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Tracy Arm Fjord Cruise: An Epic Journey To Sawyer Glacier

Tracy Arm is a narrow, 30-mile-long fjord located near Juneau, Alaska. It is known for its stunning natural beauty, including towering waterfalls, massive glaciers, and abundant wildlife.

We have cruised there multiple times and find Tracy Arm Fjord to be an unforgettable experience. It allows visitors to get up close and personal with some of the most beautiful scenery in the world.

On a Tracy Arm fjord cruise, passengers can expect to view a variety of wildlife, including whales, seals, and bald eagles. The fjord is also home to numerous glaciers, including the Sawyer Glacier, one of Alaska’s most impressive sights.

Radiance of the Seas in Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska

As the cruise ship navigates through the narrow fjord, passengers can see the Sawyer Glacier up close and witness chunks of ice breaking off (“calving”) and falling into the water below.

Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast, a nature lover, or someone looking for a unique and unforgettable experience, discover what to expect on a day in Tracy Arm.

Where Is Tracy Arm Fjord?

Tracy Arm Fjord is in the Southeast Alaskan panhandle, a little south of Juneau. With 45 miles between Tracy Arm and Alaska’s capital, visitors can visit the fjord on an Alaska cruise or by separate excursion from Juneau.

The fjord is approximately 30 miles long and differs from Hubbard Glacier or a Glacier Bay itinerary. It can only be accessed by boat or plane.

The most popular way to visit the fjord is by taking a cruise. Many cruise lines offer tours of Tracy Arm, typically sailing from Vancouver or Seattle, including Holland America, Carnival, Royal Caribbean, and Princess Cruises.

Steep cliffs in Tracy Arm
Steep granite cliffs and emerald waters

Cruise ships must navigate through the narrow fjord to reach the glacier at the end of the arm. The unhurried approach includes majestic views of towering mountains and granite cliffs.

As the ship slowly navigates the emerald waters, angel hair cascades, gracing the towering walls, mesmerize cruise passengers. However, it’s the icebergs and stunning blue glaciers they come to see.

Planning A Cruise To Tracy Arm Fjord

There are a few key things to consider when planning a Tracy Arm Fjord cruise to ensure the best experience possible.

I recommend comparing a few cruise line’s itineraries. Many ships arrive in the fjord early, around 6 am. They spend a few hours cruising before continuing onto Juneau. These vessels arrive in Juneau at 1:30 pm, giving passengers a shorter day in the capital.

Cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord
Cruising in Tracy Arm

Since Juneau is a popular port and provides the most activities, having a full day might be preferred. So, consider choosing an itinerary with Juneau and Tracy Arm on different days.

Best Time To Visit

June through September provides the best months for visitation when the weather is generally mild and the days are long. However, some cruise lines sail to Tracy Arm Fjord as early as May or even late April.

During the early season, ice in the fjord blocks a cruise ship’s passage and prevents the vessel from reaching Sawyer Glacier. This happened to us on a cruise we took in early May, and our cruise ship only made it halfway up the fjord.

From June onward, you can expect to see a lot of wildlife, including harbor seals, sea lions, and various bird species. Where the fjord meets Holkham Bay, humpback whales may welcome your arrival.

Harbor seals at Sawyer Glacier
Harbor seals at Sawyer Glacier

You’ll also have the best chance to see the glaciers up close and witness the stunning blue ice.

Choosing A Cruise Line

It’s important to consider the size of the ship and the amenities offered when choosing a cruise line. A smaller ship gives closer access to the glaciers and wildlife, while a larger ship may offer more amenities and activities. 

Some popular lines that offer Tracy Arm Fjord cruises include Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean. Alternatively, Seabourn Quest and American Constellation offer an intimate ship experience.

It’s also good to note that some lines have “cruising Tracy Arm Fjord” on their Alaska cruise itinerary but don’t enter the fjord. Instead, they make a service call. Holland America Zaandam and Koningsdam are examples.

A service call means the ship stops at the fjord’s mouth, allowing some guests to disembark onto a smaller vessel to continue into the fjord.

These passengers would have prepurchased the Tracy Arm Fjord & Glacier Explorer tour through their cruise line. More on that later.

What To Wear

Regardless of your cruise date, bringing warm layers is essential, as the temperature can be chilly, even in the summer months.

Glaciers and fjords have their own ‘micro-climates’ due to the massive volume of ice they are composed of. So, it can be 55F in Juneau and 35F in Tracy Arm on the same day.

Brian wearing a Helly Hanson 3-in-1 jacket
Brian wearing a Helly Hanson 3-in-1 jacket

We recommend packing a waterproof jacket, gloves, a hat, warm socks, and sunglasses to protect your eyes from the glacial glare. Compact binoculars are handy to help spot harbor seals on icebergs and mountain goats high on the cliffs.

Remember to pack a camera (with a telephoto lens) to capture the stunning scenery and wildlife you’ll encounter on your journey. Although, if you have one of the latest smartphones, their built-in cameras meet the needs of most travelers.

Exploring Tracy Arm Fjord

Tracy Arm Fjord’s glacier-carved landscape is a spectacular destination and is sometimes preferred over the more popular Glacier Bay National Park.

In this section, we’ll explore what makes Tracy Arm Fjord so unique and what to expect on a cruise to this beautiful destination.

Weather In The Fjord

It’s essential to be prepared for all conditions since the weather in Tracy Arm Fjord can be unpredictable. While watching a forecast might give an indication of what’s expected, weather can change so quickly in Alaska.

