Cruise to Alaska: Glacier Bay
(Just landed on this page out of nowhere? You’ll want to start with Cruise to Alaska: Before We Begin.)

I somehow napped a little. The sun, barely rested itself, rose.

Norwegian Pearl - Third Towel Animal

”Shari,” you ask, “if you slept the day away yesterday, then how did you get a new towel animal?”

Oh, because I forgot to mention that it was waiting for us when we came on board from Skagway. Yes, around 2 p.m. Weird, but no complaints. Often people have speculated that cabin stewards must be psychic - maybe ours just knew I’d have the dial turned to Do Not Disturb all day.

At 6:30 on the dot I was scampering up to the Garden Cafe for my first breakfast buffet, scrapbook journal and accoutrements wrapped in a plastic bag, and our old DSLR hanging off my shoulder. I wanted to be proper-camera-ready for any wildlife sightings, but I didn’t want to be weighed down when wrestling with my bag and my plate. (Like most other cruise ships, Norwegian has done away with buffet trays.) People on the forums had said that a good time to see wildlife is when you’re first entering Glacier Bay in the morning, so I was ready.

Because anthropologists learn so much from what and how people eat, and because all food photos are an invitation to criticism and judgement, and because I have Fat Lady Paranoia (which, if the government doesn’t stop with its “War on Obesity” instead of a more appropriate “War on Unhealthy Practices,” I’m going to claim is a disability payment-worthy disease), I have to point out that I didn’t eat all of that food. Also, I never intended to eat all of it. I am the horrible sort of person who takes a bunch of food at the buffet with the intention of sometimes trying no more than a bite.

But, since I’m writing this, I will pretend it was for review purposes. So here’s the breakfast buffet review:

  • Croissant: meh (soft but not flaky)
  • Cinnamon roll thingies: extremely sweet and not flavourful at all, so my biggest regret. I don’t know why I got two. I think they stuck together or maybe were pre-plated. I can’t remember now.
  • Orange juice: okay
  • French toast triangle: nice, but I didn’t see any syrup, so I only had one bite
  • Marmalade: okay
  • English muffin: I knew they were untoasted, but I thought there’d be a toaster somewhere, as we see on Vegas buffets when breakfast breads aren’t already toasted. Alas, there wasn’t.
  • Eggs: okay

As you can see, I put a slice of cheese and some raw red onion (take that, Scott Conant) on my eggs, a standard buffet trick. Usually the cheese melts a bit while I walk back to the table, but all I got here was maybe a little softening. The eggs, something I can eat by the fistful for breakfast when traveling, just weren’t very warm. (And remember, the buffet had just opened.) Still, I finished most of them because we’d be on the ship all day, so no chance for good food until dinner.

(At the dinner I’d missed the night before, Mike, Phil, and Carol agreed that they’d not be bothering with the MDR again. I didn’t know which specialty restaurant we’d visit for dinner, but I hoped it would be as tasty as what we had at Le Bistro a few nights back)

The photo above gives an inkling to how sunny it was. And hot. I was a poor table-picker. I moved further away, but then I couldn’t keep an eye out for wildlife. Finally I just finished my egg and scuttled back to the room to get some good use out of the balcony.

Mike slept through me more than once hopping off the balcony chair, into the cabin, and across the room to press my ear against the door and try to hear what the Ranger was saying. It would be great if cruise ships offered wireless headphones for rent that would tune into the PA (or just a Ranger-specific channel) so passengers could stay on their balconies but still get the commentary. We weren’t at the notable glaciers yet, but I was still excited to hear everything. (But not excited enough to go mill around on an open deck or compete for a chair at Spinnakers.)

