Getting up-close views of tidewater glaciers in Alaska’s vast subarctic wilderness is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay National Park is the namesake experience on one of our most popular tours: Alaska & Glacier Bay Cruise. Spectacular from beginning to end, we wanted to reveal some reasons why our guests frequently name their time in Glacier Bay as one of their most memorable moments.
Glacier Bay National Park covers more than 5,000 square miles of the northwestern end of Alaska’s panhandle. Just west of Juneau, this protected area features several glaciers and rocky, snowcapped peaks that rise up from the bay’s calm, pristine waters. Many of these glaciers calve ice directly into the bay. We’ll get up close to at least one of these glaciers, called tidewater glaciers, over the course of the day. Uniquely remote, wild, and sacred to the communities that live there, it’s no wonder Glacier Bay National Park is one of North America’s most treasured UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Our cruise ship, Holland America Line’s ms Volendam, is just the right size for admission into Glacier Bay. In the morning, the ms Volendam slows to a crawl. Guests ready themselves on the lower promenade deck in chairs while others walk the covered open air decks as they please. For another viewing experience, the ms Volendam is designed with an open foredeck just above the bow which, weather permitting, is available to passengers throughout the day. Few cruise ships provide this opportunity to witness the bay from the direction the ship is pointed. Wherever one chooses to relax, guests always get a complete view of their surroundings. The ship’s captain gets as close as possible to a tidewater glacier, then the ship slowly spins in place. The full rotation can take almost an hour!
In the morning, a Glacier Bay National Park ranger and a First Nations cultural heritage interpreter will transfer to the cruise ship from a small boat. The Huna Tlingit clan have called Glacier Bay their home since antiquity, and their local representative will play a big role today in revealing how their community survived in this environment. The ranger and interpreter set up in the crow’s nest and will provide commentary about Glacier Bay and other special programming until mid-afternoon. Guests relax in the crow’s nest with panoramic views, look at displays, ask questions, browse items for sale, or sit in for special audio/visual presentations on topics such as Huna Tlingit folklore and traditions. The ranger and interpreter broadcast their commentary through the ship’s intercom system, so you don’t have to be in the crow’s nest to enjoy their remarkable narration.
Do you hear that? It’s a dull cracking sound in the distance. All eyes go to the massive tidewater glacier before the ship, hanging mightily over the still waters. A large chunk falls and crashes into the bay. Moments later you can feel the waves ripple as they pass the ship. Guests hear, see, and feel the special moments when glacial ice becomes part of the sea. Before long they’re back to scanning the waters and shorelines for wildlife. Bears, seals, sea otters, and whales are just a few animals that make Glacier Bay National Park their home. The weather along the Inside Passage is often a little brisk, so staff are always nearby, ready to serve you a hot beverage. For a special treat on the observation deck, staff will serve a savory split pea soup – a classic dish in Holland America Line’s own Dutch heritage. Tiny moments like these have a big impact on a traveler as they explore these distant lands.
Glacier Bay’s day of scenic cruising is just one of many marvelous experiences on our Alaska & Glacier Bay Cruise tour. To learn more about everything this tour has to offer, click here!