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The Majesty of Glacier Bay National Park
This is the day that I wait for on every Alaska cruise. After five separate trips into Glacier Bay, I am still glued to the outer decks for most of the day, unable to pull myself indoors except to grab a quick bite to eat, or change the memory cards in my camera.
Every time I have been here, it has been a wholly different and unique experience, and I am thrilled for my guests on this cruise-tour, as this is something brand-new to almost all of them. If they thought Hubbard Glacier was impressive yesterday, they are in for a real treat.
Coral Princess picked up our National Park rangers around 9am at Bartlett Cove. During breakfast in the Provence Dining Room on Deck 6, people would suddenly scream with excitement. Cutlery went clattering everywhere on tables as guests rushed to the windows to see whales breaching just feet away from the ship. Even our waiters went over to look at the commotion.
Unfortunately, a medical emergency onboard necessitated a change of plans. At 10:30am, Captain Fabio Amitrano came over the public address and informed us a crew member needed to be evacuated urgently, and a Coast Guard helicopter was summoned from nearby Sitka.
At 11am, he announced we would be turning around to meet the helicopter. Guests were requested to stay indoors during the evacuation effort, and Coral Princess slowed, then turned just as we came abreast of Tlingit Point.
We retraced our route up the Sitakaday Narrows, back to Strawberry Island near Bartlett Cove and Point Gustavus. Guests who were outside were then herded indoors. With all open decks shuttered to guests, finding a place to sit inside quickly became a competitive sport. I walked from stem to stern on Decks 6 and 7, finally finding a vacant table in the Wheelhouse Lounge. The scheduled poolside buffet was moved indoors to the Horizon Court on Deck 14, and the National Park rangers were relocated to the lowest level of the Atrium, Deck 5.
Now, a medical emergency is nothing to be taken lightly, and is entirely out of the control of Princess. Captain Amitrano is under a great deal of pressure as he negotiates with the Coast Guard for a suitable transfer for his crew member, and he is largely at the whim of their decisions. I can also understand the need to close off the upper decks; helicopter extractions can be dangerous, and are only performed when absolutely necessary.
Finally, at 1:30pm, the Coast Guard helicopter arrived at the Coral Princess and safely extracted the crew member, whisking him or her to medical attention on land. Everyone’s thoughts onboard are with this crew member.
By 2pm, we were on our way back into the park, while some of the most stunning scenery and wildlife you could imagine sweeps past the Coral Princess as she sailed 65 miles through Glacier Bay National Park, passing Willoughby Island and Drake Island on our port side and Tlingit Point and the mouth of Muir Inlet on our starboard side.
But our destination was further still. We were bound for Tarr Inlet, home to the famous Margerie Glacier.
When ships pull up, Margerie Glacier is visible on the port side of the bow. The smaller, infinitely dirtier glacier that lies dead ahead is the Grand Pacific Glacier that stretches into Canada’s Yukon.
I was here just one month ago, yet I am still as excited as ever to be back in Glacier Bay. From my first visit in 1998 on a foggy day in July, Glacier Bay has held me captivated by its beauty.
It held John Muir captive, too. Muir canoed through these waters in the late 1800’s, and was so moved by what he saw that he wrote passionately about what he had seen here, introducing Alaska to the forefront of public consciousness at the time.
If anything, our three-hour long delay this morning worked to our advantage, as the sun shone brightly and temperatures rose prior to our arrival at Margerie Glacier around 4:30pm.
Margerie Glacier is one mile wide, with 250 feet of ice rising above the waterline. There’s another 100 feet of ice underneath the water. In other words, this massive shelf of ice is both longer, taller, and deeper than even the massive Coral Princess.
Unlike my previous visits, Margerie was talking to us today, with an astonishing amount of creaking, cracking and groaning. Numerous pieces slid off the face of the glacier, but it was just as we were performing our rotation from port to starboard that a massive shelf of ice gave way, completely obliterating a small cave that had formed at the base of the glacier’s midsection.
The wave that this generated rolled speedily towards us, slamming squarely into the stern of the Coral Princess and causing the entire vessel to shudder noticeably.
By the time we began to sail away from the glacier at 5:30pm, most guests had forgotten they were cooped up inside for three hours in the morning, and all was right in the world again.
My sixth visit to Glacier Bay was certainly one for the record books. There’s nothing else like it on earth, and for me, it remains the most compelling reason to take an Alaskan cruise.
Margerie Glacier has been here long before us. And just like those who have come here before us – the native Tlingit people, Captain George Vancouver, and John Muir – it will outlast us, too.
Our Live Voyage Report from Cruise Experts Travel’s Ultimate Alaska CruiseTour continues tomorrow as we arrive in Skagway, Alaska aboard Princess Cruises’ Coral Princess! Be sure to follow along on Twitter by following @deckchairblog or using the hashtag #LiveVoyageReport.
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