”To balcony or not to balcony” is always a big dividing line in cruise discussions. Mike and I are balcony people no matter where we cruise. Having (essentially) private fresh air with scenery is a big deal to us, but I understand the appeal of a cheaper cabin, too, especially if it means you can cruise more often. Some guy on our roll call saw people talking about their balconies and you could hear his PFFFFT all the way through the intertubes. “A thousand dollars more for a balcony? I don’t think so!” (As if we were all spendy eejits.) But, one, he was checking the price about two weeks from sailing and comparing it to his original price. Two, I would give up other things to be able to have a balcony in Alaska. There’s almost always something to look at. But again, balcony person bias talking here.

Cloud and Mountainside

Diamond Princess Approaching Glacier Bay

Hey, I thought only one ship was allowed in Glacier Bay at a time. Silly internet, full of lies.

Passing Waterfall Before Glacier Bay

The milky water was definitely more evident now; the pearl sheen came from glacier silt, according to Driver Mike during our tour in Skagway.

First Sight of Ice

Ice! This was taken around 9 a.m. Mike started to wake up. Possibly he preternaturally sensed the lure of the ice, or just as possibly my thundering across the room to the door to listen to the ranger was getting less delicate. (Especially when I opened the door so I could hear better.) Soon he joined me on the balcony.

Glacier Bay - Dirty Glacier

This glacier has a name, but I couldn’t really make it out when I was hanging my head out the hallway.

We pointed and ooo’d and aaa’d, very comfortable taking in this majesty from the shelter of the balcony. This is why the ship puts out order forms the night before for special hot beverages in souvenir cups to be delivered to the cabin on Glacier Bay day. I don’t know if inside cabins or oceanviews get the same offer, but I was very tempted by this thoughtful service. (However, I didn’t want to pin myself down to a time to stay in the cabin, so I resolved to indulge at a bar later.)

I took photos, hoping at least one would do enough justice to the scene to be worthy of, say, new desktop wallpaper back at home. (Dream big, self.)

Glacier Bay - Reflections

Glacier Bay - Around 930 am

Glacier Bay - Reflect, Reflect

Our ship was moving so slowly that it seemed I could hear the murmur of every awed balcony conversation. We were barely disturbing the water below us.

Glacier Bay - Slow Wake

Bigger and bigger chunks of ice appeared until we started seeing whole sheets that were probably so much larger than we realized.

Glacier Bay - Ice

Birds arrived, blatantly scoping the decks for their own buffet prey.

Glacier Bay - Birds Scoping Decks for Vittles

Glacier Bay - Passing Gull

We were repeatedly told not to feed them, but of course some people are always above the rules.

Glacier Bay - Some Are Above The Rules

Glacier Bay - Gull Flies Away

Glacier Bay - Birdsies on Ices

I wonder if bird tootsies get cold on the ice. I know they don’t seem to mind, but are they inwardly sighing and wishing they could be resting on a nice twig instead? I know birds are unaffected when eating chili peppers, and of course they’re always experiencing wind chill - is this just another “ha ha” from the well-acclimated birds?

Not long after 10 a.m. we arrived at Margerie Glacier. The captain brought us near so that port side (our side) was first. (Eventually we slowly turned for the other side to get a view. Each side seemed to end up getting time.)

Again I found myself surprised by how the glacier didn’t fit my expectations (the dirt on Mendenhall, the opacity of Margerie), but it was still every bit as beautiful as I’d hoped.

Glacier Bay - Margerie Glacier and The Other One

Glacier Bay - Streaky Margerie Glacier

Beautiful, and NOISY!

The glacier was constantly making sounds, like a giant glass duck warbling to itself. Whenever the sound would get a little louder, everyone seemed to be holding their breath and scanning for calving. After all, all the ice floating around us had to come from somewhere.

Glacier Bay - Dirty Slice

Glacier Bay - Margerie Glacier

I took multiple shots at different exposures then later tried to fashion the scene into an HDR version. Meh.

Glacier Bay - Margerie Glacier

Glacier Bay is only accessible via water or air. As I looked around, I was dazzled by what is surely one of the most pristine, least touched places on our planet.

Glacier Bay - Distant Snowy Peak

Lucky birds.

