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Icy Strait (Photo:akphotoc/Shutterstock)
4.0 / 5.0
Cruise Critic Editor Rating

By Maria Harding
Cruise Critic Contributor

Port of Icy Strait

The creation of Alaska's newest cruise port, Icy Strait, represents a win-win collaboration between local communities and the giant cruise corporations that make big profits from visitors eager to experience America's "last wilderness."
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About Icy Strait


Pro

A newly constructed floating dock means passengers no longer have to tender ashore

Con

This Tlingit-run port is very much about the environment; don't expect too many frivolities

Bottom Line

Icy Strait offers a great glimpse of native Alaska and everything is within walking distance


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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 a community in crisis, 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 a facility 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 new 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" good 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 Royal Caribbean and its higher-end subsidiary Celebrity Cruises, as well as Holland America Line, the Tlingit corporation Huna Totem -- which owns Icy Strait Point -- has wisely limited ship calls to ensure high passenger satisfaction.

In 2016, a dozen years after Icy Strait Point debuted to cruise passengers, a new dock, welcome center and restaurant were added. The infrastructure allows 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 add important tour and dining options.

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.

Port Facilities

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.

Good to Know

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.

Getting Around

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.

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.

Language

English is spoken there.

Food and Drink

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.

Shopping

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.


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