Travelers from the UnCruise Adventures' Safari Explorer hiking in Cordova on June 3, 2024. Eight out of the 18 visitors made it to the top of Tripod Hill for some beautiful views. Cruise officials said all in all the stop in Cordova was a hit. Photo courtesy of UnCruise Adventures guide Dai Mar Tamarack

An extended effort by the Cordova Chamber of Commerce to boost cruise tourism got off to a smooth start last Monday, with visitors from the UnCruise Adventures’ Safari Explorer getting a first taste at what Cordova has to offer. 

During their several hour stop, the veteran travelers were offered walking tours by the Cordova Historical Society, shopped at the society’s gift shop, visited Jennifer Park’s Copper River Fleece store, visited Copper River Brewing, and more. 

“The UnCruise Adventures guests were lovely people and they spoke so highly of their experience with UnCruise,” said Cindy Maxwell, manager of Copper River Fleece. “When visiting our store, they were particularly interested in our unique trim designs and our options for customizing garments. I think UnCruise Adventure is a wonderful fit for Cordova.” 

The travelers were definitely interested in Cordova as a whole, said Ashley Bivin of the Cordova Historical Society. The historical society offered two walking tours that began at the harbor and brought the group into downtown, where travelers also got to purchase merchandise at the society’s gift shop. 

“They wanted to experience and learn about the area. This was the first small town in Alaska they visited,” she said. 

Plans for UnCruise stops in Cordova are set for every Monday through the first week of September. The stops are the culmination of an effort by Cathy Renfeldt, executive director of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce, who said the chamber has been working for quite a while to get them here. 

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Renfeldt said her effort to boost cruise ship tourism began in 2018, when she did research on the company, to make sure they would be a good fit for Cordova.   

Renfeldt took the product development staff from UnCruise Adventures, which is based in Juneau, to see the community ski hill and out to Sheridan Glacier and introduced them to shop owners and other businesses and organizations they might want to work with. She also took them on hikes to show them opportunities for outdoor adventures. 

That was in 2018, and they were on schedule to start bringing cruise ships to Cordova in 2020, but then the pandemic hit.   

“2024 was the first time they were able to come,” she said. 

Now that the UnCruise visits are taking hold, Renfeldt is working to increase the visitor experience in a way that will also provide an economic boost to the city. She said she sees great potential for the cruise travelers to support the commercial fishing, mariculture, energy, and innovation sectors of the local economy, because these travelers are interested in learning about all of them. 

“While these people are here we can educate them about the quality of these fish,” said Renfeldt, who sees the visitors as potential ambassadors of the quality of the brand and the fishing industry in Cordova overall.  

“Fishing in Cordova is sustainable and it is of the highest quality,” she said. “There is also an opportunity for these people to become customers.” 

Mariculture also offers great potential, she said. “There is an opportunity to take people out and give them tours, to provide supplemental income for kelp farmers. Kelp farmers are building their businesses right now, but there isn’t much of a market out there yet. As they are assembling the building blocks in their industry, they can provide tours of their kelp farms and cooking classes,” she said. “There is a local kelp farmer who could do that. I’ve been working with her on that for quite some time.” 

That kelp farmer, Thea Thomas of Royal Ocean Kelp Co. and Calidris Charters, will be offering boat tours to her kelp farm on June 20 for Hurtigruten Expeditions’ MS Roald Amendsen, Renfeldt said.  

Thomas offered wildlife viewing tours via her boat, the FV Myrmidon, to this group last year. 

“This is a great example of regenerative tourism, as we are utilizing the resources we already have in Cordova (boats, knowledgeable people) to build up and support existing industries through tourism,” she said. 

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