#4 Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska

Cruising in Glacier Bay National Park
Cruising in Glacier Bay National Park

Adventurer. Naturalist. Eco-warrior. Nature lover. Outdoorsperson. Maverick. Explorer. Just some of the types who will enjoy an itinerary of fjords and national parks in Alaska. They provide the ultimate example of nature's bounty and natural wonders, set out over thousands of miles. The only way to truly witness these treasures, of course, is by cruise ship. And no one takes more people to Alaska than Princess Cruises.

The highlight wonder of the whole Alaska cruise itinerary, in my estimation, is Glacier Bay National Park. Even calling it one of the wonders of the world doesn't do justice to its importance. The designated park actually spans one million acres, shares borders with the U.S. and Canada, and is one of the most bio-diverse regions of the world. Just try to imagine all of this within one park: 130 lakes, more than 1,000 plants, and countless animals like whales, moose, wolverines, mountain goats, and grizzly bears. A whale sighting is truly as awe-inspiring as the glaciers themselves.

The landscape is phenomenal in its diversity and formation, a setting created by glacial movement and huge snowfall. The region proved perilous for the explorers and travelers who tried to traverse it, which is why the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway, in 1883, and the Trans-Canada Highway, in 1963, were so important.

The active glaciers, towering peaks, and large network of caves appeal to the naturalist in all of us. And the crown jewel of the park, Margerie Glacier, is a wonder in and of itself. The sight of an icy-blue glacier calving—with huge cracks, rumble, and white thunder, resounding through the clear sky and emphasizing the true potency of this natural phenomenon—stays in one's memory. More subtle but as awe-inspiring are the seals relaxing on icebergs as they contentedly float by, not a care in the world after a meal of fresh fish.

A visit to the Alaskan sled dogs at Musher’s Park becomes a once-in-a-lifetime experience for adults and children alike. Even watching National Geographic specials on these unique animals can't prepare one for the experience of getting close. The huskies themselves are such gorgeous pack animals with their eerily bright eyes and wolf-like calls. Gliding over the packed snow on a sled drawn by a team of them is truly magical.

Alaska’s College Fjord is another place that elicits pure awe. The spectacular park encompasses five tidewater glaciers (those that terminate in water), five large valley glaciers, and dozens of smaller ones, creating a crisscross of cascading water that starts to resemble frozen waterfalls, mountain snow that drapes the granite landscapes, and a blue sky so bright and pristine that it can only be described as magical. The 16 glaciers were named after Ivy League and other elite schools by the adventurers who explored this region. Hubbard Glacier is another must, a massive block that stretches as far as the eye can see. Located in the eastern part of Alaska, it stands out for its colors—a medley of blues within the ice itself—and the effect of the moving water that slowly freezes and unfreezes, forging its way farther forward over time. Imagine a miles-long, ever-changing ice sculpture and you might get a sense of its incredible beauty and artistic effect. Among the amazing facts behind this natural wonder: It takes about 400 years for ice to fully traverse the length of the glacier, meaning that the ice at the foot of the immense formation has been there at least 400 years.

Even Alaska's only "urban glacier"—Mendenhall, located in Juneau—has morphed and moved in impactful ways, creating Mendenhall Lake, where visitors can enjoy sport fishing for salmon and trout amid the lake's unique ecosystem. Complementing the crystalline beauty throughout Juneau are the less icy natural wonders of the Gold Rush in this historically rich town.