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Glacier Bay cruise: 16 ways to make the most of your day in the park


One of the major highlights of any Alaska cruise is visiting Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, the 6th biggest national park in the United States.

There are over 1,000 glaciers in the 3.3 million acre park, the longest of which is 40 miles long, and a whopping 27% of the park’s surface is covered in ice. Beyond glaciers, visitors can marvel at mountain peaks reaching 15,000 feet and spot over 600 species of wildlife, from brown bears to bald eagles and harbor seals.

As someone who cruises to Alaska every summer, I jumped at the opportunity to visit Glacier Bay on a recent cruise on Royal Princess. Visiting the park was a bucket list item I would finally be able to check off.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Related: Best Alaska cruise tips to help make an amazing visit

During my visit, I made sure to make the most of my day in the park, which included waking up early and finding the best place to watch scenery onboard. I didn’t want to waste any time while there, and I was determined to experience Glacier Bay as much as possible during my visit.

If you’re visiting Glacier Bay on an Alaska cruise, it’s helpful to know what to expect before your visit to the park. By doing so, you can make the most of your 8-10 hour visit, ensuring you leave with no regrets about your visit.

Here are 16 ways to make the most of your day at Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve while on a cruise.

The first—and most important—thing you should do is to wake up early.

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Waking up early on vacation might seem like the opposite of relaxing, but trust me: you want to wake up early during your visit to Glacier Bay.

Around 6 or 7 AM, your cruise ship will enter the national park, where it will begin sailing through narrow fjords to reach the park’s famous glaciers. This is some of the most scenic cruising you can encounter in all of Alaska, so I recommend being awake and ready by 7:30 AM at the latest.

During my visit to Glacier Bay, I woke up around 6:30 AM in order to quickly shower, get changed, and head to the outer decks to watch the scenery. We approached our first glacier around 8:30 AM, so sleeping in could cause you to miss the park’s stunning landscapes.

Order room service to eat as you’re getting ready to avoid wasting time


Don’t waste time eating breakfast at the buffet on your visit to Glacier Bay. Instead, order room service and dine as you’re getting ready in your cabin.

The buffet can be uncomfortably crowded on any morning of your cruise, but especially on the morning of your visit to Glacier Bay. Avoid unwanted crowds and order room service to your cabin instead.

Depending on your cruise line, breakfast room service may be included in the price of your cruise fare. Order items like bagels, pastries, pancakes, and bacon directly to your cabin, and eat breakfast as you prepare for your day at the park.

Related: Do Cruise Ships Have Room Service, and Is It Free?

Don’t limit yourself to your balcony—watch the views from a public space onboard

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Balconies are an extremely popular cabin choice for an Alaska cruise. Being able to watch Alaska’s scenery from the privacy of your own cabin is priceless for some cruisers.

On your ship’s visit to Glacier Bay, however, consider watching the scenery from somewhere else onboard instead. Although balconies offer fantastic views, there is one major downside: you can only see the scenery in one direction.

Related: 8 best balcony cabins on cruise ships

If your cruise ship is passing Margerie Glacier on the port side of the ship but your cabin is on the starboard side, you won’t see the approach to the glacier.

While your captain will turn the ship in a circle in order to provide views on all sides, you’re better off watching the scenery from the upper decks instead. Head to the pool deck or another panoramic deck to ensure you can view the glaciers at all times during your visit.

Because I booked an interior room for my Princess cruise, I watched the scenery from the upper pool deck on my ship. Doing so gave me views in all directions, and I didn’t miss even a second of the glacier viewings.

Visit the ranger station for helpful information about the park

Park ranger station sign

Shortly after park rangers board your ship at Glacier Bay, they will host a welcome event. During this event, park rangers welcome visitors to the park and provide a brief overview of what to expect during the day.

Expect this event to start early; during my cruise, the welcome event started at 7:30 AM. Spots may be limited in the welcome event venue, so it's best to get there early to snag a seat.

After the meeting, park rangers will set up tables with more information about the park. Here is where you can find brochures, gift shop items, and even a stamp you can use to stamp your national park passport book. The park rangers are available to answer any questions during this time as well.

Read about Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve before visiting

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve brochures

On my Princess cruise, we received brochures and information about Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve the night before our visit. During turndown service, our stateroom attendant placed info sheets on our bed so that we could read through them before our visit.

