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Hubbard Glacier Cruise, The Best Of Alaska

A Celebrity ship at Hubbard Glacier on a rainy day

When I chose to cruise to Hubbard Glacier in Alaska, little did I know I’d be seeing North America’s largest tidewater glacier. Advancing at a rapid rate, Hubbard, otherwise known as the “galloping glacier,” wows cruise passengers with its turquoise hues, massive size, and spectacular calving action.

At its terminus, its face measures 600 feet, with 350 of it above the waterline. Located in Wrangell–St. Elias National Park and Preserve, it’s further north than Glacier Bay National Park.

I still remember the slow and quiet approach to Disenchantment Bay on my inside passage Alaska cruise. While I had experienced numerous spectacular glaciers over the years, I had always viewed them from solid ground. This was the first Alaska adventure of what later came to be a recurring affair. 

I chose to sail a Celebrity Alaska cruise from Vancouver, from the advice of my travel agent and researching Alaska itinerary reviews. My encounter left me so captivated that it launched me into an era hungry to experience more.

Not only is Hubbard Glacier the largest tidewater glacier in North America, but it’s also the longest tidewater glacier in the world. It’s important to note it can only be seen by air or by boat.

The “galloping glacier” has been thickening and advancing into Disenchantment Bay ever since measurements began in the late 1800s.

Don’t be disappointed if your cruise ship isn’t cruising Glacier Bay. While many struggle with choosing between Hubbard and Glacier Bay as an Alaska itinerary, both are breathtaking in their own way. 

I have cruised Hubbard Glacier four times and Glacier Bay National Park four times, and both offer fabulous itineraries that will leave you speechless.

A Hubbard Glacier Cruise In July

I arose in the early morning hours of a cloudy and drizzling July day, anxious to see this monster of an ice field.

I didn’t know quite what to expect of the Alaska weather next to Hubbard, but I dressed in layers with my waterproof jacket, prepared to spend hours on deck.

As the ship left the Gulf of Alaska into Yakutat Bay, it slowed its engines for a cautionary approach into the narrowing Disenchantment Bay.

Since Hubbard is advancing at a slow but persistent rate, it consistently calves into the waters, leaving them heavily populated with blue-hued icebergs.

The leisurely approach through Yakutat Bay was incredibly beautiful, with picturesque mountains and gentle waters. I remembered thinking it was hard to imagine a glacier was here since, at that point, there were no signs of snow or ice.

But entering Disenchantment Bay, Alaska, I realized that my Hubbard Glacier cruise was not going to leave me disappointed as icebergs came into view.

Surging through the icy waters, I was transported into a “twilight zone” as the ice multiplied not only in quantity but in size. Soon, the silted striped bergs rivaled the size of houses with seagulls, seals, and the occasional bald eagle on top.

I was captivated by the colors of the ice from hues of delicate aqua and powder blues mixed with silty tones of browns to charcoal. It gave me an immense appreciation for the beauty of nature and its breathtaking creations.

Mesmerized by the allure of the wild great, my cruise ship rounded the last corner, and suddenly, Hubbard Glacier made a grand entrance.

The Face of Hubbard Glacier

Approaching the gentle giant, I realized no quota of photographs could capture its colossal size. In fact, the facade of Hubbard is so humungous that I couldn’t fit it in one single picture.

So, how big is Hubbard Glacier? At its face, it measures an enormous 7 miles wide and 600 feet tall, of which 350 feet is visible above the water while 250 feet lie beneath.

Cracks in the blue ice of Hubbard Glacier
Cracks in the blue ice

Keeping in mind that much of the ice lies beneath the waterline will determine how close a ship can get to its façade. On the day I arrived, the conditions swung in our favor, and at a ¼-mile distance, I came face-to-face with the towering behemoth.

Standing on the deck, my cruise ship dwarfed in size next to Hubbard, and I was in awe of this spectacular natural wonder.

Unlike Glacier Bay, Hubbard is not inside a national park. Therefore, no park ranger will board the ship during the time spent at the glacier. Instead, a knowledgeable naturalist will accompany cruisers on their journey.

He/she provides oodles of appealing information about the surrounding tundra and the Alaskan wildlife that inhabits this area.

In the five hours I spent in the bay, the naturalist kept his eyes peeled to alert us to sightings of bears, eagles, seals, and humpback whales. Keep your cameras and binoculars handy, so you don’t miss out on that unexpected appearance.

At the face of Hubbard Glacier, I noticed the ragged ice had various shades of blue and aqua. Although looking to the far left, it meets the much dirtier Valerie Glacier, mottled with silty stripes of volcanic ash.

The Rise and Fall of Hubbard Glacier

Over the last century, Hubbard has been advancing and retreating. Currently, it’s in a slow-advancing stage. In a world of increasing climate change where most icefields are retreating at an alarming rate, it’s comforting to see one defying the odds.

If this isn’t a reason to book your cruise to Hubbard Glacier now, I don’t know what is.

At 76 miles long, this giant glacier begins at Mount Logan in the Yukon Territory of Canada. Due to its vast catchment basin, it gathers a tremendous amount of snow during the winter.

This fallen snow either moves with the ice or later melts and adds to the glacier’s size. It’s astonishing to know it takes 400 years for the ice at the top to traverse to the terminus or the toe.

So, when viewing those gorgeous shades of blue ice at the face, know that it’s 400 years old. Interestingly enough, in 1986 and 2002, the ice flow advanced sufficiently to close off the entrance to Russell Fjord, on the righthand side of Hubbard.

