Away to Alaska: The Scenic Splendor of Glacier Bay
Whether you travel for adventure, new experiences or to encounter the glory of creation, it’s likely that Alaska is near the top of your travel bucket list. There are few places on earth where spectacular landscapes include such abundant opportunities to see wildlife and interact with a fascinating culture.
While Alaska’s immense size makes it nearly impossible to take in everything the state has to offer, tourism via cruise ship remains one of the best ways to experience the grandeur of North America’s “Last Frontier.” As cruise travelers attest, the ease of unpacking once before sharing a week’s worth of unprecedented views and quaint places maximizes time spent experiencing America’s last frontier.
Nowhere is this more evident than while cruising Glacier Bay, a remote and unforgettable national park that is practically inaccessible except by boat or plane. Famously, Glacier Bay reports that its wildlife outnumbers its roads a million to one.
A Perfect Day of Alaska Cruising
For most weeklong Alaska cruise itineraries, a visit to Glacier Bay occurs at the midpoint of the week, typically the day after stopping in Juneau, where many passengers sign up for whale watching excursions or tours to see the wildlife of Glacier Bay National Park.
Overcast skies and a light drizzle are common in Glacier Bay, but the unique geography of the area—and the narrowness of the 1,500-foot-deep fjord—means the glaciers are clearly visible. And they are stunning!
A good outdoor viewing location is key to fully experiencing Glacier Bay (don’t stay in your cabin!). Some enterprising families and groups purposefully book balcony rooms on both the port AND starboard sides of the ship, allowing them private views of both sides of the bay. But don’t worry if you don’t have this extra luxury; there are plenty of prime outdoor viewing locations all over the ship.
On entering the bay, passengers immediately notice crystal-blue chunks of ice floating alongside the cruise ship. The dramatic hue of the water, along with the translucent blue of the ice itself, gives Glacier Bay an unearthly quality.
This intense color is from the high concentration of glacial deposits left behind as rocks are ground into microscopic “rock flour” from the movement of the glacier. These deposits remain suspended in the water and reflect sunlight, which adds a fascinating turquoise sheen to the sea.
Ships take their time traversing the bay, providing ample opportunities to soak in the glacier views. In most cases, the average outdoor temperature will be in the mid-50s. Passengers are encouraged to bring a warm coat. Those viewing the bay from the comfort of their cabin or the covered promenade deck will still see everything, as eventually the ship turns around and travels back through the bay, exposing both sides to the views.
And those views pay off, especially if you bring binoculars! The mossy, spruce-hemlock rainforests are home to brown bears and moose. Fields of pink flowers spill down onto narrow beaches. Bald eagles soar in and out of the treetops, even landing occasionally on larger ice floes. Harbor seals, sea lions, sea otters and the occasional humpback whale are also common sights for observant passengers.
Your ship won’t dock during your day in Glacier Bay, but it will stop at a major tidewater glacier for about an hour. Here you’ll see a jagged wall of ice that dwarfs your cruise ship. Keep in mind, though, that this isn’t just a wall. It’s the endpoint of an unimaginable river of ice slowly inching into the water.
During this stop, keep your eyes peeled for harbor seals resting on the ice, and pay particular attention to the potential of a calving iceberg. When this happens, large sections of ice crack and fall dramatically into the water, creating an unforgettable rush of thunder.
After a full day, you’ll turn around and cruise the placid waters back to the mouth of the bay, covering 120 miles in one of the most serene places on earth. It’s easy to fill your camera’s memory card with photos, but most importantly, during your day in Glacier Bay, you’ll fill your personal memory bank with priceless moments of wonder and awe at the beauty God has created.
This unworldly expanse where ice, rock and water collide is one of the crown jewels of Alaska’s countless natural wonders and spectacular evidence of the Creator’s glory.
Is traveling or returning to Alaska on your travel bucket list?
If it’s not, take a look at this passenger video, inside an Alaska Cruise, to see why so many people have it at the top of their lists.