A number of companies offer cruises on the sound, and it is an activity you shouldn't miss. I went with Stan Stephens Cruises, and was totally satisfied with their tour.
As we went out past the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Terminal, the boat captain told us a lot about the port and the tankers Sea lions lounged on the larger buoys, and we went past a group of otters just floating on their backs. Later in the cruise we saw an eagle in the top of a tree. The sound is really beautiful—waterfalls, glaciers, even icebergs--and the captain brought us as close as he could for great viewing. On our way back, the captain pointed out Bligh Reef. The Exxon Valdez hit it and spilled 11 million gallons of oil in the Sound.
The cruises run from mid-May to mid-September. Cost: $120 (Kids, $60)
The Whitney Museum is wonderful. Maxine and Jesse Whitney had the largest collection of Alaskan native art and artifacts in the world, and it was given to the University of Alaska in 1998. The museum is located next to Prince William Sound Community College in Valdez. Displays show the history and culture of the native people, along with some beautiful examples of their handicrafts. They also have a collection of stuffed animals native to the region.
Hours: 9 a.m.- 7 p.m. in summer; winter by appointment
Admission is FREE.
Day trip from Valdez to Columbia Glacier - unbelievably beautiful, kayak between icebergs, calm water, no experience needed. We went in August 2006. Our guide, the company owner, and another guide we met were all very friendly, knowledgeable, and really seem to enjoy what they do.
Columbia Glacier is huge, so you will see it in the background, but you wouldn't be able to come close to it because of so much ice floating in front of it (for 8 miles!), so you will not see it calve. Since the bergs constantly move and can turn at any time we had to kayak fast and keep a distance from them. We heard them turn over (like thunder sound), but none turned over close to us. We didn't see any boats in the area because they can't go between the bergs there. We saw two other small groups of kayakers. Otherwise we felt like being in the middle of nowhere.
Please see tip part 2 for more info.
They have all kinds of things you can do here.
There are several different kayaking trips you can go on that are 8 and 10 hours respectively. There is also some hiking thrown in with it. They you have other trips that are exclusively hiking. One is on top of icebergs. They offer other flyers for things like ice climbing.
If you are a patron, they offer free internet service which is always a plus when away from home and trying to check in on things.
There hours are from 8am to 10pm
We went in August 2006. Please see tip part 1 for more info and photos.
Here is the basic schedule. We left Valdez on a boat trip out to an island, about 45 min. Then we kayaked towards the glacier. It was so interesting seeing it closer and closer. We saw some beautiful loons swimming very close to us. Depending on the tide times you would kayak between the bergs before or after lunch (which you might have on the glacier moraine or nearby island). You bring your own lunch. The guide brought hot tea and snack mix. We kayaked between the ice before lunch, saw a beautiful porcupine on shore just by the water, stopped at the moraine island for lunch and a quick hike up to the top to see the view of the whole area of bergs, and kayaked some more between the icebergs in the other direction while waiting for the boat to come pick us up. When we were walking on the moraine its shore was covered with ice and it was an interesting experience besides the kayaking that we got to walk between the icebergs and take some interesting photos through them and between them.
We then picked up other kayakers that camped on Glacier Island for several days and did day trips from there. It's a beautiful island, with puffins living on the cliffs, and a colony of sea lions. A stop there wasn't part of our day tour itinerary - we just got lucky to pick up the other group of kayakers. Ask if you could stop there after your kayaking trip. It's on the way.
We also stopped by Shoup Glacier to pick up another group of kayakers. It's much smaller than Columbia Glacier and doesn't seem to be as interesting place to kayak (and we didn't see ice chunks there). The scenery on the boat trip to Valdez was amazing - lush green mountains with many waterfalls.
Just when you beging to feel relaxed, the waters get shaky. Hold on to the raft! You'll have the option of taking a raft where you'll have to paddle, or one (as we did) where you just sit tight and let the guide do it all.
I sure hope you are lucky enough to catch an aurora borealis. We were sleeping when the captain woke us up around 3 am. What a scare! He asked us to go on deck. And we did... what a colleciton of pajamas!
And there it was... Aurora... beautiful gfreens then oranges... you can get hypnotized just looking at it. It just happened one night... and never again for us.
If you have an extra 2 days in Alaska, I highly recommend Valdez! You can get there from either Fairbanks or Anchorage via car, motorcoach, etc. It is approximately 6 hours from Fairbanks driving. You can fish for salmon at the local docks or join a charter boat and try getting other tastey treats such as halibut, linkcod, snappers, etc. The scenery is beautiful although often rainy. Be sure to dress in layers including a light rain jacket and sturdy shoes. Look for Orcas, sea otters, eagles, dolphins and more!
