Cruises aren’t for everyone. I get that. And I don’t love them all the time. But I actually like going on cruises once in a while, and if it weren’t for the very real (and very disgusting) threat of gastrointestinal illnesses I’d probably like them even more.
The first time I visited Alaska was on a cruise. Cruises are a popular way to see the state because many of the sights along the panhandle can really only be seen by boat. So it makes cruising (or the less “glamorous” option, ferries) a decent choice.
I was traveling with my mom and grandparents and we flew to Vancouver, BC, Canada, and then sailed north to Alaska. Our total time at sea was a week as the ship’s route took us through the Inside Passage, a mostly protected strip of sea nestled between thousands of islands and both Canada’s western border and Alaska’s panhandle at the southeastern part of the state.
Towards the northern end of the Inside Passage, just west of Juneau, the ship sailed into Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, an area known for – no surprise here – its glaciers.
Even though it was late June and technically summertime, it sure as hell felt otherwise. And the difference between summer in “normal” parts of the US and summer in Alaska was even more noticeable once the boat was no longer surrounded by just the chilly Alaskan air but also massive chunks of ice. The second you stepped outside onto the cruise ship’s deck you could feel the temperature drop substantially. And when the wind picked up – woowhee! It was downright frigid.
When I was deciding what clothing to bring along on the trip, I laughed when my mom told me to bring a heavier coat. I dismissed her suggestion as overkill and besides, I was determined to pack light. So I instead packed a mid-weight fleece and a windbreaker. That should be enough, I nodded to myself approvingly.
Then of course as I stood shivering outside on the deck dressed in woefully inadequate layers, I knew my mom had every right to be thinking, “Who’s laughing now?” But thankfully my mom’s not like that. She’s way too nice. So instead of saying I told you so, she kindly offered me her coat. Which I declined, of course, because I was far too old to be that twenty-two-year-old “kid” who steals clothes from their sweet little mother because they were too dumb to pack correctly.
Glacier Bay’s tidewater glaciers (the kinds that reach the sea) are regularly calving (dropping massive chunks of ice into the water) and it was quite the event. If you stood quietly, at first all you heard were faint sounds of the ice cracking. Then suddenly a much larger crack filled the air and a massive chunk of ice split off of the glacier and tumbled into the sea with a loud crash. It was pretty magnificent to watch and hear, but at the same time kinda weird to see the glaciers diminishing before your eyes.
I know it’s called Glacier Bay, but my favorite part was the wildlife. And we saw a good deal of it. There were tons of porpoises, a few whales (can’t remember which kind), some Steller sea lions, harbor seals, eagles and even some mountain goats. But, as usual, sea otters were my favorite. I could watch them all day long, lying lazily on their backs occasionally spinning in the water. So frickin’ adorable.
I’m glad I had the opportunity to sail into Glacier Bay because it was a great way to be introduced to the wild beauty of Alaska. The main problem with the bay, though, is it’s not exactly easy to get to because it’s only accessible by air or sea. And not all cruise ships are authorized to go there, either. So if the bay is something you definitely want to see when you visit Alaska, make sure the company you choose is allowed.
But if massive cruise ships aren’t your thing, the good thing about Alaska is it’s a big state so you have plenty of other options for seeing tidewater glaciers calving into the sea. If you’re near Seward, Whittier or Valdez, you can easily book a day cruise out of all three towns and sail out into either Kenai Fjords or Prince William Sound to see much of what you’d see in Glacier Bay. To me, one of the main differences was that by going to Glacier Bay, I was able to check off another box on my National Parks list. And it’s always fun to check items off lists. :)
Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve – the official page by the National Park Service