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Whittier Cruise Port: Your Gateway To Alaska’s Scenic Wonders

When taking an Alaska cruise to or from Anchorage, ships dock at either the port of Seward or Whittier. Located on the Prince William Sound, Whittier is a small town with an extensive history, serving as a strategic military port during World War II. 

Today, it is a popular destination for cruise ships, offering visitors a chance to experience the best of Alaska’s glaciers, wildlife, and natural wonders.

Its deep-water port is used by cruise ships and is part of the Alaska Marine Highway. If you’re beginning or ending a cruise at the Whittier cruise port, I share transportation options between the port and Anchorage and what you can do nearby.

Holland America ship docked at the Whittier cruise port

Where Is The Whittier Cruise Port

The Whittier cruise port, situated at the entrance of the Passage Canal in Prince William Sound, offers a convenient and less crowded alternative to the Seward cruise port. 

Notably, it is also closer to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (TSAIA), making it a practical choice for travelers.

Here are the distances and travel times between Anchorage and Whittier vs. Anchorage and Seward, which are further away.

PortDistanceTravel Time
Whittier60 miles1-1/2 hrs
Seward127 miles2-1/2 hrs
Distance and travel time between Anchorage and the cruise ports

As cruise ship traffic increases to Seward, Whittier cruise port has become an increasingly popular destination. If you’re starting your cruise in Anchorage, Whittier may be your embarkation port for your Alaska itinerary.

Whittier is a must-see destination as the gateway to the spectacular Prince William Sound, with its stunning scenery, abundant wildlife, and rich history.

When taking a back-to-back cruise, spend the day exploring the town’s fascinating military history, visit the local museum, and take in the stunning views of the surrounding glaciers and mountains. 

View of Portage Canal from the Whittier cruise port
View of Portage Canal from the Whittier cruise port

The port of Whittier remains open year-round because the area remains ice-free in winter. It provides a vital thoroughfare for cargo ships to bring goods to Anchorage and other parts of Alaska from the lower 48 states.

Which Cruise Ships Dock There

The Whittier cruise port is a popular destination for many cruise ships. Holland America and Princess Cruises primarily use this dock for passengers on either a one-way itinerary or a cruise and land tour.

Here’s a table showing where major cruise lines dock their vessels.

WhittierSeward
Princess CruisesCelebrity Cruises
Holland AmericaRoyal Caribbean
Silversea
Norwegian
Regent
Hurtigruten
Viking
Crystal

Getting To Whittier Cruise Port From Anchorage

Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport (TSAIA) is the closest airport to Whittier. Whether going to or coming from Whittier, passengers must pass through Maynard Mountain via the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel.

The narrow toll tunnel has one lane, used by both vehicles and trains. Driving through at a slow speed takes a little more than five minutes, and traffic changes direction every thirty minutes.

Approaching the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel
Approaching the Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel

Anchorage To Whittier

The most common way to get from Anchorage to Whittier or vice versa is by train or shuttle. The distance between the two cities is approximately 60 miles, and the drive takes about 1-1/2 hours, although longer by bus and train.

If you’re renting a car, several rental companies are available at Anchorage airport, but the drop-off fees are very high, so it’s not the most economical travel option. 

Alternatively, several shuttle services are available either privately or through the cruise line.  

When disembarking in Whittier, guests on a cruise and land tour head to Seward, Girdwood, Anchorage or Denali National Park.

Transportation Options

Passengers have a few transportation options to and from the Whittier cruise port. It’s best to pre-arrange a transfer when in the Alaska cruise planning stage.

Private Shuttles

Private shuttles are a fantastic option for those who want to relax and enjoy the scenery along Turnagain Arm. These shuttles provide door-to-door service between Anchorage and Whittier without needing to walk far. Expect the trip to take two hours.

Private shuttles are convenient and comfortable ways to travel, especially for groups. They can be booked in advance, and the price varies depending on the number of passengers and the company chosen.

The Whittier Shuttle, ACT Big Bus, and Park Connection Motorcoach offer transfers for Princess and Holland America guests on Wednesdays and weekends. These are the only days that their ships are in port.

Alaska Railroad

The Alaska Railroad is another popular transportation option and may provide the most scenic way to travel. The Glacier Discovery train journey takes two and a half hours due to stops in Girdwood and Portage.

The Alaska Railroad in Whittier
The Alaska Railroad in Whittier

The train is a great way to see the beauty of Alaska and is a popular choice for tourists. However, expect to pay double the cost of a shuttle bus ticket.

Car Rentals

Car rentals are the costliest option due to drop-off fees. However, those staying in Anchorage a few days before the cruise may already have a rental, so it’s more convenient. 

Driving provides the quickest option at 1-1/2 hours for those on a tight schedule, although you’ll want to factor in the time for pickup and drop off.

Avis is the only car rental company when traveling from Whittier to Anchorage. As the sole vendor, Avis car rentals command higher-than-average fees.

