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  • Crystal-Symphony-Glacier-Bay-Alaska-1 - Covering 3.3 million acres of rugged mountains, dynamic glaciers, temperate rainforest, wild coastlines and deep sheltered fjords, Glacier Bay National Park is a highlight of Alaska's Inside Passage.
  • Glacier-Bay-black-bear-cubs - Black bear cubs in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • reflect-Glacier-Bay - A glacier reflects in the waters of Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
  • whale-leap-Glacier-Bay - A whale emerges from the water at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • mist-Glacier-Bay - Mist covers part of the glaciers on a cool morning at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-junco - A dark-eyed junco in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Glacier-Bay-harbor-seal - A harbor seal in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • sea-lions-Glacier-Bay - Sea lions catch some rays on the boulders by the water in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • glaciers-Glacier-Bay-Alaska - Glaciers flank the bays of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
  • sea-lions-Glacier-Bay-Alaska - Sea lions stake a claim in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-Johns-Hopkins-Inlet - Johns Hopkins Inlet in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Glacier-Bay-Orca - Orcas in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-black-bear-dandelions - A black bear feasting on dandelions in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Glacier-Bay-brown-bears - Brown bears in Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-cruise-view - Passengers on a cruise ship in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-stellar-sea-lions - Stellar sea lions of the rocks of Marble Islands in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • Glacier-Bay-puffin-swim - Swimming puffins in the waters of Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • clouds-Glacier-Bay-Alaska - Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-crab - A crab in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • Island-Princess-Glacier-Bay - Island Princess offers a spacious deck for passengers to lounge while taking in the sweeping views of Glacier Bay.
  • ATV-tour-Glacier-Bay-Alaska - Taking part in an all-terrain vehicle tour in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
  • mask-Glacier-Bay - A native mask in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • strat-Glacier-Bay - The stratification of the glacier is clearly visible to visitors to Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • double-kayak-Glacier-Bay - Glide through peaceful waters in a double kayak in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-moose - A moose in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-brown-bear - A brown bear in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-sea-anemone - Sea anemone in Glacier Bay National Park.
  • park-ranger-Glacier-Bay-National-Park - A park ranger gives visitors a briefing about a portion of Glacier Bay National Park in Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-lodge - Glacier Bay Lodge, nestled under the spruce trees that line Bartlett Cove, offers the only hotel accommodations within the park.
  • Glacier-Bay-brittle-star - A brittle star in the waters of Glacier Bay National Park.
  • glacier-cave-Glacier-Bay - Close to shore in Glacier Bay, you can see caves formed as the glacier melts.
  • crown-princess-in-glacier-bay2.jpg - Crown Princess in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-Marble-Islands - Marble Islands, Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-Majorie-calving.jpg - A tidewater glacier breaks off, or calves, on Margerie glacier in Glacier Bay, giving birth to several icebergs.
  • glacier-bay-ice-cave.jpg - An “ice cave” at Glacier Bay National Park.
  • crown-princess-in-glacier-bay.jpg - Crown Princess in Glacier Bay, Alaska.
  • Glacier-Bay-whale jump - A whale breeching in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Seeing Glacier Bay National Park by cruise ship

our guide

The vibe

This awe-inspiring landscape of 15,000-foot peaks, fjords, coves, coastal beaches and forests and massive glaciers is not just part of the national park system, it's also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

We can thank the perseverance of 19th-century conservationist John Muir for recognizing Glacier Bay's importance and unique attributes and for pushing President Calvin Coolidge to protect it, which he did in 1925 by creating then Glacier Bay National Monument.

Thanks to Muir and other early environmentalists, the landscape that cruise ship passengers see today is remarkably similar to that first seen by sailor-explorers more than 200 years ago. Of course, just as it has for centuries, the ice continues to retreat, eternally changing details of Glacier Bay's topography. The park covers 3.3 million square miles.

Also setting Glacier Bay apart is the fact that it's not a port in the traditional sense. Cruise ships don't dock in Glacier Bay and passengers don't go ashore. Although the park is vast, onshore infrastructure is extremely limited and even the smallest cruise ships would overwhelm the facilities. Instead, the park and cruise lines have worked out a brilliant alternative: park rangers and/or Native interpreters board each cruise ship and spend hours face-to-face with passengers, providing insight into the geology, wildlife, culture and history of the bay as the ship sails between its shores. 

Cruise ships that call on Glacier Bay 

Top reasons to go

  • Abundance of marine life, birds and shore animals.
  • Nature at its spectacular best, including calving glaciers.
  • Presence of National Park naturalists who provide insightful commentary and enrich cruise passengers' experience in the park.
Passengers on a cruise ship in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
National Park ServicePassengers on a cruise ship in Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

What you can do & see in Glacier Bay

Glacier Bay thrills those lucky enough to visit it with its abundance of animal life. Humpback whales, minke and killer whales, Dall's porpoises, Steller sea lions and thousands of harbor seals can be seen in these waters during the summer months. On land, bears, wolves and coyotes search for their next seafood meal along the beaches. There are dozens of other species hidden in the dense foliage such as minks, martens and weasels, and though they're rarely spotted, they are key to the area's ecological balance. 

A dark-eyed junco in Glacier Bay National Park.
National Park ServiceA dark-eyed junco in Glacier Bay National Park.

This is a birder's paradise. Thousands of seabirds nest on cliffs and rocky shores within the bay or on the park's outer coast. Molting and migrating geese and sea ducks find refuge in quiet arms of the bay. Bald eagles nest in tall cottonwood trees or on cliffs along much of the park's shoreline. Newly vegetated hillsides support great numbers of nesting songbirds, including many neotropical migrants. The shallow waters and sloping beaches of the Beardslee Islands are important foraging and breeding areas for shorebirds, seabirds and waterfowl. Arctic terns and jaegers prefer the barren glacial outwashes near the glaciers for nest sites.

The sheltered waters of Glacier Bay ebb and flow with the region’s huge tides, which can change as much as 25 feet during a six-hour period.

A whale emerges from the water at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.
Courtesty of Aramark LeisureA whale emerges from the water at Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska.

Coming ashore or not?

While cruise ships cannot dock in Glacier Bay, a day spent gliding around these waters is a highlight of many Alaska cruises, especially when enriched by the presence of National Park naturalists or Native interpreters who come on board to talk about the park, answer questions and point out the area's compelling features and residents.

Passengers should keep a sharp eye and a camera ready for that moment when a whale or otter suddenly appears, a bear lumbers into view on shore or a massive chunk of ice calves off a glacier into the bay. This is one place where a telephoto lens will likely yield impressive results for photographers of all abilities. 

Glacier Bay is one area where there is not a significant difference between cruising on a large ship or a small one. The overall experience is the same given that there's no docking or tendering involved and no shore excursions to choose among. That said, small ships may offer a slight advantage because they can get closer to shore, sometimes sailing into the narrow inlets large ships can't access. What that means for photographers is that bears and other land life may be just a bit closer.

Wikivoyage contributed to this article.

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