No we didn’t have a religious conversion in Southeast Alaska, but we did have a chance to redeem a prior trip to the area that didn’t go exactly as we’d wished.
The highlight of a Glacier Bay National Park cruise ship visit is settling in front of the Margerie Glacier for your assigned hour and waiting for the crack of sound that often indicates a chunk ice is about to flow into the sea. Only 2 large cruise ships, 2 small cruise ships, and 25 private vessels are permitted to enter the park on any given day, and those are all assigned just one hour in front of the tidewater Margerie Glacier. The pinnacle experience is seeing the enormous river of ice in front of you, which runs from mountain to bay, reliably calving huge truck sized chunks of ice into the sea. After you assigned hour is up, it’s time to move on to the other wonders of the GBNP (see our posts about the whales and bears of Glacier Bay National Park)
Unfortunately, during the last time we sailed into Glacier Bay National Park on a large cruise ship in 2005, our 8 year old daughters’s day ended with her in tears!
We had enrolled our daughters, then 8 and 10 in the children’s program on that ship. The staff had promised the children would get to watch the glaciers calving at the Margerie Glacier. They said that a Park Ranger would board and do Junior Ranger activities with the children.
Our children had earned other Junior Ranger badges during activities in Skagway and Denali, and the chance to do so in GBNP, was appealing to them. We dropped them off at the program, and an hour later returned to learn that the Park Ranger assigned to the children’s program never boarded.
Watching a glacier calving requires some patience, and some of the boys in the program got bored and started acting up. The staff of the children’s program had moved all the children to an interior room to play video games. Our children had completely missed the glacier calving hour! I could not recreate the experience for our 8 year old, and we weren’t likely to return to Alaska anytime soon, so all I could do was promise them we’d go back when they graduated from college. (see our posts here about the 2005 trip)
Fast forward 13 years, with one graduated and the other on track to do the same, the time had come for redemption! This time, no mass market cruise with thousands of passengers would do. I contacted Chris, at Expedition Trips, the travel agent who put together our Polar Bear Safari (see post here) and explained the whole situation. Chris, with his vast knowledge of polar cruising, knew just what we needed and here we were on an UnCruise in Southeast Alaska hoping to redeem that bad experience on a large cruise ship 13 years earlier.
The highlight of most Southeast Alaska cruises of any size, is a day in Glacier Bay National Park. In order to be permitted into the park, cruise lines must board a National Park Ranger, who provides commentary and runs special ranger programs on board. On a larger cruise this may be done via loudspeaker for thousands of passengers lining the decks and in their cabins. During our recent UnCruise to Glacier Bay National Park on Safari Endeavor, it meant we had a more personal experience, getting to not only meet the Park Ranger Kelly personally, but also getting to enjoy Glacier Bay with Ranger Kelly on deck answering our questions and pointing out wildlife and natural features of GBNP. And posing for selfies!!
After telling our story to Ranger Kelly, she explained that “kids” of any age can participate in Junior Ranger activities, filling out an educational activity book, completing at least two activities in the park (we had done nearly a dozen of the suggested activities!) and having an interview with Ranger Kelly to share what you’ve learned. Our daughters decided this was the time for redemption and they tackled that booklet like it was a college final! They weren’t the only ones; several of the young adults on board took the time to finish the activities and took the oath at the end of our day in Glacier Bay National Park!
So Would You Like to see the Glaciers!?
We had an amazing day and everyone on board was able to see the Margerie Glacier calving and marvel at the sheer size of these tidewater glaciers.
The glacier was fairly active with a few large chunks crashing to sea as we watched.
After our hour watching the Margerie Glacier, our ship ceded it’s turn to a small sailboat coming in. As we left, seeing the sailboat nearly disappear into the vastness of the glacier allowed me to imagine a time when glaciers covered the whole earth and carved out the largest mountains and deepest canyons and lakes!
Although our time wit the Margerie Glacier was over, our time in the 90 mile inlet that is the GBNP, had just begun. Next we sailed into the Johns Hopkins Inlet.
John Hopkins Inlet
We were rewarded for staying out on deck all morning with lot more sightings of wildlife.
One of our most exciting wildlife encounters was watching a family of bears moving along the coast of Russel Island. We have more about the bears in our post about Bears in Alaska coming soon, including video!
South Marble Island
One of the areas we slowed down and spent some time exploring was at South Marble Island. A huge sea lion colony hauls out into the island creating a lot of noise and not a little stink! It was interesting watching their behavior. We saw a small sea otter on a rock and two sea lions just swam up and body slammed it off the rock! They weren’t even interested in pulling out onto the rock, they just wanted the sea otter off of their rock!
South marble Island also serves as a rookery for thousands of sea birds.
As we wrapped up our day in GBNP, we had the opportunity to do another thing the large cruise ships do not, we docked at the Glacier Bay National Park visitor center.
We were briefed about exploring the visitors center on our own, including a mile long boardwalk loop through the forest and along the coast. The amazing wildlife sightings continued, when we were encouraged to watch a black bear swimming from one point to another near the visitor center. We were also discouraged from hiking in the area where it landed!
After exploring the visitors center and nearby trail, we sailed out of Glacier Bay and into the Lynn Canal, a parallel gorge where our next stop would be the small town of Haines, Alaska. But the whole family could agree, we had definitely redeemed the disappointing experiences from the last cruise, with some of the most amazing adventures on this one! It’s not often you get a do over, and we felt very lucky we had!