Glacier Bay - Birds on Ice

My photography skills couldn’t capture the rich complexity of shades in the ice. I don’t think even my eyes could, not without a houseboat and a few days to just drop anchor here.

Glacier Bay - Margerie Glacier, Looking Bluer

Looking left and right, I could see hands and cameras in every direction, but either the dividers provided nice soundproofing, or everyone was too amazed and respectful to be noisy.

Mike Presents Glacier Bay

Mike Looking at Margerie Glacier

I wondered how busy the Spinnaker Lounge was. Even with its ceiling-to-floor windows, I couldn’t see how anyone would be content to look at this through glass. (Those who braved the open deck for the entire time probably shook their heads over those of us on the balconies. It definitely was even more stunning to be up on the deck and see this all in staggering panorama, but that came later for us.)

Mike and I both stopped and started our video so many times when a rumble promised a calving shot. I gently reminded myself that some people never see any calving, so we shouldn’t hope for more than the beauty before us.

I looked at the more distinctive features. How long had they been there? Years? Months? Hours? How long would they last?

Glacier Bay - Hole in Margerie Glacier

Glacier Bay - Faux Cave

Glacier Bay - Preening Gulls

And then... a CRACK!

”Where?! Where?!”

The glacier amped the rumble and we saw it. Calving!

Glacier Bay - Calving

Glacier Bay - Calving in Progress

Glacier Bay - Calving Continues

Glacier Bay - Calving Splash

Glacier Bay - Calving Again

Quiet cheers and OOOoooo!s came up over the ship. Cameras surely clicked, but I couldn’t hear them... which must seem unlikely judging from the racket I was lending to Mike’s video:

Mike's Calving Video from Shari on Vimeo.


Some minutes later, Margerie calved again. This time we just watched.

(Funny, I remember it being so much more dramatic than what the video shows, with a huge roar of ice scraping down and splashing.)

The calving calmed down and the ship began to turn so the people on the other side could look at Margerie. I hope she calved some more for them.

Glacier Bay - Cracks

Some of the birds had polkadot tails. I wondered what they were called.

Glacier Bay - Sweet Tailfeathers

Horace, maybe. Or Stu.

”Let’s go see the ranger station to get our stamps!” I said, meaning the National Park stamps for our NP passport. Also, I wanted to try one of the hot boozy specials in the souvenir cup.

We went up to Spinnaker lounge where I ordered my “Alaskan Snow Plow”: hot chocolate, dark creme de cacao, Bailey’s, and Bacardi Coco.

Norwegian Pearl - Spinnaker Bar and Barfly

While waiting, I had to deal with the barfly on the right. “She’s hot” (he slurred to Mike, who was walking off to find a seat and claims he didn’t know what the guy was saying). “He doesn’t get it. Do you get it?” (I said I did, and put my eyes firmly on the bartender.) “You’re hot.” (Weak, polite smile from me, eyes not leaving the bartender.) “Do you know that?” (Laugh from me with a nod, eyes back to the bartender.) “You’re really hot.” My drink was ready, I thanked the bartender, and wished the poor guy at the bar a nice day, and am-scrayed off.

I know other people would’ve tried to shut him down in a meaner, more decisive way, but I’ve always felt bad for guys who get the bitch treatment just for trying. Yeah, he was drunk, and his comments were awkward, and I didn’t like that he chose to give me the charity attention, but he thought he meant well.

Norwegian Pearl - Ranger Display in Spinnaker Lounge

The ranger display at the front of the Spinnaker was mostly literature. (Let’s face it; I hoped for plush toys. Gulls with sweet polkadot tails, maybe.) The self-service stamp station was plenty juicy, and the stamp itself is pretty.

The ranger on the PA announced a bear sighting on starboard, and we all ran over to the windows, hovering over those settled on the cushions there. Eventually someone found them and word spread down the line to look for X rock then Y tree then a slight groove and, yes, see that beige puff that’s moving? That’s a bear!

