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The 2020 Alaskan cruise season never really materialized due to COVID-19, but 2021 is already shaping up to be an exciting comeback year for the destination.
Icy Strait Point in Hoonah, Alaska, is currently celebrating its nomination for Seatrade Cruise Port of the Year — the first time an Alaskan port has been recognized for a Seatrade award, according to the destination — as it looks forward to the opening of its new gondola system in 2021. Port partner Celebrity Cruises is also anticipating a grand return to Alaska next year.
During a Zoom press conference, Tyler Hickman, Icy Strait Point’s vice president of operations, was thrilled that the Hoonah port is one of three award finalists alongside Dover, England, and Saint Petersburg, Russia. (The winner will be announced on Oct. 6.) Hickman considers Icy Strait Point to be the “port model of the future” where “it starts and ends with the people.”
After all, it was just in 2004 that the port first debuted as a new stop in Alaska. I was there for the maiden season visiting onboard the since-retired Celebrity Mercury. Back then, it was only a tender-accessible port, but now it sports two floating docks for convenient ship access.
President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, was also on the call to express her fondness for the port.
“I hope it wins because it deserves to,” she said, recalling the “amazing guest experience” that it provides.
Lutoff-Perlo added great optimism for the return of Alaskan cruising in general.
“There’s a lot of consumer confidence in spring,” she said.
Celebrity reservations for 2021 are strong, and while many are rebookings carried over from this year, the vast majority are entirely new ones.
Awaiting guests in 2021 will be all the attractions that have been there since the beginning and have been added to Icy Strait Point over a decade and a half, including signature whale watching. Speaking of which, “when the guide is pushing you away to take [their own] photos, you know you’re on a very special tour,” said Lutoff-Perlo of her experience.
Besides more than 30 other tours, Icy Strait Point touts historic cannery shops, beachfront restaurants, a ropes course, the largest zipline ride in the world and now a pair of aerial gondola circuits. One of the new gondola routes will shuttle guests between the Adventure Landing and Wilderness Landing docks in three minutes, and the other will dramatically ascend from the forest canopy all the way up to the top of Hoonah Mountain, where the ZipRider also descends from.
Hickman said the port has been under construction during the downtime, and the resulting visitor area will “spread people out and give them room.” In fact, there remains 23,000 acres of untouched land.
In the meantime, Lutoff-Perlo reiterated that Celebrity is “working very closely with the CDC” and admitted “none of us were meant to live this way.”
“I know our guests miss cruising,” she said, adding that she is among cruisers who can’t wait to set sail again.
The DetailsCelebrity Cruiseswww.celebritycruises.com
Icy Strait Pointwww.icystraitpoint.com