The Holland America Westerdam spent one day of our Alaskan cruise cruising around Glacier Bay. The daily schedule included what time the ship would pass each glacier. Up in the Crows Nest they had a ranger giving a talk about the things the ship cruised past. At one point they said there was a bear on shore. Without the spotting scope, or perhaps some good binoculars, it just looked like a little brown speck. Throughout the day they had a variety of programs presented by the rangers or local Huna Tlingit people.
The big bow area on deck 4, normally for crew only, opened to passengers along with a couple smaller bows on decks above. They had hot split pea soup available at about 10am, but not later when we went looking for it after it had started to rain and the crowds left.
I found an open door from the bow into a bar we never knew existed. When I tried to take a step inside to see if that was where the soup was they said it was a crew bar, we weren’t allowed to go inside, and they were done serving soup.
Most of the glaciers on our itinerary the ship just cruised past. One had a small ship near it, probably on a shore excursion from Juneau. Wandering about the ship, we found my parents at the ranger talk in the Crow’s Nest. We started to join them, but then the ship arrived at Margerie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier. The ship stopped. We went outside to try and get photos, but could not find any open space that was not behind glass.
It parked with one half the ship facing the glacier for half an hour then did a 180 so the other side got a view. Since it initially parked with our room’s side facing the glacier we quickly left the crowded public area to get photos from our room where we knew balcony space awaited.
Margerie glacier glistened in all her icy glory, mostly white with some layers of sediment making patterns in the ice. Every now and then we heard loud cracking sounds, sometimes followed shortly after by a bergy bit calving off.
Uncooperativly, it never calved when I had the video camera on and mine just has a very short battery life so I couldn’t just leave it on the whole time to cut out the boring parts later.
We largely ignored Grand Pacific Glacier, which looked more like a dirty little black corner of Margerie Glacier than it did like a whole separate glacier. It wasn’t until later we found out that dirty little bit of glacier dug the entire bay. For a time in the 1990’s Grand Pacific joined with Margerie Glacier, but has since retreated to the point they no longer connect. Early explorers to the area missed Glacier Bay entirely as Grand Pacific Glacier at that time blocked the mouth of the bay. Within about a 100 year span Pacific Glacier rapidly advanced through a valley where natives once lived, carving the bay behind it, then retreated rapidly and still continues to retreat as well as the ice thinning. At one point this was the fastest retreating glacier ever recorded, and as it continues to retreat and thin it will cease to be a tidewater glacier and eventually disappear altogether.
When early explorers went by they just saw the one glacier as it had advanced to the point of blocking the mouth of what would become Glacier Bay upon its just as rapid retreat. Before long Grand Pacific Glacier will disappear entirely.
Sometimes people see seals and other wildlife while cruising Glacier Bay, but other than the brown speck of a bear we just saw birds, including kittiwakes. You can tell them from other similar looking seagulls because of the black markings on the underside of their wings. I had not heard of them before snorkeling over the USS Kittiwake off the shore of Grand Cayman, but since that trip kittiwakes are special to me.
Not all ships that cruise through Alaska get as close to glaciers as the Westerdam did. We quite enjoyed our chance to stop and take all the close-up photos we wanted. It definitely paid off having the balcony room where we could have the space we needed and no crowds.