Q&A Part 1: A Day with Alaska’s Glacier Bay Park Rangers

Q&A Part 1: A Day with Alaska’s Glacier Bay Park Rangers

On every Holland America Line cruise to Alaska, guests get to meet and mingle with enthusiastic Glacier Bay park rangers who have a passion not only for the region, but also what they do.

They come onboard for the day to give guests a better understanding of what they’re looking at and experiencing at Glacier Bay, making it a more fulfilling scenic visit.

Enjoy this Q&A with Glacier Bay Chief of Interpretation Thomas VandenBerg and the Glacier Bay ranger staff who give exceptional insight into the program.

How do you become a park ranger?
Like most jobs, people apply to be a park ranger. The hiring process is very competitive, especially for ranger positions in Glacier Bay. For rangers on cruise ships, one of the most important qualifications is to have experience and enthusiasm for sharing national parks with people! Park rangers receive extensive training on natural and cultural history, current research, and techniques for communicating the wonders of Glacier Bay to visitors on cruise ships, tour boats, and hiking on land.

No particular degree is required, but certain backgrounds lend themselves well to ranger occupations. Many rangers have backgrounds in biology, geology and history, along with teaching experience.

Park Rangers join the ships in Glacier Bay and mingle with guests, as well as give lectures and commentary.

Park Rangers join the ships in Glacier Bay and mingle with guests, as well as give lectures and commentary.

What does a park ranger do?
A park ranger does almost any job you can think of, from researching wildlife to teaching children to enforcing rules to driving boats to constructing buildings. On the cruise ship you will meet an Interpretive Park Ranger. Interpretive Park Rangers help visitors experience and understand National Parks – they translate the park for people. Some also speak several languages. Interpreters will prepare and present programs for adults and children, research information, experience the park, and share the stories of the park with visitors.

What is a typical day like for a ranger in the park?
There are many different jobs in Glacier Bay National Park. Protection rangers patrol the bay, researchers study wildlife, administrators keep the bills paid and maintenance employees keep park vessels and buildings operating smoothly. The rangers on cruise ships are interpretive rangers who specialize in sharing Glacier Bay with visitors.

Interpretive rangers spend most of their time on cruise ships where they can interact with the majority of Glacier Bay’s visitors, almost half a million people each year. Rangers board all cruise ships to help visitors get the most from their day in Glacier Bay National Park.

The interpretive rangers’ day begins early, usually around 5 a.m. at the park headquarters. A small pilot boat ferries the rangers and their gear to meet the cruise ship at the entrance to Glacier Bay. During an underway transfer, the pilot boat matches speed with the ship, the ship’s crew lowers a rope ladder, and we carefully climb aboard to share the visitors’ day of discovery in Glacier Bay National Park. It is an exciting way to start a day and one of the most unique commutes anywhere.

A variety of ranger programs are offered on the cruise ship: a formal ranger presentation in the show lounge, commentary over the public address system while in glacier country, a children’s program and opportunities to meet rangers at the desk set up for them by the crew. A favorite part of the day is looking for wildlife with the passengers: mountain goats on the hillsides, bears on the beach, floating sea otters in the water, a variety of birds, and spouting humpback whales.

After a day of blue ice, wildlife, and wilderness, the rangers climb back down the rope ladder and wave a fond farewell to the passengers with whom they shared the day.

Glacier Bay park rangers got on and off the ships via a pilot boat.

Glacier Bay park rangers got on and off the ships via a pilot boat.

How often do the rangers cruise?
Two to three rangers board every cruise ship that comes into Glacier Bay to help visitors experience as much of Glacier Bay as possible. Rangers are usually on the water two to three days per week.

How long are you onboard?
Rangers are onboard the ship the whole time the ship is in Glacier Bay. This means that rangers often wake up early or get home late, but visitors benefit from their expertise all day. The rangers’ pilot boat drops them off and picks them up at the entrance to the bay.

What will guests learn from your presentations?
Glacier Bay is a truly unique place with its landscape, beauty, and wildness. Even though this is true, Glacier Bay’s relevance to the rest of the world is equally important. While the Glacier Bay park ranger’s talks are primarily about Glacier Bay, the themes being communicated can be applied worldwide: the preservation of wilderness for future generations, opportunities to study the impacts of climate change on melting glaciers, the ways that people react to a continually changing environment, seeking opportunities to protect and connect to nature, and more. The meanings of Glacier Bay shared by the rangers can lead all of us to greater understanding of events at home and elsewhere.

Do you know everything you talk about from memory or do you bring notes?
Glacier Bay park rangers are professionally trained to research and deliver programs to the park visitors. While many of the rangers have decades of experience in Glacier Bay, we all continue to enrich our understanding of this amazing National Park with the most current information available. Our programs are rehearsed and honed for clarity, but not read.

Check back on the Holland America Blog this Friday, June 20, for part two of this exciting Q&A that will cover the highlights guests will see when cruising Glacier Bay.


Join the Discussion


  1. Ruthann Milner June 18, 2014 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Why is the Glacier Ice so blue in color ?

  2. Peggy Sommella June 18, 2014 at 7:23 pm - Reply

    Exactly how cold does it get there?

  3. Shelley June 18, 2014 at 8:18 pm - Reply

    I would love to hear more about the Glacier itself, especially how much fall off it experiences each year.
    Thank you

  4. Glenn Johnson June 18, 2014 at 9:35 pm - Reply

    With global warming, how long will the glaciers exist in Glacier Bay.

  5. Sean Neilson June 24, 2014 at 4:58 pm - Reply

    Why are all the rangers so handsome?!

  6. Flatrick Bear July 9, 2014 at 9:51 pm - Reply

    Will the park ranger in the center left photo be our ranger? He sure looks like he knows his stuff!

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