The blockage of this fjord caused the water levels to rise rapidly and threatened to flood the Alaskan town of Yakutat.

The rising water in the now newly-developed lake caused a natural death to the surrounding flora, which could not survive underwater.

Eventually, the force of the water broke through, creating a new channel for drainage into Disenchantment Bay. Experts believe it’s a matter of time before Hubbard Glacier advances enough to dam Russell Fjord again.

During your glacier cruise, look to the far right where the land juts out. This is Gilbert Point and the area that will eventually close up again.

Glacier Calving

Since Hubbard is actively advancing, all that movement causes the ice to crack. Routinely, chunks of ice break away from the terminus and fall into the frigid waters below.

This action is known as “calving’. Calving is one of the most amazing natural wonders in the world, and it’s a treat to witness.

First, I heard the earth-shattering thunder, and then I scoured the towering ice to watch for the calving action. At 7-miles long, it was often difficult to predict where the ice would break off.

It was a matter of luck if I had my camera positioned in the correct direction. Sometimes the pieces were scanty, but other times, the chunks paralleled the size of a six-story apartment building.

Some of the newly-calved icebergs would collide with the water and splinter outwards, creating significant waves. This is one reason ships keep their distance from the edge of Hubbard.

During my Alaska cruise with Celebrity, the captain performed a slow pirouette of the ship allowing everyone equal viewing time.

So, whether you choose to view up on deck (as I did) or from the privacy of a stateroom balcony, every location is ideal for gazing. Plus, each cruise ship spends hours at the foot of Hubbard, so there’s ample opportunity to take plenty of photos.

Brunch Buffet

Celebrity brunch buffet
The Hubbard Glacier brunch buffet featured a chocolate fountain

After becoming cold and wet on deck, my daughter and I headed down to the main restaurant for a much-anticipated brunch. Celebrity Cruises put on a fantastic brunch since visiting Hubbard Glacier was a special day.

We had skipped breakfast in preparation for brunch and had worked up an appetite out in the cold Alaskan weather. We were first in line, and once the restaurant opened, I was blown away by the incredible display before us.

Walking down the spiral staircase into the two-story dining room, made me reminisce of the “Titanic” movie. It was the moment that Rose walked those steps down the beautiful mahogany staircase.

At the foot of the stairs, three massive ice sculptures welcomed hungry guests. Walking to our table, I was taken aback by the delicious display of food waiting to be plated.

On one side, traditional breakfast foods consisted of items from eggs, sausage, and bacon to pastries, fruit, and French toast. Across the aisle, a whole roasted pig showcased the lunch selections.

We sat at a table next to the window with views of the towering Hubbard outside. A long dessert table included a chocolate fountain with fruit sticks for dipping. It also had every mouth-watering delicacy you could imagine.

After filling our bellies at the fantastic buffet, it was time to have some more one-on-one time with Hubbard.

Alaskan Weather

Heading out onto the deck, I noticed the Alaska liquid sunshine was continuing to fall. By this time, most cruisers had gone inside to warm up and dry off.

I observed a few people in the steaming hot tubs outside on the wet deck, and it sparked an idea. How often do you get to enjoy the bubbling waters of a spa while sitting next to a glacier?

So, like the other few brave souls on that Hubbard Alaska cruise, we grabbed our bathing suits and Celebrity bathrobes to enjoy a hot tub with a spectacular view.

Call me adventurous or call me crazy, but life’s more enjoyable with a little spontaneity.

During the summer months (May through to September), expect the temperatures to be between 40- and 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

The average rainfall is 7 inches to 21 inches per month, with the wettest months towards the end of the Alaska cruise season. Keep this in mind when packing for your Alaska adventure.

Blue hues of Hubbard Glacier in Alaska
Beautiful blue hues of ice at Hubbard Glacier in Alaska

It’s hard to top my first cruise to Alaska. Maybe part of that comes from the newness of my surroundings and the fact that everything was a “first”. However, my 4th cruise on Cunard Queen Elizabeth got me closer to Hubbard with near-perfect weather conditions.

Perhaps part of it was that Celebrity Cruises made everything so fantastic. But even though I have traveled back to Alaska several more times, its immense panoramas still captivate me.

Other Visits To Hubbard Glacier

During my second Hubbard Glacier cruise with Princess Cruises, the temperatures were warmer, and the skies were void of rain. However, there were lots of low-lying clouds on the face of Hubbard.

All that fog obscured the views and made for a less-than-spectacular glacier viewing experience.

During my third visit in May 2022, the skies were crystal clear, and the mountains were heavy with snow. The snow blended with the ice and blue hues of Hubbard Glacier. Although I got COVID during my cruise, I was still able to enjoy Hubbard Glacier from my balcony, and I was extra thankful I had one.

Know that whenever you sail, you can’t predict the weather, control the visibility, or know how close to Hubbard Glacier your ship can get. So, if Alaska serves you lemons (or liquid sunshine), jump in the hot tub as I did!

Happy travels ~ Karen

A Hubbard Glacier cruise is a spectacular way to see Alaska. Cruising into Disenchantment Bay is majestic with apartment-sized iceberg in incredible shades of blue. Nicknamed the “galloping glacier, Hubbard is the largest tidewater glacier in North America. #hubbardglacier #alaskacruise #alaskatravel #cruisealaska