Orca Island Cabins

Q&A With Dennis and Susan Swiderski from Orca Island Cabins

It’s often said that people make the place, and we couldn’t agree more. Our new spotlight series introduces you to Seward Chamber of Commerce members who make our community an incredible place to live, work and play.

Orca Island Cabins operates an eco-friendly cabin rental business consisting of eight yurts on a private island and nearby mainland (connected by an 80 ft. footbridge).  Alaskans and visitors can overnight in a truly remote wilderness setting 9 miles from Seward in comfort and style. Accommodations consist of 20-foot-wide yurts each with an overhead skylight, fireplace, french doors, queen bed, futon, kitchen, private bathroom with shower and compost toilet and private deck with barbecue. Guests also routinely observe marine wildlife from their private decks, including Orca and Humpback whales, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, harbor porpoises and much more.
We recently sat down with Dennis and Susan to learn more about the journey their family has taken to build and share Orca Island Cabins.

How long have you lived in Seward? What first brought you here?

We moved from Anchorage to Seward with our three young sons in 1996. Seward’s charm as small coastal town with picturesque landscapes and seascapes captured our hearts. The many recreational and business opportunities were appealing as well.

Dennis and Susan Swiderski love sharing Orca Island Cabins with visitors from all over the world. Photo Courtesy of OIC

What makes your business special or unique? In other words, what are you known for?

Accommodation on a private island in a scenic  and protected cove is a special experience. It is through careful planning and design that we are able to offer comfort and warmth in well-appointed yurts overlooking the ocean and its marine wildlife. Also, our lodging guests also have unlimited access to watercraft like kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, row boats and fishing gear to use whenever they wish. Staying at Orca Island Cabins is an all-inclusive experience where lodging, wildlife viewing and recreational opportunities are enjoyed in one venue.
Our location in Humpy Cove, nine miles from Seward, offers unique adventures as well. A 30-minute paddle offers access to a popular salmon-spawning stream. A magnificent waterfall cascades into an elevated pond just above the stream. Another option, a one-hour hike from our property takes you up to a World War II bunker overlooking Resurrection Bay. More casual endeavors include tide pooling and wildlife viewing. Take a walk through the art gallery that display’s Susan’s artwork along with other local artisans. You might even find a guest or two in a yoga pose (yoga mats are available in the art gallery).
Take in stunning views of Humpy Cove and Resurrection Bay. Photo Courtesy of Orca Island Cabins.

Tell us about a product or service that you’re particularly proud of.

We are particularly proud of the personalized and family-oriented service we provide our guests. Several of our family members serve in various capacities from boat captain to resident artist to overnight presence on the island. We are a family business which takes pride in providing personalized attention to each guest – a service that our guests appreciate.

What would people be surprised to learn about your business or your journey as a business owner?

Construction of comfortable, unique accommodations in a remote wilderness setting provided us many unique experiences. Our guests are surprised to learn: (a) it took 18 years to acquire the 3 separate acres (including the island); (b) the logistical difficulties in building each cabin; (c) the overall layout of the cabins was not predetermined, but simply evolved over time. Each cabin site and boardwalk access had to be closely evaluated since each was so challenging to build; (d) how difficult the design and construction was of the 80 ft. footbridge and (e) how we came up with such a unique lodging concept in such a unique setting.

Describe a risk that you’ve taken in your business that paid off.

Both the design and construction of the 80′ footbridge that connects the island with the mainland acreage constituted a great risk. Since the island could only support 3 cabins, we needed to access the mainland property in order to erect additional cabins and thereby maximize the use of our property. Now, we marvel at our ability to walk back and forth between the island and mainland property with ease. We are grateful for the possibilities that the bridge has afforded to expand our retreat.

Kayaking at Orca Island Cabins in scenic Humpy Cove on Resurrection Bay, 9 miles southeast of Seward, Alaska

What is the best compliment your business has ever received?

At the conclusion of their stay, many of our guests appreciate us sharing our island and island accommodations with them and not building just a cabin for our exclusive use and enjoyment.

What advice would you give to a new business owner who is working to build a business like yours?

Prepare to develop over the long term with patience and planning. Also, it’s important to keep one’s expenses at a sufficiently low level.

What do you like most about living and working in Seward?

We love Seward because of its coastal setting, friendly residents and the considerable community support we have received over the years.

Tell us about a community member in Seward who you admire.

Dot Bardarson is a prominent local artist, community activist/volunteer and friend that we greatly admire.

An impressive footbridge allows easy access from the island to the mainland. Photo Courtesy of Orca Island Cabins

How do you spend your free time?

During the off-season we travel a lot, which is a high priority for us. Susan spends much of her free time painting on commission and for shows as well as creating artwork for the island’s art gallery. Dennis spends much of his time planning for the next season.

Where’s your favorite spot in Seward to unwind?

Fifth Avenue Fitness, a place to reduce weight and stress.

If your life was a book, what would the title be?

Cautious Thinking Outside The Box
There are so many great wilderness areas to explore around Seward and Kenai Fjords. If you had a free weekend, where would you go?
You’d find us cruising to the waters near and around Nuka Bay.
Is there anything exciting on the horizon that you’d like to share?
Further additions/improvements to Orca Island Cabins are coming soon and will be somewhat outside the box!
Feature Image: A stay at Orca Island Cabins offers guests stunning views of Humpy Cove not only from their private yurts, but also from the water. Photo Courtesy of Orca Island Cabins.


For more information about Orca Island Cabins or Susan Swiderski’s artwork call 907.362.9014.

Want more information about Seward or our Chamber of Commerce? Call 907.224.8051.