Ok, so we've learned that the Alskan waters are a dangerous place to be a sea otter. But surely if you happen to be a stellar's sea lion, you are at the tip top of the food chain. Right?
Wrong. Orcas will also eat steller's sea lions, though they are much more likely to go after the pups than the big bull males. So as you can see in this photo the big bull male has positioned himself to fend off the orca while pushing the young high up the cliffs.
Er. Well not exactly. I guess chivalry has been lost upon the bull sea lion. It's the law of the jungle--every lion for his or her own self.
Ok, ok. I exagerated the blissful life of a sea otter in my first tip. Sure they get to eat all the shrimp they want. Yes they have a frolicking good time tussling with one another. And a nap on a floating iceberg is not a bad way to spend a late August afternoon. But, and this is an extremely huge BUT, they are also orca fodder.
Pods of renegade orcas ply the northwestern pacific these days. The renegade orcas seem to have made a game of otter eating. A little forty pound otter is like popcorn to an orca. What an orca really wants is a nice plump many hundred pound seal. Yet, the devient orcas have preyed on the defenseless sea otter.
One minute you are snoozing on an iceberg and the next you are swalled whole by an orca--life is not all sqid and roses for the Alaskan sea otter.
It was good to see healthy communities of otters in the Alaskan waters. Perhaps you remember the Exxon Valdez tragedy when tons of crude spilled into the Prince William Sound and decimated the water birds, the seals and the sea otters. Maybe you saw images of desperate volunteer workers trying to frantically wipe the crude oil off of the sea otter fur. It was a hopeless task and millions of otters succumbed to the cold ocean water as the crude oil permanently damaged their natural oil producing fur.
When we were in Seward several years ago we did not see sea otters except at the Marine Animal Rescue Center. But I can gleefully report that along the Valdez side of Prince William Sound--the otters are out in strength.
I've always loved otters, both river otters and sea otters. What a fun-loving animal.
In the Alaskan oceans the sea otters get plenty plump as they spend most of the day dining on tasty crustaceans. They consume about a quarter of their body weight daily. That computes to some ten pounds of sea food. I'd like to see you walk about to the counter at a Red Lobster and ask for ten lbs of prawns and then gobble them down. So yes, you must not only admire their carefree attitudes, but also their voracious appetites.
What a life. Lying on your back all day, eating the bounty of the sea and when you've had your fill, there are countless otter companions with whom you can wrestle around.
Whale watching can be tedious--but I also find it oddly exilerating. Basically, this is the scenario: You catch sight of a black speck in the distance. The captain guns the motor and steers towards the point the whale was last seen. You look at the point where the whale was last seen and then someone catches sight of it 180 degrees in the opposite direction. The captain guns the boat for the point where the whale last went down and you wait around again for another five or ten minutes.
However, there is something thrilling when the captain has cut the motor and the whale surfaces within a few hubdred yards. The roar of the ocean parting so that the great animal can catch a few breaths is like no other experience in the world. I can only imagine the thrill of a full breach by a creature as large and magnificent as the humpback.
In our case, we saw several flukes, which is the whale showing its tail as it goes down for perhaps a ten to fifteen minute dive.
By the way, whales eat mostly krill, plankton and extremely small fish. It couldn't choke down a sea otter if it wanted to. Amazingly enough, a humpback can go through two tons of krill in a day. The Alaskan seas are just teeming with life.
When I visited Valdez in 2002, there were 2 main kayak rental/outfitting companies: Pangaea and Anadyr. They were both located on Harbor Drive facing small boat harbor, only a few doors from one another. They were about the same size, both run by people who love kayaking and familiar with Prince William Sound. My kayaking trip was with Anadyr and I had a wonderful time. The cost for a 1 day kayaking trip to Columbia Glacier was $185 in 2002, including a guide and the boat ride to the Glacier with kayaks and all equipment. Lunch not included. Just checked their websites and they seemed to continue to do well. These are their websites...
The photo shows our group preparing to launch the kayaks into the icy water near Columbia Glacier. At the time we had already paddled a couple of hours in the morning, and just finished lunch on a moraine island.
How close the kayaks can get to the Glacier depends on the tide and the experience of the guide. The water in front of Columbia Glacier is filled with moraine rocks which become islands at low tide, as shown in photo. Some areas are too shallow even for kayaks. So we waited for the tide to rise, then the guide took us through the waterway.