Columbia Glacier Cruise from Valdez, Alaska, is more than just a 6-hour journey; it’s an awe-inspiring escapade that captures the essence of Alaska’s wilderness in its purest form.
Valdez, often called the “Switzerland of Alaska,” is the perfect backdrop to begin this voyage. Nestled in Prince William Sound, Valdez is a hidden gem—a slice of paradise enveloped by rainforests, tidewater glaciers, and towering mountains.
One afternoon in August, as the clock inched toward 2:30 p.m., our excursion began from Valdez towards Columbia Glacier, the largest tidewater glacier in Prince William Sound and the second largest in North America.
A canopy of clouds initially shrouded the sky, but they gradually dispersed as if to offer us an unobstructed view of Alaska’s splendor.
Our journey through Alaska’s pristine wilderness was skillfully guided by the seasoned team at Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises.
If your Alaskan adventure checklist features encountering plenty of wildlife, beautiful waterfalls, sailing amidst huge chunks of ice and large icebergs, and witnessing a beautiful glacier and its majestic sprawl, this cruise is an experience you can’t afford to miss.
My family and I—my husband, our 22-month-old explorer, and our 7-year-old nature enthusiast—sailed into this natural wonderland, ready to experience realms of wonder only Alaska can offer.
Trust me, it’s a crescendo worth experiencing.Witness the surreal beauty of drifting ice sculptures on the #ColumbiaGlacier Cruise. #Alaska #Valdez #Travel Click To Tweet
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Quick Facts: Planning Your Columbia Glacier Tour from Valdez
Before diving in, here are a few highlights to help you plan your trip
Best Time to Visit: The summer months of June, July, and August
How to Get There: The nearest airport to Seward is Valdez (VDZ) Airport, which is 3.3 miles away. Other nearby airports include Cordova (CDV) (53.2 miles) and Anchorage (ANC) (121.8 miles). To find the best prices, consider browsing flight options on a platform like Skyscanner.
How to Get Around: The easiest way to get around Valdez is in your own car. Use Discoverlcars.com to browse deals on rental cars.
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A Guide to Visiting Valdez: The Gateway to Columbia Glacier
Nestled at the edge of the stunning Prince William Sound, Valdez is the stepping stone to some of Alaska’s most astonishing natural wonders, including five major glaciers: Worthington Glacier, Valdez Glacier, Columbia Glacier, Meares Glacier, and Shoup Glacier.
Often dubbed as the “Switzerland of Alaska,” this quaint coastal town offers far more than just a launch pad to the iconic Columbia Glacier.
Your 6-hour Columbia Glacier Cruise, operated by the adept team at Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises, is undeniably the cherry on top.
But spending some quality time in Valdez beforehand enriches your understanding and appreciation of the region you’re about to explore more deeply.
Imagine it as the prologue to a gripping novel — you could skip it, but why would you want to when it adds so much depth and color to the story ahead?
How to Get to Valdez: Your Practical Guide
Reaching Valdez, the quintessential starting point for your Columbia Glacier tour, is quite straightforward despite its somewhat remote Alaskan location.
Here are some of the most practical ways to get to Valdez:
The quickest way to reach Valdez is by flying. The Valdez Airport (VDZ) is serviced by Ravn Alaska, which offers frequent flights from Anchorage.
The flight takes about 45 minutes and offers stunning aerial views of Alaska’s landscape. Car rental services are available at the airport for your convenience.
I took this option when I visited Valdez. I drove from Denali and stopped at Glacier View for a night before continuing to Valdez.
If you’re starting from Anchorage, one of the most scenic routes is the Glenn Highway (AK-1) through the Matanuska Valley, connecting to Richardson Highway (AK-4), leading straight into Valdez.
The drive is approximately 300 miles and takes about 5-6 hours, depending on road conditions and stops along the way.
The road journey offers an array of beautiful landscapes, from towering mountains to serene lakes, making every mile worthwhile.
But the highlight of this journey? The awe-inspiring Thompson Pass. Situated along the Richardson Highway, this elevated pass stands as one of Alaska’s natural treasures, offering breathtaking views of the Chugach Mountains.
