Cruising and the Alaska Glaciers

Cruising Alaska has been gaining in popularity for a number of years and it doesn’t seem like interest will taper off any time soon. All the major cruise lines offer itineraries as do a number of the smaller cruise lines.

A cruise ship approaches Hubbard Glacier
Cruising up The Misty Fjord towards Dawes Glacier

If you’re looking for a cruise recommendation Alaska’s glaciers is high on most lists. Alaska has a lot to see and almost any cruise will be a memorable experience but there are differences to understand.

First, some information on the general environment. Coastal Alaska has a limited number of ports and locations so there is a lot of cruise similarities. The major cruise ports are Skagway, Juno, and Ketchikan and each has a lot to offer and all are very popular with passengers. There are also a couple of less visited stops with the most common being Hanes. Another common stop on Alaska itineraries is Icy Straight Point. Both of these are more opportunities to take tours than an actual  destination port. There are also a couple of “cruise only” destinations. The first is the Misty Fiord which is usually a half day of cruising up thru the narrow fiords. The other is Hubbard Glacier where the ships cruise up near the face of the glacier. There is also the port of Seward and it is the farthest north of the itineraries with most one-way cruises going it up to Seward with it being a jumping off point for trips to Denali with it being a start of the Alaska Rail Tours.

Hubbard Glacier calving
Mendenhall Glacier

Cruising Alaska has a lot to offer from coastal mountains, to whales and wildlife but the most spectacular sights are the glaciers. You should make that a prime consideration when selecting a cruise line and its itinerary. Because the number of ships allowed to go up near Hubbard Glacier are limited, it’s recommend that your first priority is to select a cruise that includes either Hubbard or Dawes glaciers. Hubbard is a huge glacier that terminates into a bay and is famous for “calving” huge chunks into the water constantly. In addition the bay is filled with icebergs and flowing chunks of ice with seals being a common sight.

Mendenhall Glacier

Mendenhall Glacier is another popular destination and usually all you need is a bus ticket from Juneau. The glacier is a National Park with a good visitor center and great hiking trails and it really is only a half hour bus ride from town. Almost all Alaska cruise passengers have an opportunity to visit Juneau and this glacier.

Dawes Glacier
 Up on the Juneau Ice Field

A third glacier of particular note is Dawes Glacier located at the end of Tracy Arm Fjord. It also terminates into water with calving being a frequent event. Unfortunately it is not on many ship itineraries because there is also a limit on ships allowed all the way up this fjord. Tracy Arm Fjord is a branch off the Misty Fjord and while cruises often include Misty Fjord, few make it up to Dawes Glacier.

A fourth frequent glacier opportunity is a helicopter tour up on the Juneau Ice Field. These tours are available from Juneau as well as Skagway. One tip that can save you some money is to book the tour on your own rather than thru the ship. You can call using U.S. cell service at most points near the popular towns and often book at the last minute. The tours only take a couple of hours so it is easy to fit into a port day as well.

Landing on a glacier

Again regardless of which cruise line you prefer you need to pay attention to the available itineraries and try to get a cruise that includes either Dawes or Hubbard. Most cruise offers will list Hubbard on the cruise itinerary but you will probably have to make some inquiries regarding if Dawes glacier is on an itinerary.

Helicopter tours up to a glacier in the Juneau ice field are usually available in Juneau or Skagway.

Helicopter glacier tours in Skagway

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