One of Alaska's newest cruise ports, Icy Strait (just outside of Hoonah) opened in 2004 so local communities and giant cruise corporations alike could profit from visitors eager to experience America's "last wilderness." The native Tlingit Corporation Huna Totem owns Icy Strait Point, and in conjunction with cruise line partners and investors, they've created a cruise port with some of the highest passenger satisfaction levels around.
The demand for a slice of "real" Alaska has only increased in the years since -- shore excursion offerings in Icy Strait more than doubled from 2015 to 2019. Facilities have expanded and increased over the years -- Huna Totem owns 23,000 acres. In 2020, Icy Strait will debut a second dock and their largest yet -- the Wilderness Plaza -- built in conjunction with Norwegian Cruise Line. No matter how big the port expands, the company is careful about the tiny details that preserve its nature-focused ethos; you'll never see a tour bus until it's time to board.
The facility -- just down the road from Hoonah, Alaska's largest Huna Tlingit village, and 22 miles southeast of Glacier Bay National Park -- has been a lifeline for the community, providing a much-needed alternative source of income for locals afflicted by a downturn in their traditional businesses of fishing and logging. Millions of dollars have been invested in creating facilities that offers cruise travelers an authentic "wilderness experience" and a refreshingly non-commercialized alternative to the usual run of Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway and Sitka.
What they've created is an attractive destination expressly for cruisers that's manmade but not commercialized. Icy Strait offers pretty woodland walks, an insight into Tlingit history and culture, a wide range of back-to-nature adventures and high-quality restaurants. Upmarket craft shops feature artisan crafts and locally made goods like woodland berry jam and confectionery, rather than the "made in Taiwan" goods so prevalent in, say, Juneau. Buildings are constructed from sustainable local timber and built by local Tlingit workers in traditional style.
Although the port receives ships from many cruise lines, officials -- have wisely limited ship calls to ensure high passenger satisfaction. This will shift slightly when two ships are accommodated at a time, heading into the 2020 cruise season.
Icy Strait is not your "typical" sprawling cruise port with lots and lots to do, other than excursions or a scenic stroll around the main site. In 2016, a dozen years after Icy Strait Point debuted to cruise passengers, a 400-foot-long floating dock was built to allow cruise ships to pull alongside Icy Strait Point, eliminating the need for cruise passengers to tender ashore. The infrastructure allowed the small port to accommodate growing cruise ships and an increase in cruise passengers, while the 7,000-square-foot Adventure Center and Duck Point Smokehouse added important tour and dining options.
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.
The forthcoming Wilderness Center will be located a half-mile from the Adventure Center, ensuring that crowds are spread out on two-ship days. The nature trail will be extended so that it is a quick 10-minute stroll for visitors between cruise facilities.
Icy Strait strives to be a sustainably managed port, so don't expect luxuries that might unduly impact the land, water or wildlife. Also, food prices in Alaska can get quite high -- don't be surprised that fish and chips with a beer could run a pretty penny (but it's oh so worth it).
On foot: The immediate area around the Adventure Center is easily explored on foot, and nowhere is further away than a 10- to 15-minute walk. Clearly marked walking trails will take you along the seashore, into deep rainforests and around the edges of mist-wreathed lakes.
By tram: Currently, transportation is available only through cruise lines' shore tours and a tram that will transport cruise passengers around the facilities and back toward the ship.
By shuttle: Don't waste cash on tours of Hoonah; it's within walking distance -- or a $5 roundtrip shuttle -- and easily explored on your own.
Currency is the U.S. dollar. We advise getting cash onboard your ship, should you need it. There's no bank in Icy Strait, which means no ATM. However, most vendors take credit cards.
English is spoken, though an effort is being made to preserve the native Tlingit language and you might be lucky enough to hear some spoken -- most often in a welcome greeting aboard a tour.
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.
Duck Point Smokehouse is centrally located with outdoor seating, has a covered patio and views to Port Frederick -- it's 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 inside the Adventure Center for espresso drinks, cold beverages and made-to-order sandwiches, salads, muffins, brownies, chips and candy.
The Crab House 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.
Cookhouse Restaurant is a cafe-style eatery 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 zipline landing pad, it offers sandwiches, burgers, chili and chowders. Finish off a local amber beer after lunch and seize the chance to spot humpback whales from where you're sitting.
Icy Strait provides a pleasant experience for cruise passengers who want to explore the Alaskan hinterland a bit, have a light lunch and then browse a few decent shops. 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.