Where? You're forgiven if you've never before heard of Whittier. Although it's a gateway to the glacier- and wildlife-filled Prince William Sound, most people have had no reason to go there. Except -- and this is a big except -- Whittier has experienced a boon as an alternative embarkation and disembarkation port to ship-crowded Seward. Princess Cruises primarily homeports ships here for the entire Alaska season.
Despite the sound views, quaint it's not -- the feel is very industrial and military. (The town holds a strategic position on the Alaska Railroad and at the head of a deep fjord; during World War II, it was a key port in the defense strategy for the state.) Weather is often nasty, with whipping winds and lots of rain, particularly in the winter.
Still, the tiny city of about 200 residents is a natural benefit for cruise lines sailing Alaska itineraries, actually more than an hour closer to Anchorage than Seward. (It takes about 90 minutes to get to Whittier from the Anchorage airport.) This means hundreds of thousands of cruise passengers are a part of the Whittier scene each summer.
How an increased cruise presence has changed this scene is unclear. What visitors will find today, however, is a really odd-ball place, where nearly all residents live in a single, 14-story concrete apartment building. (Most others live in a second building.) Kids in the apartment building don't even have to go outside to go to school in winter. A tunnel leads to their classrooms. (The average amount of snow on the ground on any given day between December and April is 33.8 inches!)
Getting into town is, however, one of the highlights of a visit: The Anton Anderson Memorial Tunnel is like no other. You enter what looks like a Swiss Chalet structure and ride for 2.5 miles on a railroad track through the narrow pass cut into a mountain. The tunnel is actually shared by rail and vehicle traffic -- when one is inside, the other is not; they switch every half-hour.
If you are planning an overnight stay before or after your cruise, we highly recommend staying in Anchorage because there is much more to see and do in town, and there are more accommodation options. However, with Prince William Sound just steps away, there is plenty for cruisers to do with a few hours to kill in Whittier. Included are a few suggestions for what to do with one day in Whittier if you are feeling a bit adventurous.