Glacier Bay Nat’l Park is one of the premier destinations on an Alaskan Cruise (imho).
But Note: The Nat’l Park System limits the number of cruise ships admitted to the Park to TWO per day and the only lines currently allowed admittance are Princess, Holland America, Norwegian and Crystal. (and Carnival though they only cruise Alaska in shoulder season – May and Sept)
This was the primary reason we chose THIS itinerary…with Princess!
The alarm went off at 5 am this morning and we popped out of bed. Today was the ‘gem’ of the cruise (imho). Our cruise schedule (and Princess Patters) said that we would enter Glacier Bay at 6:15…but the ship’s Naturalist told us yesterday that the time was closer to 5:15… We would, at the very least, be out on our balcony by then.
We anticipated today being cold, windy, etc…so dressed in wicking layers, long underwear, long sleeve t’s, hoodies, and had our winter coats/gear and rain jackets in my tote to carry around the ship that day. The forecasted 45 F didn’t sound miserably cold…but you can’t ignore the fact that Glacier Bay is an ‘ice box’…
After watching the pilot boat bring the Park Rangers aboard at 6am (..always interesting to watch as they board from their small craft onto the platform on the side of the ship…) we headed to the back of Horizon Court (our spot) for some views of the sunrise and a bit of breakfast. I brought along the Nat’l Park brochure placed in our mailbox the night before (the same type of brochure distributed in all Nat’l Parks) AND my Alaska Cruise Companion, though we only had time for a quick skim of these over breakfast. We had ‘places to go’ and ‘things to see’.
By the time we finished breakfast, we were roasting in those long underwear 🙂 so promptly returned to the room to change! Ha!!!
We were back on Lido deck by 8am – at the make-shift Ranger station set up above the mid-ship pool. The Rangers were giving an introductory talk there – something that had NOT been mentioned in the Patters. We just ‘happened’ upon it and only caught the last half. (would have been there for ALL of it if we’d known…) There, they had displays, books, information et al as well as an enlarged copy of the Nat’l Park map with additional information.
The “approximate” schedule printed in Princess Patters:
8:30: Park Ranger Commentary begins
9:20: Lamplugh Glacier
10:40 Marjerie Glacier & Grand Pacific Glacier
From the time the Park Rangers came on board at Bartlett Cove (6am) until we reached Lamplugh Glacier (and before that, Reid Glacier…) was about 3 hrs….sailing through Glacier Bay. Of course, during some of this time, we were eating breakfast, changing clothes, etc…but ALSO viewing the incredible scenery of Glacier Bay from wherever we happened to be. Sometimes the views were clear…other times there was fog,..but even the fog created some beautiful views and photos.
I know some choose to stay on their balcony this entire day…and the ship DOES turn so you could theoretically see everything from one vantage point. However, MY way of doing things is to go to port side when port is facing the glacier…and starboard side when starboard is facing the glacier…and see glaciers ALL DAY LONG! – and move from side to side to see whales, otters, bears, etc… We migrated all day…enjoying a spot until it stopped being enjoyable, then moving somewhere else -Terrace Pool deck (aft), Deck 15 indoor pool area, outer decks on 14/15/16, Deck 7 (Promenade), Deck 5 inside at the windows (to warm up a bit), and of course OUR Balcony too…All of these afforded excellent views. I highly recommend ‘moving around’ in order to see all there is to see.
Just a Little Tidbit of Info: The public areas of the ship (Deck 5/6/7 and 14/15/16) gave us the most access to viewing wildlife as we could easily move about or from side to side when the Park Ranger giving commentary from the Bridge spotted whales, otters, etc…
The Park Ranger commentary was broadcast on the ship PA system AND our stateroom television. That made our own balcony a nice place to be sometimes. (though it wasn’t always easy to hear when out on the balcony…)
At 9am we got our first views of Reid Glacier from port side…then a few minutes later, Lamplugh. Our spot for this, Deck 14/15 mid-ship around the indoor pool was nice because we had easy access to outer decks for photos…AND were able to duck inside when the wind got too cold…or to get coffee refills. 🙂 The disadvantage of that spot was that the PA system echoed so much from the indoor pool acoustics that we couldn’t really understand anything the Ranger was saying.
As the ship rotated, we ‘rotated’ as well….to the Terrace Aft pool area for views and photos aft…then to Horizon Court for views from that side (and of course, to warm up and get a fresh cup of coffee) We could hear the commentary very well from INSIDE the Horizon Court….not so much when we were outside. Of course, being inside meant viewing THROUGH a window…..
Next to Lamplugh is the inlet for Johns Hopkins Glacier. Ships aren’t permitted to enter that area until Sept 1 (it disrupts the baby harbor seals). Today was Aug. 31… ugh!!! so without sailing up the inlet, we headed to Margerie Glacier.
We arrived at Margerie/Grand Pacific Glacier around 10:30am. By this time we had moved to the ship’s lower decks (5-6-7). The deck around Promenade (Deck 7) is covered offering a little protection from the wind – and making it easier to hear the commentary WHEN OUTSIDE. Coffee was also readily available at carts there. 🙂 The area was VERY crowded though…sometimes challenging to get a spot on the railing for that perfect photo.
