A wide range of trips throughout Southcentral Alaska.
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A few years ago, big cruise ships returned to Whittier. When one of the floating cities is docked in the small town, the 2,000 or so passengers outnumber the town's residents about 10-to-1.
Most often, ship passengers embark or disembark quickly. They don't spend a lot of time in town. And, honestly, there isn't that much town to see.
But Whittier is the perfect launching point to enjoy some of the best that Prince William Sound has to offer. Whether it's fishing, sightseeing, kayaking or even hiking, Whittier has it in spades.
Dave Goldstein, owner of Prince William Sound Eco-Charters (www.pwseco.com ) and a member of the city council, chose to live in Whittier after finishing a career with the National Weather Service in 2003. His business offers fishing charters and sightseeing boat tours. "One of the reasons I started the business was because I enjoyed going out on the Sound," Goldstein said. "It's a tremendous experience to just be out there, to see the marine life and catch fish.
"If you like solitude and beautiful natural surroundings, you can't pick a better place than Prince William Sound. It's less than an hour away from Anchorage. Whittier has a lot of advantages."
For many visitors, the list of advantages starts with glacier cruises. While Goldstein's boat - along with other smaller operators - can be rented for glacier cruising, most people hop aboard one of the larger ships designed specifically for that assignment.
The day-cruise ships take guests into the fjords surrounding Whittier, where dozens of glaciers fill valley after valley. Several tidewater glaciers treat visitors to ice crashing into the ocean.
The larger cruise operations include Major Marine Tours (1-800-764-7300, www.majormarine.com), Prince William Sound Cruises and Tours (1-877-777-4054, www.princewilliamsound.com) and Phillips' Cruises and Tours (1-800-544-0529, www.26glaciers.com ). The cruises are similar but have individual specialties. Cruises are generally four to six hours and cost from about $99 to $140 for adults. Some cruise prices include lunch, while others offer lunch at an additional charge. Many companies offer transportation from Anchorage via motor coach or train.
"Prince William Sound has the highest concentration of tidewater glaciers in Alaska," said Lisa Kruse, sales and marketing manager for Alaska Heritage Tours, which runs Prince William Sound Cruises and Tours. "We can really get up very close to the glaciers, everybody is wowed by that. The captain will turn the engine off and ask everyone to be quiet.
"You can hear all the dynamics of the glacier as it shifts. You get to hear the thunderous crack of the ice as it breaks off. You can really see a lot by studying the lines and patterns in the ice."
Goldstein is willing to customize his trips to meet visitors' needs. He plans to launch a new 12-person boat this summer that offers a smooth ride and can be beached, so land excursions are also possible.
"I had some people come up and say, 'We came up from Georgia, and we really want to see whales,' " Goldstein said. "We make a concerted effort to look for whales. Others want to see otters, others want to see glaciers. There are some places where you can see animals on shore. We've seen a black bear mother with cubs.
"We've been out fishing and had humpbacks travel right through our area and then an hour and a half later and a pod of orca whales go through. Those are the sort of things that can happen on Prince William Sound."
There are a number of charter operators in Whittier, specializing in halibut, ling cod, salmon and salmon shark. The Whittier Halibut Derby is Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend. There also is a Silver Salmon Derby in September.
For visitors looking for an even more intimate on-water experience, sea kayaking is the best bet.
Kayak companies offer a number of paddling options from Whittier. Alaska Sea Kayakers (www.alaskaseakayakers.com , 1-877-472-2534) has four day-trips: the three-hour Kittiwake tour ($79), the five-hour Passage Canal tour ($120), the five-hour Shotgun Cove tour ($175) and the all-day Blackstone Bay trip ($300), which includes kayaking among icebergs.
"Western Prince William Sound is a world-renowned kayaking destination," said Peter Denmark, co-owner of Alaska Sea Kayakers. "Paddling the fjords and bays of the Sound offer protected waters that are relatively benign. The western Sound offers access to magnificent scenery - mountains, glaciers and wildlife on an almost daily basis.
"Our Kittiwake and Passage Canal tours offer some of Alaska's best scenery on a partial-day basis. Our Blackstone Bay tour offers the quintessential Alaskan kayaking experience. ... The actively calving glaciers at the head of the fjord are the focus of this trip. ... Paddling in and amongst the ice always offers a memorable experience."
Special sections editor Steve Edwards can be reached at email@example.com. Visit his Alaska travel blog at www.alaska.com/alaskology.
- Enjoy the sea: Kayaking from Whittier is one of the most rewarding trips you can take. Do it either as a day trip or as a multiday adventure. Public-use cabins make longer trips enjoyable.
- Get the halibut: I have yet to drive to Whittier specifically for the halibut and chips at Varly's Swiftwater Seafood Cafe, but I've talked about it. And I always get it when I'm in Whittier.