Have you heard the rumor? FinnFest on a cruise ship? Yes, indeed!  As FinnFest USA begins its second 25 years of annual festivals, it’s time to stretch, to “think outside the box,” about how and where a FinnFest can occur. In that spirit, the FinnFest USA Board of Directors has booked the 2009 festival on a cruise ship to Alaska, leaving Seattle on May 17 and returning to Seattle on May 24, 2009.  


Matching Alaska’s magic with FinnFest’s warmth creates a grand setting to follow the success of this year’s festival held at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center. From a state of the art convention site on the shores of Lake Superior, FinnFest will move to a luxury cruise liner gliding by glaciers, towering mountains, scenic bays, bald eagles, and humpback whales. Ports of Call will include Juneau, Ketchikan, and Sitka. The cruise ship will also pass by Malcolm Island, the site of the Finnish utopian colony, Sointula, and spend an evening in Victoria, B.C.


The day long Sitka stop will allow FinnFest attendees to pay special attention to an early piece of Finnish and Finnish American history: 2009 will mark the 200th anniversary of Finland’s becoming an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire, the first step Finland took toward achieving Nation-State status in 1917. While Finland was a Grand Duchy, Finns were highly visible participants in the Russian colony in Alaska. Finnish men worked in the fishing industry and as carpenters. Sitka colony’s governors included two Finns, Arvid Etholen, 1840-45, and Johan Hampus Furuhjelm, 1859-63. During Etholen’s tenure, Uno Cygnaeus, later known as the father of Finnish elementary schools, served as pastor to the Alaska Finns, setting the stage for the Sitka Lutheran Church, the first Finnish American Protestant congregation on the Pacific Coast. 


The Russian Bishop's House, built by Finns, and the Sitka National Historical Park, where Finns and Russians used to go for recreation, will both be open for tours while the cruise ship docks in Sitka. FinnFest will have its own experts along on the cruise, people who can interpret Sitka and the Finnish presence in Alaska. Landscape Geography Prof. Arnold Alanen, University of Wisconsin-Madison, who researched Sitka for the National Park Service, will give background lectures for the Sitka visit and assist with the tours.  Prof. Max Engman, Åbo Academy, Turku, Finland, highly respected scholar of  Finland’s Russian history, will lecture on both the Alaska Finns and the Finnish experience after its separation from Sweden.


The cruise offers all the amenities people associate with cruise liners: fine dining, fitness center, sauna, library, a broad variety of on-board entertainment provided to all the guests. But only FinnFest attendees will also enjoy FinnFest’s annual lectures, demonstrations, panels on things Finnish and Finnish American, performances of Finnish music, discussions of Finnish films. One special treat: the cruise ship facilities will enable Beatrice Ojakangas to join the cruise and share her secrets with Finnish cooking. Yvonne Hiipakka Lockwood (Michigan) and Eleanor Palo Stoller (North Carolina) are co-chairing the special programming. Carl Rahkonen (Pennsylvania) is organizing the music.


The 2009 FinnFest will give attendees a unique opportunity to interact with Alaska’s Native Americans, opportunities including the world’s largest collection of totems in an Indian village and Tlingit and Haidi artists working on native crafts. Attendees will also learn about the Sami experience in Alaska.


FinnFest USA’s 2009 cruise pricing includes room accommodations, all meals and the many other ship amenities. Most importantly, the price includes access to all FinnFest events. Each port of call provides special additional cost options like helicopter rides, fly fishing, deep sea fishing, and hiking tours. These can be booked now when people are reserving rooms.


People are booking for FinnFest USA 2009 already from across the continental USA, from Canada, and from Finland. The 2009 festival promises to be a unique opportunity to spend time with others who share an interest in things Finnish and Finnish American, all in the context of an Alaska cruise. Regularly scheduled “Kahvi Aika” gatherings will build camaraderie and forge new friendships as participants share aspects of their Finnish heritage and ethnic experiences.  The longer time frame of the cruise will also provide a context for workshops on topics like family history and Finnish cooking and for classes in Finnish dances and the Finnish language. Even FinnFest’s tori will be on board.


Cruise Masters, located in Portland, Oregon has been hired to handle all our bookings, including FinnFest USA 2009 registrations and on-board administrative details for FinnFest attendees. FinnFest USA has negotiated a special rate that permits FinnFest to reserve specific auditoriums and other public spaces on the ship. To access the events that FinnFest USA will hold, travelers will need to book with Cruise Masters. While other travel agents can book passage on this Holland Line cruise, only Cruise Masters bookings include the FinnFest 2009 organized events.

Paul and Christine Niskanen, owners of Cruise Masters specialize in unique, one-of-a-kind group travel programs such as our 2009 FinnFest. As Oregon’s Honorary Consul of Finland for 27 years, Paul Niskanen brings the experience and understanding of Finnish and Finnish American culture that will help to make this Alaska cruise a once in a life time experience.  

Until September 3, people can book passage with a down payment of only $175 per person. This special rate is made possible by Cruise Masters’ good relations with the Holland Cruise line.

For details on how to book, as well as details about the cruise ship and its special amenities, check the Cruise Masters’ special website:


To speak specifically to an agent, call 1-800-848-7120. Special advance prices for FinnFest USA 2009 bookings are good only through September 30, 2008. On October 1, the price will go up by $50. To get the best rates and assure choice of accommodations, people should act now.

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