Grand Pacific Glacier is very ‘dirty’…lots of rocks in it as it has moved down the mountain. The name indicates that it’s ‘grand’…and in the whole scheme of things, it IS pretty Grand…but wouldn’t be labeled ‘pristine’ or ‘beautiful’. When the ship turned to allow port side to view it, we went back to our stateroom balcony…we had grown tired of the crowds on Promenade. The commentary was broadcast over the stateroom television. This was a pleasant viewing experience…but required us to go from inside to outside – to hear or view. We couldn’t do both at the same time.
I will say though….overall, the best place for information about today and the glaciers came from Alaska Cruise Companion….not because the Ranger commentary was lacking in any way…but rather because it was at times very challenging to hear. The book filled in any ‘gaps’ we had when we missed commentary from the Bridge.
SHOPPING ON GLACIER BAY DAY? While we brought all the warm weather gear we needed, they DID set up a make-shift store with coats, hats, gloves, binoculars, etc… on Lido deck for those who needed to purchase them (yes, you need them!!! at least in Aug./Sept) They bring the shops to the cruiser so the cruiser doesn’t have to go down to Deck 6 to the shops. Marketing strategy? Smart? Meeting the needs of the consumer? Who knows… haha! I just include this info for the reader… 🙂
After all the glacier viewing, we got our Nat’l Park Passports stamped, then headed to the Theater for the Presentation by the Park Rangers – at 1:00… – The Patters said that this was simulcast in Explorers Lounge…which told me we needed to be at the theater EARLY to get a seat. I didn’t WANT to be sent to Explorers… We got there about 12:30 and though there were people there, we found a seat easily. We just spent that time reading and purging photos from the camera. 🙂
Park Rangers disembarked and we left Glacier Bay at 3:15. I knew that the sail OUT of Glacier Bay was not be missed. We sailed IN to the Park at 5 am so couldn’t see much…This was the time to see this amazing beauty! We were on deck or our balcony until 4:30 or 5.
Tonight was the final formal night so about 5:00, we began to get ready ….
However…before long, we realized the huge mistake we had made… not putting on our Transderm Scop patches this morning. On the Inside Passage and Glacier Bay, the waters were calm…like ‘glass’ in Glacier Bay – so we never needed them. But when we headed into the Gulf of Alaska – known for rough seas… We DID!!!
To make a long story short, we never made it to Formal Night that night. We were sea sick. Of course, we put on the patches as soon as we realized what was happening, but by then it was TOO LATE. They aren’t as effective after you’re sick…. ugh!
Much later that evening, we awoke and headed to the buffet for a bite to eat (the patches had begun to work).
It’s certainly NOT the best way to spend a formal night on a cruise ship (We really enjoy Formal nights with their enhanced menus, photo opportunities, et al…) but…that was not our experience tonight.
While we were sleeping away our nausea, things were going on on the ship. …not only the typical entertainment, productions and activities but also Alaskan themed presentations/lectures that we CERTAINLY would have attended if we’d felt like it. The Captains Circle Party happened tonight…as well as the Balloon Drop (something we kind of enjoy doing from time to time…) We missed them all… *sigh*
Though we felt somewhat better after eating, we still felt a need to ‘take it easy’…so no ship board activities for us tonight…. *sigh* Tomorrow would be a sea day – until we arrived in College Fjord at 6pm. We would also have to pack….so a ‘full’ day. It was ‘good night’ for us for now…. 🙂
My BEST Glacier Bay TIPS:
- Don’t be dedicated to one spot in Glacier Bay. Move Around. The public decks will offer the most opportunity to see wildlife as you can easily move from port to starboard as warranted. Stateroom balconies are great for a portion of the day…but if you ‘plant yourself’ there, you’ll miss a great deal of what there is to see.
- Bring that long underwear (for Aug./Sept cruises) Maybe you’ll need it, maybe you won’t. But if you don’t have it….
- Take motion sickness remedies IN ANTICIPATION of the Gulf of Alaska. Taking it after you’re sick doesn’t work nearly as well….
- Stay out on deck as the ship sails out of Glacier Bay Nat’l Park. (especially on NB cruises where you came IN to the park before daylight…) The views are STILL incredible…even if the Rangers aren’t on board.
- There are no paper goods (cups, lids, straws, etc…) available around the ship on this day (regulation from the Park Service). That means if you want a cup with a lid, you have to bring your own… We brought Yeti knock-offs. (NOT real ones as we thought there was too much chance for misplacing it…) I’m still trying to decide if it was worth the space and weight in the suitcase for 1 day….but it WAS nice to have today.
- Alaska Cruise Companion (the book written by a former Princess naturalist and sold on all Princess Alaska sailings) filled in the gaps of information we missed from the Park Ranger commentary (cause we either couldn’t hear it while ‘out’ viewing’…or it was too noisy to hear on Lido/indoor pool area). I HIGHLY recommend the purchase!!