Icy Strait Point opened with a bang in 2004, when a restored salmon cannery became southeast Alaska's newest cruise destination.
Located near Hoonah, Alaska's largest Huna Tlingit village, Icy Strait Point lies 22 miles from one of the state's most popular tourist destinations, Glacier Bay National Park. Since its debut, the port's excursions have only been open to cruise ship passengers, but beginning this May, Icy Strait Point will begin welcoming noncruise passengers on day trips from Juneau.
Icy Strait Point is a 50-mile, 20-minute flight from Juneau. While noncruise passengers have always been able to fly to Icy Strait Point, they could eat and shop but not take part in its 16 scheduled tours, including the world's longest zip line, the ZipRider; kayaking; bear and whale watching; fishing; and culturally themed excursions such as Tribal Dance and Cultural Legends.
The change was spurred by demand, according to Bob Wysocki, CEO of Icy Strait Point. The destination has been "extremely successful," he said. In 2004, it welcomed 32 cruise ship calls and about 60,000 guests; last year, 80 cruise ships came to Hoonah carrying about 156,000 passengers.
Wysocki pointed out that Icy Strait Point's 200% growth is even more significant when it is compared with other southeastern Alaska ports, which have only experienced growth of 8% to 9% per year.
"Our focus is very much on the wilderness, nature, wildlife and the culture of the Tlingit people," Wysocki said. "It's not quite what you get at other ports. We don't have the same big chain jewelry stores and the low-end knick-knack stores."
The port's 14 shops, owned by locals, sell crafts by native artisans and regional delicacies. They are housed in a former salmon cannery that was restored and reopened in 2004. The building is also home to a museum and a mid-1930s cannery line display.
According to Wysocki, community members who work at Icy Strait Point port are year-round residents from Hoona. "Eighty-five percent of the staff are native Alaskans," he noted, contrasting the port with other Alaskan towns, such as Juneau, that import a lot of staff from around the U.S.
"They are natives, and they are proud of their community and it shows," Wysocki said.
Wings of Alaska tours will offer the regular air service between Juneau and Hoonah. Charter airline companies, such as Air Excursions, can schedule flights, as well. Last year, those flights cost about $125 per roundtrip.
Hoonah also is accessible by ferry through the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Visitors who fly or ferry in will be able to go on any of the port's excursions but will not be able to make reservations. However, since the port allows only one cruise ship to dock per day, space is usually available on excursions.
Park visits soar
In other news, Alaska's national parks saw record visits in 2007, up nearly 7% over 2006, according to Alaska National Parks.
Marking the eighth consecutive year of increases, arrivals at the parks topped 2.6 million visitors for the first time last year. That was up from about 2.4 million in 2006. The most visited Alaskan parks were Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Skagway, Denali and Glacier Bay, in that order.
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve enjoyed the biggest jump in visitors from 2006, a 21% increase, to 61,085.
The numbers "reflect the steady increase we have seen in the visitor industry across Alaska," NPS-Alaska Regional Director Marcia Blaszak said in a statement. The increase mirrors trends across the U.S., where national park visits were up by 3 million in 2007, to more than 275 million.
To contact reporter Johanna Jainchill, send e-mail to [email protected].