One of the best ways to experience the natural wonder of untamed Alaskan wilderness is to cruise Glacier Bay. For cruise enthusiasts, it is one of the most beautiful destinations to cross off of your travel to-do list, but it isn’t like most other places that cruises typically stop. If you are unsure of what to expect or what to plan for on a cruise to Glacier Bay National Park, read on to get a better idea of what you will see at this magnificent bay.
Glacier Bay National Park
Glacier Bay National Park is located in Southeast Alaska west of Juneau and has been recognized as a national monument since 1925. In 1980, the area was elevated to national park status, and currently encompasses more than 5,000 square miles of impeccable Alaskan wilderness. The bay that gives the park its name is a giant, fjord-like body of water surrounded by snow-capped mountains, untamed forests, and massive glaciers.
This untouched natural wonder is heavily protected, so the only major cruise lines with permission to sail here are Norwegian Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, and Holland America, and only two ships per day are allowed to visit. Furthermore, cruise ships do not dock here, and instead provide a day of scenic cruising from a safe distance, so as not to disturb the local flora and fauna. While that may seem disappointing at first, the bay is best seen from the water anyway and there is definitely enough to see to fill a day of exciting cruising.
What You’re Here to See
As you might expect, you will most certainly get the chance to see many glaciers when you cruise Glacier Bay, with more than 1,000 glaciers to admire. But the real show will be from the 9 giant tidewater glaciers, which slowly creep down from the mountains and spill into the bay. Watching giant chunks of ice crash down into the water is a truly magnificent experience that you will only get in a place like this. Prominent glaciers to keep an eye on include Grand Pacific Glacier, Margerie Glacier, Lamplugh Glacier and Johns Hopkins Glacier.
Cruisers are also treated to some amazing wildlife sightings at Glacier Bay National Park, with the likes of puffins, harbor seals, and sea lions being quite common. Lucky passengers have been known to get glimpses of brown bears and even humpback whales as well. Birdwatching is very popular here, with 281 species to look for, including rainforest species like the American three-toed woodpecker and neotropical migrant warblers.
Cruise Glacier Bay with National Park Rangers
While you won’t be disembarking the ship when you cruise Glacier Bay, you will still get some one-on-one time with local wildlife experts during your voyage. National Park Service park rangers sail right up to the cruise ship and board for the day, setting up an information desk where you can get all your burning questions answered. They will provide a special presentation about the park, offer fun activities to get the kids involved, and set up a variety of displays with hands-on materials to connect you to the world of Glacier Bay. And of course, if you are collecting passport book cancellation stamps, this is your opportunity to check Glacier National Park off of your list!
What to Expect Onboard When You Cruise Glacier Bay
While you cruise Glacier Bay for the day and take in the sights, some onboard activities will be temporarily limited. You can check with staff to find out exactly what is going to be available, but expect things like laundry services and the casino to be closed for the day. Also, cruising speeds are tightly regulated for the purpose of allowing passengers to fully take in the magnificent scenery, as well as to protect the marine wildlife that live in the bay.
You can also expect the weather to be pretty chilly, with average temperatures during cruise season being around 55 degrees, so make sure to pack some warmer clothes. The cruise line will typically offer some warm concessions during this time though, such as hot chocolate or Holland America’s dutch pea soup to help with the cold. Rain is also a possibility, and you don’t want to be stuck inside when passing through this stunning scenery, so be prepared!
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