Disney Cruise Line’s Glacier Explorer Port Adventure
While Disney Cruise Line lists Tracy Arm as one of the stops on its Alaskan cruises, there’s no getting off the ship at a dock. Essentially it’s a day at sea…unless you book the quite expensive Glacier Explorer port adventure. If you’re wondering how that works, seeing as how the boat doesn’t dock anywhere, well…a much smaller boat (a catamaran in fact), comes to you. Literally.
I was somewhat dubious about the Glacier Explorer port adventure. While it sounded utterly amazing in the description on Disney Cruise’s website, especially the “abundant wildlife” part, it was still quite expensive at $225 a person. Was spending $450 for just one port adventure going to be worth it? Well, the short answer is yes. And now I’ll tell you why.
The Disney Wonder ship had entered Endicott Arm( a substitute for Tracy Arm due to its severe ice) a little before noon and while of course the scene was beautiful and serene and eerily deserted (it was the remote Alaskan landscape after all), it wasn’t anything like “sit on the edge of your seat for hours” worthy. So I went and saw a movie to pass the time since up on deck it was cold and drizzling lightly. Well, in the short time I was in the movie (only 80 some minutes), we had finally entered the most incredible landscape ever…more importantly, we had reached the famed Dawes Glacier.
As spectacular as it was seeing the glacier and the many icebergs that surrounded it, I was still looking at it from the immense height of the ship. I knew that seeing it from a water level would be a whole different sensation. (I had signed us up for the 3PM tour for the Glacier Explorer; there was another one that had left at noon that sold out long before.)
The catamaran is an independent outfitter that journeys up from Juneau to meet the ship (I assume other cruise lines have similar offerings). We descended to deck 2 and off we went. I can’t speak for the true summer months but at least in late May, it was cold out on open water in a field of ice (go figure). And once the catamaran started motoring on the water, it felt even colder. After a couple of hours of being out on the open deck, it wasn’t until I returned to our stateroom and got in a hot shower that I finally felt warm again.
The crew was incredibly nice and as would be the case with other tours we went on, there was a naturalist on board, someone professionally knowledgable on topics like wildlife, geology, etc. While the ship was moving you were restricted to the main deck (either inside or out), but when it was stopped, they opened up the second deck which I preferred. Beer and hot beverages were available for purchase, but donut holes and bottles of water were free. A staff member also came around with smoked salmon on crackers; this was our first taste of smoked salmon and we were hooked from there on out.
In the course of the almost three hour port adventure, we spent a good deal of time right near to Dawes Glacier, visited a stunning waterfall, and had some wildlife encounters ( from quite a distance away, unfortunately).
Cruise ships are great but they are neither small nor easy to maneuver. Had I stayed on the cruise ship the entire time we were in Endicott Arm I still would have left feeling impressed; I did see a glacier after all. But coming so close to the glacier was another story altogether. When you see a natural structure that rises 4,000 feet above the sea, well, you truly feel as if you’re in a fairy tale.
And when you hear “white thunder,” the sound made by massive spires of ice breaking away from the glacier and crashing into the sea, well, you’ll think you’re on the set of an action movie. Deafening doesn’t even begin to describe it. I just regret I never had my camera ready at the exact moment it was taking place.
My only disappointment was the billing of the wildlife sightings but obviously they are never guaranteed. We ended up seeing two bears, a black and a brown one, and two seals resting on a chunk of ice, but all from afar. I had seen pictures of hundreds of seals just lounging away in ice fields. That’s what I was hoping for but the animal gods were just not cooperative that day.
Dawes Glacer is essentially the end of the fjord (Endicott Arm), and so our port adventure consisted of traversing it back the other way and the ship did the same. We boarded the cruise ship at roughly the opening to the fjord (don’t worry, when you see the cruise ship sail away, you will ultimately catch up with it ).
So just to confirm, you’re happy you booked it? And you’d recommend it to others? Yes and yes. I’ve been on some port adventures where I return and feel disappointed or even worse, that I just wasted money. The Glacier Explorer was not one of those times.
Yes, it was quite a large amount of money for just a couple of hours but how often do you get to float near a glacier? Or see one up close and personal for that matter? I ended up seeing a second glacier on the cruise (Mendenhall Glacier) and while it was equally massive, I saw it from land. Nothing tops being out on the open water as you float by icebergs.
An Alaskan cruise is all around expensive but if you journey all the way there, make sure you’ve saved money for experiences like this.