Sunday, June 08, 2014

Alaska Day 6: Reid Glacier | Glacier Bay National Park

Whereas the day before was somewhat cloudy and cold, our day at Reid Glacier was beautiful. In fact, I'd say it was too beautiful as we were very poorly prepared for such warm and sunny weather. That said, I wasn't about to let some sunshine rain on my parade as today was the activity I'd most been looking forward to - kayaking through icebergs and bergy bits and growlers (and yes, those are the technical names for the ice).


Because Glacier Bay is a national park, and a protected site, there are very strict rules about how activities can be carried out while in the area. Groups must be small, and because of the Wilderness Act, groups must be adequately spaced out from one another (at least 1/4 mile) to preserve the impression that you're alone in the wilderness. Because of that, our activities for the day were fully planned by the expedition leader, and there would be no open kayaking available. The night before we had requested a morning kayak and an afternoon shore walk, pretty much our standard request. The interesting thing about these off-boat experiences is that each one is different depending on the guide, the group, the wildlife, and the location. For instance, the early morning shore walks were able to approach icebergs that were resting on land because of the low tide mark. In the afternoon when the tide was back up, the first groups out could walk the shoreline to Reid Glacier while other groups had to trail behind them, never getting close to the glacier (that was us). Some kayakers were approached by humpback whales. Some afternoon shore walkers got to walk as close to Reid Glacier as possible. While everyone is on the same boat, and ultimately the same trip, when you get back in the evening and people are recapping the day's events, the experiences are as varied as can be.

Our day looked like this:

7:30 a.m. - Hot Breakfast
9:30 a.m. - Guided kayak with Expedition Guide Sarah
12:30 p.m. - Lunch
2:30 p.m. - Shore Walk with Phil and Ranger Jeanine

This was our first off-boat interaction with Sarah and I really liked her relaxed, personal approach to her guided excursions. She was informative and kept an eye out for our well being, but she also let us paddle as we wanted provided we weren't doing anything crazy. The water was like glass, a beautiful, milky, pale blue glass, and paddling was a breeze. As we got closer to the bergy bits, it seemed to get a bit cooler, which was fine by me.

As we were out paddling, a giant cruise ship passed us off in the distance. I felt so bad for the passengers that were stuck on the boat and didn't get the opportunity to get up close and personal with the landscape. It seemed, to me, like such a huge investment to get there, and then such a disappointment to be confined to either your balcony (if you were lucky enough to have one), or a viewing platform with thousands of other cruisers.


I included the picture above not because it's especially scenic, but because it shows you what the kayak point of entry (and departure) looks like for guests aboard the Wilderness Discoverer. Without this fantail system, I'm not sure we - or many of the guests, for that matter - would have done as much kayaking as we did. It made getting in and out so much easier. Once you were in and settled, the crew would push you off the back, and then when you returned, they'd pull you back up. If there's a simpler means of accomplishing this, I'm not sure what it is.

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Some people have asked me if the cruise was a good one to take kids on. As I'm generally not fond of sharing small spaces with misbehaving children, generally I would say no. Unlike big cruise ships, there is no pool, rock wall, kid's club, movie night, or whatever else Carnival and Royal Caribbean have added to cater to families. Un-Cruise understands this, so to make sure that families with young children can still enjoy untouched Alaska, they have specifically tailored some of their sailings for families with their Kids in Nature cruises.  We had a family of five (two parents, three kids aged somewhere between six and fourteen - I'm terrible guessing how old kids actually are) on our cruise who traveled all the way from India who were spending a week in Alaska as part of a longer vacation. I have to admit, when I saw the kids at the hospitality suite in Sitka I was nervous. Having spent my sushi dinner last night next to a child that literally screamed everything he said in an attempt to get his mom's attention, I have no problem admitting that I generally hate spending good money to dine with loud children. (Don't get me started on the infant whose mother ignored his/her screaming at Commander's Palace back in January.) Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not saying you shouldn't take your kids outside the home. I mean, how else are they going to know how to behave in polite society? No, what I'm saying is that there are places that are good for kids, and there are places that are bad for kids, and a boat with no other children is generally not a great place for three young boys. So yeah, I was scared. BUT ... and you're going to be surprised to hear me say this ... I have a lot of respect for the way this family interacted with each other, the crew, and other passengers. These boys just might be the best behaved group of three brothers that I have ever encountered (we have three nephews that are brothers, so I've seen this dynamic enough to know what constitutes both good and bad behavior).

That little detour in the trip re-cap was basically a lead in to our shore walk with the Ranger. While many of us (including the boy's father) wanted to go for a nice good ramble, our ranger was a former kindergarten teacher who has a true and genuine love of geology, and those boys with their inquisitive minds were quite possibly her favorite passengers during her three day stay on our boat. While it was truly an experience for them, it made our shore walk more of a stand around and look at rocks excursion. That would have been fine if that's what we thought we were getting into, but it was pretty frustrating for the majority of the passengers on that particular excursion. I wish the Ranger would have paid more attention to the body language of the rest of the guests because she might have understood that some of us weren't having a good time. I feel bad even complaining because it's hard to be in a bad mood when you're in a location as magnificent as Glacier Bay, with Reid Glacier as your backdrop, but especially in Glacier Bay you had far fewer opportunities to get off the boat and so many of us viewed it as a wasted opportunity for both sight-seeing *and* exercise. What's more, I know there were guests on the boat who also love rocks and wanted to know more about the geology specific to Glacier Bay. If the Expedition Leader would have promoted this as a Geology Walk, I think many other people would have signed up, and those of us that wanted something different would have done a different activity.

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Back at the boat we took one last look around as we made our way to another location for the next day's activities.