It’s an experience that adds an unforgettable chapter to your Alaskan adventure. While the entire route offers beautiful landscapes, from towering mountains to serene lakes, crossing the Thompson Pass makes every mile not just worthwhile, but truly memorable.
Consider the Alaska Marine Highway System for a slower but equally scenic route. The ferry connects Valdez to Whittier and Cordova, offering a unique way to experience Alaska’s coastline and potentially spot some marine life along the way.
However, the ferry schedule is less frequent, so you’ll need to plan your itinerary carefully.
Tips for the Journey:
- Check Road Conditions: If you’re driving, always check road conditions, especially in winter, as parts of the route can be challenging.
- Ferry Reservations: If you opt for the ferry, booking your tickets in advance is advisable, especially during peak season.
- Car Rentals: Reserve your car rental ahead of time if you’re flying into Valdez; options might be limited.
- Pack Smart: Whether you choose land or sea, pack some snacks, water, and possibly even binoculars for wildlife spotting!
By whichever means you choose, getting to Valdez is a journey in itself, offering a spectacular introduction to the wild beauty you’ll encounter more intimately in your upcoming Columbia Glacier adventure.
The Ideal Time to Experience Columbia Glacier: When Alaska’s Wilderness is at its Best
Choosing the right time to embark on the Columbia Glacier cruise can be a game-changer. To make the most out of your experience, you must consider the perfect blend of weather, wildlife encounters, and ice conditions.
So, let’s break down the best seasons to visit and the essential weather considerations you need to know.
Best Seasons to Visit
1. Late Spring (May to June):
In late spring, the days are lengthening and wildlife starts to emerge. This is an excellent time for bird-watching and for those who want to avoid the high-season crowds. However, there might be some lingering winter chill, so pack accordingly.
2. Summer (July to August):
This is the peak season, and for good reasons. The weather is at its most accommodating, and the days are long—giving you extra time to marvel at Alaska’s beauty. The warm conditions also mean easier access to the glacier’s face, and you’re more likely to witness the ice calving, which is the glacier’s way of ‘shedding weight.’
3. Early Autumn (September):
While you might miss out on the midnight sun, early autumn offers a quieter but equally captivating experience. This is the season for photographers who are after the dramatic colors and lighting. Wildlife is still abundant, though the days are getting shorter.
- Temperature: During the peak summer months, the daytime temperature can vary between 55°F to 65°F, offering a pleasant cruising experience. However, temperatures can drop quickly, especially in the evenings, so layering is essential.
- Rain: Valdez is located in a rainforest, which means it experiences its fair share of rainfall. Waterproof gear is a must, regardless of the season.
- Wind: The weather can change rapidly in this part of Alaska. It’s not uncommon to experience calm mornings followed by gusty afternoons. Make sure to check the local weather forecast and prepare for wind conditions, particularly when crossing the open waters.
- Sea Conditions: Before you book, check the sea conditions. Choppier waters can affect your ability to get close to the face of the glacier and could make for a less comfortable ride.
In conclusion, the ideal time to visit the Columbia Glacier largely depends on what you seek.
Each season offers a unique flavor of Alaska’s wilderness, whether it’s the bustling wildlife, fewer crowds, or the awe-inspiring sight of ice calving from the glacier.
Plan carefully, and this could be a highlight of your travel adventures.Ever wondered what it's like to cruise through a realm of ancient ice and thriving wildlife? Find out why this experience is unforgettable. 🐋🏞️ #ColumbiaGlacier #ValdezAlaska #Travel Click To Tweet
Unveiling the Majesty: Why Columbia Glacier is a Must-See Natural Wonder
Columbia Glacier isn’t just another glacier; it’s a living testament to the grandeur and volatility of Earth’s natural systems.
A sprawling tidewater marvel that stretches over 425 square miles, it holds a unique position as one of the fastest-moving glaciers on the planet.
Originating from the Chugach Mountains, it meanders through south-central Alaska before culminating in Prince William Sound.
