Glacier Bay National Park is a highlight of any cruise along the Inside Passage. One at a time ships ply their way into the spacious bay, giving their passengers a look at mountains that rise high from the ocean and glaciers that make an expansive sweep across the landscape.
Glacier Bay is one of many scenic niches tucked along the Inside Passage between Juneau and Skagway. The spot is so seductive that every cruise ship headed to Alaska inevitably comes calling.We are aboard Sitmar's (now Princess) FairSky. We have traded turns with another cruise ship. Instead of heading to Juneau today we are going to Glacier Bay.
Park rangers board our ship once we have reached the Bay. By way of the loudspeaker they explain the process of calving as we pull alongside a wall of ice that looks bright blue rather than white. Parts of the glacier are dirty enough that from a distance they look more like earth than ice.
Passengers have lined up along the ship's port side to watch the action. In the meantime four seamen have launched a dinghy with the intent purpose of retrieving a block of ice that will be used by the chefs to make a sculpture. They maneuver between miniature icebergs that dot the grey water in order to make their kill.
The action is slow in coming. We wait patiently, perhaps a half-hour, until a chunk of ice sloughs into the water with a rumble that echoes across the bay. One such incident inspires several others.
Glaciers, however, aren't all that are to be seen here. Several passengers spot a burly brown bear off-shore. He eventually retreats into the bushes. And as we head away from the Bay toward Skagway we come across a group of humpback whales frolicking in the water near shore.
Captain Potenzoni pulls our giant ship in for a closer look. We stop within a few hundred yards of the playing whales. Passengers scurry back and forth from port to starboard as the whales move from one side of the ship to the other.
The crew, meanwhile, has thrown out lines hoping to catch a few fish for dinner. Everyone but the captain, an amiable Italian with a charming sense of humor, gets a bite.
We pull up anchor and head toward Skagway. The trip takes us through rugged fjords and past tree-lined mountains.
The scenery along the Inside Passage is reputedly spectacular.
It is not overrated.