The Strangest Town in Alaska
The Strangest Town in Alaska
When it comes to interesting cruise ports in Alaska, tiny Whittier tops the list. Nicknamed “the strangest town in Alaska,” it’s known for a unique way of life. Accessible only by water or tunnel, most of Whittier’s 217 residents live in the same Cold War-era condo complex that has a school, convenience store and post office built right in. Whittier’s fierce residents regularly face bears, tunnel closures that completely cut them off, and sky-high snowbanks that make getting around a challenge.
Tip: Begich Towers has a bed and breakfast where you can stay and observe how life functions in this one-tower, one-tunnel town.
Living in Whittier during winter may be brutal but visiting this unconventional burg on an Alaskan cruise is a highlight. It nestled on the Prince William Sound, which boasts the world’s densest concentration of tidewater glaciers. There are many options for outdoor activities, including glacier kayaking and jet skiing, even scuba diving. The serene waters make it ideal for paddling among artic-blue glaciers close to marine wildlife like sea otters and whales.
It is relatively easy to travel to or from Anchorage—by car in the summer, it takes an hour and a half. Another, perhaps more exciting option is the Alaska Railroad, an over two-hour scenic trip from the Anchorage depot. The train chugs along the Cook Inlet and Kenai Peninsula through the Anchorage Coastal Wildlife Refuge, which is home to many moose and swans.
Whether by car or train, you’ll pass through the famous Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel on your journey to or from Whittier.
At 2.5 miles long, Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is the longest combined vehicle-railroad tunnel in the United States. It’s built to withstand Whittier’s notorious weather—150 mph winds and temps of -40 Fahrenheit. As it’s shared with trains, it negated the need for another tunnel, saving millions of dollars.
The tunnel is the only way in and out of Whittier—if you’re coming from or going to Anchorage, you’ll need to take this fascinating passageway. The tunnel is only open for 15 minutes at a time and has a schedule, so plan accordingly if this Alaska cruise port is part of your itinerary.
In summer (May 1 to September 30), the tunnel opens daily from 5:30 a.m. to 11:15 pm. The tunnel opens to traffic going into Whittier on the half-hour, beginning at 5:30 a.m. It opens to traffic leaving Whittier at the top of the hour, beginning at 6:00 a.m.
Cruise passengers should give themselves more than enough time to drive from Anchorage and another 20-30 minutes to traverse the tunnel. The earlier, the better. Do as locals do, get out of the car and take in the fresh air and natural scenery.
It costs $13 USD to traverse the tunnel in a private vehicle, one way.
Ready to visit Whittier, one of the most unique cruise ports in Alaska? View our wide selection of Alaska cruises.