I have defined many words in my years of high school. Ranging from ascorbic and acidic, to picaresque and punctilious, I have covered a great breadth of vocabulary. But if I were to be put to the task of defining Alaska, I would be forced to fall short. In a task too daunting, I would simply be forced to write “You must see for yourself.” After exploring Alaska on a recent day trip to Seward, I saw that it could not be simply defined through its glaciers and mountains, or its wildlife and human life. I saw that it could only be defined through a firsthand experience.
Many people know the phrase “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but I would take it a step further in saying that an experience is worth a thousand pictures. Millions and millions of photographs exist that depict many aspects of Alaska. But until a person truly experiences Alaska, those pictures will not have any real meaning. Take a picture of a breeching orca, if you are amazed by that still candid, then the true experience will be like no other. To witness such a monstrous creature arc and spout, knowing it is outside all human control, is both breathtaking and new. For it is a natural show, nothing planned, but still much more than any scheduled event.
My girlfriend and I set forth on our day trip to Seward on an early summer morning from Anchorage. We had made the decision to take the Park Connection bus down, and the Alaska Railroad back later that day. Boarding the bus from the Egan Center in Downtown Anchorage, we left at around seven that morning. Because travelers often prefer to take the afternoon bus, our morning departure only had five or six other passengers on the bus with us. Through the first portion of our ride the driver had a good amount to say about Anchorage, Seward, and many of the places we were passing along the way. As we reached the more scenic portion of the drive, our driver allowed us to sit back in the comfortable seating and enjoy all that Alaska had to offer for us. It was almost surreal to watch the rivers flow by, accented by the bright green pine trees and vibrant wildflowers of every color. I soon drifted off to sleep, lulled by the beauty of Alaskan nature.
I woke up to the bus driver announcing our arrival to Seward. After tipping the driver, we stepped out into the bright sunlight of the Seward Small Boat Harbor. Having a couple hours before our day cruise, we walked along the seaside trail to explore a bit of Seward. With the sun shining off the slow rolling waves of the ocean, and the boats slowly moving on their daily tasks, I couldn’t help but think highly of Seward. Even back in town, I saw that Seward was the perfect balance of suburban and rural. Balancing its small shops and friendly storeowners with the quietness the town had to offer, it would provide a great day visit for any given tourist.
After grabbing a muffin and coffee from a great little coffee shop in the Small Boat Harbor, we made our way to the loading dock for a day cruise to Kenai Fjords National Park. Loading was simple and easy, and we were on the boat in no time. The Major Marine Tours boat that we boarded had multiple bathrooms, a snack bar, and booth seating for every party boarding the cruise. With the cruise underway, the park ranger on board gave us information about various sites that we were seeing. We moved about on the outer deck, taking pictures of various animals, such as sea lions, otters, puffins, eagles, and even a bear. After a couple hours we reached a site with a massive glacier that was calving into the water. There is no other sound quite like a glacier calving, and to see it makes a person appreciate being part of something much larger than their self. But possibly my favorite part of the cruise was witnessing the orca whales. It was an amazing experience to be on the side of the boat with the colossal creatures swimming along side us. It was truly something I will never forget. The crew then served us a prime rib buffet with salad and rice, as well as virgin or alcoholic cocktails made out of glacial ice from the water around us. After a dessert of a fruit cocktail, cheesecake, or a brownie, we made our trip back to the small boat harbor. Although the trip was six hours total, it was very kid friendly. The staff provided a “junior ranger” challenge, in which kids were to complete tasks, ultimately receiving a ranger badge at the end of the cruise. Overall, the Major Marine day cruise was suitable and fun for all ages.
Arriving back at the Small Boat Harbor, we made the small trek to the railroad station where we boarded our train to Anchorage. Although the scenery of the day had been amazing, the train ride was where I witnessed my favorite. Riding in the Alaska Railroad Gold Star dome service allows seating on the top deck of the train, meaning that a panoramic view is provided in that section. With a clear domed roof overhead, I felt like I was on a hike through the wilderness, rather than on the train that I had just boarded. The guide for our section was friendly and courteous, providing a great deal of information about the surrounding nature and history of the places we passed. A dining room, gift shop, and snack shops were placed throughout the train, providing guests with anything they needed. Sitting in my comfortable train seat, I couldn’t help but think about what a great day it had been. We had done so much, yet we had barely touched the surface of what Alaska has to offer. Even in Seward there was still the Sea Life Center, fishing opportunities, and overnight options at hotels like the Seward Windsong Lodge. As for other places in Alaska, such as Denali Park, Talkeetna and Whittier, I know that I must go visit those as well another day.