First documented in 1794 at a stable length of 41 miles, the glacier has witnessed dramatic changes. The 1980s marked the beginning of a rapid retreat, shrinking it to about 34 miles by the early 2000s.
This colossal transformation has not only resulted in the birth of countless icebergs but also contributed to Columbia Glacier becoming one of the most researched tidewater glaciers in the world.
One pivotal moment was the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, triggered when the vessel ran aground avoiding an iceberg from Columbia Glacier.
This event spurred significant research, making Columbia a touchstone for scientists studying how tidewater glaciers respond to climate change.
Although its retreat and advance aren’t solely climate-induced, rapid changes seem to align with climate-forced long-term thinning.
Expected to retreat further until its bed rises above sea level, Columbia Glacier is not just a stunning natural spectacle but also a living example of our planet’s changing climate.
A visit offers both awe-inspiring views and poignant lessons in environmental change.
Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises: Types of Cruises at a Glance
When it comes to experiencing the grandeur of Prince William Sound, Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises offers a variety of cruises to suit your interest, time, and budget. Here’s a concise overview of the tours you might want to consider:
1. Meares Glacier Cruise
- Duration: 7.5 to 8 hours
- Highlights: Meares Glacier, wildlife spotting, rich historical narratives
- Meals: Bagel snack and late lunch served
- Frequency: Not daily; check the schedule
This tour is a comprehensive package for travelers eager to explore Prince William Sound in depth. From the stunning Meares Glacier to a myriad of wildlife and historical tales, this cruise offers an extensive Alaskan experience.
2. Columbia Glacier Cruise
- Duration: 6 hours
- Highlights: Columbia Glacier, wildlife encounters, history of the area
- Meals: Light meal served
- Best For: Limited time or budget
Perfect for those who have limited time but still want a fulfilling Alaskan experience. This cruise focuses on the Columbia Glacier area and the diverse wildlife and history surrounding it.
My Choice: The 6-hour Columbia Glacier Cruise
Felt the spirit of #Alaska come alive as we cruised past icebergs and witnessed humpback whales in their natural habitat. @stanstephensak, you made this possible! 🐋❄️ #Valdez Click To Tweet
This tour struck the perfect balance between duration and adventure for us as a family, allowing us to immerse ourselves in the rich history of the Sound and the majesty of Columbia Glacier without taking up our entire day.
From the breathtaking retreat of the glacier to the abundant local wildlife and interwoven tales of oil shipping, gold and copper mining, and commercial fishing, the excursion was a well-rounded, enriching experience.
To top it off, a light meal served on board made it a comfortable and family-friendly outing.
So if you’re traveling with children or simply looking for a shorter yet enriching experience, the 6-hour Columbia Glacier Cruise is your ideal pick.
Overview of the Stan Stephens Columbia Glacier Cruise
Ticketing Process: I arrived an hour early to 100 North Harbor Drive to exchange my printout for tickets. The good news? Parking was free all day on North Harbor Drive. My Experience: The ticketing was quick and efficient, allowing me to soak in the harbor views before setting sail.
Boarding: The boarding process began 30 minutes prior to the cruise’s scheduled departure from the Valdez port. We set sail on the Glacier Spirit, a state-of-the-art, 90-foot vessel that can accommodate 149 passengers and is wheelchair accessible. This made us confident about the level of comfort and accessibility we could expect on our journey.
Safety Briefing: Once aboard, a crew member outlined the safety measures and emergency procedures, giving us peace of mind as we started our adventure.
Open Seating: The cruise features open seating, allowing me to choose my spot. My family and I chose a place close to the window, ensuring unobstructed views of Alaska’s splendor.
Kid-Friendly Touches: What personally touched me was the special care shown by the crew member who handed coloring sheets and crayons to my children, ensuring they were entertained as we settled in.
Complimentary Coffee: As the ship moved away from the dock, I savored a cup of complimentary coffee, further enhanced by the captain’s engaging commentary.
Indoor Coziness: The indoor seating was cozy, with wide-open glass windows that promised uninterrupted vistas of Prince William Sound.
Complimentary Beverages: The free hot beverages were a comforting touch, especially when coming back inside from the chilly exterior. One of my personal joys was warming up with a cup of hot tea after taking photos in the cold.
