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04-20-2016, 09:20 AM   #1
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Questions for Experienced Alaska Cruise Photographer(s)

Specifically dealing with the Glacier Bay cruising:

How does the staking of a claim for prime railing space usually end up working? I have this fear that the railings will be lined 5 deep with people.

Do I need to claim my spot at dawn?
Is there a better deck that others? Higher or lower?
I'm guessing the ship will circle so port and starboard sides can get equal views. Is the am light better or pm light?
Is it bad etiquette to run from side to side? Is that even possible?

Will may partner and I have to take rotations on eating etc so we don't lose our spots?

04-20-2016, 09:45 AM   #2
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I've found the lower decks, the one below the lifeboats to be mostly deserted and thus very useful. But of course the view is somewhat limited. Higher is better generally, but sometimes the lowest deck gives you a different viewpoint. I've done both.

If you are there to shoot try and think like a photographer. Get into "nat geo" mode rather than tourist mode. Which means you might not get to enjoy the view so only do this if you are really there to shoot not enjoy. Get your head focused on shooting, scout the best locations along the rail, which ones have obstructions, how can you get from one side to other fast if you have too, what do you want to shoot. Pick two, three or four alternate locations. Do the primary first then hit the rest if you have time. Shoot high first then run down five decks and shoot again from a different perspective. Do your research, talk to the staff, often there are on board photographers that you can chat up.

I don't remember there being too big a crush on getting a rail space in Glacier bay but when I was there it was quite cold so most people took a look and went back inside.

The ship did rotate so if you are patient everybody gets a look.

I don't think eating will be an issue I do not remember us being there that long. Bathroom breaks might be an issue though Take a snack bag with you, granola bar or candy bar. And dress warm, you can always shed a coat if you have to.
04-20-2016, 09:51 AM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
I've found the lower decks, the one below the lifeboats to be mostly deserted and thus very useful. But of course the view is somewhat limited. Higher is better generally, but sometimes the lowest deck gives you a different viewpoint. I've done both.

If you are there to shoot try and think like a photographer. Get into "nat geo" mode rather than tourist mode. Which means you might not get to enjoy the view so only do this if you are really there to shoot not enjoy. Get your head focused on shooting, scout the best locations along the rail, which ones have obstructions, how can you get from one side to other fast if you have too, what do you want to shoot. Pick two, three or four alternate locations. Do the primary first then hit the rest if you have time. Shoot high first then run down five decks and shoot again from a different perspective. Do your research, talk to the staff, often there are on board photographers that you can chat up.

I don't remember there being too big a crush on getting a rail space in Glacier bay but when I was there it was quite cold so most people took a look and went back inside.

The ship did rotate so if you are patient everybody gets a look.

I don't think eating will be an issue I do not remember us being there that long. Bathroom breaks might be an issue though Take a snack bag with you, granola bar or candy bar. And dress warm, you can always shed a coat if you have to.
I was planning on using the Inside Passage cruising day to try to walk as much of the boat as possible, but my fears would be "the best laid plans...."
I have no problem enjoying my cruise from inside my office the following week. If I'm shooting, it's always "Nat Geo" mode.
From the itinerary it claims a full 8 hour day cruising Glacier Bay. I'll be very upset if it turns out to be only a couple hours.
04-20-2016, 10:29 AM   #4
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QuoteOriginally posted by nomadkng Quote
From the itinerary it claims a full 8 hour day cruising Glacier Bay. I'll be very upset if it turns out to be only a couple hours.
8 hours in the bay maybe but I don't remember being up near the glacier more than a couple of hours. Might be a different itinerary, different ship or different time of year. And it has been about 8 years since I've been there so my memory might not be as good as it was. I'll check my pictures tonight and see if I can get a time line.

Best advice I can give is think ahead and be prepared for the shots you want. Then take the ones that present themselves. And have fun!

04-20-2016, 10:37 AM   #5
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We did the Alaska cruise on Princess cruise lines back in 2013. There was never a problem with space to view the glaciers. Most people who have rooms with a balcony just stay in their rooms and see the glaciers from there. Once we realized this was the best place to view the glaciers, this is what we did. There are typically 2 decks you can view from, the top sundeck and the deck set aside for runners, this is the one with the lifeboats. No matter where you are, the ship does turn around so both everyone on both sides of the boat will get the same views. There are some people who will move from one side to the other to get both views but this did not cause a problem. If there a lot of clouds you can get very different views depending of whether the view is in sun or if it is obscured by clouds.
04-20-2016, 01:03 PM   #6
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QuoteOriginally posted by nomadkng Quote
I was planning on using the Inside Passage cruising day to try to walk as much of the boat as possible, but my fears would be "the best laid plans...."
I have no problem enjoying my cruise from inside my office the following week. If I'm shooting, it's always "Nat Geo" mode.
From the itinerary it claims a full 8 hour day cruising Glacier Bay. I'll be very upset if it turns out to be only a couple hours.
i'll preface this with "it's been 24 years since I cruised Alaska"; however, even back then had no issues with finding a good spot for pictures. Deck wasn't crowded, but it was cold and rainy... so a lot of people were watching from inside...
Grabbed a blanket and a hot toddy... and enjoyed the experience a lot. But as noted already, I think the actual time up close to the glacier was a couple (2-3) hours. Lots of time to see glaciers calving (having chunks break off with subsequent noise and splash). Most cruise lines have a lot of outside deck space - on the promenade deck (halfway up, for promenading around the ship) and on the upper decks where the pools etc. are. On the last couple of cruises I've been on to mexico/carribean there are at least 3 levels at the top of the ship with good vantage points. If the area around the pool is busy, check the front and back areas... often several levels at front and back vs. 1 or 2 in middle.
04-20-2016, 03:36 PM   #7
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I have never cruised Alaska waters on a big cruise ship. 10 years ago my wife and I cruised from Seattle to Juneau on a Lindblad expedition cruise (about 70 passengers on a much smaller ship). When we entered Glacier Bay, we took on a US Park Ranger who acted as a guide. I think this is required of all ships going into Glacier Bay; besides being a guide, they are also there to make sure the ships abide by any rules to protect the place. My wife and I shared a table with the ranger for lunch. She bemoaned the fact that on large cruise ships, many passengers watched the scenery on closed circuit TV from the comfort of their cabins. That was definitely not the case on our small ship. If the weather is bad enough, you may not have much trouble getting to the rail at all. BTW, it was quite a bit colder on the deck once you approached the glaciers. I wouldn't count on the ship circling; even our small ship didn't do that. Just cruising the Bay was an all day affair. Be sure to take binoculars as well as a camera when you go on deck.
04-20-2016, 08:07 PM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by jatrax Quote
I'll check my pictures tonight and see if I can get a time line.
So this is 2008 and who knows what has changed. My first shot of the glacier was at 2pm and the last was at 3:30pm. I have shots of floating ice and other things until 4:15pm. So based on that and my memory it looks like I was on deck shooting from before the glacier until after we moved away and time actually viewing the glacier was about 1.5 hours.

