The Rangers and the Dudes
Glacier Bay is also a National Park and preserve site and makes up 3.3 million acres of the 25 million acre protected World Heritage site. National Park Rangers joined us on board from their humble lodgings in the bay by matching the speed of the Noordam in their, by comparison, positively tiny boat. From there they slung their bags onto deck and scaled a small rope ladder over the rail. A real act of daring and Kelly the excellent locations expert had the sense of humour to play the Indiana Jones theme tune as they did it. The Rangers provided interesting talks, literature and a running commentary throughout the day on what we were seeing, plus a talk on the indigenous Tlingit tribe. At its maximum the glacier reached Icy Straight but today cruise ships are required to travel 65 miles up the bay to view a tidewater glacier. We saw the Grand Pacific Glacier but got close in to the Margerie Glacier, with the captain skilfully spinning Noordam on the spot so that everyone had a great view. You listen to all the facts and figures, but your gut just tells you that you are witnessing something special as it assaults your senses. It absorbs your attention, you just can’t take your eyes off it, you can smell it too, hear it crack as it melts and almost taste the ionisation in the air. Later we moved on to the John Hopkins Glacier for a look at one of the few glaciers that are actually advancing.
A spectacular experience should only be followed by a spectacular dining experience – licking icebergs – only joking. Caneletto is the Italian dining option and encourages you to share your menu choices with your companion. The staff skilfully assisted us in choosing appropriate dishes and their attentive service added up to an excellent dining experience. The veal was particularly divine, well worth the extra cost to choose this dining option. This was easily our favourite restaurant on the ship.
Haines found us 881 miles from our start point at Seward. A fast boat took us down the Lynn Canal (named in 1794 after King’s Lynn the home of English Explorer Captain George Vancouver). Flanked by the imposing coast and Chilkat mountain ranges we zipped along to land at the Chilkat Inlet. A combination of a rickety old bus, canoe, hiking and wading through glacial streams took us to the foot of the Davidson Glacier, so named after surveyor George Davidson in 1867 (and nothing to do with the bike, although the next glacier is nicknamed Harley). Whilst we didn’t get to touch the glacier we were close enough be able to hit it with a stick and admire the cracks, fissures and colours up close. The colours are amazing, ranging from dazzling white to electric and deep blue (apparently the lower the air content of the ice, the deeper the blue). There was plenty of browns and greys, where the glacier had dragged part of the mountain range along with it. Whilst beautiful we also got to respect the awesomeness of it as well, put the camera away, just stand and admire. We could see a mile of it but over the top ridge it stretches back a further 7 miles and a single large chunk breaking off could crush us like bugs. Our guides all sounded like they’d come straight out of the Bill and Ted’s most extraordinary adventure film – party on dude! For all their languid speech and hippy hairstyles, they had a passion and knowledge about the glacier and the wilderness that they were eager to share. They also, as many of our guides did, clearly understand that they only get to live their dream of working and playing in the wilderness because we visit and fund the party. This was an awesome trip dude!
As for Haines itself, some may say that the highlight of the town is the Hammer Museum but I want to knock that on the head (sorry) and say that the steam powered Keystone Driller is much more interesting. It was used for gold prospecting in the early 1900 and sits along from the cruise dock. Oh and I did find a Morris Minor, wasn’t expecting that.
It’s worth noting here that whilst the Noordam is equipped with lifts and ramps and can cater for most guests with mobility issues, the shore excursions need to be chosen with care and discussed with Holland America Line if you have any concerns.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Holland America Line