PRUDHOE BAY, Alaska (AP) _ The heaviest Arctic freeze in a decade has put the vacation goal of more than 100 people who tried to sail through the Northwest Passage on ice until at least next year.

The 360-foot luxury cruise ship Frontier Spirit, which set sail from Dutch Harbor in Alaska's Aleutian Islands on Aug. 18, turned around Sunday and headed back west after its captain determined the ice was too thick to continue.

''At this stage, we have to give up the transit of the historic Northwest Passage,'' Capt. Heinz Aye of Germany said by phone. ''The ice took the decision against us.''

Aye said the vessel was expected to reach Point Barrow, 250 miles to the west, in two to three days. From there it will travel on to Vancouver, British Columbia.

Passenger Jennifer Merin of New York said by phone that the captain warned the 193 passengers and crew that the ship might have difficulty with ice packs as it heads west.

She said the captain ordered passengers over the weekend to ''shower with a friend and drink your whiskey with ice only'' to save fuel and water. The ship's desalination equipment uses fuel.

The passengers paid as much as $26,000 each for the trip and won't receive refunds. The Arctic water route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean was first traversed from 1903 to 1906.

''The messages from the Canadian Coast Guard and ice breakers were rather persuasive that we should not continue and apparently there's little we can do about it,'' said John Howard, of Tulsa, Okla.

The ship's journey had been stalled several times by what authorities said was the worst early season ice buildup in 10 years, but Aye had hoped to continue slowly toward Saint John's, Newfoundland. The ship originally was due to arrive there on Sept. 16.

The Frontier Spirit is ''ice-strengthened,'' which means it can move safely through ice up to three feet thick. But Aye said it needed an ice breaker to continue further east and that one was not available.

Passengers found various ways to pass the time while the ship was stalled.

Several took inflatable rafts to Point Barrow last week to watch Eskimo dances and visit with residents of the nation's northernmost city.

Later, when the ship anchored off Flaxman Island, some hearty travelers set up tables and chairs on ice floes and served wine.

Aye said some passengers were already signing up for another Northwest Passage crossing next year, this one from east to west.

The first passenger ship to complete the trip was the Lindblad Explorer, in 1984. An ice breaker led the way.

Bill Gannett, of Hopedale, Mass., one of six passengers on the Frontier Spirit who were on another ship that tried and failed to traverse the passage five years ago, said he would be back.

''We'll try it a third time,'' he said. ''The third try never fails.''