Alaska Marine Highway System
Replies: 6 - Last Post: Jul 11, 2012 7:34 PM Last Post By: alapah
Jul 8, 2012 3:47 PM
Alaska Marine Highway SystemI am considering taking this system instead of a cruise to travel the Inside Passage. Has anyone done this? I would like to know what side is better to stay on for great views? I am planning to get an outside cabin travelling from Bellingham to Skagway. Hope somebody has some experience with this.
Jul 8, 2012 5:53 PM
1OMO, the Alaska Marine Hwy is a great alternative. I don't think it really matters which cabin you get, nor which side, as the few times I had a cabin I only used it for sleeping and showering, not hanging out. I've only stayed in inside cabins. They are small and not a spot to spend most of your time. For the majority of the time onboard, you can set yourself up in one of the lounges and read, play cards, talk with other passengers, etc. The lounges have windows for great views and are also deck accessible so if you see something interesting coming up, or if they announce something, you can just walk out and stand by the railing to admire.
Most of the times I have taken the ferry I had no cabin, just 'camped out' either in a lounge area or on the solarium deck in a sleeping bag on a chaise lounge (i was younger then, but it's commonly done and a reasonable way to go). There are lockers on board most of the ferries where you can store items during the trip. The last time I took the ferry was in December a year ago and they actually had quiet time in one of the lounges to allow people to sleep. I believe the Matanuska (perhaps others) even have showers for those travelers who are not in cabin accommodations. The official webpage probably lists amenities for each ship.
Hope you have a great trip.
Jul 8, 2012 7:32 PM
2I think that it was the Columbia ferry that I traveled on from Bellingham to Haines the last week of September 1998. My car with my pet rabbit were in the hold, and I was allowed to visit him along with others visiting their pets and walking their dogs every 4 hours. I did not have a cabin. I stretched out in the movie lounge after hours since it was already nippy during the nights on the stern. There were free hot showers for us. A cafeteria besides the restaurant plus a sundries shop with snacks and a bar. I discovered that I needed Dramamine when the ferry crossed the strong ocean current of Queen Charlotte Strait that rocked the ferry. I learned that since the ferry has a rounded hull, not a deep draft as the cruise ships, that the ferry has a rocking motion in the open ocean. I was told that the stern of the ferry is the "smoothest" ride. Of course, the naturalist gives his talks in the observation lounge at the bow of the ferry.
My ferry included Sitka on its route. We docked at about 5 a.m., and we were given a free tour of the town and its historic Russian government buildings and cathedral plus Tlingit totem poles, migrating salmon in a creek, and Mt, Edgecumb Boarding School for Native Americans. We also visited the Raptor Rehabilitation Center. The tour took about an hour and then we were back onboard the ferry and off to Juneau.
The ferry docked outside of Juneau at about 10 p.m., too late for buses, and taxis would need to drive about 5 miles to the suburb of Mendenhall, where the airport is located and motels, and about 15 miles to downtown Juneau. Cruiseships dock at downtown Juneau.
Jul 8, 2012 9:44 PM
3If you're getting an outside cabin, I'd opt for the starboard side (facing east on northbound sailings.) As mentioned, it doesn't matter a whole lot, but the highest mountains are on the landward side, so if you're lucky you might get some decent views. Pay attention to port call times and also locations. For example Auke Bay (Juneau) is a long way from the city, and some ports are called at in the middle of the night.
Just curious, but what happens for you after Skagway? Do you have a ride planned onward, or returning by ferry, or...? If you're returning, then do the math carefully with respect to total costs v. a regular cruise. Not advocating a cruise line, but costs for the ferry, cabin, food, shoreside accommodations... add up.
Jul 9, 2012 12:00 AM
4yes, to be clear, the ferry is nice but it's not a cruise. the cabins are tiny/cramped and outfitted with bunk beds, a chair, a small desk area and a shelving unit for luggage (in a 2 berth cabin). overall nothing in comparison to what one may find on a cruise ship. but if your main goal is to see and experience southeast Alaska, it could be the way to go. didn't think to ask before, but what time of year are you planning to do this? Gardyloo brings up a few key questions there regarding your overall plan.
note that while a cruise ship spends time in various ports to allow for sight seeing, most of the ferry stops are brief or, as Gardyloo points out, in the middle of the night. on that last trip i made, i only recall disembarking at Ketchikan where we had enough time to eat breakfast and visit friends but that was a long stop because they changed crews for our ship there. all of the other stops are too short (well, maybe Juneau was long enough to go into town for a brief walk around). ferry docks are often, though not always, on the edge of town, not right in the heart of things. if you prefer to actually spend time in towns, you may have to plan a series of ferry trips- that can get a little complicated though it is doable. it may take more time to do that as the ferry you want may not be showing up for a few days. in summer, i'd highly recommend reservations for all legs, particularly if you're going to want a cabin on each run.
Jul 9, 2012 5:23 AM
5Between Juneau and Skagway, there are other options such as smaller shuttleboats and other ferries with shorter legs than the long one between Bellingham and Skagway, so it is easier to hop on and hop off. The dock in Haines might be about 2 miles from town, and the town is very small. There might be Grayhound/Alaska Greyline transportation from Haines, Alaska, to Haines Junction, on the Alaska-Canada Highway System, and to Whitehorse, capitol of Yukon Territory, Canada. That is where the international airport is located.
The dock in Skagway is in the town and you have the option of taking Alaska Greyline bus or train and bus to Whitehorse (transfer at Fraser, British.Columbia.). There is no ground transportation in the Yukon Territory between Whitehorse and Tok, Alaska -- you must fly to Anchorage or Fairbanks if you wish to travel further north.
Jul 11, 2012 7:34 PM
6I've been curious about the Gray Line Alaska because their website only mentions packaged tours so I called them today to find out if they still allow folks to hop on for shorter runs as they seem to have in the past. They told me they don't - that they only do the tours now. So far as I know, Gray Line Alaska is in no way affiliated with Greyhound as is sort of suggested in post 5. Gray Line Alaska is actually a division of Holland America and Princess Cruises.
That said, there are several small companies that offer shuttle or bus services between Skagway and Whitehorse - easy to find in a web search. There is also the train option, as noted above.
Barring a car rental or full on bus tour package, the only road transport I've been able to find offering service between the Yukon Territory and Alaska seems to be Alaska/Yukon Trails. According to their website, they offer charter service between Fairbanks and Whitehorse (they say they need a minimum of 6 to make it viable). One cheap alternative would be to book two of their tours that connect the Whitehorse and Fairbanks via Dawson City, Yukon (not exactly on the way, but if you're at all interested in Dawson City it could be worth it. I myself like the place). I don't know this company at all so I am only providing the option based on web info, not personal experience. Unfortunately, I don't see them reviewed online in sites such as Trip Advisor. Their website is www.alaskashuttle.com.
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