Extraordinary Moments Exploring Alaska’s Glaciers

Captivating Moments in The Great Land

Sponsored by Holland America Line

You’d think with all of the cold weather sweeping across North America cruisers’ thoughts would be on any place but Alaska. But something about The Great Land captivates us year round.

There’s more than one reason so many people choose to sail to Alaska more than once. We can think of three immediately: Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, and the Sawyer Glaciers (okay, make that four reasons).

To get a glimpse of the grand and imposing natural glaciers that grace the 49th state is probably the primary reason that people cruise to Alaska. And while most cruises are likely to call on Glacier Bay, Hubbard Glacier, or the Sawyer Glaciers at some point during the course of their voyages, not every Alaskan cruise features glacial scenic cruising.

So if your reason for going is to see glaciers, pay attention when choosing your itinerary.

Glacier Bay National Park
This day is an experience to remember.

Of all of the glaciers in Alaska, Glacier Bay National Park remains the quintessential experience, with the sprawling Margerie Glacier being the most visited by cruise ships. Stays here typically last an entire day and are punctuated by hours of scenic cruising for varying vantage points of the glaciers.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Glacier Bay will inspire and astound you. It’s breathtaking, beautiful, and oddly romantic.

This day is an experience to remember. Depending on the day, you could be bundled in wool blankets as you gaze at the sights or enjoying the sunshine glistening off the ice in short sleeves. On cool days, waiters stroll the decks offering a variety of hot concoctions, some with alcohol, some without, to chase away the chill.

If you’re very lucky, one moment while sitting on the deck relaxing, wrapped in multicolored blankets and sipping on clam chowder. It will happen: calving.

At first it sounds like a thunderclap: sharp, piercing and filled with power. Gradually, the face of the ice will start to change before your eyes, losing texture and definition until it becomes almost featureless.

Margerie Glacier flows down out of the Alaskan Mountains into Glacier Bay

Gravity takes hold, and a 50-foot section of the face of the glacier will slide into the sea with a thunderous splash that causes the ship to bob up and down in the oncoming swell.

It’s just one of many memorable experiences you’ll have in Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay is one of the few places on earth that is often better viewed from the private balcony aboard your ship than anywhere else. Standing high above the water on any deck of the ship, you’ll have unobstructed and constantly changing views of the bay.

In port, your Holland America Line ship will appear massive. But there in Glacier Bay, it’s but a spec, dwarfed by the imposing hulk of Margerie Glacier.

With decades of experience sailing Alaska, Holland America Line has been able to refine itineraries to ensure that you get the perfect balance of must-see destinations and hidden treasures, more ports and more time in each port, as well as scenic cruising among the region’s grandest glaciers and best spots for wildlife viewing.

Because access is so tightly controlled to Glacier Bay, with cruise lines bidding on (and paying top-dollar) for the few spots that open each season, it’s a truly special moment to experience Hubbard Glacier.

Located farther north than Glacier Bay, Hubbard is more imposing at first glance simply due to its sheer size. Ships can also get slightly closer to Hubbard, since it doesn’t exist in the narrow spits like Glacier Bay.

Detail of the tidewater terminus of Sawyer Glacier

The Sawyer Glaciers are a bit of a double-edged sword. Located at the end of Tracy Arm fjord just a few hours south of Juneau, their prime location makes them an included feature on many itineraries.

The trouble lies within Tracy Arm itself: Although exceedingly beautiful to the point of rivaling Norway’s famous Geirangerfjord, Tracy Arm is often so choked with ice that navigating a large cruise ship through the channel is often impossible. This causes most ships to stop halfway down the fjord, rotate using their thrusters, and retrace their steps out again.

Holland America Line knows this is must see place and therefore has a deluxe jet boat, Katlian Express, to make a difficult area more accessible. You’ll be able to glide past seals and bobbing icebergs from the topside observation deck or duck inside for warmer views. An on-board naturalist will also be helping you to understand exactly what you’re seeing.

No matter which Alaska cruise itinerary you choose, your senses will be rewarded with delicious food, incredible wildlife and spectacular scenery. But there’s something special about finding yourself up close to years of fallen snow that has compacted into massive ice masses.