Wildlife and Glaciers in Glacier Bay, Alaska

IMG_3282_LUCiDOn day three of our Alaskan cruise, after our day at sea and day in Juneau, we had already made up our minds that we much preferred the days in port to the days cruising through the water.

Originally I thought seeing Alaska from the water would be an interesting perspective, but we weren’t close enough to shore to really see anything and I was second-guessing myself.

All of these thoughts went to the wind our day in Glacier Bay National Park— a day that ended up being one of our very favorites of the trip.

The only word I can use to describe the landscape that greeted us when we awoke is ethereal. The water was like glass and we seemed to be quietly floating through a dream world full of mountains draped in soft clouds and the pinks and oranges of sunrise.

It was the only day of the trip the captain was opening up the deck on the bow of the ship so we immediately headed there to take in the 3.3 million acres of national park surrounding our tiny ship.

We didn’t last long—it was cold and windy, and there were quite a few people already jockeying for a spot. We climbed up to the crow’s nest, which was the enclosed lounge on the top deck at the bow of the ship, where a few individuals from the park services had set up informational tables with brochures and flyers.

One of the rangers was preparing to talk us through some of the highlights of Glacier Bay over the ship’s PA system so everyone who wanted to hear the insights would be able to do so whether they were standing out on the decks or hanging out in their rooms.

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As the sun rose and the landscape brightened, our ship navigated closer to shore. We ended up moving to the starboard side of the stern with our cameras and Brian’s long lens, ready in case any wildlife appeared.

We coasted along and the park ranger pointed out aspects of the geography and history of the area, and then, as the ship maneuvered closer to shore, he began pointing out wildlife!

Even with Brian’s extremely long lens most of the animals were mere specks in the distance, but they were there and we could see them! See if you can spot them in our pictures below: white mountain goats in the rocky cliffs, a lone moose grabbing a bite to eat in the grassy area near the shore, and several brown bears running in and out of the woods, catching fish along the shore, or searching for a bite among the rocks.

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As our ship pulled away from shore and headed toward the first glacier on our itinerary, Brian and I decided to head back to our room to enjoy the scenery and informational updates from the comfort, warmth and privacy of our balcony. It was the whole reason we had purchased the room and this day made the added expense worth it.

Heading toward our first glacial destination, we passed through different bays, peering up into the mountains and pointing out all of the different glaciers along the way. Our destination was a tidewater glacier that was at the far end of the northernmost inlet we could access.

As we got closer, the water began to fill with bits of ice that had calved off the glacier and the temperature seemed to drop.

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We finally arrived at Margerie Glacier and it was incredible– 21 miles long and a mile wide, ending in a jagged wall of ice at the water. Our ship slowed to a halt and then slowly turning in place so no matter where you were on board, you would have an opportunity to see it from multiple angles.

There was one other cruise ship just ahead of us and about to leave–I took some pictures of it in front of the glacier to offer some idea of the scale!

We took hundreds of photos–it was beautiful and I couldn’t get over the incredible blues emanating from the ice.

At several points in time we heard a loud cracking and then a great splash as huge pieces of ice broke off and plummeted into the water in a process known as calving. It was amazing to watch! We cracked open the champagne in our room and simply sat and took it all in.

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After our ship had completed its spin we headed south out of the inlet and off to our second tidewater glacier stop.

The sun started to come out, the clouds began to lift, and we began to see blue skies and mountain tops. I loved the sleepy, foggy mountains in the morning but it was amazing to watch the landscape shift to beautiful brown and green as the sun lit up the craggy rock faces and the glaciers appeared to retreat up into the cold, snowy peaks.

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Our second stop was at Johns Hopkins Glacier, one of the world’s only advancing tidewater glaciers. Much as we had at the Margerie Glacier, our ship stopped and turned so we could see the entire landscape.

The dark and brooding clouds over the glacier appeared very dramatic compared to the sunny blue skies unfolding over the mountains to our backs. It did nothing to reduce the incredible blue of this glacier which appeared even taller and more impressive than the last.

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As we began to make our way back out of the inlet, the ranger narrating our visit pointed out the thousands of seals sunbathing on the chunks of ice that had calved off the Johns Hopkins Glacier. I had almost missed them on the way in, but if you look closely at the first pictures below, you’ll see that the brown spots throughout the ice are not rocks or other debris, but individual seals!

The ranger said it was an ideal location for seals to both rest as well as mate and raise their young because the whales that prey on them can’t navigate all of the ice to get to them—they are protected floating on the ice near the glaciers.

Our ship got fairly close to several of the floating ice platforms and we could clearly see all of the seals vying for a spot to relax in the sun. It was amazing to see all of their different shapes, sizes and colors, as well as how many could squeeze onto one piece of ice!

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It was late afternoon as we wound our way back out of the smaller inlets to the main waterway leading away from Glacier Bay. The sun had finally broken through and transformed our surroundings for our journey south. From glaciers to waterfalls to beautifully colored exposed rock faces, the scenery was just incredible and every new aspect we saw seemed more impressive than the last.

A few other cruise ships were behind us and Brian took several pictures to again demonstrate the scale of our surroundings. The gigantic ships look like small toys compared to the magnitude of the mountains.

We were blown away by Glacier Bay National Park and I stick to my original assessment that there are some things in Alaska that you simply must see via water to experience them in a way unlike you would from the air or by land. I highly recommend you make sure it is part of your Alaskan cruise itinerary.

Although I’ve tried, it’s hard to put the beauty into words and even our pictures don’t seem to do full justice to our experience. Nevertheless, here are a few final photos of our departure from the absolutely beautiful Glacier Bay National Park.

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