Perhaps nowhere near as impressive as people who get to see bears nibbling salmon and playing in streams on their Alaskan cruises, but a bear’s a bear’s a bear.

What was impressive was the view from the open deck... which I should’ve been madly capturing with the proper camera. Instead, I did a token sweep with my phone before we scurried on. (Password for the video is “awk”.)

Brief Sweep of Us in Glacier Bay on Norwegian Pearl from Shari on Vimeo.

Really I was more about the fun of capturing a pic of us with the glaciers reflected off the glass. The ship’s photographers will take a proper photo of you in front of the glaciers, although I don’t know what time that happens. It wasn’t listed in the Freestyle Daily, but I saw the photos afterward, and they were lovely. I think they were all taken on the aft deck.

Here’s my photo of Mike on the aft deck:

Norwegian Pearl - Aft Deck in Glacier Bay

See, he’s holding my souvenir thermal mug. The drink was pretty yummy.

We picked at the buffet, choosing to take our plates into La Cucina, the Italian restaurant just off the aft buffet area. It’s a more pleasant space than the buffet seating, if you can ignore the smacks of balls from the court above ricocheting off the ceiling. (We could. Eventually.)

A little after noon we wandered into the atrium, thinking Phil and Carol might be at Natural Landmark trivia. They were but had also come late and weren’t playing. We watched the replay of slides on the big screen as the game wound up and played amongst ourselves instead.

We were still hanging out in the lobby when the “Secrets of Art Collecting” presentation began. My opinion on Park West et al has been well documented in other trip reports, and nothing has changed. I will give this representative credit, though, for his ballsy first slide. It showed “American Gothic” next to a checklist detailing “original art” versus “unique art.” His argument was that people complain about not getting an “original” piece when what they mean is a “unique” piece.... which is somehow supposed to excuse the sleazy promotion of unsigned, unnumbered posters in cruise ship art auctions.

Oh well, I’d never object to anyone paying a price they like for art they like.

We didn’t go to the ranger presentation at 1 p.m. because I wanted to go to “Just Beachy” frame making (and Mike was content to follow). This time we had a different person in charge (and I’ve already forgotten both his name and where I wrote it down) who was very nice. He was half-Filipino, half-Austrian, certainly an unexpected combination.

The method of making a “Just Beachy” frame is as follows:

  • Hold naked frame in hands.
  • Look at sticker sheets.
  • Try to decide which stickers are going to be stuck where and in which order, because you rightly know that stickers are sticky. And unforgiving.
  • Wonder aloud why they don’t get some Alaskan-themed stickers or maybe something “cruise neutral,” so you don’t have glaciers out the window as you try to choose which color of surfboard sticker you want.
  • Be distracted and amazed by glaciers again.
  • Carefully begin by trying to affix large background sticker to frame without any air bubbles or misalignment.
  • Fail.
  • Get nervous as craft instructor watches you, as if ready to spot you, because somehow you’ve given off the impression of not being dextrous with sticky things.
  • Wonder to yourself if anyone in the family still has that 16mm film of you, age two, fighting a long battle with a piece of tape stuck to your foot... hand... head.
  • Repeat failed techniques on a smaller scale with the other chosen stickers, revamping the design midway a few times to accommodate rips and oopses.
  • Whip out a pen at some point to color in bald spots.
  • Forget to whip out a camera to show off this handiwork. (Too late now - the frame has been packed. And, by the way, it’s December. This has been the slowest, strangest year of my life.)
  • Have a good amount of silly fun but still be a bit relieved when the... Austino? Filiprian?... jogs up to an unknown location to get origami supplies for a quick demo because you missed the class while in port. (Yes, I specifically mentioned him in my feedback to Norwegian - that was back when I remembered his name.)
  • Still not know how to do any origami, but pack red tulip away with other memories to keep.

Update: I TELL A LIE! On the last day of the cruise, I took a photo of the frame before packing it.

Norwegian Pearl - Arts and Crafts - Photo Frame


Thrills notched, we returned to the balcony for scenery-gazing.

