Icy Strait Point, the Alaskan port developed by the Native American-owned Huna Totem Corp., recently struck a deal with Norwegian Cruise Line to build a second pier at the destination in Hoonah about 40 miles west of Juneau. Former Alaska Dream Cruises CEO Russell Dick became president and CEO of Huna Totem in 2016. He talked with cruise editor Tom Stieghorst about the partnership.
Q: Where is the new pier going in relation to the original one?
A: It's located around the corner. Dock No. 1 comes in right near the shoreside restaurant. We built a new arrival building that is state of the art and world class. Following the shoreline around to the right, it's about a half-mile down. The overall thinking on the placement of it was, we very much prize the wilderness experience that we have, and we just know that bringing another ship brings that many more people, and we wanted to spread them out so they had the opportunity, so that everybody gets their wilderness experience. Huna Totem Corp. owns that entire shoreline for miles and miles. So we can start utilizing a lot of that property with a new dock and give the new guest coming in the same experience that they get at Dock No. 1.
Q: How much will development cost?
A: We've got this partnership with Norwegian Cruise Line, so we're not going to disclose any of the financials on it.
Q: Did the Norwegian Bliss, the line's newest and largest ship, call at Icy Strait Point in 2018?
A: They did not. We did have the Norwegian Jewel every other week. As you know, the Norwegian Joy is being refitted to be essentially the same as the Norwegian Bliss, and they'll be sending the Norwegian Joy next year.
Q: Can a ship that size fit on the existing dock?
A: Yes it can.
Q: Why build it now?
A: A dock is superior to tendering, and combined with the incredible interest in Alaska in general, it's the right-place, right-time kind of thing, but it's also that we've got the right product.
Q: How many calls did you have in 2018?
A: This last year we had 107.
Q: And how many do you anticipate with the added dock?
A: What I can say is there will be a significant increase.
Q: Any overnights?
A: Right now, we do not have any calls overnight, and in Alaska in general there is not that kind of call day. So it's not something that's on our radar or any cruise line's radar. But we have the ability to take ships that have spent the day in Glacier Bay and come to Hoonah for an evening call. Going to Glacier Bay isn't complete until you've come to Icy Strait Point and Hoonah to meet the people.
Q: Do you offer excursions to Glacier Bay?
A: We do have Glacier Bay flightseeing. The reality of running a tour to Glacier Bay is that from Icy Strait Point to get to the face of a glacier it's over 90 miles by boat. You're looking easily at a 10-hour tour or better. So it's really out of reach.
Q: Will there be new excursions?
A: We will be adding helicopter tours this year as well as an exclusive helicopter/mountain bike experience that will be very unique to Alaska. The helicopter carries the bikes to the top of the mountain and then the guests ride down.
Q: What will be the effect on employment in Hoonah?
A: Icy Strait Point last year had 160 employees. Even going into 2019 we expect to be upwards of 200. It will continue to grow, it's probably going to be another 30% to 40% over where we are today.
Q: What are some of the other benefits?
A: For us as a native corporation, it's not just the economic impact. We go all the way down to the school system to create an opportunity for our kids to grow up and participate in an industry that gives them worldwide exposure. They get to learn other cultures, and people from all over the world get to learn our culture from the people who live it. That gives them a leg up when they leave this rural community to be successful in whatever they decide to do in life.