If you are lucky enough to take either a northbound or southbound one-way Alaskan cruise from the port of Whittier or Seward, you are likely to head into the majestic and utterly spectacular College Fjord on the north end of the Prince William Sound.
Cruise ships head into the Fjord for one reason: viewing its amazing glaciers. To be sure, the glacier viewing here is second to none. With over a dozen major glaciers and up to eight of the glaciers viewable from one single location, College Fjord is an incredible place to view glacial calving and just to take in the spectacle of these massive bodies of ice actively carving the landscape.
The entire Fjord is surrounded by rocky, Alpine peaks that are almost always capped with snow. It makes for an absolutely gorgeous backdrop for the main event of any cruise visiting the area, the glacier viewing experience.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that the natural beauty of the fjord is at least as much a reason to visit as the glacial action itself. As far as sheer jaw-dropping vistas go, this area is rivaled only by Glacier Bay National Park.
As a crow flies, College Fjord is less than a hundred miles from Anchorage, almost due east from the city. But it is in a geographically remote area surrounded by the towering peaks, and therefore is only accessible by boat or by air.
It is quite easy to access from the cruise ship port of Whittier, and therefore makes a great day trip destination if you are visiting Anchorage but are not going on an Alaskan cruise. If you are on a cruise out of Whittier, it is likely the first place you will visit, and what a spectacular introduction to Alaska it is.
As you head through the northern reaches of Prince William sound known as Port Well,s you continue on through an ever-narrowing body of water until you are in the Fjord itself. The scenery is incredible the whole way but when you actually enter College Fjord, it goes from great to incredible.
There are currently five tidewater glaciers in the fjord, meaning the glaciers reach salt water, where they break off into icebergs (a spectacular process known as calving). Named after East coast colleges, the glaciers include the Vassar, Bryn Mawr, Smith, Harvard, and Yale glaciers. Harvard and Yale have the two largest and most impressive calving faces.
Your experience in the Fjord generally involves floating from one glacier to the next, taking in the calving action. They are all relatively close to each other, so there isn’t that much travelling to do once you have reached the viewing spots.
As with all the other glacial viewing locations along the Alaskan cruise routes, the weather in the Fjord can be particularly unpredictable, due to its maritime location and the unique geography of the region. Therefore it is imperative that you dress appropriately, or you will end up having to go inside and miss half the fun.
The best way to dress for the trip into the Fjord is to wear layers, topping them off with some sort of waterproof jacket. It can be quite rainy, and rain can give way to sunshine very rapidly. Be prepared, because you are going to want to stay on deck for every minute of your trip’s journey into this amazing place.
Additionally, it’s a great idea to bring binoculars on you and to have a pair for everyone in your party, if possible. The wildlife in the area is amazing and incredibly abundant too. You never know when you will spot seals, or whales, or big horn sheep along the coastline.
Finally, if you are on a one-way north or southbound cruise, an ideal itinerary would be one that includes visits to both College Fjord and Glacier Bay, as these two spots represent the very best in glacier viewing that Alaska has to offer.