Glacier Bay - Ranger Boat

Hey rangers. Bye rangers.

Leaving Glacier Bay - Island

I didn’t want to leave Glacier Bay. Would we ever be so far from the world again?

Leaving Glacier Bay - Birdy

Leaving Glacier Bay - Layers

Leaving Glacier Bay - Sea Otter

The sea otters were all “No, don’t go.” And I was all “I’m sorry! I don’t want to go!” And they were all, “Stay! Live on the piney islands and feed us fish!” And then this sea otter beckoned for me to come, come along, and he dove under the water. And our ship churned quietly on.

Leaving Glacier Bay - Finned Thing

You know what’s a good song? “Kelpie” by Jethro Tull.

Leaving Glacier Bay - Tanker and Tug

Leaving Glacier Bay - Mike's Back

Leaving Glacier Bay - Mike Yawns

Superheroes and Villains Trivia at 5 p.m. in the Crystal Atrium. Not our best subject, but any (fair) trivia is fun trivia (except for sports, which is Martian-talk for me), and we did okay, coming in third.

The company was good, too. In addition to Phil and Carol, the two teams by us were... well, I don’t want to call anyone nerds because some people find that disparaging, but let’s just say it was great to be around nice people of a like mind. (People who came in first and second, as it happens.) The winning team was able to name all three of the villains from Superman II, which still smacks my gob. (To the point where I shared a trivia question with the public. You’ll never catch me alive, Price-Waterhouse!)

As a child, I was fascinated by the two-dimensional prison in that movie. As an adult, the best I could do at this trivia question was identify Terence Stamp.

After the trivia, the four of us (P, C, M, and me) watched the slow slideshow on the big screen, guessing locations, and chatting amongst ourselves. We arrived in plenty of time to get good seats in the Bliss Lounge for the 70s/80s TV show trivia...

Norwegian Pearl - Bliss Lounge, Before Song Trivia

... which we were doing quite well at with a near-perfect streak on the 20 questions, until Paul (the host nobody could understand, but at least on this occasion the theme songs could do the talking) was closing out the game. That’s when he suddenly said he was going to play two more songs for bonus points.

As in, ten bonus points.

What. the. fudgsicle?

And so he played the song, and the team that had been moaning and groaning over all their wrong answers ended up being the winners... because getting half of the questions wrong doesn’t matter if you can identify the theme song to “L. A. Law.”

People around us were grumbling. We stuck to a headshake amongst ourselves. It wasn't because we didn’t win. (I don’t even know if we would’ve won, and it really doesn’t matter, other than being pleased at that moment.) It’s not even that, as educators, such a poorly weighted assessment can only get our soapboxes spinning. It’s just that people left the game feeling bad because, at the last minute, the rules were changed.

With a different host, maybe that would’ve worked. Good-natured groans, a sense of excitement, etc. But Paul didn’t have that kind of energy. Plus he spent most of the game behind the curtains, working the CD player or sound thingy, or whatever they have going back there. We didn’t see him until the end. Total misfire.

Oh well!

Phil and Carol wandered off, as did we.

Norwegian Pearl - Prizes and Not-Prizes

We checked out the objects in the glass case by the front door. “Are these the prizes for getting signatures?” “Some of them.” “Which ones?” “There will be a time announced in the newsletter to bring in your signatures. The prizes will be shown then.” “Ah.”


I remembered that I wanted to see the Bridge Viewing Room, which was just as cool as it sounded.

Norwegian Pearl - Bridge Panel (2)

Norwegian Pearl - Bridge Viewing Room and Mike

Norwegian Pearl - Looking Into Bridge

It looked much like the bridge of Carnival Spirit (with perhaps even the same carpeting). All cruise ships should have a room like this; it’s really neat. I think this is the one area where I didn’t take enough advantage of what Norwegian had to offer. I wish I’d gone back a few other times to see what was up.

