During the last two days of our cruise, we spent the time scenic cruising. Hands down, the greatest thing a Princess Alaskan Cruise offers is access to Glacier Bay National Park. Only two cruise ships are permitted per day, along with only twenty-five other boats. If you have the time, I absolutely recommend visiting the actual park. For us, the days cruising were enough, even if they were just a taste. We spent an entire day cruising there, and then spent the next day cruising College Fjord. College Fjord is home to five glaciers that terminate in the water, and is a great experience as well.
Glacier Bay National Park
I’ve talked about UNESCO sites in the past, and why that title alone is enough to warrant a visit. Glacier Bay is part of a large UNESCO area in south east Alaska. Home to a multitude of animals, and surrounded and imbued with mountains, there is no doubt that this area is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. That isn’t why this area garnered the title of World Heritage Site, however. That reason is that it contains the largest non-polar ice field in the world. And we got to visit.
Moving on to present day, our time visiting Glacier Bay National Park was perfect. Sure, there were thick clouds hugging the mountain peaks, but they had become such an Alaskan staple that they were hardly noticeable. We had been told, several times, to bundle up when heading outdoors, and while it was certainly cold outside, it was the perfect type of cold. It brought up memories of perfect winter days growing up in Buffalo, New York. It takes a certain type of winter native to recognize, but you can smell it as soon as you walk out the door.
Surrounded by ice and snow, your nose is filled with the full body smell of cold. There is not any direct sunlight, that would hinder the winter feel, but there is a glow that illuminates the whole area. And the last thing that defines a perfect wintery day, you never seem to get cold. You know the cold is out there, you can literally taste it with every breath you take, but you never start shivering, and even though your cheeks turn red, your eyes never start to water. And even considering it was August, I feel lucky to have a perfect winter day for a glacier showcase.
John Hopkins Glacier
The first sight that day was the John Hopkins Glacier. Most glaciers across our planet are retreating, due mainly to the increasing temperatures of our planet. Miraculously, this glacier however is actually advancing, making it a marvel unlike all the other glaciers we had seen in Alaska. This glacier contained more silt and dirt than any other I had seen, which does detract from the more conventional beauty of glaciers like Mendenhall. John Hopkins is a real phenomenon because it is fighting against the damage humans have done. It is resilient in spite of the terrible conditions surrounding it.
Progressing further into Glacier Bay, we found ourselves at the pinnacle glacier in this park. Margerie Glacier is everything you picture when you imagine a perfect glacier. Twenty-one miles long, and maintaining its size, this glacier is a sight to behold. This was the place where I was enjoyed the most of my time in Glacier Bay.
Most people spend their day waiting for the glaciers to calve. Calving is the term for when large pieces of ice break off the glacier and fall into the ocean. I unfortunately did not get to see any traditional calving while I was here, but I did get to see some underwater pieces calve. The first time it happened, I saw a huge, dark, something rise out of the water. At first I thought it was an orca, and seeing one in the wild made me beyond excited. Once I realized this mammoth thing was actually ice however, I was bewildered. It not only gave me perspective on how much of the glacier I couldn’t see, but the show itself was spectacular. The rush of water, the sound of ice cracking, the way a huge piece of ice launched out of the water, it reminding me that nature is capable of miraculous things.
Our second day of scenic cruising took us into College Fjord, discovered in 1899 by the Harriman Expedition. This team was put together by millionaire Edward Harry Harriman because his doctor ordered him to take a vacation. So he took an expedition team north that included the likes of John Muir, and other representatives of Ivy League Colleges in the East. As a result the glaciers are named after schools or their sister schools.
Harvard Glacier is the ultimate glacier here. It is another glacier that is over twenty miles long, but unlike the others, it’s terminus is over a mile in length. I struggled immensely to capture a picture of it, panoramas did no justice. This glacier looked similar to Margerie Glacier, with beautiful blues and whites intertwined to make a wall of ice.
The day was spectacular. I snatched a blanket from the pool deck, brought my book out to the balcony, and just enjoyed the view. My best Princess Alaskan Cruise tip is to get a balcony room, simply because of these days. My second best tip is to tune in to the channel that shows the live feed of what is ahead of the ship. The actual image isn’t important, but this is where you can hear everything that is announced from the bridge. The cruise company brings Park Rangers aboard, and they narrate the entire day.
If it weren’t for those Park Rangers, I would never have seen the orca swimming around College Fjord. I was unable to capture a photo, but I’ll always remember it. It was like this creature was putting on a show for us, swimming around, showing us just a glimpse of its tail. Until it actually showed itself. Majestic animals like these entrap your heart, and I was no different.
Princess Cruises Does It Right
I really enjoyed this portion of my Alaska trip, and it was my favorite part of the cruise. I cannot emphasize enough how much the balcony contributed to that. It allowed me to avoid the crowded decks, which was great because crowds make it difficult to enjoy both the simplistic grandeur of the glaciers, and also difficult to take unobstructed photos.
Between the Park Rangers, the boundless views of glaciers, and the super cozy blankets, I was a happy cruiser.
This is the last of my trip reports from the cruise, so thanks for those of you who have followed along. Would you choose to take an Alaskan cruise? I hope you’re ready for more exciting things though, because I have another eight days in Alaska to share. The next posts are going to be much less luxurious, and there will be a lot more sleeping bags and a lot less showers. I hope you’re ready.