Freedom to Explore: The cruise encouraged exploration, allowing us to move about the ship.
Entrance Island Exploration: The captain navigated the Glacier Spirit near Entrance Island, showcasing the natural rock formations and trees growing at the shoreline. It felt like a scene from a nature documentary.
Wildlife Encounters: Our journey was a veritable safari of the sea, offering countless opportunities to spot wildlife in their natural settings.
We were captivated by the graceful swimming of Dall’s porpoises and the awe-inspiring breaches of humpback whales.
High above, bald eagles soared majestically, their keen eyes scanning the waters below. Mountain goats grazed peacefully on steep cliffs, and we even had the delightful opportunity to spot sea otters lazily floating on their backs.
Adding to this marine menagerie, we were thrilled to see a colony of Steller sea lions basking on an island, their resonant roars echoing across the water.
Each animal we encountered was clearly thriving in its natural habitat, making the experience all the more enriching for us.
History and Landmarks: Throughout the cruise, the captain’s commentary enlightened us on the mining, oil shipping, and fishing history of the area. We even looked closer at the Valdez Marine Terminal, an essential part of Alaska’s oil history.
Bligh Reef History: As we sailed by, the ship passed within 11 miles of the infamous Bligh Reef.
Our captain took the opportunity to share its history, particularly its unfortunate fame due to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989. The moment added depth and context to our journey.
Iceberg Spectacle: The crescendo of our odyssey unfurled as we encountered the ethereal ice formations calved from Columbia Glacier.
From massive icebergs weighing tons of ice to the more whimsical “bergie bits” and “growlers,” each piece was like a floating sculpture in Columbia Bay.
This wasn’t merely a sight to see; it was an unforgettable spectacle that left an indelible imprint on our hearts.
Up-Close Yet Safe View of Columbia Glacier: Although we stopped a few miles away for safety reasons, the majesty of Columbia Glacier in Columbia Bay felt almost within reach.
The moment was surreal as if we’d been transported into a National Geographic documentary. This was more than a visual feast; it was a soul-stirring experience that elevated our entire journey.
Dinner & Snacks: As we made our return journey, we were treated to a delicious chicken Alfredo dinner with rice and steamed vegetables.
Later, a snack of clam chowder and crackers rounded off the culinary experience.
Final Scenic Treat – Anderson Falls: On our way back, the captain made a point to show us the captivating Anderson Falls, a fitting end to a day of extraordinary sights.
Is the Stan Stephens Columbia Glacier Cruise Worth It?
The question “Is it worth it?” often floats to the top of our minds when contemplating an expedition like the Stan Stephens Columbia Glacier Cruise. Having experienced the voyage firsthand, I can enthusiastically affirm that it is, indeed, worth every penny and moment of your time.
From the moment we boarded, the cruise prioritized our safety. A comprehensive briefing from a crew member set the tone, clearing any apprehensions and allowing us to immerate ourselves fully in the adventure that awaited.
The cruise is a masterpiece of balance, offering both luxury and affordability. This tour is particularly cost-effective when you consider the breadth of experiences included—captivating vistas, abundant wildlife, and engaging historical commentary from the captain.
But the value doesn’t stop there. The ticket also buys you peace of mind, knowing that every detail has been meticulously arranged to ensure a fulfilling and safe voyage.
Thoughtful Arrangements Inside the Boat
The interior of the cruise was a sanctuary of comfort and thoughtfulness. From open seating arrangements that let you choose your ideal viewing spot, to the provision of complimentary beverages like coffee, tea, and lemonade, every detail was meticulously planned.
Special attention was also given to the youngest travelers; my children were thrilled to receive coloring sheets, ensuring they were just as enchanted by the journey as the adults.
But what really stood out was the hospitality extended by the Captain himself. Courteous and kind-hearted, he took the time to let my daughter snap a photo with him inside the cockpit—a small but touching gesture that added an extra layer of magic to our unforgettable voyage.
The wild beauty of Alaska was on full display, and it felt like the captain knew just where to steer the boat for optimum wildlife viewing.