Norwegian Pearl - Bridge Viewing Room Sign

Norwegian Pearl - Spinnaker Lounge Sign

We made our way to the Spinnaker Lounge for a game of “Majority Rules.” This was pretty similar to Carnival’s version. Each team gets a pack of paper slips. They write their team number on all the slips. The host (Richard, in this case), asks questions, and the object is to try to write down how you think most people will answer. Time is limited, and you have to run your answer up to the table before it’s up. The game is frustrating because everyone’s so busy trying to think like other people that they psych themselves out - but it’s all good fun.

Norwegian Pearl - Spinnaker Lounge Seats

(Those aren’t our seats. I just liked them.)

The crowd was more adult for this go-around. I even ordered a “Rum Cake Martini” before the show. Shari, you lush!

Norwegian Pearl - Rum Cake Martini and Host for Majority Rules

Of course I have a gripe. Richard asked us to name what women do before a date. He ended up accepting all variations of “fixing hair,” “putting on make-up,” “picking out an outfit,” and so on. What he did not accept was our answer: “primping.”

When we protested, he said, “Primping?! What is that?” Mike/Me: “All of those things - getting your appearance ready or sorted out.” Richard: “Primping? Primping isn’t even a real word!” And he waved us off like “nice try.”

No, seriously.

After that we joined in the spirit of the “bad crowd” that was sending a lot of fart-based suggestions to the main desk. It was more satisfying than getting right answers, although less satisfying than living in a world where people don’t question the existence of the word “primp.” But I had my rum cake martini and we enjoyed being ridiculous.

(This is how it starts. Norwegian drove me to drink!)

Norwegian Pearl - Majority Rules Empties

We walked around the ship, looking for Phil and Carol. We were getting hungry and had mentioned maybe doing the steakhouse that evening, but nothing was set. We’d thought we’d see them at Majority Rules and decide then, but they hadn’t shown up.

Norwegian Pearl - Teppanyaki

I snapped a picture of Teppanyaki. None of us had been interested. Phil and Carol have had the experience elsewhere; I worried about whether they used a separate cooking area for vegetables, and neither Mike nor I wanted to sit with other people. Still, that’s just us, and I give NCL credit for offering such an interesting place to dine.

Finally we went back to the room to see if P&C had left a note. Nope, they’d left a message. Two messages, actually. One saying that they’d meet us at the steakhouse at such-and-such time, then another wondering where we were.

Eeek, a total miscommunication! (Which we all laughed about later because I lucked out in the in-law and husband departments.)

We started hurrying to the steakhouse, half an hour “late.” But before we got very far, I realized that I was just too exhausted. Blame the martini, blame not having eaten dinner the night before, blame having only picked at food that day, blame getting up way too early, blame whatever made me sleep 12 hours the previous day. but it was after 9 p.m. now, and I couldn’t fathom staying awake at the table, let alone being good company.

Feeling guilty and rather starving but now too tired to do anything about it, I went back to the room to conk out. Apparently I really missed out; Mike said the food was outstanding and on par with our Le Bistro experience. Dangit! Service was great, he said, and they reassured him that they would’ve made something special for me if I didn’t like the vegetarian offering on the menu. (It looked great to me, actually.)

Back in our room, we had our old towel animals but not a new one. I slept. Mike went to the casino. You may wonder if this happens in Las Vegas, this “Mike runs away to gamble when Shari is snoring.” YES! But only once, and I didn’t find out for years. It’s quite the anecdote, but it Mike’s story to tell, and he tells it better. If I ever do actually finish this trip report, perhaps he will write a guest post for me. (“Guest Post”? Don’t we sound fancy?) All I can say is that it’s a fable for our times, with a lesson learned about the importance of appreciating a woman’s nagging.

09 December 2012 |






Carnival Elation (2009)
Carnival Splendor (2009)
Carnival Spirit (2010)
Carnival Spirit (2011)
Carnival Splendor (2011)
Norwegian Pearl to Alaska (2012)