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The Thrill of Alaska’s Glaciers

Fjords shrouded in mist, snow-capped peaks, deep blue ice and newborn icebergs: these are the some of the sights awaiting cruise passengers who travel along the beautiful coast of southeastern Alaska.

Native peoples and early explorers sailed the cold waters of the Inside Passage in crafts that were seaworthy, but not built for comfort. Today, you can enjoy Alaska’s majestic scenery with all of the comforts provided by a modern, well-appointed cruise ship.

Ships that take passengers to America’s "last frontier" feature vast expanses of glass and wide-open decks for comfortable indoor and outdoor viewing of spectacular scenery. Of course, cruise lines also provides delicious cuisine to satisfy appetites stimulated by the fresh sea air, as well as restful accommodations to enjoy after a day of northern adventure.

As ships sail along the Alaskan coast from May through September, passengers marvel at exceptional views of the northernmost rain forest in the U.S., humpback whales, calm bays and perhaps a bear or two fishing along the shore. However, the highlight of any Alaskan cruise is the sight of a glacier in action: surely one of nature’s most formidable forces.

Alaska contains about 100,000 glaciers, which are essentially massive rivers of ice formed from compacted layers of snow. As the snow compresses upon itself, simple gravity causes it to flow forward.

The movement of a glacier is quite slow; it can take hundreds of years for ice to travel from the starting point of a glacier to its end. Still, this slow but steady movement can have awe-inspiring results. That’s the case with Hubbard Glacier.


Hubbard is a tidewater glacier, which means it flows into the sea; in fact, it’s the longest tidewater glacier in Alaska. As Hubbard Glacier meets the waters of Disenchantment Bay, it presents an impressive, 300-foot-high wall of ice, or "face." Large pieces break regularly break off of the face, or "calve," forming icebergs that can be the size of large buildings. Hubbard Glacier’s calving face is more than six miles wide: an astonishing sight against a backdrop of rugged mountains.

A deep rumbling often alerts cruise ship passengers to an imminent calving. The thunderous cracking of the ice and roaring splash when a new iceberg hits the water are thrilling to hear and see. Glaciers can also calve underwater, causing new icebergs, sometimes called "shooters," to pop dramatically above the surface.

Cruise passengers are often surprised, and always entranced, by gorgeous shades of blue and blue/green in the calving ice. Glacial ice often appears blue because hundreds of years of compression force out tiny air bubbles between the individual ice crystals, making the ice denser. When ice becomes extremely dense, it absorbs the red and yellow segments of the light spectrum, reflecting deep, beautiful blues.

If viewing an active glacier from a cruise ship leaves you with the desire to get closer, take advantage of a variety of shore excursions. You can see deep crevasses, sparkling snowfields and glacier-carved peaks and valleys from a helicopter or small plane. If you want to get even closer, try skimming over the surface of a glacier behind a team of trained sled dogs. For a more strenuous outdoor experience, you can even take an invigorating, guided trek over rugged glacial terrain.

To find out more about cruises that will take you to see the glaciers of Alaska and many of the states other natural wonders, talk with us at Cruise Holidays.