Alaska Trip: Cruising Glacier Bay

Alaska trip

Cruising Glacier Bay

Our cruise included two types of days: those when we stopped at ports, and those when we stayed on the ship, just … cruising.

I have to say that, although I enjoy exploring new cities and towns, there was always a feeling of happiness when a cruising day happened. It was sort of like when you have events lined up for the day and learn that one or more have been canceled. Ahhhh …. freedom.

Holland American Zaandam cruise ship crowd getting off ship

Add to that the reality of large groups of people leaving the boat (see above), and you can probably appreciate why days at sea were welcome.

We spent a day cruising Glacier Bay, which is located within Glacier Bay National Park. You probably haven’t visited this park on a family car trip. No roads lead into the park, and it is most easily reached by air or by water. In fact, most of the 400,000 annual visitors arrive via cruise ship. Our ship picked up a few park rangers. The ship stopped somewhere in the park where they climbed aboard and joined us for the day, giving informational talks and being around to field questions.

Glacier Bay

As we cruised into the park, there were gorgeous views. It was amazing to see quite a bit of snow, but to still feel fairly comfortable wearing regular clothes without a jacket (I did wear a jacket most of the day anyway, because I usually tend to feel cold).

What is a Glacier?

I had always visualized glaciers as the Titanic iceberg — huge hunks of ice sticking up out of the water. But often, that is not the case. For instance, in the photo above, the ice on the center right area is a glacier. A glacier is basically any ice that remains year-round without melting. As you’ve no doubt heard, most (not all) glaciers are shrinking. We learned that a few of the major glaciers in the park had been shrinking since, I think, 1915. This news often is reported with a tone of doom and gloom, but I’m wondering: is it necessarily a bad thing? The earth has been through so many cycles, with glaciers growing and shrinking; volcanoes changing the landscape, etc. When I was in elementary school, we were taught that an ice age was coming. That line of thinking seems to have disappeared. I find it interesting in a sociological way, if not so much in a scientific one 🙂

Margerie Glacier Glacier Bay

Here was the biggest glacier we saw. It’s called the Margerie Glacier, and I included this photo with a boat to give you some perspective. The glacier extends back 21 miles into the mountains you see.

Glacier Bay cruise ship

Throughout the day, food was served on deck. There was Dutch Pea Soup in the morning (remember, this is Holland America cruise line), a full buffet at noon, hot chocolate, etc. It was really nice to “cruise” along the deck with a plate full of food, a camera in hand, and these spectacular views wherever the eye could see.

South Marble Island Steller Sea Lions

Several times during the cruise, the captain would name some sights we’d be passing. Honestly, these talks were a little frustrating because 1) often he gave them during a meal or at some other time when it was hard to hear him, 2) they were usually vague, ie “sometime this afternoon we’ll be passing by some incredible views of a rare unicorn whale” — ummm, sometime this afternoon? and finally 3) it was really hard to know where to look to see the wondrous things he mentioned.

Steller Sea Lions

Anyway, on Glacier Bay day, he mentioned that around 6 we’d be passing South Marble Island, a great place to see Steller sea lions. 6:00 was right in the middle of dinner, but armed with my map, as the time approached, I left the table to head to the other/hopefully “correct” side of the ship. Wonder of wonders, I spotted South Marble Island. And … as I squinted, I could see it was full of Steller sea lions (another revelation: Steller is a type of sea lion — not an adjective describing the creatures). In the photo above, a bit of the actual island is on the left. If you squint, you’ll see the other two small bits of land are indeed covered with sea lions.

So there you have it: a day cruising Glacier Bay.

Jump into the conversation in comments — have you been on a similar cruise? Ever seen a sea lion? Go!

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3 thoughts on “Alaska Trip: Cruising Glacier Bay

  1. I loved the cruise but you make it double the fun – hearing your take on various things! It was one of the best experiences in my life. I am so thankful all of my family could be there enjoying it together. Good health was also a factor that I do not take lightly. I too loved “Sea Days” when you could just do as you pleased. I have a friend, Mary Smith. Her daughter Rhonda and SIL Sam go on cruises & vacations all the time! Mary said recently Sam and Rhonda went on a Hawaiian cruise and the first day they just slept ALL DAY long! The boat rocking around sort of lulls you to sleep anyway in a peaceful way. . .

  2. A day like you’ve just described would be the highlight of my trip, if I ever got to take such a trip. And BTW, I haven’t yet given up hope that I’ll be able to do it before I die.

  3. Sorry I am late in commenting on this great blog about Sea Days. I enjoyed reading about the glaciers, sea lions, etc. I learned so much. No, I have not seen a sea lion but would love to. I also like the Sea Days, just being lazy and eating too much. What fun! You are making me want to go on another cruise.

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