Continuing on with our 10 day Alaska cruise on the Crown Princess, our next stop was Icy Straight Point. Of all the Alaska ports we stopped at, Icy Straight Point was the most unique in the fact that it is a privately (Alaska owned) cruise port. Icy Straight Point feels like a cruise line’s private Bahamas island, although it just happens to be located in Alaska, about 30 miles west of Juneau. And like the Bahamas, Icy Straight Point even has a small beach, although I wouldn’t call it swimming weather!
Steve (DOS) and I had actually been to Icy Straight Point once before, over 16 years ago, on Celebrity Cruise Line’s Summit cruise ship. At that time, (in 2007) only Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean (RCL) stopped at Icy Straight Point, and I thought perhaps RCL/Celebrity “owned” the port and developed it for the exclusive use of their passengers, although we would find out about the actual ownership as listed a bit further in this post. Here’s a blast from the past of a couple pics from 2007 on our first trip to the “private island” of Icy Straight Point, with the Celebrity Summit shown anchored way behind us, as we had to tender to the port back then.
We found out on this trip, however, Icy Straight Point is owned by the Huna Totem Corporation, with the proceeds supporting the local community, where 85% of the people live in the nearby town of Hoonah. As a bit of trivia, Icy Straight Point is America’s only private cruise destination! (The private islands some of the cruise lines own are in the Bahamas, not the US). Celebrity/RCL were indeed the original cruise ships calling at Icy Straight Point, and when DOS and I first sailed here in 2007, the port area was practically brand new, having been newly established with the Celebrity Mercury (no longer sailing) being the first ship to call on this then new port of call back in 2004.
Now other cruise lines such as Princess and others call at Icy Straight Port as well, but just like our visit in 2007, the day we were there now in 2023, we were also the only cruise ship in port. I looked at this year’s calendar online for Icy Straight Point, and now there can be anywhere from 1 to 3 ships in port during the busy summer months. There are now 2 docks, (staggered 1/2 mile away from each other to hep maintain exclusivity and crowd control). Not sure how they handle the port on the days there are 3 ships in port, but I’m guessing one ship must be tendered, or the times staggered to accommodate 2 docked ships at once. I guess we got lucky with just a single ship in port that day, but at least you can check the number of ships scheduled into port that day via the calendar on their website.
From this Wikipedia article, under the description section, it notes that the corporation that owns the port (Huna Totem) desires “to preserve the character of the local village and culture as much as possible”, so it’s not “overwhelmed” by “over tourism”. Steve (DOS) and I definitely applaud that ideology in today’s world of multiple mega-cruise ships overtaking a city or town for the day.
As I said before, Icy Straight Point reminds us of a private Bahamas Island, in the fact that it feels so isolated and “special”, with normally only a ship or two in port for the day, and it feels a bit like a “made up port”, similar to RCL’s Coco Cay, but in a good way; i.e. no waterslides and overpriced cabanas! LOL! There are plenty of tours that can be pre-arranged on the cruise ship (none of the tour booths or panhandling on shore like in other ports,) and the excursions range from whale watching to water and adventure sports, and even the world’s longest Zip line!
Also new to Icy Straight Point are the cable cars soaring over the island. Icy Straight Point is a very nice, relaxing, and picturesque port to stop in, and while they have a single, multi-room large gift shop area, and a couple places to eat or drink, it’s very low-key and quiet.
Since we were in Icy Straight point years ago, they have updated it somewhat, but still kept the natural Alaska feel and beauty to it, without tacky tourist shops or street vendors hawking tours. Apparently during the COVID epidemic, two cable car lines were built; one free (The Transporter Gondola) which takes passengers soaring over the forest for a 4 minute ride to the other side of the island, while the second one (The Peak Summit) charges a fee, yet takes passengers up the mountain where hiking trails and other activities are available, as well as offering scenic views of the ship, the valley, and the neighboring town of Hoonah.
Actually with the exception of not having to tender to Icy Straight Point as we did 16 years ago, and the addition of the cable car, zip line, and other adventure tours, not much at all has changed since we were there in 2007, and that’s a good thing as it has kept its rustic Alaskan ambiance.
Steve (DOS) and I took the free cable car to the other side of the island (like almost everyone else did), however there were no queues when we boarded (after having had breakfast aboard the ship). We walked down the long dock around 10am, and we were quickly on the cable car gently riding above the trees and onto the other side of the island, which house the old fish cannery, a scenic trail, the huge warehouse building gift shop, a culture theater, as well as a couple places for food and drink (one a huge tent covered outdoor area), and another with picnic table benches overlooking the beauty waters and mountains of Alaska.
