Day Cruising Alaska’s Early Season: What you need to know

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

For those who follow the AKontheGO Instagram account, I have no doubt Saturday’s posts were a bit on a dreary side. It’s not anybody’s fault, really. Spring in Alaska, and particularly along coastal areas like Seward, is often windy, wet, and gray. Very, very gray.

We know better than to expect April to feature blue skies and warm temperatures. Taking the spring cruise is an annual event we look forward to every year, and especially this year, as Major Marine now owns the Harbor 360 Hotel and is able to queue passengers right from the lobby to the boat and the four-hour tour around Resurrection Bay.

Saturday, though, was windier, wetter, and wilder than usual, and the entire collective of passengers, including a large number of kids, got to experience Southcentral Alaska in all her seasonal glory. Over the course of a nearly-whaleless four hours, I had time to gather valuable information about day cruising the months between March and May, kids in tow.

You’re welcome.

1. Allow time to get to Seward. Typically, the drive to Seward takes 2.5 hours from Anchorage. We usually stop at Alpine Bakery in Girdwood for some fresh doughnuts and coffee. The weather along the Seward Highway south of Girdwood has ranged lately from calm and dry to wet and windy, so allow a bit more time for puddles on the roadway and potholes where you least expect them. You should arrive at your tour at least 45 minutes before departure so you can find a place to park the car, use the bathroom, and take the Dramamine (more on that in a minute).

2. Review the weather and sea report. I have never had a day cruise cancel due to weather, which should tell you something about the hardiness of Alaskans. That said, it is prudent for parents to check the weather report for Seward, Alaska prior to arriving in town. Why? Just in case you need to swing into Safeway and purchase some Dramamine, or Dramamine for Kids. Taken at least 30 minutes to an hour prior to leaving the dock, these medications can go a long way toward calmer stomachs in the event of rough weather. Major Marine and Kenai Fjords Tours both sell regular Dramamine in their stores. Tip: I do not mess with the ginger candy or soda crackers, preferring to go right to the big guns. And it hasn’t failed us, yet. Do note that sometimes the medication can make you sleepy, so be aware.

3. Dress appropriately. I feel like a broken record for always repeating our “no bad weather, only bad clothing” mantra, but truly, the right clothing can mean the difference between a great time, or a miserable one. And in the spring, it is even more important to add warm layers to the pack, since our bipolar Alaska weather can swing wildly. Like the boat. I recommend:

  • Rain jacket AND pants
  • Warm hat and gloves/mittens
  • Rubber boots or other closed-toe shoes with non-slip soles (skip the princess shoes, kids)
  • Fleece layers underneath the rain gear
  • Non-cotton base layers
  • Sunglasses, even on cloudy days.

4. Bring the snacks. Kenai Fjords Tours includes a lunch on their tour (usually a chicken wrap, granola bar, and carrots); Major Marine has snacks for purchase, including hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, and other kid-friendly items. Coffee and hot water for tea are always available. Include beverages for yourselves and the kids in your small cooler — it makes a huge difference in cost. We brought apples, oranges, cheese sticks, cereal bars, popcorn, and juice for our family and it held us over well until the 4 p.m. arrival back at the dock. Tip: If you are at all worried about seasickness and your kids, hold off on the food until you see how they do with a bit of boat motion. Trust me on this.

5. Don’t look down. Or forward. Here are my personal seasickness-avoidance tactics:

  • Look aft (back) from the back decks, and UP toward the horizon.
  • Avoid looking forward at the swinging, swirling bow (front) of the boat knocking against waves coming right at you (dizzy, yet?).
  • Look to either port (left) or starboard (right) and UP toward the horizon.
  • Avoid gazing down at the waves slapping against the side of the boat, as the rocking will set your eyes and inner ear all a’twitter.
  • If you do feel woozy, get some fresh air outside and look in the directions mentioned above. Tip: HANG ON to the kids at all times. And always have one hand on something solid.
  • If people start upchucking indoors, go outside, stat. It’s contagious.<—truth.

6. Let the kids pack some books and toys. Bring binoculars, a camera, or let them shoot video on your phone (just make sure they’re away from the edge so nothing goes into the deep). When whales or other wildlife are scarce, and often they are, kids need something to occupy their captive time. Put the deck of Uno cards in your bag, or an activity book. Whatever it is, just be sure it doesn’t bleep, ding, or ring. Everyone around you will thank you (or bring headphones, too).

7. Be realistic. Talk with your kids about the fact springtime is a time when animals and birds are just beginning to make their way back to Alaska after a winter spent somewhere else. Talk about why this is (little food, too cold to raise babies), and what they can expect to see. Also make sure they listen to the captain as he or she narrates the tour; there’s a ton of interesting Alaska history around the Resurrection Bay area.

8. Spend the night. What a brilliant move by Major Marine to now own a hotel right at the small boat harbor. After a long drive to Seward, then a four-hour cruise, it was sure nice to have a place in which to relax for the night, especially once the snow started to fall. Right now Major Marine is offering a special Spring Fever package for $109/pp. With a small swimming pool and spa, comfortable rooms, and access to restaurants and the Sea Life Center, this is a great deal. Psst: The hotel even takes pets.

Day cruising early in the season with kids is a great opportunity, with the right gear and preparation. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Day cruising early in the season with kids is a great opportunity, with the right gear and preparation. Erin Kirkland/AKontheGO

Posted in Alaska Wildlife Experiences, Kenai Peninsula, Wildlife/Glacier cruising and tagged , , , , , .