Originally Posted by msmcduffy
...I have been to Tracy Arm & Glacier Bay on a HAL cruise. We were very close to a glacier in Glacier Bay, but in Tracy Arm (which was breathtaking-looked like New Zealand with the steep fjords), the ship had to turn back before we made it to the Sawyer glaciers. There was too much ice - and this was mid-July. So if you want a guarantee to see a glacier, Tracy Arm isn't your best bet. I'd love to go there on a small boat some day, perhaps they can get thru easier(?).
The small boats definitely have a better record at getting within view of the glaciers. For the cruise ships, it's basically a time issue more than anything. They have only so many hours in the area, and since it's over 30 miles each way, just in Tracy Arm, if the ship has to slow down at all (ice conditions, whales, other boat traffic, etc.) they'll generally run in until they're out of time, claim ice conditions and safety and leave. The smaller boats 1) can maneuver through and around the ice more nimbly, and 2) usually have more time to go super-slow and push farther in... (and I do literally mean "push"...)
As has been pointed out before, Glacier Bay and Tracy Arm are really such different places, I wish they would put both on an itinerary. Either that, or cruise Glacier Bay AND leave enough time in Juneau to take an excursion to Tracy Arm. As you noted, in Tracy Arm, the scenery is so spectacular, I've always been "blown away" even if we didn't get all the way to the Sawyer Glaciers.... seals, whales, bears, mountain goats and more sea-birds than you can count.