I took a few minutes to read through the information sheets in order to better acquaint myself with the national park. By reading through these guides, I was able to learn more about the park’s history, geography, and wildlife, along with gathering a general idea of what to expect during our visit to the park.

I was happy I read about the park before our visit. During our visit to Glacier Bay, I was far too distracted with watching the landscapes to even consider reading the brochures about the park.

When you’re visiting Glacier Bay, you want to be fully immersed in the experience, so be sure to read about the park ahead of time.

Bring binoculars to watch the scenery

girl looking through binoculars

I always recommend bringing binoculars on an Alaska cruise, but especially if your cruise includes a visit to Glacier Bay.

Using binoculars allows you to get closer to Alaska's scenery by viewing the landscapes and wildlife more up close.

Related: Ultimate Alaska cruise packing list

During my cruise to Alaska, I used my binoculars to spot bears on a distant beach, watch eagles in the trees, and observe sea lions swimming through a narrow channel.

When visiting Glacier Bay, make sure you bring your binoculars with you. Watching glaciers from the ship is extraordinary regardless of whether or not you use binoculars, but viewing the otherworldly landscapes up close is truly remarkable.

Dress in layers to prepare for Alaska’s unpredictable weather

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Packing layers is essential for an Alaska cruise, as the weather is notoriously known to change drastically from one moment to the next.

Therefore, during your visit to Glacier Bay, be sure to dress in layers. Even though you can go back to your cabin to change at any point during the day, I recommend wearing layers to avoid having to run back to the room to grab a jacket, gloves, or a lightweight shirt.

On my visit, I wore a pair of leggings along with a fleece sweatshirt and my rain jacket. I brought my small backpack with me to the outside decks as well, as this allowed me to take off and put on my rain jacket when necessary.

Even if the weather looks sunny and warm, it’s still a good idea to bring a light jacket or raincoat with you to the outside decks—you never know when the weather will change abruptly while at the park.

Sign your kids up for the Junior Ranger program


If you’re cruising with kids to Glacier Bay, make sure to sign them up for the Junior Ranger program. While at the park, Junior Rangers can participate in activities to earn a ranger badge and certificate.

Activities may include learning about the park’s environmental preservation, learning about wildlife native to the area, and meeting a park ranger.

Many kids are eager to earn the title of Junior Ranger, so be sure to ask your cruise ship’s child programming center about the program once you board.

Always be on the lookout for wildlife

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

As your ship sails through magnificent scenery, it’s easy to keep your eyes gazed on the colossal glaciers and mountaintops, but don’t forget to look for wildlife, too.

While sailing through the park, it’s common to spot whales, sea otters, sea lions, puffins, bald eagles, bears, and mountain goats, among others.

Seeing wildlife is a highlight of cruising to Alaska, and the remoteness of Glacier Bay makes the park an excellent place to spot wildlife.

Related: Alaska cruise guide: Planning tips and best cruise itineraries

During my visit, I spent (literal) hours watching for wildlife outside the ship, and while I didn’t spot any whales, I saw several bald eagles and at least one hundred and fifty sea otters.

As your ship sails from glacier to glacier, there’s a high chance you will spot one of the sea or land animals calling Alaska home. Don’t forget to always be on the lookout for wildlife, and keep your binoculars handy!

Eat lunch with a view

two slices of pizza

Because you’re at Glacier Bay for the majority of the day, you’ll have to eat lunch somewhere onboard in the middle of your visit.

My best advice when it comes to eating lunch during your visit is to eat somewhere with ocean views. During my time at Glacier Bay, I enjoyed lunch on the pool deck from one of the ship's casual dining spots.

Not only did this mean there were fewer crowds than somewhere like the buffet, but it meant I could dine right next to a window, and that my lunch would be quick so I didn't waste time.

Make sure your phone and camera are charged


In the excitement of preparing for your day at Glacier Bay, there’s a chance you could forget to charge your electronics.

If you’re planning to take pictures with a DSLR or mirrorless camera during your visit, remember to charge your camera’s batteries and ensure you have enough storage space on your memory card.

If you’re using your phone for pictures, don’t forget to plug it in before you go to bed so it’s charged and ready for your day in the park.

