The small town of Whittier, Alaska is the Gateway to Prince William Sound and home to southcentral Alaska’s newest cruise ship terminal. Princess Cruises currently uses the Whittier Cruise Terminal as the northern hub or “turn” operation for their 7-day “Voyage of the Glaciers” cruises. Whittier is set on scenic Passage Canal and is surrounded by the Chugach National Forest. The community is home to about 300 residents and several small boat harbors which serve as the home to the local fishing fleet as well as charter and day cruise operators that provide service into Prince William Sound.
Northbound cruisers disembarking in Whittier should expect to arrive in Whittier late in the evening on their last night onboard after cruising earlier in nearby glacier-filled College Fjords. Disembarkation will not commence until the following morning, usually around 6:30am and ending by about 9:30am. Fairly unique to the cruising world, in Whittier passengers do not disembark by deck or cabin category, but are assigned groups based on their destination and whether they are traveling onward on a cruise-tour, or traveling independently in Alaska. Independent travelers are normally grouped in the last disembarkation category. But, “Independents” do not have to wait until their disembarkation group is called to get off the ship because their luggage will have been already placed inside the Whittier Cruise terminal ready to be claimed earlier that morning.
Traveling to, or from, Whittier is a unique experience due to having to travel through North America’s longest highway tunnel. The Anton Anderson tunnel is 2.5 miles long, and is a one-lane toll road. The tunnel operates on a limited schedule and traffic alternates direction every half hour. Although Whittier is only a little over a hour away from Anchorage, the limited access results in there not being very many options for transportation. There are no taxis in Whittier, nor are there shuttles that would provide you options for transportation to Anchorage so it is really important that you book your transportation to or from Whittier prior to arriving in Alaska.
Both of the cruise lines offer bus transportation for cruise-only passengers to Whittier for an additional charge. In addition, the Alaska Railroad provides rail transportation from Anchorage to Whittier which schedule works well with the start of embarkation. Their scheduled service from Whittier to Anchorage doesn’t depart Whittier until early in the evening so I wouldn’t recommend it for those who are traveling onward in Alaska, or who are flying home.
Our Park Connection Motorcoach provides a scheduled service to and from the Whittier Cruise Terminal for independent cruise passengers. You can also travel by the Park Connection from Denali or Seward to Whittier in the same day with connecting service through Anchorage. The same is true for passengers disembarking in Whittier who are traveling to Denali or Seward.
For embarking passengers, the Park Connection Motorcoach departs from the Anchorage Museum at 3:00pm and arrives in Whittier at 5:00pm. The Anchorage Museum is located in downtown. Many of the Anchorage hotels will provide shuttle service to the Anchorage Museum so you can catch the Park Connection. For disembarking passengers, the coach departs the Whittier Terminal at 9:45am and drops off at the Anchorage Airport at 11:30am, then drops off at the Anchorage Museum. Guests who are picking up rentals cars are encouraged to disembark at the Museum. Thrifty car rental will pick up from the museum. When our clients book car-rental packages from Alaska Tour & Travel, we recommend picking up your car from Thrifty’s main office instead of the airport as you’ll save 11% in taxes per day!
Embarkation starts by 12:30pm. Embarking passengers who are traveling to Whittier by private transportation such as local friends or family will be best served to take the 2:30pm or 3:30pm tunnel opening into Whittier as that is the quietest period of time for embarkation. The peak check-in time for embarkation is after 5:00pm, so you’ll want to be sure to arrive in Whittier prior to that time for the most efficient check-in experience. Be sure to have your passports in your carry-on bags and have your luggage tagged for the ship prior to arriving in Whittier. The ships typically sail from Whittier by 9:30pm so an early arrival in Whittier will give you time to relax and have dinner prior to sailing – Remember, in Alaska the sun doesn’t usually set in the summer until late in the evening so you’ll still be able to enjoy the views of Prince William Sound and Passage Canal as your ship sails from Whittier!