The view of Icy Strait Point as guests depart for a flightseeing tour over Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. // © 2014 Monica Poling
I don’t know if I believe in spirits, but if they do exist, I’m pretty sure they are flowing through the hallways of Icy Strait Point in Alaska.
Icy Strait Point once was a salmon cannery, and some locals even considered it home when a fire destroyed the adjacent town of Hoonah in 1944. But today, it is a port of call for cruise lines sailing Alaska’s famed Inside Passage. The destination features an assortment of activities, including the popular 5,330-foot-long zipline called ZipRider.
But Icy Strait Point is far more than just the activities it offers. The facility employs approximately 150 people (85 percent of them from the surrounding area) and is located 1.5 miles outside of Hoonah’s “downtown” area. Hoonah is where Alaska’s indigenous Tlingit people settled when advancing glaciers forced them out of their ancestral home — an area now known as Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.
While the residents of Hoonah may be some of the nicest people on earth, they are also natural born storytellers. After all, they have been passing down their stories for generations. And they continue to retell these stories, much to the delight of visitors.
“In Alaska’s Wildest Kitchen,” a hands-on tasting session offered by Icy Strait Point, the real draw is hearing about the challenges behind food preparation in the region. (Just how do you grow vegetables in a barren land?) Particularly noteworthy is the Tribal Dance and Cultural Legends show, where performers share the traditional dances and fascinating stories of their people.
Even activities, such as bear watching led by a native guide, give guests a chance to peek into the lives of the local people — who consider wildlife sightings a normal occurrence. The tours are also popular because of the high frequency of bear sightings: Icy Strait Point is located on Chichagof Island, which is said to be home to the largest number of brown bears per square mile in the world.
Helping to maximize the visitor experience, the destination only allows one ship to call at a time, making this the least-crowded big ship port in Alaska — a nice respite from the pandemonium that can be found at other Alaskan ports.
While at Icy Strait Point, be sure to take advantage of the incredible eats. Fishermen bring in fresh crab daily; the “Crabby Bloody Mary,” served with a whole shrimp and a crab leg, is a passenger favorite. There are also 12 shops that sell locally made crafts and, of course, canned salmon.
If time permits, visitors should also visit nearby Hoonah. The town has several fantastic sites, including Chipper Fish, a town favorite with a tasty menu that is refreshed weekly. Nearby, Tideland Tackle & Marine and Fishbone Gifts both sell distinctive, locally made items. Also, visitors will appreciate the studio of Gordon Greenwald, a master carver who is currently working on a large-scale carving that will eventually adorn the exterior of the Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve visitor center.
Icy Strait Point is open to the public only when cruise ships are in port; it is called upon by Celebrity Cruises, Holland America Line, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania Cruises, Princess Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.