Glacier Bay is one of the top tourist draws to Southeast Alaska. The huge National Park is almost entirely inaccessible – the only way to experience it is by boat or plane. For many people who want to visit Alaska each year, it’s high on their Alaska bucket list. But can you visit Glacier Bay in summer 2021?
Update (May 21, 2021): With the passage of The Alaska Tourism Restoration Act, Alaska cruise lines are planning to resume cruises as early as mid-July 2021. Here are the cruise lines and their planned first sailings:
- Royal Caribbean – July 19
- Celebrity Cruises – July 23
- Holland America – July 24
- Princess Cruises – July 25
- Carnival Cruises – July 27
- Norwegian Cruise Line – August 7
The easiest way to visit Glacier Bay this summer is on one of these cruises; you will need to show proof of vaccination to take one of these cruises.
In the rest of this post, like my similar post on how to visit Denali in Summer 2021, I’ll break down the step-by-step process for planning to visit Glacier Bay other ways this summer. As you’ll see, you need to work backward – arrange how you’ll visit Glacier Bay, then how you’ll reach the different parts of Alaska you need to make that happen. By the end, you’ll have the basics to plan your own trip to Glacier Bay this year; it won’t be as easy as just boarding a cruise ship – but you can still make it happen.
Note: Please remember that we are still in an ongoing pandemic. While Alaska has reduced its mask and distancing mandates to “recommendations,” many communities in Southeast Alaska lack extensive medical infrastructure and can’t handle a COVID outbreak. If you choose to visit Alaska this year, do your part to keep your local hosts safe by wearing a mask and distancing.
In this post, I promote travel to a national park that is the traditional lands of the Lingít Aaní (Tlingit) and Dënéndeh peoples. With respect, I make a formal land acknowledgment, extending my appreciation and respect to the past and present people of these lands. To learn more about the peoples who call these lands home, I invite you to explore Native Land.
This post was originally published in February 2021, and was updated in May 2021.
Step 1. Decide How You’ll Visit Glacier Bay National Park
In addition to the mega ship cruises that will likely begin later this summer, there are four other ways to visit Glacier Bay National Park.
Option 1: Small Ship Cruise
As with mega ship cruises, the easiest way to visit Glacier Bay this summer is on a small ship cruise. There are a number of companies that will offer Alaska cruises this summer, but the main two are Alaskan Dream Cruises and Uncruise. (Bonus: I just learned about John Hall’s Alaska Cruises & Tours Platinum Catamaran charter as another option too.)
Both of these companies have itineraries that visit Glacier Bay; if that’s your #1 must-see in Alaska, it’s still entirely possible to do an Alaska cruise that includes this on your itinerary.
Most people balk at the price of small ship cruises. As I detail in my Uncruise review (from a cruise I took in 2017), the price is actually comparable when you look at the cost of all ship add-ons and excursions.
(If you choose to do a small ship Alaska cruise, you can skip Step 2 below and read Step 3.)
Don’t forget: mega cruise ship companies are also offering some dates this year. Scroll to the top of this post to see the companies sailing to Alaska in 2021.
Option 2: Flightseeing Tour
Flightseeing tours are always available for visiting Glacier Bay, but there are fewer companies offering them this year than usual. Here are the Glacier Bay flightseeing tour companies I found:
- Mountain Flying Service – Flights from Skagway and Haines
- Juneau Adventure Tours – Flights from Skagway
- Fly Drake – Flights from Skagway and Haines
The prices all range from $200-$450 depending on the tour length and whether you depart from Skagway or Haines. If you choose to do a flightseeing tour to visit Glacier Bay this summer, be sure to read Step 2 as you also need to get yourself to Skagway or Haines to do the tour!
Option 3. Stay at Glacier Bay Lodge
If you want to stay as close to Glacier Bay National Park as possible, you can also choose to stay at Glacier Bay Lodge. (This property was not open at the time I originally published this post!) You can reach Glacier Bay Lodge, located in the small community of Gustavus, by plane (on Alaska Airlines), ferry (on the Alaska Marine Highway System), or Air Taxi (on Alaska Seaplanes). Room rates start from about $250 per night.
(If you choose to stay at Glacier Bay Lodge, you can skip Step 2 below and read Step 3.)
Option 4. Day-cruise with True Alaskan Tours
Finally, there’s one more option for summer 2021: True Alaskan Tours is offering a one-day 12-hour cruise from Juneau to Glacier Bay National Park. This is brand new this summer – there’s never been a “day tour” to Glacier Bay like this before! It’s a great option if you’re looking for a more budget-friendly option to visit, as this cruise is $299 per person and in total is likely less than a small ship cruise, flightseeing tour, or stay at Glacier Bay Lodge.
(If you choose to book this day cruise, you can skip Step 2 below and read Step 3.)
Step 2. Arrange Transport to Skagway or Haines (Optional)
If you decide to visit Glacier Bay on a flightseeing tour, you might wonder: how do I get to Skagway or Haines to board my flightseeing tour?
There are two ways to get from Juneau to Skagway or Haines this year:
- On the Alaska Ferry, also called the Alaska Marine Highway System. Both Haines and Skagway are connected to Juneau in the ferry system.
- With Alaska Fjordlines. This company has offered new routes this summer from Juneau to both Haines and Skagway.
Be sure to check all your options, as well as the time-tables for each one, to make sure you work out which option is best for your budget and itinerary.
Step 3. Organize Your Juneau Itinerary
No matter whether you choose to cruise or flightsee Glacier Bay National Park, you’ll very likely start and/or end your trip in Juneau, Alaska’s capital. Luckily, Juneau is the second-biggest city in Alaska and has plenty of tourism infrastructure!
First of all, you can book flights from/through Seattle to Juneau; Alaska Airlines offers ~7 daily non-stop flights from Seattle, and Delta offers ~4 daily non-stop flights too. That makes it easy to get to/from Juneau to start your Glacier Bay cruise or ferry/flightseeing journey.
Second, Juneau has a lot to offer visitors:
- Here’s some inspiration on what to do in Juneau, based on popular cruise excursions that are offered normally.
- Planning a day excursion to Mendenhall Glacier is a must! You’ll need to rent a car but it’s totally worth the extra logistics.
- The Mt. Robert’s Tramway is another must-do – it takes you up 2,000 feet in just six minutes.
- On my last visit to Juneau, I went on an awesome Juneau Food Tours with Midgi.
- There are also plenty of hotel options, including The Alaskan Hotel & Bar (one of the oldest in Alaska, from $90/night), The Driftwood Hotel (from $137/night, and Alaska’s Capital Inn Bed & Breakfast (from $190/night).
It’s easy to fill a few days exploring Juneau before or after your Glacier Bay excursion.
Step 4. Have a COVID Testing Plan
Last but not least: start planning now for your Covid testing plan. While it’s not required to arrive with a negative COVID test anymore, it’s still a good idea if you plan to visit the isolated small communities of Southeast Alaska.
I strongly recommend planning now to get tested before you depart on your Alaska trip. As I’m planning my own trip to Alaska in August and again in September, this is what I’ll be doing. I want to wait on my test results in the comfort of my home and know I’m good to go when I arrive. Learn more on the State of Alaska Traveler Information Page.
There are a lot of questions about all of these new changes – and they only apply for this summer. Have other questions about visiting Glacier Bay in summer 2021? Let me know in the comments or join me in my Alaska Travel Tips Facebook Community!
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