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Glacier Bay in Alaska (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)
Glacier Bay in Alaska (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)

Hubbard Glacier vs. Glacier Bay: Which Is Best on a Cruise in Alaska?

Glacier Bay in Alaska (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)
Glacier Bay in Alaska (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)
Executive Editor, U.S.
Chris Gray Faust
Contributor
Marissa Wright

Last updated
Feb 9, 2024

Read time
5 min read

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 in Alaska: What You Need to Know About this Alaskan Glacier

Glacier Bay on Noordam
Glacier Bay on Noordam

Rivaling other hotspots for glacier cruising, Glacier Bay is part of the National Park system with more than three million acres and 1,000 glaciers for visitors to enjoy. A cruise around the park takes around nine to 10 hours and cruisers can soak in the unique beauty while on their Glacier Bay cruise).

While you may not get to see the largest glacier in Alaska, Bering Glacier, a Glacier Bay cruise will show you extravagant glaciers located in the National Park.

If you’re interested in visiting the largest glacier in Alaska, you’ll have to do it the hard way. Backpacking and multi-day hiking trips take travelers to see the impressive glacier.

Glacier Bay, Alaska: Why You Should Choose a Glacier Bay Cruise

Cruise passenger using binoculars in Glacier Bay (Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock.com)
Cruise passenger using binoculars in Glacier Bay (Photo: Maridav/Shutterstock.com)

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 in 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.

Glacier Bay cruise vacations allow travelers -- both young and old -- to appreciate scenic cruising as they glide near seven glaciers. Get to know Glacier Bay better with A Day in Glacier Bay.

Glacier Bay, Alaska: Why You Shouldn't Choose a Glacier Bay Cruise

Scenic cruising in Glacier Bay (Photo: Cruise Critic)
Scenic cruising in Glacier Bay (Photo: Cruise Critic)

The trip into Glacier Bay takes all day, so 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, you may want 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. There are luxury Glacier Bay cruises available along with other options, so be sure to conduct your research carefully to find what works best for you.

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An Alaska glacier cruise is a great opportunity for those who enjoy the great outdoors to see a different side of nature.

Featured Article: Everything you Need to Know to Plan a Bucket List Cruise to Alaska.

Hubbard Glacier in Alaska: What You Need to Know About this Alaskan Glacier

Hubbard Glacier at sunset
Hubbard Glacier, Alaska (photo: Luis Boucault/Shutterstock)

Hubbard Glacier is located in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve. The National Park encompasses 13.2 million acres in the northernmost reaches of America. Fun fact: more than 35% of this National Park is covered by glaciers.

Most Alaska glacier cruises have at least one itinerary that includes a visit to the famous Hubbard Glacier. The good thing about Hubbard Glacier is that it’s so big you can’t miss it as your cruise ship sails by it.

Hubbard Glacier in Alaska is a remarkable sight that you don’t want to miss on your trip up North.

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska: Why You Should Choose a Hubbard Glacier Cruise

Sailing away from Hubbard Glacier, through Yakutat Bay, Alaska on a cruise ship (Photo: Sanja_K/Shutterstock)
Sailing away from Hubbard Glacier, through Yakutat Bay, Alaska on a cruise ship (Photo: Sanja_K/Shutterstock)

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 truly 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 glacier. In total, you'll generally spend less time at Hubbard Glacier than you will in Glacier Bay. Even though the trip to Hubbard Glacier is short, don’t forget to pack warm clothes so that you can enjoy the best-uninterrupted views of the glacier.

Hubbard Glacier, Alaska: Why You Shouldn't Choose a Hubbard Glacier Cruise

Hubbard Glacier in Alaska (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)
Hubbard Glacier in Alaska (Photo/Chris Gray Faust)

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 Glacier 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 to FOMO, you're going to want to do Glacier Bay, end of story.

Featured Article: Find a first-person account of an Alaska cruisetour experience from one of Cruise Critic's editors.

Hubbard Glacier vs. Glacier Bay: Bottom Line

Shot of Royal Princess sailing near the icy waters of Hubbard Glacier at sunset
Royal Princess near Hubbard Glacier (Photo: Chris Gray Faust/Cruise Critic)

Fortunately, some Alaska itineraries include both Hubbard Glacier and Glacier Bay, making the stressful choice between the two nonexistent. But if you've got your heart set on seeing both, double-check your Alaska cruise 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 cruise 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 in Alaska.

Visit Cruise Critic's Hubbard Glacier board and Glacier Bay community boards to hear more from other cruisers. The Alaska community board shares more about incredible Alaskan adventures.

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