Skip To Content
- Blog -
Topic Search

Captain’s Log: Wildlife and Glaciers Exemplify Alaska Cruising

Regular readers of the Holland America Blog might remember Captain Jonathan Mercer from ms Amsterdam’s 2014 Grand World Voyage cruise. Along the way he checked in from port to port with fabulous photos and stories of the journey. This summer the adventurous captain sailed Holland America Line Alaska itineraries and continued to write about it on his own blog at www.captainjonathan.com. Inspired by the majestic beauty of Alaska, Captain Mercer chose to keep these posts more photography-focused.

“World cruises are straightforward, with variation of different ports over a long period of time. Our Alaska itinerary is different … I concluded that a photo blog would be a nice solution, recording various moments of the week.” — Captain Mercer

Shots ranged from wildlife to sunrises to glaciers, glaciers, glaciers! Here are some highlights from Captain Mercer’s summer in Alaska.

From whales to bald eagles, otters and even bears, spend a few weeks in Alaska and you’re sure to spot some incredible wildlife. Sitka, in particular, has a great variety of wildlife tours. It’s there that Captain Mercer was able to head out on a tour that got him up close and personal with a pod of orcas!

Up close with orcas! The calf came up for air offering a fabulous view.

Up close with orcas! The calf came up for air offering a fabulous view.

“Off we go, through the Pacific swell, weaving through islands to Redoubt Bay. Here we came across a group, (pod) of Orcas, a big bull, some females and a calf. These magnificent creatures are very reclusive and finding them was a treat and such an experience.

Apart from these beautiful creatures, humpback whales, bald eagles and sea otters were sighted.” — Captain Mercer

Each whale spotting is an exciting event. The leader of the pod (bottom right) had a dorsal fin 5 feet high!

Each whale spotting is an exciting event. The leader of the pod (bottom right) had a dorsal fin 5 feet high!


A cuddly sea otter.

A cuddly sea otter.


Harbor seals resting on ice floes.

Harbor seals resting on ice floes.

Later at Kodiak, the namesake Kodiak bear was spotted, an incredible moment for the captain and his fellow travelers.

Spotted! A kodiak bear walks along the river.

Spotted! A kodiak bear walks along the river.

“I was determined to get a photo of the famous Kodiak bear. The certain way of seeing them is to jump on a float-plane and fly to the beaches on the other side of the island. No such luxury for us, a taxi would have to do and in the company of Hans, our chief engineer, and armed with telephoto lenses, off we set.

The Buskin river first, but nope, lots of two-legged creatures fishin’, but no bear. Onto Russian river, another 10 minutes away and wait, what are those cars stopped for? Yes! A magnificent male, grazing by the river bank and then, plodding slowly off for a paddle to the adjacent island.” — Captain Mercer

Cruising through Alaska the bright blue and white glaciers are another sight to behold. As the voyage approaches glaciers the ship finds itself in a sort of micro-climate, where chilly air and ice prevail even in a southern Alaskan summer. Glacier calving is an epic event and is something that should be experienced in order to fully understand its magnitude. With a keen eye and patience, Captain Mercer did manage to capture this short video of a calve at the Hubbard Glacier:

Hubbard from Jonathan Mercer on Vimeo.

“We have seen several falls and heard the ‘white thunder’, the cracking of ice as it moves relentlessly downhill towards the ocean. As we move south, away from Hubbard’s influence, the rain and cloud build again; passing Ocean Cape, we set sail for Sitka.” — Captain Mercer

Other notable glaciers are the Mendenhall Glacier and Sawyer Glacier, both near Juneau. A great chance to see these anomalies of nature is to take a shore excursion via floatplane. The Five Glacier Seaplane Exploration, as the name implies, offers an in-depth look at five glaciers, and is the only one of its kind.

The Sawyer Glacier at Tracy Arm is particularly lovely in August. Take a look!

Sawyer Island in the foreground and Sawyer Glacier in the distance.

Sawyer Island in the foreground and Sawyer Glacier in the distance.


Kayakers taking a break on Sawyer Island.

Kayakers taking a break on Sawyer Island.


Beautiful blue of the compressed ice.

Beautiful blue of the compressed ice.

“… stopping to view the Sawyer glacier, gave one a sense of the majesty of nature. We stayed for an hour, alternating sides so both balconies could view and then slowly steamed back.” — Captain Mercer

Now that summer is over Captain Mercer is resting up to be ready for the 114-day 2015 Grand World Voyage, departing Fort Lauderdale Jan. 5, 2015. Stay tuned for updates as he navigates ms Amsterdam around the world once again.

Do you think the wildlife or the glaciers are the most interesting part of an Alaska cruise? Let us know in the comments below!

If you’re taking an Alaska cruise that visits these ports and you want to explore the wildlife and glaciers, the shore excursions can be pre-booked so you get the tour of your choice.

1 Comment
  • Julie Tapley

    I love to see the wildlife on the cruises but also enjoy watching the glaciers calving. We will be on the Volendam on 8th July from Vancouver, 2nd Alaskan cruise.
    Captain Mercer do you know if there will be any good salmon fishing at the above-mentioned cruise ports? My husband and I would appreciate some inside knowledge of some fly-fishing spots, please.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*