04-20-2016, 11:34 PM - 2 Likes   #9
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North to Alaska

We cruised the Inside Passage in our own boat for 12 long summers, especially in Alaska (we are Alaskans). In those years, we spent weeks in Glacier Bay. I cannot tell you what deck to shoot from but I can tell you the cruise ship routine. Most bay-bound cruise ships stop in Skagway and, when leaving the next morning, stagger their departures. They proceed south in Lynn Canal, turning west into Icy Straight.
Some go directly to Glacier Bay. They stop near Bartlett Cove (park headquarters) to pick up a pilot and naturalists. They head north slowly (for them) and veer NW into the west arm of Glacier Bay. At the end is John Hopkins Inlet to the south and Tarr Inlet to the north. At the end of Tarr Inlet is Grand Pacific Glacier (actually in Canada & rock - mud covered) and the star: Margerie Glacier. They will loiter moving very slowly until their time is up. The ships are scheduled to have only one in Tarr Inlet at a time - doesn't always work. If calving is rare, the ships will move in closer. When their time is up, they head out with a stop at the entrance to Hopkins Inlet for interesting geology (not allowed in) and another stop at Lamplugh Glacier nearby. It is a tide water glacier with small water falls & some calving. They normally keep the starboard side to the glacier. Then it is south & reverse the entry course.
If the cruise ship goes to Hoonah/Icy Point, they anchor out and offer a catamaran cruise to Glacier Bay. The Cat is fast & is allowed in some places the cruise ships can't go (like everywhere except Tarr Inlet).
Even though you will be a thousand feet above the water & away from shores, there are possible pix. Set up a super-tele on a tripod & keeps your eyes open. Try to be near a naturalist as they get action alerts from the bridge, other naturalists & nearby boats. The northeast side (starboard heading in) is more mountainous (with occ. goats) and steeper shorelines. The southwest side has more islands, shallows and shoreland with birds, seals, sealions, whales & land critters. When moving up Tarr Inlet, watch the starboard (east) shore for brown bears & glaciated valleys. On the way down from Skagway, there might be orcas or humpbacks at Pt. Augustus (Lynn Canal & Icy Str. junction) and at Pt. Adolphus (in Icy Str. opposite Glacier Bay).
It wouldn't be SE Alaska without mention of possible rain, fog, rain, wind, rain. Practice foul weather photography before you go & you might score some great shots. It is a shame that the cruise ships do most of their moving at night as the scenery is spectacular. Just consider the cruise as a (fattening) sampler and plan to return on a smaller ship or the ferries for a longer stay and a closer looksee.
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04-30-2016, 09:06 AM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by nomadkng Quote
Do I need to claim my spot at dawn? Is there a better deck that others? Higher or lower? I'm guessing the ship will circle so port and starboard sides can get equal views. Is the am light better or pm light? Is it bad etiquette to run from side to side? Is that even possible? Will may partner and I have to take rotations on eating etc so we don't lose our spots?
I think you would be frowned on if you "claimed your spot, and took rotations so you didn't loose it"! People migrate around the ship, so you can always find a place to take photos. The cruise ships definitely turn the ship so that views can be seen from both sides. You're worrying for nothing, just relax enjoy the cruise, and take lots of photos from all parts of the ship; not just one spot.
07-11-2016, 11:30 AM   #11
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It's been a month since I returned from my cruise, and in case others may be planning an Alaska cruise and might have the same question, here's what I learned:

They open the bow of the ship about 30-60 minutes prior to arrival at the glacier, and it gets crowded fast. They were lined 3 deep with cell phone users (why must they raise them above their heads and extend their arms????) or gawkers, making it nearly impossible for me and my oversized lens and monopod to get a clear shot.

I spent most of my time on the third deck near the stern, fast walking between port and starboard "spots" as the ship slowly rotated. I had the glacier in view about 75% of the time.

There was a break between glaciers, during which I quickly went to lunch, but for most of the 0800-1500 time we were in Glacier Bay I was camped out on Deck 3 with my 500mm lens and body on a tripod. I switched to a monopod got close to the glacier, in anticipation of moving around.

I think my biggest accomplishment for the day was not whacking someone with either lens or monopod leg in the narrow ship hallways...lol
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