Icy Strait is not your "typical" sprawling cruise port with lots and lots to do, other than excursions or a stroll around the main site. The Adventure Center serves as a welcome center, lounge and place to book more than 20 day-of shore excursions. Due to Icy Strait's compact nature, nothing on the main site is more than a 10- to 15-minute stroll away from the pier.
Icy Strait provides a pleasant experience for cruise passengers who want to explore the Alaskan hinterland a bit, browse a few decent shops and have a light lunch. If folklore is your thing, spend an hour at the Native Heritage Center Theater
, watching traditionally costumed members of the Huna Tlingit Dancers troupe enact their tribal heritage through song, dance and storytelling.
Even if you don't want to see this, take a stroll over to the center anyway; its elaborately carved totem poles are well worth a closer look. So, too, is the free-to-enter Cannery Museum
, which is crammed with various historic bits of fish-processing paraphernalia. The best way to make sense of the machines is to take a Historical Cannery Tour, on which you'll be given a souvenir timecard before donning a fish-cutter apron and starting a factory worker's "shift" -- which will teach you every stage of the canning process, including can-testing and filling.
More interesting were the "fascinating Alaska facts" cunningly concealed behind wall-mounted, "Alice in Wonderland"-style wooden doors. Did you know Alaska's longest day starts on May 10 and lasts three months, while its longest night starts on November 18 and lasts two months? I discovered, too, that Alaska boasts 52 percent of the world's earthquakes, 100,000 glaciers and 29 volcanoes. Astounding as it is to visit, I wouldn't be keen to live there all year.
The 2.5-hour Remote Bush Exploration and Wildlife Search
, led by a native guide, gives you far more of an insight into the wit, wisdom and forest lore of the Tlingits than any number of heritage floor shows. Our tour was escorted by Dennis, a cheerful half-Irish member of the Tlingit Eagle Clan, who makes his living from fishing and logging -- unless a cruise ship is in town.
As our school trip-style bus rattled its way past Frederick's Bay, he pointed out whales and harbor seals and told us sea otters and bald eagles are also at home there, as are four types of Alaska salmon, which -- together with crab, halibut and black cod -- formed the mainstay of the Tlingit community's fishing industry when the Hoonah Trading Company cannery was founded in 1893. He had some entertaining tales to tell of Hoonah characters and history. And, when we left behind the clapboard houses of Hoonah's main street and reached the rain forest for the start of our nature walk, his knowledge of the woods and wildlife proved even more fascinating.
He gave us a taste of huckleberries, salmonberries and thimbleberries; showed us the differences between deer and bear trails; and explained how plants like the devil's club and the skunk cabbage are used in Tlingit medicine and cookery. Best of all, he showed us deer feasting on kelp at the borders of a tidal river, and as we headed back toward Hoonah, we spotted a brown bear lumbering through the skyscraper-tall pines of Christmas Tree Pass. For a fabulous, back-to-nature experience, it was hard to beat.Flightseeing over Glacier Bay:
This tour lasts nearly two hours. Hourlong flights depart from Hoonah Airport and take passengers across the whale-dense waters of Icy Strait to see the spectacular ice fields, forests, lakes and waterfalls of Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
Saltwater Salmon Fishing:
This is a three-hour excursion to fish the densely populated stretches of Icy Strait. Warm, waterproof clothing and deck or rubber-soled shoes are essential, and the minimum age is 10. Caught fish cannot be stored on your cruise ship but can be locally processed and shipped to your home at extra cost, negotiable and payable onsite.
Whale and Marine Mammals Cruise:
This two-hour tour aboard a sightseeing vessel takes passengers 17 miles out through Icy Strait to the Point Adolphus area, a prime feeding ground for humpback and orca whales. An onboard naturalist will offer commentary on the habitat and behaviors of whales and other local wildlife, including stellar sea lions, bald eagles and harbor seals. Wear warm, waterproof clothing and sturdy nonslip shoes for the open-air observation deck.