Views in the fjord after the fog lifted
Views after the fog lifted

Since fjords have their own micro-climate, expect cooler, damper weather and lots of mist, especially in the early hours. The fog and low-lying clouds may hamper your ability to take photos.

In July, the warmest month, expect daytime highs in the low 60s and lows in the shoulder season around 30s. As the ship approaches Sawyer Glacier, the ice flow off the icefield may make it feel much colder.

Some cruise ships offer complimentary umbrellas or water-proof ponchos, but we prefer to bring our own gear to ensure we’re protected.

Tracy Arm Fjord & Glacier Explorer

One of the best ways to explore Tracy Arm Fjord is by taking a glacier explorer tour on a high-speed catamaran. Many cruise lines offer this tour, which takes guests on a smaller vessel from your cruise ship to explore Tracy Arm and see the Sawyer Glacier up close.

Allen Marine operates the tour, which typically lasts six hours and includes stunning views of the fjord, waterfalls, and wildlife.

It’s best to book through your cruise line early, as the limited-capacity excursion sells out fast. The prices vary wildly, from USD 250 to over USD 350.

The Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Explorer vessel
Tracy Arm Fjord and Glacier Explorer vessel

Is this excursion worth the extra cost? YES! Tour guests get an eye-to-eye view of harbor seals with a smaller vessel, feel the spray of waterfalls, and get closer to the glacier’s towering face. Sometimes, the crew makes cocktails from the glacial ice fished out of the water.

Wildlife And Natural Beauty

Tracy Arm Fjord is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including whales, seals, eagles, and bears. Whales are more likely to hang out in Holkham Bay, and species can include both humpbacks and orcas.

At the end of the fjord, cruise lines open up the viewing areas at the bow, allowing closer views of the icebergs and towering glacier. We find it gets crowded, so arrive early for the prime front row standing spots.

Beneath the glaciers, giant icebergs provide a vital breeding spot for harbor seals, and a safety zone from hungry orcas.

Booking a balcony provides private viewing space for both glaciers and wildlife. Don’t worry about which side to book as the ship rotates at the glacier’s terminus (toe).

Sawyer Glaciers

The Twin Sawyer Glaciers are the main attraction in Tracy Arm Fjord. The glaciers are named after the Navy’s Secretary, Benjamin Franklin Tracy, who was in office under President Harrison.

Both massive glaciers begin in British Columbia, Canada, with North Sawyer stretching 22 miles and South Sawyer flowing 31 miles to the ocean.

Of the two, South Sawyer Glacier is larger and more accessible to reach. As North Sawyer retreats, the narrow passage becomes more hazardous and less maneuverable for larger cruise ships.

Comparisons And Considerations

Approaching Sawyer Glacier
Approaching Sawyer Glacier

When planning an Alaska cruise, many choose to visit Tracy Arm Fjord. Yet, consider other glacier viewing options before deciding.

In our view, when cruising to Alaska, it’s best to decide on the itinerary you want FIRST and then pick the cruise line.

We compare visiting Tracy Arm Fjord with Endicott Arm and Hubbard Glacier. In addition, we’ll provide some tips for glacier viewing.

Tracy Arm Vs. Endicott Arm

Both Tracy Arm and Endicott Arm are part of the Tracy Arm-Fords Terror Wilderness. Cruise ships enter Holkham Bay to reach both destinations, with Sawyer Glaciers at the end of Tracy Arm and Dawes Glacier in Endicott Arm.

There are some differences to consider when choosing between the two. Tracy Arm is narrower and has more icebergs, while Endicott Arm is wider and has more wildlife. Since ships going to Tracy Arm must negotiate turns in the fjord, generally smaller and mid-sized vessels go there.

So, larger ships like the Quantum of the Seas, Ovation of the Seas, and Norwegian Bliss must visit Endicott Arm Fjord instead.

Tracy Arm Fjord Vs. Hubbard Glacier

Tracy Arm waterfall
Tracy Arm waterfall

Hubbard Glacier and Tracy Arm Fjord are two popular glacier-viewing experiences in Alaska. Tracy Arm Fjord is known for its narrow passages and towering waterfalls, while Hubbard Glacier is the largest tidewater glacier in North America.

They offer contrasting encounters, and it’s like comparing apples to oranges. The slow approach to Sawyer Glacier is more scenic, and the misty fjord creates a sense of mystery.

Some prefer the colossal Hubbard Glacier for its calving action. Its towering face has stunning blue hues, and capturing a lousy photo is hard.

As with all tidewater glaciers, the amount of ice in the water will determine how close a ship can get. Obviously, getting really close provides a more thrilling experience.

Glacier Viewing Tips

No matter which glacier viewing experience you choose, there are some tips to keep in mind to make the most of your experience.

Karen viewing the fjord from our balcony
Viewing the fjord from our balcony

Dress in layers and bring warm clothing, as temperatures can be cold on the water. My wife, Karen, didn’t take gloves on a July Alaska cruise and soon regretted it.

Bring binoculars and a camera to capture the stunning views and wildlife. Finally, be prepared for changes in the itinerary due to weather or other factors. Sometimes, ships don’t enter Tracy Arm Fjord in the shoulder season due to too much fog or ice.

When ships miss the fjord, they won’t include another glacier or bay experience.

Our Final Thoughts

Tracy Arm Fjord will impress you and is a must-see adventure on an Alaskan cruise. My favorite Alaskan glaciers will always be the Hubbard Glacier and Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park.

However, when comparing cruise lines, some, like Cunard, provide more than one glacier viewing day. We have booked these itineraries more than once. A two-for-one, it’s a no-brainer!

A ship cruising in Tracy Arm Fjord in Alaska, Sawyer Glacier, and mountains in the fjord