A cruise to Alaska is awe inspiring, due in large part to the stunning glaciers you'll see while sailing the waters along the 49th state. But different itineraries have different featured glaciers -- you will usually have the option to see Hubbard Glacier or Glacier Bay (or Dawes Glacier) but not both.
If you're debating a cruise to Glacier Bay versus Hubbard Glacier, we have what you need to know to weigh the pros and cons of each.
Glacier Bay National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with many glaciers to see; the scenery includes tidewater glaciers, glassy water, mountains and wildlife such as whales, harbor seals, otters and brown bears.
One bonus of sailing a national park is that cruise lines are required to have a park ranger onboard while in the confines of the park; this means cruisers get access to the knowledge park rangers carry with them. The local park rangers narrate the sights and ecology of Glacier Bay over the loudspeaker as you sail and offer shorter lectures and informal chats.
Voyages into Glacier Bay are limited each season so visiting the National Park feels more like an event than other glacier viewings. Some cruise lines serve special soup or make cocktails using glacier ice to celebrate.
The trip into Glacier Bay takes all day; if you're not into scenic cruising or the National Park narration, you might get a bit bored after a few hours. Alaska does have plenty of other glaciers to see, so if you're more of an active sort, it's OK to choose something like a hike to Mendenhall Glacier in Juneau instead.
Not all mainstream lines go to Glacier Bay so if you're loyal to a line that doesn't have an itinerary there, you're a bit out of luck. Choose the ship that works best for your traveling companions, as well as your interests.
Tall, wide and generally massive, Hubbard Glacier is a mesmerizing natural wonder framed in striking glacial blue. The largest tidewater glacier in North America at a whopping 76 miles long and 1,200 feet deep, Hubbard has been nicknamed the "galloping glacier" because of how quickly it's advancing toward the Gulf of Alaska through Disenchantment Bay. Rapid advancement results in major calving -- the dramatic breaking off of chunks of ice at the edge of a glacier. Watching ice melt has never been so exciting! This area is also rife with wildlife similar to that found in Glacier Bay.
Some cruise lines provide the option of taking a small excursion boat that gets you closer to the glaicer. In total, you'll generally spend less time at Hubbard Glacier than you will in Glacier Bay.
While spectacular, Hubbard is just one glacier, whereas Glacier Bay consists of many glaciers; sailing Glacier Bay takes several hours and is an iconic Alaska cruise experience. Hubbard can be hard to get to at certain times of the cruise season when the weather is cold, as ice can block ships from passing too near. That means cruisers can miss out on an up-close experience with this scenic cruising marvel.
If you're someone who is susceptible for FOMO, you're going to want to do Glacier Bay, end of story.
Fortunately, some Alaska itineraries include both Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay, making the choice between the two nonexistent. But if you've got your heart set on seeing both, double-check your itinerary before booking.
If you have to choose, keep the time of year in mind. Ships most likely will not sail past Hubbard Glacier during the early or late parts of the Alaska season, as temperatures might be too low for waters in and around Hubbard to remain ice free.
In general, if you've never been on an Alaska cruise, we recommend a cruise that sails Glacier Bay for the full experience. But if you're impressed by sheer size or if you've already experienced Glacier Bay, choose an itinerary that includes Hubbard Glacier.
Updated August 02, 2022