Magnificent Glacier Bay National Park
Saturday, July 1, 2017
The fog rolled in and out this morning, obscuring the shoreline and flattening the glare of the ocean. The water turned from grey to soft green as Seabourn’s Seabourn Sojourn felt her way up the Sitkaday Narrows, past the North and South Marble Islands, and into the misty embrace of Glacier Bay National Park.
Not every cruise to Alaska comes here. To me, a day of scenic cruising in Glacier Bay is the ultimate experience you can have in Alaska. I’ve taken cruises that don’t stop here, and I’ve always felt they were somehow incomplete. To sail into Glacier Bay, with its ever-changing weather conditions, is to discover Alaska at its most breathtaking.
Seabourn Sojourn entered the Park at 10:00am, slowing down to pick up our three Park Rangers from the National Park Service. Two of them set up shop in the Observation Bar on Deck 10, bringing with them a variety of books and souvenirs for purchase that sold out rapidly. The third stationed herself on the ship’s Navigation Bridge, where commentary was piped over the ship’s public areas, corridors and outer decks, or in staterooms on TV channel 16.
I first came here in July of 1998, on a foggy, misty, rainy day like this. In fact, this is the first time in eight visits to Glacier Bay that the weather conditions have reproduced almost exactly as they were 19 years ago. I’ve been here in the bright sunshine, where temperatures were so hot that you needed a drink to cool down. I’ve been here in spring, summer and fall. And I can tell you this: days like today, when the weather is drippy and the fog rolls in and out, is when Glacier Bay is at its most dramatic.
Over lunch (which I enjoyed once again in the peaceful surroundings of The Restaurant on Deck 4), Seabourn Sojourn made her way deeper into the park, passing Composite Island on our starboard side and hanging a right at Russel Island, to enter the mouth of the Tarr Inlet.
Tarr Inlet could be the most famous in all of Alaska. It is here that you’ll find Margerie Glacier and its dirtier sibling to the north, Grand Pacific Glacier. When Captain George Vancouver came here in 1794, Grand Pacific Glacier was back at the entrance of Glacier Bay. Today, it is another two hours’ sail inland.
Margerie Glacier has always been the most dramatic of the two. Ships have stopped at the end of Tarr Inlet for over a century, carrying passengers just like you and me to witness one of Mother Nature’s most awesome creations. But when I saw Margerie Glacier today, my heart stopped a little. Its retreat is now unmistakable. It’s smaller than it was on my last visit back in 2015, and for the first time I can remember, I can see patches of land poking through its lower reaches.
Now, there’s still plenty of Margerie Glacier left – and will be for some time – but the fact that the evaporation of this glacier was visible to me left me rattled. If you don’t think climate change is a real thing, come to Glacier Bay. Let the Park Rangers tell you all about the retreat of the Grand Pacific Glacier, or the glorious Johns Hopkins Glacier and Lamplugh Glacier that reside in Johns Hopkins Inlet.
Nevertheless, Seabourn Sojourn arrived off Margerie Glacier just before 2:00pm today, staying for a full hour. Captain Tim rotated the ship once, to let folks on the starboard side of the ship enjoy the view too. Though admittedly, finding a good spot for glacial viewing aboard Seabourn Sojourn isn’t hard. Ample deck space is available amidships on Deck 9 and 8, and along the half-promenades that run on the port and starboard sides of Deck 5; an area which most guests forget about.
Guests are also invited to watch up on Deck 10 in front of the Observation Bar, or on Deck 6, where guests can walk out to the very tip of the bow of the ship, perhaps to enjoy a dip in the hot tub that’s there for their use.
This is the part of my commentary where, on a larger cruise ship, I’d talk about the value of having a balcony stateroom in Alaska, particularly for Glacier Bay. I don’t need to do that with Seabourn, because every single suite (there are no staterooms as such) aboard Seabourn Sojourn has its own very spacious balcony. Deep and sheltered from the wind and the elements, I managed to enjoy our sail-in to Tarr Inlet from my own balcony, where I was protected from the heavy rain.
At a certain point, though, you just have to get out there and enjoy the glaciers. It’s tempting to sit in a lounge, but don’t. Outside, you can hear the stillness in the air, interrupted only by the thunderous crack of the ice shifting and falling with great fanfare into the deep blue sea below.