Day 5: We don’t see a glacier but we still have fun

If you have been on an Alaskan cruise, you know that one of the big days on board is the day you see a glacier from the ship. There are four big glacier viewing areas and they are controlled by the U.S. government with permits so that not every ship can just go wherever they want to go. This is a BIG deal. It’s the reason many people go to Alaska. We have been to all the major glaciers that ships go to and have seen calving (where the front wall of the glacier breaks off) and it is awesome. We were really looking forward to showing the grandkids a glacier and the rest of the ship (especially those who had not been to Alaska before) were excited as well. Which brings us to our glacier day experience.

We were scheduled to go up Endicott Arm (an arm is a long fjord that has a glacier at the end of it) to the front of Dawes Glacier. Long story short—we didn’t get there. Here’s a map to give you an idea of what happened to us.


Sadly, as you can see, we did not get to the Dawes Glacier. We didn’t even get close to it. We didn’t even get to where we could see the glacier. I have indicated above about how far I think we got based on what I know we passed and didn’t pass. I checked on Google Maps and where I am pretty sure we stopped was about 15 miles from the front of Dawes Glacier.

We started up Endicott Arm at 7:00 am (which is REALLY early for glacier viewing based on other cruises we have done). Most go during the midday. We went very slowly (that’s normal) because there was some ice that had broken off from the glacier in the water of the fjord. I should mention that Endicott Arm is probably the narrowest of the Alaskan fjords that ships go up. So around 9:00 am, the captain came on the ship’s public address system and announced that due to ice in the water, this was as far as he could take Ovation. We then proceeded to sit in that spot (which I guess was where I marked on the map) to go around and around looking at a waterfall. After about an hour or more, he made another announcement that we were heading for Victoria.

So what was supposed to be a day of seeing amazing glacial sites turned into another sea day where we had to find something to do to entertain ourselves and the kids. And since the day after was also a sea day before we got into Victoria, BC on Thursday (Day 6), we had a lot of entertaining to do. So we found lots to do. See our photos at the bottom of the page. But first, here’s some pics of the non-glacier.

Here’s what I think happened with Ovation and the glacier and fjord. The US Government in its many entities hands out permits for the cruise lines to sail into the various glacier areas. These permits are passed out on a grandfathered-in basis. The longer the cruise line has been in Alaska, the better choice they get of where they want to go. For instance, Holland America has been in Alaska for years and years and they get Glacier Bay (the hardest one to get). Princess and a few other lines have Glacier Bay permits as well. Others go to Hubbard Glacier (Kathleen’s favorite), Tracy Arm and what we got…Dawes…the bottom of the list…because it is so hard to get into and has most of the ice that stopped us from getting there. Cruise lines bid on permits each year for a few years down the road.

My belief is that RCI had planned on moving Ovation to Alaska from Asia in 2020 not this year. But Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL) did so well with Bliss last year, selling out and them bringing NCL Joy here this year that they pushed Ovation up. Which meant they didn’t have space for berthing in Ketchikan and that they had to take the bottom of the barrel when it came to glacier views. Next year RCI has announced that Ovation will go to Glacier Bay but my guess is that they had the permits set up for next year long ago but then when they decided to come a year early, they took what they could get.

I was ticked we didn’t go up the fjord all the way to the glacier. I thought the captain was a wimp and said so but on second thought, I don’t think he made the decision. I think that was a corporate decision made by RCI. But what really ticks me off is that this was as far as Ovation has gotten all summer long (we checked other reviews of earlier cruises and other Cruise Critic Roll Calls for previous cruises) and yet they still sold Northstar Glacier Views (remember Northstar—the big arm that shoots up from the ship) for an additional $50 per person on their website, pre-cruise. If they really didn’t think they were going to get up to the glacier, that was just wrong. I spoke to one woman who paid the $50 for the Northstar at the Glacier but was NOT offered (at least as of the sixth night of the cruise) any kind of refund for that “experience.” That is just wrong.

That’s my theory. If anyone else knows differently or has a better theory, let me know. Now here’s the pics of those kids having an awesome time. They didn’t even know we missed the glacier.

The glacier was God’s great plough set at work ages ago to grind, furrow, and knead over, as it were, the surface of the earth. —Louis Agassiz

5 thoughts on “Day 5: We don’t see a glacier but we still have fun

  1. Robert Roth


    I believe Ovation got all the way to Dawes the sailing prior to ours, and possibly one other time this summer. That said, they didn’t make it yesterday either, so that would be just possibly twice they made it during what, 8+ sailings now? The only good news about that is we plan to return now, both for the glacier and to find that huge colony of sea lions you saw in Juneau!

    1. If this was your first time cruising to Alaska my suggestion would be Holland America from Vancouver as early or as late in the season as you can go. At the point the weather is still cool enough that the glaciers aren’t dropping all that ice. And going from Vancouver is a totally different experience. And the earlier the better. See my review of our last Alaska cruise with HAL out of Vancouver in April of last year by clicking here:

      And for the best in wildlife watching in Juneau, try Harv and Marv. They do whale watching. Find four other people and go in a really cool small boat that sees so much more than we saw on the ship’s shore excursion which was just fine for our kids.

      1. Robert Roth

        It was our first Alaska cruise. My concern with HAL would be my three teens. I have heard that HAL isn’t great for families, but I have no personal experience with them. I was thinking of possibly Celebrity, with smaller ships (?) and loyalty level transfer from RCI….

  2. I think HAL has changed a bunch. But take the teens someplace else and wait until just you and your wife can go. I think they would find just as little to do on Celebrity as they would on HAL. If you do go with Celebrity, make sure you leave out of Vancouver.

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