Grand Pacific Glacier

There was a time, many years ago, when Glacier Bay wasn’t a bay. It was an ice field. The bay was completely covered by miles of ice. As the ice receded the bay was formed and at the head of the bay we now have the spectacular Margerie Glacier.

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But right next to Margerie Glacier, barely noticed because of its spectacular cousin, is a remnant of that Ice field. The Grand Pacific Glacier lies at the very head of the bay to the right of Margerie as you approach. It looks like land. It looks like dirt. It’s a black line as it reaches the shoreline.

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No pretty blue ice for this granddaddy of glaciers but if it weren’t for this dark and unassuming glacier, we wouldn’t have  the Glacier Bay of today.  Back in the 1600’s  the Grand Pacific Glacier made a final surge, tightening its grip on the area. Before its last push was done the valley was filled with up to 4000 ft. of ice. Then it began its retreat leaving the characteristic U-shaped trench which gradually filled with water giving us the spectacular beauty we see today.

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At this time the Grand Pacific Glacier continues to retreat . As it does it grows Glacier Bay a little each day. Prediction are that by 2025 the Bay may extend another 12 miles.

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As we left Glacier Bay we headed into the open waters of Prince Williams Sound. Our Princess Patter said to keep our eyes open for porpoise and other small dolphins but the more open waters of  Prince William Sound also brought more wave action and the good ship Island Princess began to rock a bit. Not too bad but for someone prone to motion sickness enough to send me to my bunk. Sandy was fine but chose to stick close. I think she used the ship laundry while I rested. My case of sea sickness wasn’t severe, just enough to be uncomfortable.

By dinner time most of the discomfort had passed even though we could still feel the ship’s motion more than I expected from a ship her size. Looking out the windows we could see why. The waves were running  4-6 ft.  They were beautiful and mesmerizing but I didn’t trust myself to watch them for too long. I didn’t want to get queasy again as tonight was lobster night. That’s my favorite  dinner on these cruises.

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I haven’t said too much about the food on board but most of the time  it was quite good and there was always food someplace from the Horizon Grill to the Pizza stand to popcorn by the pool. You certainly don’t go hungry.

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The dinners were excellent, for the most part. We had a wonderful scallop dinner one night and of course the lobster and prawns were out of this world. My Beef Medallions one night were very tough and almost inedible which I found surprising and on our last night I chose the “thanksgiving” dinner of roast turkey. The theme was American but it was obvious that the meal could not have been prepared by an American because it was the worst turkey dinner I have ever had. But that was an exception not the rule.

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By tomorrow we would be in College Fjord so the ship should stabilize as the waters there would once more be protected. I am looking forward to that.

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Welcome to Glacier Bay National Park

And so as we arrive in Glacier Bay, a land reborn, a world returning to life, a living lesson in resilience. If ever we needed a place to intrigue and inspire us, to help us see all that’s possible  in nature and ourselves, this is it. (from the Glacier Bay Brochure issued by the National Park Service)

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Did you know that 250 years ago there was no Glacier Bay? 250 years ago the bay was completely covered by the Grand Pacific Glacier.

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Naturalist John Muir was enamored of Glacier Bay. ” The very thought of this, my first Alaskan Glacier garden, is an exhilaration.”

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As we stood shivering on the deck watching the ship make it’s way through the loose ice, it was easy to share that sentiment. Each berg, no matter the size, was unique and beautiful in its own, cold way.

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The floating ice was getting larger now, an indication that we were nearing the end of the bay where the prize of the Margerie Glacier waited.

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Glacier Bay is not only known for it’s ice, it’s also known for it’s wildlife but so far we hadn’t seen too much, possibly because of the late start to spring this year. But the bay was about to offer a consolation prize. As a particularly large ice floe floated by we spotted a strange looking spot on the ice. Binoculars came out to confirm and sure enough, it wasn’t dirt, it was a bald eagle.

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It stayed right there floating along like Huck Finn on his Mississippi raft until it was out of sight.

About 9:30 we reached our destination, Margerie Glacier and with our arrival  the jockeying for a view with the other 2000 passengers began in earnest.

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Excited calls of  “It’s Calving” mingled with the rangers comments over the PA system. Camera shutters clicked and no one wanted to miss a moment. People were crawling under the railings to get a tiny sliver of unobstructed view for their cameras to peek through.

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I confess my frustration level was growing as I am sure was the case for many others. Those big blue screens may cut the wind but they are really in the way for pictures. Cold and (I confess) a little irritated we decided to go back down to our stateroom and see if we could see anything from our balcony.

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Hit me upside the head for my stupidity! Here was the real view and we didn’t have to share with anyone else. Plus we were protected from the wind so it wasn’t as cold. Thank you Island Princess for the balcony upgrade.

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We sat in comfort and snapped pictures to our hearts content. I did see the glacier calve once. I didn’t even try to catch a picture as I was just too much in awe. Although we wasted 45 minutes or so topside we still had a good 30 minutes before the captain swung the ship around so the starboard side balconies could have their turn.

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Lesson learned…check the view from your balcony and avoid the crowds!

Glacier Bay

This is the post I’m sure you’ve all been waiting for and I have so much for show and tell. Glacier Bay Cruising is a highlight of many, many cruise lines for their Alaska trips. I admit we were really looking forward to seeing it. Mendenhall Glacier had only served to whet our appetites for more.

Skagway to Glacier Bay            113 nautical miles           11.5 knots

The Island Princess entered Glacier Bay from Icy Strait named for the multitude of ice bergs the first explorers found floating here. The Island Princess was selling tickets to “The Sanctuary” an adult only area of the ship. The Sanctuary has padded lounge chairs, “Serenity Stewards” to wait on you, blankets and Mimosas all for only $60.00 per person. The Sanctuary is located across the aft end of the ship.

