One of the most stunning landscapes in the world is in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska. We recently saw it for the first time as part of a 7-day voyage on Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Bliss. (Full disclosure – the author is a board member of the ship’s parent company). If you want to know how to have a luxury visit in Glacier Bay, Alaska, a cruise on a ship that size is definitely a great option. Especially for families with kids or “skip-gen” trips with grandparents and grand children. Here’s our photo journal on the stunning beauty you’ll find in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
how to have a luxury visit in Glacier Bay, Alaska
National Park visits are a unique and stirring vacation destination, whether for families with kids, couples, or even solo travelers. On a recent trip to Alaska on a luxury cruise ship, we got to experience the icy blue grandeur of Glacier Bay National Park and Reserve. We highly recommend it.
With ship-wide narration from an experienced Park Ranger, we learned about the history of the area beginning with the Tlingit people; how glaciers form; and how they are in mortal danger due to global climate change.
The luxury part? Well, in addition to the expert narration and the spectacular views, in the Haven section of Norwegian Cruise Lines’ Norwegian Bliss, we were treated to warm blankets, hot salmon chowder, ice cold craft beer and champagne. Not a bad way to travel, really.
Sunrise in Glacier Bay, Alaska
We were so excited at the prospect of seeing Glacier Bay that we were up well before sunrise (just like kids on Christmas morning, we just couldn’t sleep).
Our reward was seeing a lovely sunrise, with the Fairweather Mountains wreathed in low clouds.
We spent that first dawn hour in the company of a hardy few fellow passengers. One, who was particularly eagle-eyed, spotted a bear on the nearby shore.
We never saw another ship, so even as the sun came out and more fellow passengers joined us, we were still surrounded by for the most part by silence, serenity and beauty.
A Brief Overview of Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
how large is Glacier Bay?
Covering 3.3 million acres of mountains, glaciers, temperate rain forest and fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is an integral element of Alaska’s Inside Passage and part of a 25-million acre UNESCO World Heritage Site.
who inhabited and explored this region?
The ancestral home of the indigenous Tlingit people, Captain George Vancouver sailed into Glacier Bay in 1794. Eighty-five years later, naturalist and preservationist John Muir visited the Bay by canoe. It was Muir’s lyrical descriptions of what he saw that started a national movement to preserve the wildness and majestic beauty of Glacier Bay. William Cooper carried on that work, and in 1925 the Bay was designated a national monument. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the law creating Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
what’s the difference between an iceberg and a glacier?
As our National Park Ranger explained, a glacier is formed the same way a snowball is. Layers of snow are hard-packed until they bond and ultimately become ice. That icy mass is always slowly on the move, and the glaciers we can see from the water are the ones with at least part of their mass in the sea.
In this context, icebergs are the chunks of ice that fall off glaciers. Contrary to what we all think having seen “Titanic,” most icebergs are not large enough to sink a ship. As we approached Glacier Bay, we learned that Johns Hopkins Inlet is filled with icebergs that last only a week or more. They provide perches for bald eagles, cormorants, and gulls, as well as haul-outs for harbor seals. We spotted a seal happily afloat on one (at least, we think that’s what it was – note to self, next time bring a telephoto lens).
is it just us, or does it look a lot like the Caribbean?
Another happy surprise? The gorgeous azure hue of the water in Glacier Bay. If you didn’t know better – and if you couldn’t see the snow-capped mountains in the background – you’d think that you were in the pristine turquoise waters of the Caribbean.
Johns Hopkins Inlet and Johns Hopkins Glacier
We were really lucky that the day we visited Glacier Bay for the first time, the skies cleared and the sun came out just as we were arriving (we made the journey in June, and about half of the days are sunny at that time of year).
One of the first notable landmarks we spotted was Jaw Point in Johns Hopkins Inlet. It’s dramatic and stark in its own right.
But as our Park Ranger guide told us via the ship’s communication speakers, this rock formation may have earned the name “Jaw Point” because the view behind it is absolutely jaw-dropping.
The Johns Hopkins Glacier awaits, just around the bend. It’s 12 miles long, and has been confirmed to be one of few glaciers that is still advancing rather than shrinking.
The panoramic view from the top deck of our ship was awe-inspiring. And yes, the glacier shares a name with the famous research university in Baltimore, Maryland.
Next up? The Margerie Glacier, probably the closest to what we imagined a glacier looked like before we embarked on this trip. It’s a mile wide and 21 miles long, a jagged ice-blue shelf that you can see clearly from a great distance.
Prime viewing spots
One of the luxury elements of visiting Glacier Bay on a cruise ship is that you have numerous options for where you view (and photograph) the landscape.
For example, on Norwegian Bliss, Glacier Bay Day is the only time that passengers are allowed out on the bow of the ship. It’s a popular viewing spot, as it’s a perfect height from which to view the landscape and the glaciers.
Of course, it all happens under the watchful eye of an officer up on the bridge.
Alternatively, you can view the happenings from your own private balcony.
Or in the case of the Haven area on Norwegian Bliss, you can opt to either jump in the hot tub and watch from there. Or just perch above it, for the highest possible vantage point. And possibly also the most dramatic social media photos.
You can also, of course, do as we did, and buzz around all of the possible vantage points. Which is probably the most fun of all.
Wherever you decide to settle in, be sure to try hear the calving of the glaciers. We learned for the first time that frequently, blocks of ice up to 200 feet high “calve” – meaning that they break loose and crash into the sea. The explosive sound and towering splash is called “white thunder.” Margerie Glacier “calves” regularly, producing abundant icebergs.
On our first photo journey to Glacier Bay, Alaska, we were lucky enough to see and hear three separate calving episodes during our visit. The sound is distinctive – as wild and icy as the landscape itself.
Who knew that a glacier doesn’t always touch the water? Another fun fact that we learned on our photo journey through Glacier Bay, Alaska is that sometimes they’re completely terrestrial. The National Park Service notes that the Topeka Glacier was once a major tributary. But now, this glacier is entirely on land.
A stand-out in our photo journey through Glacier Bay, Alaska is the Lamplugh Glacier. Known for its deep blue ice, the color is sometimes referred to as “Lamplugh Blue.” It’s about 16 miles long, and it’s a remarkable experience to spot this glacier from a distance and then marvel and reflect as you draw nearer. The tableaux looks as if a knife has sliced into the mountain range and found its vibrant precious deep blue beating heart.
While the view is stunning from the deck of a large cruise ship, this is an area of Glacier Bay where you can get much closer if you choose by taking a kayaking excursion. We totally want to do that next time!
Even from a large vessel, though, it’s a pretty amazing view.
the luxury of glacier bay alaska
We still can’t decide if the most beautiful part of this photo journey to Glacier Bay, Alaska was the sky, the sea, the ice, or the snow. So many shades of deep, brilliant blue. What a privilege to be able to see them all.
That’s our take on how to have a luxury visit in Glacier Bay, Alaska. If you go, we hope you have a splendid time.
join our community
For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter here. And see luxury in a new light.
Join our community
For access to insider ideas and information on the world of luxury, sign up for our Dandelion Chandelier newsletter. And see luxury in a new light.