Friday, October 23, 2015

Cruising Glacier Bay Alaska

On the fourth day of our cruise to Alaska we reached the ultimate destination of our journey, Glacier Bay.

A Cruise Ship in Glacier Bay Alaska

The weather continued to be pretty gloomy, but the mists and clouds in some ways enhanced the magical feel of the place.  The conditions we experienced are a more typical representation of what to expect when cruising Glacier Bay than the gorgeous photos of sunshine and blue skies.

Glacier Bay was not exactly what I had envisioned.  The word "bay" to me suggested a round-shaped body of water sort of like a cul-de-sac.  As the map below illustrates, it is actually a 65 mile long fjord with numerous narrow inlets and several glaciers of varying sizes visible along its length. Glacier Bay National Park encompasses more than just Glacier Bay.  The park is 5,130 square miles and includes more than 1,000 glaciers.

Glacier Bay National Park Glaciers - Photo Credit: US National Park Service - Public Domain

Since Glacier Bay is inside the national park, cruise ships are required to have a permit to enter.  To protect the pristine beauty of the area, the number of permits issued for each day is limited.  This is one of the reasons that cruises that include Glacier Bay in their itinerary may sell out several months before the departure date and may also demand a higher price than some other Alaska cruises.
Aqua Blue Water of Glacier Bay

As we enter Glacier Bay, a National Park Service Naturalist boards the ship to broadcast information over the ship's PA system during our time in the park.  One of the things we learned is that the beautiful milky aqua colored water of the bay is due to the fine particles of minerals and rock created by the grinding action of the glaciers.

Waterfall in Glacier Bay Alaska
We passed numerous waterfalls similar to this one with trickles of water cascading over the rocky walls of the bay.

Holland America Split Pea Soup
One of the traditions on Holland America is the bowls of hot Dutch split pea soup served on the deck while cruising Glacier Bay.

Holland America Split Pea Soup
Ok, my bowl of soup wasn't picture perfect - a few drops were slopped on the side, but it was thick and hot and delicious!  The hot soup was welcome because even though we were dressed warmly, it is very chilly when out on the deck of a ship that is surrounded by ice cold water.

This is a photo of me and my husband to illustrate how we were dressed in layers topped off by winter jackets. We both brought along binoculars and cameras which I also definitely recommend. On any given day passengers on a cruise ship in Glacier Bay may see whales, otters, seals, bears, mountain goats and other wildlife including numerous bird species.
Alaska State Ferry on Glacier Bay 
We passed by an Alaska State Ferry on its run from Juneau to Gustavus.  There are also tour boats that depart each day during the summer season from the Glacier Bay Lodge.

Margerie Glacier - Glacier Bay Alaska
The Margerie Glacier is the glacier most often seen in photos of of Glacier Bay with calving chunks of ice falling into the water.   It towered above the cruise ship and the rugged ice shapes are a gorgeous blue color.  To me, it was the most beautiful and impressive glacier in the bay. As recently as 250 years ago all of the glaciers in the bay were one giant glacier that extended to the mouth of Glacier Bay.  It has now receded over 60 miles and divided into numerous smaller glaciers, 7 of which currently calve glaciers into the sea.

Margerie Glacier and Icebergs, Glacier Bay National Park
At the head of Glacier Bay we were surrounded by small icebergs that had calved from the glacier.  With our binoculars we took a closer look at the dark shapes that could be seen on some of the ice chunks.

Harbor Seal on an Iceberg, Glacier Bay NP
We were able to zoom in and identify the dark shapes as dozens of harbor seals.

Glacier Calving at Glacier Bay
As the ship slowly circled around the glacier, we could hear the ice creaking and groaning and an occasional sharp snap before a piece fell into the sea. It was a challenge to try to capture the glacier calving in a photo because the glacier is very large and it was impossible to predict from where the next chunk would fall.  I was lucky to have my camera pointed in the right direction when this one fell and then only caught mostly the splash when it hit the water.  Another bit of information that was amazing to me is that the ice at the front of the glaciers is between 75 and 200 years old.

Johns Hopkins Glacier, Glacier Bay
Another of the largest, most impressive glaciers we saw was the Johns Hopkins Glacier.  Clouds on the day or our visit prevented us from seeing the mountain peaks behind.
By Alan Wu [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
The photo above is of the Johns Hopkins Glacier taken by someone who was fortunate enough to visit on a sunny, clear day.   Whether under sunny skies or clouds, it is a magnificent experience!

We are linked up with the following travel blogs.  Please visit for more great travel adventures!

Weekend Travel Inspiration with Albom Adventures
Weekend Wanderlust with Justin Plus Lauren

The Weekly Postcard hosted by Travel Notes & Beyond