Cruising Choices: Glacier Bay vs. Tracy Arm

January 22, 2014 | By | 14 Comments

Making the correct cruise choice can be tough: Carnival or Royal Caribbean? Breakaway or Getaway? Alaska or the Caribbean? In our new Cruising Choices series, we take a look at some of our readers’ more difficult decisions – and hope to help with some answers. Today’s dilemma: Glacier Bay vs. Tracy Arm.
Background: Alaska has adventure to spare; your only difficulty is figuring out which magnificent glacier is on your bucket list. While most Alaska itineraries include a stop in famed Glacier Bay, not all do – and small ships are far likelier to bring you to Tracy Arm instead.
The Differences: When it’s clear, Glacier Bay offers a stunning panorama that encompasses eight of the national park’s 11 glaciers; bring your best camera. The National Park requires cruise ships to bring guides onboard and time within the bay is regulated. Passengers are not allowed to get in smaller skifts. On the way in, you’re likely to see whales breaching and seals sunning themselves on rocks.
Tracy Arm is the name of the fjord that leads up to the two faces of Sawyer Glacier. Instead of a large bay, the fjord walls are narrow and craggy, with steep rock faces that contain multiple waterfalls. The closer you get to the end of Tracy Arm, the more icebergs you’ll see, in shades of blue so deep you’ll think they are made of glass. In June, you may see newly born seal pups on the larger floes, their mothers guarding them closely. Cruise ships often send smaller excursion boats out to get a closer look at Sawyer Glacier (if you’re lucky, you’ll see it calve, close-up).
Choose Glacier Bay If: You’re a checklist person for whom Alaska is a once-in-a-lifetime destination. With Glacier Bay, you’ve got a daylong transit through the national park, enough time to take plenty of photos and hopefully spot some wildlife while you listen to expert commentary. The weather is often better too.
Choose Tracy Arm If: You’ve been to Alaska before and want a feeling of awe; there’s something about the passage’s deep channel that inspires communion with nature, no matter how big a ship you’re on. Small boat excursions bring you closer to the glacier face, although note that these can be canceled when the weather is stormy.
Additional Reading: Alaska Cruise Basics; Top 10 Wildlife Encounters on an Alaskan Cruise
Tell us! Which one do you recommend – and why?
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    14 Responses to “Cruising Choices: Glacier Bay vs. Tracy Arm”

    1. acruiseguy
      January 22nd, 2014 @ 3:09 pm

      Boy, do I wish I had chosen “Glacier Bay”, as now I absolutely have to go back. One other choice to make for an Alaska cruise is whether to do a R/T or a Northbound/Southbound coupled w/ a cruisetour. Wish I had taken a cruisetour

      I’ll definitely be heading back to Alaska because of the choices I made the first time around, PLUS it is absolutely stunning!

    2. Laurie
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 10:32 am

      I have been on 2 cruises and 2 land trips to Alaska, and you can never make a mistake on your choices. It is an amazing experience everytime I go!

    3. Dave Tucker
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 11:20 am

      The bluest blue I have ever seen!9

    4. Dave Tucker
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 11:22 am

      The most awesome blue ice you will ever see.

    5. JD
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 12:24 pm

      Our cruise (Golden Princess) took us to Tracy Arm but time limitations prevented us from getting anywhere close to the end. Next time we’re looking for a cruise that does Glacier Bay or Hubbard.

    6. Susan Brmaer
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 12:45 pm

      We have done both Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm, and back-to-back Northbound/Southbound itineraries, as well as a Cruisetour with a Southbound cruise. We loved them all (3 in total) and are planning another back-to-back out of Seattle on Holland America for 2015. If you have only one shot at Alaska, definitely include a Cruisetour that puts you in Denali for at least one night, and we would advise having the cruise be the last part of your trip—you’re going to need the rest!

    7. Becky Bear
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 1:54 pm

      One other thing to consider. If you choose the NB/SB option ending in Seward, Resurrection Bay , the entry to Seward is a fjord. So you could have both the Bay and the fjord experience. If you’re going into Whittier with a stop at College Fjord you are going to have the surrrounded by glaciers experience. But as the the writer matter which choice you make you will see MAGNIFICENT GLACIERS. Last point, if time is limited you do not have to so the tour segment on th NB/SB, ou can just go to Anchoage and fly out.

    8. Deborah
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 2:16 pm

      We went to both last September. Tracy Arm was definitely our pick. The colour is so blue and we were able to get up close enough to hear and see calving. Unfortunately Glacier Bay was overcast with light rain so visibility was poor.

    9. Cruzmann
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 2:22 pm

      Tracy Arm left me totally unimpressed. If you’ve been to the fjords in Norway, New Zealand or Chile this is similar but with a very disappointing finish unless your ship has a program to get closer with some kind of launch. I had a 30X zoom on my camera and we didn’t get close enough to make picture taking worth the effort.

    10. Trekster71
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 3:12 pm

      We went on an Alaska cruise in Sept. 4 years ago. It was rainyy and or totally overcast for all but one day and the one day we were at sea and you do not see much anyway. We have travelled extensively and live in British Columbia where we are surrounded by mountains. Perhaps that is why we were somewhat disappointed as well. Would like to go further north and take the train and do it when the weatther is much much better. Hubbard glacier was interesting butt again vvery cold and wet and pictures nott much to talk about.

    11. Buckeye Jim
      January 23rd, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

      Actually you can do both in one cruise as many itineraries that go on to Glacier Bay have a Tracy Arm excursion that leaves from the ship
      on one of the high speed catamarans and then
      meets up again in Juneau.

    12. Jacquelyn Cotter
      January 24th, 2014 @ 11:11 pm

      WE have done NB cruise only Tracy Arm out of SF which was awe inspiring for someone who had never seen a glacier but followed up 5 years later Sept. 2013 with Alaska Tour/SB cruise to Glacier Bay which as spectacular.The glaciers “calved” for over 2 hours. Crew members said they had never seen it that good! Only thing I would change was instead of ship based land tour from Fairbanks to Whittier would be to rent a car in Fairbanks and do our own “tour” to Whittier, stopping when & where and for how long we wanted. All in all, both beautiful but Glacier Bay my favorite!

    13. Jodi
      January 26th, 2014 @ 12:39 am

      I too am of the opinion you cannot make a wrong choice in Alaska. After all it is the most beautiful State in the Union, so much to see, do and explore! Not to mention multiple ways to cruise/vacation!

    14. paula
      January 17th, 2015 @ 5:21 pm

      I’m having difficulty deciding which would I choose: glacier bay or tracy arm? I am visually impaired so wondering which one would be best for auditory senses? Looking for sounds more than visual. Anyone have an opinion?

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