Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

Glacier Bay Cruise Visitor Tips

© 2018 Scott S. Bateman
© 2018 Scott S. Bateman

Glacier Bay is both an Alaska cruise tour and destination. It’s not a shore excursion. It’s an excursion aboard ship that allows passengers to view up close one of Alaska’s great national parks. It’s also an “excursion” that doesn’t require an extra fee.

Glacier Bay National Park is 3.3 million acres of mountains, dynamic glaciers, rainforest, jagged coastlines and deep fjords.

The park is a world-famous area of Alaska’s Inside Passage and part of a 25-million acre World Heritage Site as recognized by the United Nations. It is one of the world’s largest international protected areas, according to the U.S. National Park Service.

The major attraction for cruise ships of course is Glacier Bay. Ships enter the bay and cruise down fjords at a crawling pace.

Ships come to a stop at vantage points in front of some of the seven tidewater glaciers that reach the water. They produce “calves”, which are massive chunks of ice that break off into the bay. Large calves produce booming sounds and towering splashes that are quite memorable.

Passengers cram the decks at every spot to take photos and absorb views of the surrounding mountains, hills and glaciers. A few brown bears may lumber over distance shorelines.

Rangers from the U.S. National Park Service may board the ship and offer commentary, answer questions and offer additional information.

Best Ways to View Glacier Bay

Cruise ships give early warnings to passengers about when they will arrive at Glacier Bay.

Passengers who want to get the best views and take good photos should heed these warnings and arrive early on the viewing decks.

It pays to find a spot and stay there because some of the best vantage points end up with passengers standing two and three rows deep. When we visited, late arrivals had to hoist their cameras overhead to take photos.

Shooting overhead isn’t as hard as it sounds. It does require taking extra photos and some editing in case of odd angles. Experienced photographers use photo editing software to crop and fix uneven shots.

The best vantage point on our trip was the bow on Deck 8. It had room at the railing for about 30 to 40 people on a ship with more than 2,000 passengers. This spot was by far the most packed on the ship because it was a small area and because it had the best views.

The second best viewing area was at the highest two open decks. Photographers had either to shoot through six-foot safety windows, through the space between them or again over the heads of other passengers.

The third most popular viewing areas were the side decks, but they had the worst vantage points. Again, photographers had to shoot through or around the safety glass. Fortunately, the glass was mostly clean.

Lucky viewers may get to see and hear the remarkable calving of a glacier when part of it breaks off and plunges into the ocean.

After the initial interest wore off, many people in the crowds went to the main deck and grabbed every available lounge chair. They faced the chairs toward the mountains and simply watched them as we passed. The chairs were booked solid for the next few hours even as the ship left the bay.

On days of good weather, Glacier Bay is a beautiful experience on an Alaska cruise.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas.
February 10, 2022