At first blush the site adjacent to the Tlingit Indian village
of Hoonah must have seemed an unlikely locale for a major new $22
million Alaska visitor development. Could a closed-down
near-century-old cannery complex on a wilderness island really make
it as a visitor destination?
he year was 2004. The cruise season was about to begin, and the
naysayers and doubters shook their heads in unison.
“Oh boy, were there ever naysayers. And did they ever doubt,”
said Johan Dybdahl, president of Icy Strait Point, the Alaska
Native-owned corporation that converted the historic old cannery
into a new purpose-built cultural center and excursion base.
Icy Strait Point is reserved exclusively for cruise-ship
passengers, explained Dybdahl, and by the end of the first day that
the first ship dropped anchor, virtually everyone agreed that a hot
new cruise attraction had been born on the Alaska scene.
More important, for two seasons now cruise visitors have been
equally positive all season long about the experience. A
silver-haired woman, caught on camera for an informational video
disk (available to agents), spontaneously said, “It’s amazing ...
I’m so glad we stopped here.”
Teenage cruisers giggled and called it “awesome.”
A 30-something woman said: “We travel a lot, and we never get an
experience like this.”
What happens is this: A visiting cruise ship no more than one
per day enters Port Frederick Bay and drops anchor just off shore
from Icy Strait Point. The view is one of tranquil bay waters, lush
green forests, sky-piercing mountains and inland from the gravel
beach the freshly painted red buildings that formerly housed Hoonah
Packing Company, established in 1912.
From morning arrival until late-afternoon departure, continuous
tenders haul passengers from ship to dock. There they meet their
Tlingit hosts, many in full regalia, who offer more than a dozen
excursion options ($26 to $179) available for the day.
Then the fun begins.
Fun like whale watching aboard a comfortable sightseeing vessel
in the unexcelled marine menageries off nearby Point Adolphus.
Fun like flightseeing over the mountains, bays and massive ice
rivers of Glacier Bay National Park.
Fun like fishing from a small boat for bountiful salmon just
offshore, or helicoptering to a remote, wild forest locale for
guided stream angling.
There are also remote wildlife spotting tours for brown bears
and other Alaska forest critters. For “rough riders” there’s a
forest drive over logging roads and trails in two-passenger
Kawasaki “Mule” ATVs.
Add to the list bike tours to and through Hoonah; authentic
dances plus storytelling and songs in the Heritage Center theater;
and a visit to Icy Strait Point’s centerpiece museum. Here visitors
find displays that chronicle the history of both the native peoples
hereabouts and the rise and fall of the cannery era in Southeast
Alaska. There’s also the fascinating old cannery line of authentic
machines and cooking ovens.
In addition to paid excursions there are free and spontaneous
options. There’s a forest nature trail of considerable merit, said
Dybdahl. Hundreds of visitors walk the gravel road 1½ miles to
Hoonah where they shop and meet the locals.
“Some passengers bring their own fishing gear and cast off from
the dock for whatever will bite,” said Dybdahl. “And lots of
visitors enjoy just lazing on the dock, reading a book or strolling
the beach. Amazingly, a few plunge in the water for a quick swim.
Believe me, it’s cold.”
Clients find three dining choices: the Timberhouse bar and grill
located on the beach (burgers and seafood are specialties) and the
Chowder House restaurant housed appropriately in the cannery’s old
“Many a lousy meal was served here,” quipped the video disk’s
narrator. “But that isn’t the case now. The restaurant specializes
in salmon and chips, halibut and chips and other seafood. And, of
There’s also a snack bar for sandwiches and coffee in the
In the remodeled cannery warehouse passengers find 12 shops
specializing in Alaskan carvings, basketry, paintings, beadwork and
jewelry, plus even some Eskimo ivory, baleen and soapstone
In 2004, three vessels from two cruise lines Celebrity Cruises
and Royal Caribbean International called at Icy Strait Point 32
times. The same lines increased port calls to 37 in 2005. For 2006,
additional calls from Holland America Line’s Friday-departing Gulf
of Alaska cruises and at least one selected cruise aboard Princess
Cruises will join Celebrity and RCI to swell next year’s total to
“Cruise line interest,” said Don Rosenberger, vice president for
tourism development, “is very high.”
Approximately 55,000 cruise passengers visited Icy Strait Point
in 2004. About 70,000 came in 2005, and Rosenberger expects a
whopping 120,000 in 2006.
Not bad for an outfit that some had doubts about just two years
ago. Suffice to say, the naysayers are now saying “yea.”
To obtain the 18-minute informational video disk travel agents
may contact Icy Strait Point by e-mail. The company also has a
10-minute video available for viewing on its Web site.
Here is a sample of additional cultural attractions.
Mt. Roberts Tram is an aerial tramway rising from sea level on
Juneau’s cruise ship dock to an elevation of 1,800 feet at the
Adult Admission: $23.95
Commission: 10 percent
The nonprofit Alaska Native Heritage Center has become a
“must-see” attraction in Anchorage. The center features the
cultures of five Alaska Native traditions in a large theater and
exhibit hall, and at five “village” sites around a central
Adult Admission: $23.50
Commission: 10 percent
Alaska Heritage Tours, a subsidiary of the CIRI Native Regional
Corporation, operates three day-cruise companies in south-central
Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Seward-based Kenai Fjords Tours
takes clients to glaciers and wildlife haunts to view whales, sea
lions, sea otters and more. Mariah Tours, also based in Seward,
offers birding, photography and other specialized day cruises.
Prince William Sound Cruises and Tours calls Whittier home and
provides glacier and wildlife viewing as well.
Fares: From $59
Commission: 10 percent