When we had visited Icy Straight Port back in 2007, we had to tender off-shore, and take the tender boat to this dock area, which is still used today by tours and other boats, and leads to the old fish cannery district.
Now once you dock in Icy Straight Point, you can take either the cable car from the port area to the historic cannery area, or walk via the nature trail. There are actually two cable car lines here; one is the complimentary cable car to the cannery area (the Transporter Gondola they call it), while the other cable car (Sky Peak) is a paid attraction which takes you on a steep incline up to the mountain’s summit. The “Transporter Gondola” is to the right of the dock after a short walk to the boarding area, while the paid cable car attraction, Sky Peak, which goes to the mountain summit is to the left.
These two trams are clearly marked on the walkway path, and there’s even a friendly Bear reminder warning sign on what to do if you encounter a bear.
Most passengers, like us, took the complimentary Transporter Gondola cable-car instead of opting for the trail walk, which was rather hilly thru the forest area.
At the end of the cable-car ride, the destination leads to a walkway and long boardwalk area towards the old fish cannery area; now a museum to the area’s past. There’s a giant Orca sculpture overlooking the sea; a great photo spot!
Past the Orca sculpture, the pathway transitions to a large wooden boardwalk area. Along the way there are a few private residences, with nicely landscaped yards and small gardens overlooking the beautiful Alaskan waters and mountains in the distance.
Finally the Boardwalk area ends at the old fish cannery complex, which dates back to 1912, and was operational as a cannery until 1953, although it remained as a maintenance and support facility until 1999, three years after it was purchased by the current owners, the Huna Todem Corporation.
In the museum (an informal, complimentary and self paced exhibit hall), there are pieces of cannery equipment on display, as well as plaques describing the cannery process and history of the area. It’s worth a walk thru and it’s connected to the gift shops and eateries as well. You can read about the interesting history of Icy Straight Point here.
Also, for further reading, if you’re interested in the 5 types of Alaska salmon and more in-depth understanding of their interesting life cycle you can read this article from the Dept of Alaska Fish and Game. I think it’s fascinating how the salmon are born in fresh water, yet live most of their life in salt water, and then after a few years swim perhaps 1,000 miles or more eventually upstream in fresh water, returning to their place of birth; guided by their internal instinct, possibly via magnetic fields and/or sense of smell. Unfortunately for them, the long and strenuous journey exhausts the salmon, (if they make it at all due to natural predators, i.e. bears, eagles, seals, and yes man), and they die shortly after spawning. Thus, the circle of life repeats itself.
There are lots of tour options that can be arranged ahead of time on the cruise ship thru shore excursions, but here’s a link on the Icy Straight Point website to give you an idea what’s available. We did watch some brave passengers soaring down the mountainside on the gigantic and world’s largest ZipRider, which must be quite a thrill, but no thanks for us!
We didn’t go into the nearby town of Hoonah on this visit, although we did years ago on our first visit to Icy Straight Point. Hoonah is a small town (or village if you want to call it) of approximately 931 people. On our first visit Icy Straight Point in 2007, we took a whale watching trip from Hoonah, which also included a nature trip thru the woods as well, where we saw some grizzly bears, making for a memorable tour. Our guide then also gave us a quick tour of the town, waving at all the locals since everyone in Hoonah knows everyone else there.
Hoonah is definitely worth a visit if your ship will be stopping at Icy Straight Point, as it gives you a feel for the “real Alaska” in a seaside village. You can take a shuttle bus to Hoonah or walk (it’s about a half hour walk). On our previous visit in 2007, we took the shuttle bus over to Hoonah, but walked back, enjoying the breathtaking views along the way, and even stopped at the local Trading Company for a couple snacks.
As on our last visit in 2007, we thoroughly enjoyed our port stop at Icy Straight Point, and on this trip had the best weather of the cruise the day we were there. After leaving the cannery, we stopped for a couple bottles of water (yes it came in an aluminum can – it’s not beer!) and a quick shopping stop for DOS. We sat outside on the picnic tables where several passengers were having lunch, and admired the beauty of Alaska and the waterfront right in front of us.
We then walked back to the “Transporter Gondola”, and took it back to the port area. There was a short line, but it took less than 5 minutes to board the cable-car “Gondola”, and again we enjoyed the 4 minute ride back to the port.
Finally, attached is a video of Icy Straight Point and Hoonah made way back in 2007 on our first visit there. As the video below was made years ago, the quality is not very good, (pre iPhone LOL!) but it offers an essence of the port, minus some of the enhancement of today such as the dock area, cable cars, and zip lines.