Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Seward Alaska Cruise Port Guide

Boaters view Kenai Fjord glacier up close. Credit: U.S. National Park Service
Boaters view Kenai Fjord glacier up close. Credit: U.S. National Park Service

The Seward cruise port often is the end port for many cruises to Alaska. But it makes up for its small size with big adventures and excursions. The pleasant shopping and dining distract is an extra benefit, especially on a nice day for weather.

Seward, with a population of less than 3,000 people, is about 120 miles south of Anchorage. Many cruises starting from Seattle or Vancouver reach the port two days after leaving Juneau or the nearby Skagway. After arriving at Seward, many cruise visitors take a shuttle bus to Anchorage and the airport. Other cruises leave from Seward and travel south to Seattle or Vancouver.

Driving to Seward from Juneau would require crossing nearly 1,000 miles of Alaskan and Canadian wilderness. Getting there by cruise is just a bit more fun.

Seward does not have a cruise terminal. Passengers who disembark in Seward walk right off the ship and often go straight to a train or shuttle for Anchorage and then to the airport for a flight home. But Seward is worth at least a one-night stay or even two in the many bed and breakfasts or the handful of hotels.

Attractions and Shore Excursions

Seward Cruise Port Map

Attractions in and around Seward include the pretty harbor, the town itself, Resurrection Bay, Alaska SeaLife Center and Exit Glacier.

The town of Seward has two distinct districts. They are Seward Harbor by the cruise docks, otherwise known as “the small boat harbor”, and the Seward business district.

Seward Harbor is the location of most of the excursion operators and where cruisers embark or disembark. Both the harbor and business districts have a modest number of shops and restaurants. The business district is attractive and also has the Alaska SeaLife Center. Colorful murals liven the views in the town.

Alaska SeaLife Center offers various encounters with mammals and other creatures. It also has exhibits of fish, seals, walruses and sea lions. The center at 301 Railway Avenue is two miles south of the cruise terminal. Plan on a two- to three-hour visit.

The center is more than an aquarium. It also offers education, research and animal rescue. Entrance fees starting at $25.95 for adults seem a bit steep for the fairly modest size of the facility, but coupon books often have two-for-one deals. Fees support the rescues and research.

A small cafe has some of the cheaper food prices in the business district, although the menu is limited. Other restaurants along 4th Avenue, which is the main road of the district, include Asian, Greek and American.

Resurrection Bay and Kenai Fjords

Seward Alaska harbor
Heavy fog hangs over Seward’s harbor. © 2019 by Scott S. Bateman

Kayaking and day cruises are the two most popular activities at Seward. Energetic visitors often kayak through the fjords while less energetic ones go on boat tours out of Seward to view the glaciers and wildlife in Resurrection Bay.

Resurrection Bay is beautiful on clear days. Nature tour boats cruise the coastline along the mountains surrounding the bay in search of birds, sea lions, sea otters, porpoises and whales. We saw all of them during our tour, although getting close enough for good photos was a challenge.

A typical wildlife cruise costs about $100 per person and last five hours. We saw plenty of wildlife including whales, although the whales did not breach the water close enough for good photos. Some wildlife cruises last longer, cost more and explore more of the bay.

Other than Resurrection Bay, the dominant attraction near Seward is the Kenai Fjords National Park. The park’s visitor center is about one mile south of the cruise ship terminal.

Harding Icefield with nearly 40 glaciers is Kenai Fjord’s most famous feature. Exit Glacier is the only part of the park available by road. It has viewpoints, short trails and a nature center.

The strenuous 8.2-mile Harding Icefield trail starts from the Exit Glacier area. The trailhead is 11 miles northeast of the cruise terminal. Shuttle services charge $15 per person for a round-trip ticket.

Hardcore hikers can take six- to eight-hour guided hikes onto the glacier cost about $100 or more per person. Prices include lunch. Hikers can expect 1,000 feet in elevation gain per mile hiked.

Flightseeing is common at Seward. Flights range from a 15-minute tour including a quick landing at a nearby glacier for $200 to one-hour flights for $500.

Getting Around

In Seward

Passengers can reach the nearby small boat harbor district or the farther business district by using a free shuttle service.

Shuttles go from the docks and drop off passengers at either location. Shuttles run in a large loop around town about every 15 to 30 minutes.

The harbor district is a half mile from the docks; the business district is about a mile. A residential area separates the two.

Both the harbor district and business district are small enough for people to explore them on foot.

To Anchorage

Cruise passengers have three main options for getting from Seward to Anchorage, which is about 127 miles away. The drive time is about two hours and 15 minutes by car. A bus is slightly slower, and even slower but more interesting options are going by train or tour shuttle.

Alaska Cruise Transportation offers bus service between the two cities starting at about $50 per person. Transportation includes narration about the surrounding countryside. Buses pick up passengers right outside of the cruise docks and drop them off at the airport or certain hotels.

A slower but more old-fashioned option is by train. Passengers can take Alaska Railroad out of the depot by the small boat harbor. They can reach the depot by using the free city shuttles that serve the cruise ship docks. The train passes through Chugach State Park, the 7-million-acre Chugach National Forest and the Kenai Mountains.

Tickets start at about $100 with half off for children. Travel time is about four hours and 15 minutes.

A third option is a half-day or full-day tour in a large van or shuttle bus that carries up to 15 or 20 people. These tours often have several stops such as Exit Glacier or Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center. Prices for the half-day tours start at about $100 per person. The full-day tours often start at more than $200 per person.

Cruise Weather

Seward is too small for the U.S. National Weather Service to track its historical weather. The next best source is the nearby Anchorage.

The weather in the area is drier than southern cruise ports such as Ketchikan, Skagway and Juneau. Temperatures are similar. We had heavy fog in the morning the two days we were there that gradually lifted by mid morning.

Like those ports, temperatures are coolest during May and September with average daytime temperatures in the upper 50s Fahrenheit. They rise into the mid 60s Fahrenheit from June through August, although some days will reach into the 70s. July is the warmest month of the year.

Rainfall is lower, which is good news for photographers and anyone going on nature excursions. It averages less than one inch in May, which is the driest month of the cruise season. It increases each month until September, the final month of the season, when rainfall averages more than three inches.

Even for Seward and Anchorage, July remains the best month to visit for a combination of warm temperatures and low risk of rain.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
May 17, 2022