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Viewing Alaska’s Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve via a large cruise ship is like window-shopping from a high-speed train. Clients might see a blur of souvenirs, but the best memories and experiences belong to those who disembark, sample the goods, traverse the area and engage with locals.
Glacier Bay has no rail tracks, so small-ship cruising is the best way for adventure seekers to explore the wilderness backwater bays and terrain of the 3.2-million-acre national park, which is home to 1,045 glaciers.
This UNESCO World Heritage Site also offers exploration options that range from rainforest hiking, beachcombing and glacier trekking to birding, wildlife viewing, swimming and snorkeling.
UnCruise Adventures is one of several companies offering specialized small-ship sailings into Glacier Bay. Each of its six Alaska vessels can handle 22 to 90 passengers (for a 2:1 or 3:1 guest-to-crew ratio.) Five of UnCruise’s seven Alaska itineraries visit Glacier Bay.
“We provide a sense of connection, place and adventure for passengers who want more from Glacier Bay than visual eye candy from an observation deck,” said Sarah Scoltock, director of public relations and spokesperson for UnCruise.
Each ship offers the support elements needed to best enjoy the region. These include narrative and educational seminars taught by an expedition team or field experts; a huge library of field guides; an open bridge; kayaks, snorkeling gear and Zodiac-type expedition inflatables; and an underwater bow camera.
“Our six-month-long Alaska season is the longest of any cruise line,” Scoltock said. “It begins in April and ends in September, which allows us to visit Alaska’s awakening landscapes of spring and autumn.”
This enables clients to view the spring herring spawning run and to photograph huge concentrations of birds and sea mammals that gorge on the fish. During one sailing, I counted 237 humpbacks and other whales engaging in bubble feeding, with a few rolling within a dozen yards of the ship.
Cruisers can also head beneath the surface in dry or wet suits to view creatures such as anemones, sea urchins, sponges, jellyfish, kelp beds, eels and starfish. Often, the best viewing is in water 5 feet deep or less.
Some other off-boat experiences I’ve enjoyed include brown and black bear viewing; hiking along moraines and exploring glacial caves and crevasses; kayaking in iceberg-filled bays; and intentionally enjoying a “thrill chill” from standing under an ice-melt waterfall cascading off a mountainside.
The DetailsUnCruise Adventureswww.uncruise.com