Grab a drink or hot chocolate to stay warm

cruise ship pool deck

While at Glacier Bay, your cruise ship may offer warm beverages like hot chocolate, coffee, or hot toddy’s on the pool deck. As it’s often chilly while cruising to Glacier Bay, especially in the morning, it’s a good idea to warm up with a warm beverage when you see drinks being offered.

On my Royal Princess cruise, the pool deck transformed into a bar and souvenir shop while at Glacier Bay. Passengers could shop for Alaska-themed souvenirs or order a cold or warm beverage to enjoy while watching the scenery.

On most cruise ships, hot chocolate, coffee, and tea will be offered complimentary whereas alcoholic beverages and specialty coffee drinks come with an extra charge.

Regardless, sipping a steaming drink while shivering on your ship’s outside decks can help keep you comfortable during your visit, allowing you to stay outside and enjoy the views even longer.

Bring a day pack to watch the scenery

brown backpack

On a port day, most passengers bring a daypack with them ashore where they can store their valuables and extra clothing layers during the day. Having a daypack allows guests to have everything they need while in port, whether they need an extra jacket or a place to store their camera.

Even though you’re not disembarking your cruise ship while visiting Glacier Bay, I still recommend taking a daypack with you around the ship. Like a port day, your time in Glacier Bay will involve standing outside for long periods of time as well as dealing with changing weather conditions.

It’s possible you’ll start your day in a sweatshirt and down jacket only to end up in a t-shirt in the afternoon. Having a daypack means you won’t have to go back to your room to change or grab something you need.

Additionally, many passengers bring their photography equipment to the top decks while at the park. If you don’t want to carry your camera during all moments of the day, being able to store it in your daypack is convenient.

Other items you may want to put in your daypack include gloves, a hat, your phone, and sunglasses.

Listen to the announcements from park rangers

cruise ship visiting Glacier Bay National Park

Throughout your visit at Glacier Bay, national park rangers will “take over” the ship’s PA system. Instead of announcements from the cruise director or captain, you will hear information about the park on the speaker from park rangers.

If you’re looking to learn more about Glacier Bay during your visit, keep an ear out for announcements from the park rangers. They might announce your approach to a glacier, provide insights on wildlife near the ship, and discuss the size and depth of glaciers you’re visiting.

I’ll admit it was a little challenging to hear the announcements while outside during my visit to Glacier Bay, but the snippets I did catch were certainly interesting. If you’re watching the scenery from an indoor venue, there’s a better chance you’ll hear the announcements.

Be flexible with the weather

Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

When I looked outside for the first time as we approached Glacier Bay, I was sad to see foggy, rainy weather in all directions. Last year, I had a visit to Hubbard Glacier canceled due to inclement weather, and I was nervous my much-anticipated visit to Glacier Bay might be affected by the weather as well.

As we approached Margerie Glacier, my worries continued. The fog was so thick you could not see any mountains around the ship. I was getting more and more concerned that I would not see any of the landscapes I had learned so much about.

Related: 25 Tips to deal with bad weather on a cruise

Yet as we got closer to the glacier, the fog miraculously lifted and the magnificent scenery revealed itself. The rest of the day, fortunately, saw none of the fog from the morning, and we were able to visit all of the park’s highlights.

Margerie Glacier

Even though our visit went as planned, it easily could have gone worse. When booking a cruise to Glacier Bay, there is always a chance your visit could be altered or even canceled due to bad weather conditions. You may also encounter heavy fog that affects visibility of the glaciers and mountains.

Just like on any cruise vacation, it’s important to be flexible when visiting Glacier Bay—you can never predict the weather.

Attend Alaska lectures before the visit

Glacier Bay sign

In the days leading up to your visit to Glacier Bay, your cruise ship may offer complimentary lectures about Alaska’s wildlife, history, and geology. Attending these lectures can be a great way to familiarize yourself with what you’ll see on your visit to Glacier Bay, which can greatly enhance your experience.

Keep an eye on your cruise’s daily schedule for enrichment activities like lectures and talks by Alaska experts. Some cruise lines may have scientists and Alaska specialists onboard your ship as well, giving you the opportunity to learn first-hand from experts about everything Alaska has to offer.

During my Princess cruise to Alaska, for example, a lecture was offered about glacier formations in the state, and this allowed guests to gather a better understanding of these impressive ice sheets before our visit to the park.

Lectures and enrichment programs may have limited availability, so be sure to reserve any activities in advance if reservations are required.

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