A car rental gives flexibility and allows for stops at Portage Glacier, Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center, and Beluga Point.

Weather In Whittier

Docked in Whittier on a wet day
Docked in Whittier on a wet day

Surprisingly, Whittier doesn’t get those frigid temperatures in winter. Hence, its port remains open all year. However, it’s a wet area, no matter what time of year.

June, being the driest month, has average daily temperatures in the low 60s, and nine inches of rain. In contrast, December averages 29.5F and has almost 20 inches of precipitation. Even July and August, the warmest months, receive 11 and 16-1/2 inches of rain respectively.

So, when embarking or disembarking at the port of Whittier, having rain gear is advisable.

Things To Do In Whittier

For those disembarking in Whittier, cruise lines sell tours, which include transfers to the airports for guests on late flights. Alternatively, book a later transfer and spend the day enjoying Whittier’s attractions.

Here are some of our top recommendations for activities in the area:

26 Glacier Cruise

I chose the 26 Glacier excursion for my time in the area. It turned out to be one of the highlights of my Alaska trip. I witnessed lots of calving at Harvard Glacier and the boat got within 1/8 mile of its face.

Glacial calving at Harvard Glacier
Glacial calving at Harvard Glacier

Operated by Phillips Cruises, this cruise offers a no-seasickness guarantee. Although a bit pricey, it is worth the cost to see more than two dozen glaciers on one excursion. Their vessels’ boarding area is near the cruise port, making it super convenient.

This cruise travels through Prince William Sound, an area rich in marine wildlife. It’s part scenic viewing and wildlife spotting, with chances to see harbor seals, sea lions, bald eagles, sea otters, bald eagles, and whales. 

The 26 Glacier Cruise takes almost six hours, with one departure at 12:30 pm. 

Glacier Quest Cruise

If the 26 Glacier Cruise doesn’t fit your schedule, the Glacier Quest Cruise might be a better option. This one lasts 3-3/4 hours and visits Blackstone Bay, home to two tidewater glaciers, some valley glaciers, and lots of wildlife.

The highlight of Blackstone Bay is Blackstone Glacier. Along the way are beautiful waterfalls, wildlife, and stunning scenery. 

Visit The Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Young moose at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Young moose at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Located between Portage Lake and Girdwood, the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center cares for injured and orphans animals. The preserves aims to educate, conserve, and provide quality care.

The sanctuary is vast, covering over 200 acres, so having a vehicle is best. I toured the facility on a bus, which made stops throughout the sanctuary. The bears, both black and coastal brown bears were a favorite, along with the wood bison.

During my visit in early June, many of the animals were shedding their winter coats. Of the wildlife I saw, I was thrilled to see young moose and a lynx up close.

The center offers complimentary naturalist talks, as well as wildlife encounters. So, if you want to walk on the wild side, and feed a bear, or meet a moose, the opportunity awaits.

Brown bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center
Brown bear at the Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center

Go Hiking

Whittier and the surrounding Chugach National Forest beg for exploration. There are plenty of hiking trails in and around Whittier for outdoor enthusiasts.

The Portage Pass Trail is a popular option, which travels up to a stunning overlook of Portage Glacier and the surrounding mountains. 

Horsetail Falls Trail is another moderate route but half the distance at 2.1 miles. July and August are the best times to hike to avoid muddy conditions and enjoy wild salmon berries.

Explore Portage Glacier

One of the most popular attractions near Whittier is Portage Glacier. Just off the highway, the Begich, Boggs Visitor Center has some excellent exhibits documenting the area’s history and information on Portage Glacier.

Visiting Portage Glacier
Visiting Portage Glacier

I took a boat tour on the MV Ptarmigan to get close to the glacier. The one-hour cruise is inexpensive and a good option for travelers with limited time.

Alternatively, there are some hiking trails to explore the area.

Kayaking

Exploring Prince William Sound by kayak is quite thrilling for active individuals. Experienced paddlers can rent kayaks and gear and enjoy a self-guided adventure.

Alternatively, several companies offer guided trips through Prince William Sound. Choose from the three-hour option to see a Kittiwake rookery or opt for the Passage Canal Day Tour. The latter provides a chance to see glaciers, lovely cascades, and hidden coves.

The Kittiwake rookery in Whittier
Kittiwake rookery in Whittier

Prince William Sound Museum

The Prince William Sound Museum is the perfect attraction for history buffs. Admissions fund the small non-profit museum, which also receives community and grant contributions. 

Opened in 2003, it has grown over the years. The exhibits detail Whittier’s history as a military port during World War II, the fishing industry, and the 1964 Good Friday earthquake that devastated the area. The stories of people who were affected are particularly touching.

The area’s history is rich, from the Spanish Navy’s exploration of Prince William Sound in the late 1700s to the sinking of the S.S. Yukon in 1946.

It’s a great way to learn more about the culture and history of Whittier and the surrounding area. It’s a hidden gem and an underrated attraction in the area.

A shipped docked at the Whittier cruise port in Alaska and nearby glaciers