The immediate area around the tender dock is easily explored on foot, and nowhere is further away than a 10- to 15-minute walk. There are no taxis or rental cars there -- yet. A few enterprising locals might start offering ad hoc rides along the shoreline from Hoonah when there's a ship in town, but that's about it. Otherwise, transportation is available only through cruise lines' shore tours.
Clearly marked walking trails will take you along the seashore, into deep rain forests and around the edges of mist-wreathed lakes. A covered tram takes visitors further afield on a two-hour Forest and Nature Tour.
Two-hour bike tours are also available, but they're heftily priced. A bus tour is also offered around the distinctly unexciting village of Hoonah, the highlight of which is a visit to its cemetery! Don't waste cash on this, as Hoonah is within walking distance.
Icy Strait Point is down to earth, and that is reflected in its restaurant options. The Duck Point Smokehouse joins a snack bar, a crab station and two casual restaurants in town.
Centrally located with outdoor seating, a covered patio and views to Port Frederick, Duck Point Smokehouse is the place to eat in town. Of course there is fresh Alaskan seafood on the menu (including smoked salmon made in house). Joining the catches of the day are specialty pizzas and snacks like fresh crab tater tots.
Espresso & Snack Bar is a quick spot for espresso drinks, cold beverages and made-to-order sandwiches, salads, muffins, brownies, chips and candy.
The Crab Station offers only one thing on its menu: fresh, wild Dungeness crab, served two ways -- a whole crab or a half. The crabs are taken right out of the water, put in the pot and put on a plate. You can't eat them fast enough.
The cafe-style Cookhouse Restaurant is in the cannery's original dining hall. It serves wild Alaskan seafood, including salmon, halibut, crab, shrimp and a variety of side dishes.
Landing Restaurant & Bar offers a 240-degree view of Icy Strait and the surrounding mountains. Getting its name from its location next to the zip-line landing pad, it offers sandwiches, burgers, chili and chowders. Finishing off a local amber beer after our lunch, we spotted three humpback whales in succession -- none of them more than half a mile from the carved-wood bench on which we were sitting.
It's all simple fare, but then, in this close-to-nature place, anything more elaborate would be over-egging the pudding; the point is to eat hearty, get to know the friendly locals and let them introduce you, however briefly, to their world.
Where You're Docked
A 400-foot-long floating dock now allows cruise ships to pull alongside Icy Strait Point, eliminating the need for cruise passengers to tender ashore.
Watch Out For
Alaskans -- and visitors -- tend to pay higher-than-average costs for food and other essentials since nearly everything is shipped in from the "outside."
Icy Strait strives to be a sustainably managed port, so don't expect luxuries that might unduly impact the land, water or wildlife.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
Currency is the U.S. dollar. We advise getting cash onboard your ship. There's no bank in Icy Strait, and with no bank, laws make it difficult to have an ATM, so there isn't one. Because Icy Strait is a new port specifically designed for cruise-ship passengers, the most you'll need in cash is a few bucks to cover a burger and a couple of beers; all the shops take credit cards.
English is spoken there.
It's not the souvenir, but the delivery. Much of the original 1912 cannery equipment has been restored and stands ready to can your souvenirs at Icy Strait Point Company Store. Your items can be vacuum-sealed to shrink them down and then canned for mailing home or to friends and relatives.
Souvenir-hunters happy to dent their credit cards will find plenty of temptation in the Icy Strait Point shopping center, which surrounds the Icy Strait Museum, stocking everything from foodie treats (smoked Alaska salmon, preserves made from local berries) to well-made craft goods (throws, paintings, wooden carvings, glassware) and pretty jewelry with an ethnic twist.
For More Information
Contact Icy Strait Point
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--by Maria Harding; updated by Jodi Thompson, Cruise Critic contributors
All photos appear courtesy of Icy Strait Point.