Alaska2013 464 copyThe misty, cold, gray weather that had followed us so far continued to be with us as we entered Glacier Bay. We decided not to spend the money for the Sanctuary because of the weather. Even with blankets it seemed like we’d be warmer if we could keep moving around the deck. We learned later that we missed out on seeing a close up view of a pod of Orcas that frolicked in the wake. Maybe next time I’ll make a different decision. It’s also important to mention here that although Alaska in the spring is known for its rainy weather, we were experiencing much colder, wetter weather than is the norm. Everyone says spring is running about 2 weeks late. Just our luck! 🙁 But that means that you shouldn’t be discouraged about a late May cruise…next year could be glorious sunshine.

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The Island Princess arrived off Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay around 6 am where they picked up National Park Rangers. They set up a table neat the Horizon Court on Deck 14 plus they made announcements on the PA describing what we were seeing as we slowly cruised the bay.

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I say slowly cruised the bay because Island Princess was moving through an ice field of bergs and small ice floes.

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These bergs are a good indication that the glaciers are actively calving. Most of the bergs were pretty small or at least looked that way from 150 ft. up. I wonder if the people on the Titanic said the same thing…Oh they’re just little ice bergs. 🙂

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The ice didn’t just drift out of the way. We could hear the bergs hitting the hull before they drifted off or slid down the sides.

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Once again I can say it was cold especially when we leaning on the railing to see around other passengers or to avoid the annoying blue windows.

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The closer we got to the Margerie Glacier the more the anticipation grew. People didn’t pay any attention to the many smaller glaciers that we passed as we traveled further into the bay.

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Day 4 ~ Juneau

Up early for our shore excursion, we headed to the Horizon Court for breakfast. As we sat by the windows looking out at the side of Mount Roberts we spotted 2 bald eagles soaring almost at eye level! They would fly around a bit and then land in the trees and sit for a little while then take off and do the whole thing again. I wondered if we could see any of the eagles from our balcony.

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Breakfast over we hurried back to get ready for the shore excursion and check out the balcony view of the mountain. Sure enough there was a bald eagle perched on a tree top right across from our balcony.

Alaska2013 220 copyEven so it was way too far for my normal lens. I first tried to hand hold the telephoto but I wasn’t quite steady enough. Then I tried using the tripod. What I forgot was that there was a vibration from the ship so I still got motion blur.

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Frustrated I put the telephoto away because it was time to meet our guide for our shore excursion.


Today we are going whale watching and visiting the Mendenhall Glacier. If the weather clears after our morning we might take the tram up Mount Roberts.

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The announcement that we had permission to go ashore finally came and we headed out to meet our guide. To our surprise Phil, our guide, said we were going on the whale watch first.

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That was ok just a surprise based on the tour description. Still it probably all has to do with what the weather is like. When we left the ship there were some clouds but it looked like we might finally see some sun as the day progressed.

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We piled onto the bus and were soon on our way to the marina at Auke Bay where we spotted another bald eagle perched on a pole. As we waited for directions from Phil another bald eagle swooped down toward the water then right back up and over our heads. Breath-taking!

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I kept one eye on the eagle on the pole as we approached the whale boat. I was fascinated that It hadn’t flown away.

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The Whale boat was enclosed so the passengers would be protected from the cold wind but it made pictures impossible through the scratchy, cloudy glass. The captain was in touch with other boats to make it easier to find the whales. Once we spotted a spout Phil promised to open the windows and hatches to the bow and stern.

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As we cruised out into the open water Phil gave us a lesson on whales using little plastic models.

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We saw a pair of eagles perched on some rocks.

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Other eagles soared over the boat the way sea gulls fly over them here at home. Off in the distance we could see 2 glaciers.

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One was identified as Herbert Glacier, the other one as Eagle Glacier.

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All eyes were on the waves looking for that first blow but so far nothing. Then we spotted a buoy. Something was definitely on it.

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Obviously it couldn’t be a whale. As the captain maneuvered the boat closer to the buoy Phil opened the windows and we looked at some big guys…Stellar Sea Lions, no little harbor seals here.

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There were some in the water too but no room for anymore on that buoy. We took our time watching the sea lions until the captain got a call that some whales had been spotted  out by the lighthouse.

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Phil closed the windows and those of us standing outside came in to take our seats and we were off to try to catch up with the elusive humpbacks.

Planning for Port of call~ Juneau

Progress …that’s what we’re making. Sandy agreed to the combo tour of the Saxman Village and the Totem Park and we made that reservation. Now we have to tackle what to do when we reach Juneau our 2nd port of call.

Juneau is the Capital city of Alaska and the 2nd largest city by area in the US. It is also home to the famous Mendenhall Glacier. Juneau also has WHALES!  We’ll be in port from 8:00 am to 9pm so we have a full day to explore.


Usually my sister and I are pretty in tune as far as tours go but here we almost had a rift. I didn’t want to force a “photo” tour on my sister but I really wanted to take the opportunity to get some coaching because the glaciers can be a challenge. I want my pictures to move to the “next level” beyond the post card , snapshot stage. But Sandy is not “into” photography the way I am so I wasn’t sure if she would want to go on a Photography Tour.

In the end both tours were going to the same place at the same time so I decided to go with the tour Sandy liked and do my best with my pictures on my own. The tour description for her Whales and Mendenhall Glacier Trail sounded more interesting than the Photo Tour which talked about photographing the moraines.


Also located in Juneau is Mount Roberts which has a tram ride to the summit. The “Whale Mendenhall Tour” is about 5 hours so we can take the tram in the afternoon.


I can’t wait to compare the actual experiences with what I’m telling you here because so far this is just guidebook information.