, but not as breathtaking as the day before. I made good time to Seward, pulled into the Holiday Inn parking lot for the day and proceeded to bundle up. With rare good sense I’d not only packed jeans, a long-sleeve layered shirt, and waterproof jacket, but I’d also packed gloves and a scarf. Where I got this inspiration I don’t know, but I wound up quite thankful for it.

The meeting spot for the Alaska Saltwater Lodge whale watching tour was Bakery at the Harbor, a cute little coffee house with pretty good homemade biscuits. I’d noticed two guys arriving shortly after who could have been 15 or 30yrs old, and sure enough, those were guides. Whoops.

As I walked up one of them was like, “You’re Keri?†which puzzled me a little bit. It was made clear in a few minutes when the owner of the boat tours came up to meet us and they introduced me as “This is Keri†And he excitedly asked if I had any ties to Seward.

Turns out that one of his first employees, who later became the first female harbormaster of Seward shared my full name, but with an extra “r†in Keri. So that was quite a welcome. It also turned out that there were only 3 other passengers and 3 crew, so it was going to be a very personalized trip. Yay!

Good luck favored me again, when we had a humpback whale sighting within 5 minutes of leaving the dock. And not just a little bit of tail, the full arch and deep dive!! (Which of course I was far too slow to capture with my camera)

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From there it only got better, with sea otters doing the playful grooming of each other and sleeping habits that I’d learned about in middle school. Porpoises swam up shortly after and raced the boat at 35mph for a mile or so.

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From there we saw the aptly named sea sausages and moved on to orcas (killer whales), hanging out for awhile with 2 or 3 pods (family groups). And that’s where I learned a happy fact: adult orcas’ dorsals are bent over even in the wild! No one knows why, but at least it means places like SeaWorld haven’t visibly taken the life out of the animals through captivity. And I was able to share with our already extremely knowledgeable guides that Sea World only takes injured animals that couldn’t survive in the wild on their own or marine life born in captivity.

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Throughout the boat ride the guides were great about pointing out bald eagles flying among the cliffs, although it was near impossible for me to actually see them.

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From the orcas we went on to the pregnant mountain goats who climb far down the cliffs to give birth away far away from all but the most adventurous bears, but not apparently from the eagles who swoop in and try to knock the newborn goats off the cliffs.

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Then we headed to the glacier and I headed into trouble. To get to the glacier required leaving the harbor and heading into open water. Now I took about 2-3 dramamine first thing when I woke up. But I know from my first and only Queen Mary 2 cruise experience that boats and I don’t get along. And in giant 3-4 ft waves in a small craft, that definitely held true. But I made it, barely, and we headed to see Harding glacier.

That was incredible. It had been very active in the last 24 hours and the whole harbor looked like a glass of ice water, with lots of crushed ice chunks.

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They fished a whimsically shaped piece of glacier out of the water and let us hold it, informing us that what we were holding was probably 3,000 years old. But because of the activity it wasn’t safe to get very close to the actual glacier.

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On the way out I redeemed myself for my inability to see eagles by being the first to site the brown bear watching us from the cliff.

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And the minutes I had been dreading started. The cloud was ominously black and the waves were picking up as we headed back home. Really?? They could pick up more? They did and for the next 30-45 minutes we were being rocked at greater than 35 degree angles (I checked with a protractor) and I deeply regretted eating lunch. I deeply regretted taking the tour. At that point I deeply regretted everything I’d ever done except lie still on a flat surface.

We made it back in one piece, but the trip was done for me at that point. Not the promise of more orcas, getting to see two more humpbacks, or even witnessing the solar eclipse helped. I was ready to be on the shore and I couldn’t get to it fast enough.

With all that said though, I heartily recommend the Alaska Saltwater Lodge tour. I was SO impressed with both the boat captain and guides’ knowledge of the wildlife and helpfulness in getting us as close as possible and taking good pictures. It seemed like our boat saw many more animals than most boats out that day.

Before we’d reached shore I’d asked about restaurant recommendations and where to get good seafood. The answers were the same I’d read on Tripadvisor – unless you’re cooking it yourself, decent seafood would be expensive and probably not worth the price. They did recommend the restaurant in the Breeze Inn, but I wound up just going to the local grocery store grabbing some fruit and sandwiches and crashing by 8PM.

So once I scrambled off the boat I walked back to the Holiday Inn Express Seward and checked in.

More from this trip:

Cancelled Flights and Driving to Denali in a Rush
Denali National Park Tundra Wilderness Tour Bus
Best Balcony Ever at the Holiday Inn Express Seward
Wildlife Conservation Center Near Portage


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Heels First is the travels and tribulations of two twenty-something frequent fliers jumping into the world of travel. Join Keri and Jeanne as they tackle mileage runs, elite status, and of course–the perfect travel accessories.


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