On a voyage through glaciers and bear-inhabited islands, Mike MacEacheran joins Princess Cruises onboard Royal Princess’s inaugural season sailing around Alaska
There are only two destinations when travelling in the south-east region of Alaska: north and south. To the north are the colossal ice floes of the Hubbard Glacier, mighty Chugach National Forest and buzzing Anchorage, with its mini-Manhattan grid of banks and souvenir shops. Southbound, where we are heading, is a world of coastal rainforests, legendary mountain ranges, bear-populated islands and finger-like inlets. These are places where roads can’t reach and planes seldom come. Which is why I’ve decided to come by ship.
I’m midway through a seven-day itinerary sailing on Royal Princess, which is nearing the end of its inaugural season on the Pacific west coast.
Right now we’re sailing 65 miles into Glacier Bay national park. Ahead is the outrageously good-looking Margerie Glacier, all frozen expressions and Ice Age drama that’s alternately haunting and dumbfounding. Seen underneath a cloudless sky, it takes several lungfuls to fathom Margerie’s sheer size: one mile at its widest point, it stands at a skyscraper-like 110 metres and stretches for 21 miles into the Fairweather Range, the highest coastal mountains on earth.
It’s more dazzling than anything I’d been expecting. I also didn’t realise there are laws that exist when visiting Alaska’s tidewater glaciers. Standing agog, hanging over the railings, is compulsory. So is squealing, toddler-like, every time a monstrous river of ice slides past on the port or starboard side. There are “oohs” and “ahhs” aplenty when an orca breaches and a humpback whale appears, spouting an arc of glacial water skyward.