Previously, I wrote a rather biased view of Hubbard. Many people have questions about the differences between the three options available, so thought I would give a quick list of the pros and cons of each
Hubbard Glacier Pro:
Hubbard, as noted in my prior post, is a large, advancing glacier. The trip to the glacier is through Disenchantment Bay. Hubbard is the largest tidewater glacier in North America at a whopping 76 miles long and 1,200 feet deep. The quickly moving advancement of this glacier results in major calving….the dramatic breaking off of chunks of ice at the edge of a glacier. There is also an abundance of wildlife in the area, both on land and in the sea. It is very common to see seals lounging on the ice floes. A naturalist will be onboard to provide information on the area.
Hubbard Glacier Con:
There is only one active glacier in this location. There is another glacier off to the side, but it is not advancing and does not calve. Hubbard can be difficult to sail to at certain times of the cruise season. At the beginning or end of the season, ice can block ships from passing too near. Sailings may have a hard time either entering or cruising close to the face of the glacier.
Glacier Bay Pro:
Glacier Bay National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with several glaciers to see. You will stop at three of them, Margerie Glacier, Grand Pacific Glacier and Lamplugh Glacier…with the majority of your time spent at Margerie and Grand Pacific, which are next to each other. Margerie is larger and more active than the other two. Grand Pacific is covered by rock debris from landslides and medial moraines cover much of this side of the glacier and extends across almost two-thirds of the ice face. If you are lucky and the ice is open, the captain may venture into John Hopkins Inlet, where you will get a view of John Hopkins Glacier. I have only been able to experience this one time, and the glacier was quite a distance away. Since Glacier Bay in a national park, cruise lines are required to have a park ranger onboard while in the confines of the park. The local park rangers narrate the sights and ecology of Glacier Bay over the loudspeaker as you sail.
We have watched bears as they walk along the beach and even a moose swimming across the bay while at Margerie Glacier. The park ranger onboard told us that this bear is a coastal brown bear when on the coastline and a grizzly bear when in the mountains….same bear, different name depending on the location.
Glacier Bay Con:
Many of the glaciers in this location are retreating, but not all of them. Two examples are Johns Hopkins Glacier which has been advancing at the rate of 10 to 15 ft per day. Since it is difficult to sail to the face of this glacier, you will not witness calving. Margerie Glacier is stable, neither advancing nor retreating. Since Margerie is stable, it is not very active and the calving is not very dramatic….more like ice “waterfalls”. Glacier Bay can be very cold and wet during the cruise season. The bay has a cool wet, coastal temperate rainforest climate, with summer temperatures varying between 50 °F and 60 °F.
Tracy Arm Pro:
The most common access to Tracy Arm is by boat using Stephens Passage and entering Holkham Bay and Tracy and Endicott Arms. The fjord walls are narrow and craggy, with steep rock faces that contain multiple waterfalls. The closer you get to the end of Tracy Arm, the more you will see more icebergs in shades of blue so deep they look like glass.
Tracy Arm Con:
The twin Sawyer Glaciers, North Sawyer and South Sawyer, are located at the end of Tracy Arm, which large cruise ships can not access due to ice floes. In order to view these up close, you must take an excursion, either from the ship or from Juneau.
The first pictures show the cliffs of the fjord.
Below are photos of glacial ice floating in the water. You will notice the water is a grayish-green….that is glacial silt. You can tell when you are getting close to an active glacier by the change of the water color.
These photos were taken with a telephoto lens of Sawyer Glacier.
The following photos show you how far we actually were from the glacier.
Endicott Arm Pro:
When Tracy Arm is not accessible by cruise ships, many choose to visit Endicott Arm and Dawes Glacier. The shorter length of Endicott allows for a faster journey. The ship is also able to get much closer to the glacier. Dawes is an active, tidewater glacier with a prominent medial moraine that betrays the fact that two large glaciers combine to form Dawes. A smaller glacier can be seen adding to the flow from high on the north side, above the face. Another glacier with an impressive icefall can be seen in the hanging valley just before Dawes on the north side of the fjord.
Endicott Arm Con:
Entry to Endicott can be complicated by tidal currents. An old terminal moraine forms a bar at the entrance through which an astonishing amount of water must flow with each tide and the pilot must use extreme caution. The fjord is not quite as narrow as Tracy Arm but the granite walls still soar thousands of feet into the air. Since the arm is shorter, the transition time is shorter.
No matter which itinerary you choose, Alaska is amazing. Enjoy your time there!