From Dall’s porpoises to humpback whales, from bald eagles to graceful mountain goats, it seemed as though nature was performing for us.
The Surreal Experience
Words may not fully capture the awe we felt upon seeing Columbia Glacier and the floating ice sculptures that broke away from it.
Each piece of ice, whether a grand iceberg or a smaller “bergie bit,” was its own universe of beauty and intricacy, creating an almost otherworldly landscape.
Adding to this ethereal experience was the moment when a crew member allowed me to hold one of these frozen sculptures. The tangible cold in my hands somehow made the experience even more real and unforgettable.
So, is the Stan Stephens Columbia Glacier Cruise worth it? The experience combines meticulous attention to safety with thoughtful in-cruise amenities, enveloping passengers in a cocoon of comfort and luxury.
Meanwhile, nature provides an unmissable show of its grandeur, from awe-inspiring ice formations to fascinating wildlife encounters. Given all this, saying the cruise is “worth it” almost feels like an understatement.
In essence, this isn’t just a cruise; it’s a holistic experience that fills your heart, enriches your mind, and touches your soul. And yes, it’s unequivocally worth it.
Essential Tips for an Unforgettable Experience with Stan Stephens Columbia Glacier Cruise
- Secure Your Spot: Seats are limited on each boat. Make reservations early to ensure your spot.
- Layer Your Clothing: Dressing in layers is wise, with temperatures ranging from 50 to 70 degrees. Even on warmer days, a hat, gloves, and extra layers may be helpful, especially near the Columbia Glacier, where chilly winds blow.
- Protect from the Sun: Don’t forget your sunscreen and sunglasses to shield yourself from the sun.
- Brace for Wind and Rain: The coastal weather may surprise you with rain and wind. Pack rain jackets and pants to stay dry.
- Navigate the Seas: If you suffer from seasickness, bring seasickness medications just to be safe.
- Pack Snacks: Though a meal is served, having some personal snacks or your own meal can be delightful during the long journey. For extra treats, a snack bar onboard offers hot beverages.
- Capture the Moment: Wildlife is often visible, but to capture the best pictures, bring a zoom lens. It ensures quality photos while respecting the safe distance from marine life.
- Arrive Early for Best Seating: Early birds get the best choice of seating. Arriving closer to departure might mean sitting outside or splitting up from your group.
- Embrace the Disconnect: Enjoy the break from technology; cellular service is likely unavailable during the cruise.
- Recommendation: If you are taking the Columbia Glacier Cruise, choose the 2:30 p.m. slot. Mornings can often be cloudy, and this timing may provide clearer conditions.
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As we sailed back to Valdez, my mind started weaving the tapestry of experiences we had just lived through. Each moment we’d experienced felt like a brushstroke on an intricate canvas—too vast and too beautiful to capture entirely through a lens.
The 6-hour journey had been a microcosm of nature’s grandeur, a condensed version of adventure’s allure, and a brief yet meaningful slice of quality family time.
We embarked as tourists but returned as travelers—transformed, enriched, and humbled by the spectacle of Alaska’s untamed beauty.
In today’s world, where the worth of an experience often gets measured in retweets and likes, where notifications buzz in our pockets as if signaling life’s importance, it’s easy to overlook the timeless wisdom found in stillness.
In an age that celebrates speed and immediate rewards, the natural world stands as a sanctuary of a different sort—a soulful retreat.
It’s a realm where time doesn’t shrink but expands, where the soul finds space to breathe, and where our ‘instant-gratification’ mindset can slowly steep in the eternal brew that only Mother Nature can offer.
So, if you’re contemplating an escape that combines safety, cost-effectiveness, family-friendly amenities, and a spectacle of nature’s grandeur, the Stan Stephens Columbia Glacier Cruise is more than worth it—it’s a memory that transcends the trip itself, nesting forever in the deepest chambers of your heart.
Disclosure: I was hosted by Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises on a 6-hour Columbia Glacier Cruise. I wrote this post as part of a campaign with Stan Stephens Glacier & Wildlife Cruises. Opinions on this blog, as you can tell, are always mine.
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