Help me create my ideal Alaskan trip!
Replies: 8 - Last Post: Feb 28, 2012 10:01 AM Last Post By: lisalisa84
Feb 24, 2012 11:38 PM
Help me create my ideal Alaskan trip!Hi all,
I have been going through these current threads about Alaska and have been trying unsuccessfully to decipher the Alaska Marine Highway website and either I am thick as mince or it's just confusing for your average Joe........either way I could really do with some advice!
I am in Vancouver until August, have a bit of money aside and it is my dream whilst I am here to experience Alaska. I'm unlikely to be over here and get the chance again so want to take the chance while I have it. I wanted to do a cruise however as a solo traveller I will get thrashed with single occupancy fares. I also cannot drive so driving is not an option. I came across the Alaskan Marine Highway and think this might be the answer for me. I am hoping if I give you some detail as to what I'm after, then someone might read this who has done a similar trip or might know this area really well and can point me in the right direction.....
I want to be away for maximum a week
I will have a maximum of $600-$800 to spend for that week - transport and activities
I have no issue being on a boat for a length of time, given I'll be on my own I can book a cabin if I need to
Any suggestions would be most appreciated as like I say, I'm a bit confused as to where I am best to visit given my options.
Thanks in advance :)
Feb 25, 2012 5:04 AM
1The Alaska Ferry might well work for you though the budget may be tight. It's true that the best route would require you to depart from Bellingham so you'd have to get there first. I imagine you can catch a bus from Vancouver BC to Bellingham.Also, it looks from the schedule that some of the Amtrak Cascades scheduled trains from Vancouver BC make a stop at the Alaska Marine HighwayTerminal in Bellingham. Might be worth looking into that option.
The AK Ferry trip up the inside passage is quite scenic and follows a route very similar to cruise ships. Bellingham to Skagway, the northern terminus of the inside passage route, would cost $363 each way so a round trip will eat up most of your budget. The good thing is you can travel the ferry without reserving a cabin. They are expensive and it's just as nice, or nicer, IMO, to camp out on the deck (I've done both).
Some ferries have a solarium on the uppermost deck with heaters in the ceiling. They are open areas on the stern side but enclosed on the other three sides with windows port and starboard. The ones I have camped on had lockers to store gear and chaise lounges to lay on (or astroturf). You can bring a sleeping bag and sleeping pad - no need for a tent though some do pitch tents (have to secure them due to wind etc).I wouldn't bother with a tent.
Food on the ferry is expensive but you can bring your own if you like. The times in port are not all that long though so if you really want to explore some places you have to book segments to allow you to sightsee. Last trip I did we had a crew change in Ketchikan which had us at the dock for several hours - plenty of time to catch up with some friends there. But some other stops leave you little time or have you arriving at the wee hours of the morning or late night.
You might be able to find hostels in the places you hope to stop. No need for a car in most places - some towns have bus service and most are small anyway. The ferries that depart Bellngham stop in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Juneau, Haines and Skagway (southbound trips make a stop in Sitka) I think you could make a round trip from Bellingham to Skagway within a 7 day timeframe if take the straight route, with no diversions, but check the schedules carefully (choose the summer SE General Schedules PDF on the right hand column). If you go to the AK Ferries route page you can click on a town's three letter abbreviation on the map and find info about the community/things to do (click on the Southeast Alaska tab to hone in on the area you'd be traveling in). With only a week though you may be on a mainly scenic tour. Still worth it in some respects. You could also opt to go just as far north as Juneau to have more time to actually do things.
Edited by: alapah
Feb 25, 2012 7:15 AM
2I traveled on the Columbia ferry from Bellingham to Haines, with my car and pet rabbit in the hold, the last week of September. There were few people camping on the stern, but many were camping overnight in the warm lounges -- I chose the movie theater lounge between the rows of seats. It is best to find a locker to store your sleepingbag during the daytime. There are free, public hot showers. There is a cafeteria, restaurant, and bar, plus small store with snacks and magazines. I do not know if they have Wi-Fi internet access. During rough weather or turbulent tides (Queen Charlotte Straits), it is calmer to stay near the stern of the ferry because the rocking motion of the ferry did give me severe seasickness. Remember your Dramamine and I also now use accupressure wristbands.
During my cruise, there were about 5 retired WWII Navy couples who were reminiscing about their days stationed in Southeast Alaska -- there are some bunkers' remains on a few of the islands. The ferry is the main transportation link between the islands and ports in Southeast Alaska, so you may see high school athletic teams, families traveling to a doctor's appointment in Juneau, etc., as passengers. My northbound ferry did stop for about one hour in Sitka, and there was a free shuttlebus bus that took us on a tour of Alaska's first Russian capitol. The ferry dock in Juneau is about 10 miles outside of downtown, and you would need to take a taxi if the ferry docks after hours for the local bus. It is about 5 miles from the Juneau International Airport in Mendenhall Valley. I have traveled on the ferry just between Skagway and Juneau four times, with my car and pet rabbit in the hold, when I worked summer seasonal jobs near Glacier Bay. There are faster shuttleboats between Skagway and Juneau for day excursions or for people wishing to jump ahead of the ferry's late night departure from Juneau, at about 11 p.m., arriving in Haines at about 4 a.m., and Skagway at about 6 a.m.
There is a hostel in Skagway, another in Juneau, and another in Sitka. You can see everything in Skagway by walking around in one day -- it is a preserved, frontier gold rush era town, with interesting plays depicting its history. I don't know the cost of a flight from Whitehorse International Airport (Yukon Territory) back to Vancouver or elsewhere. Alaska Airlines flies out of Juneau to Seattle or north to Anchorage.
Feb 25, 2012 11:51 AM
3Round trip by ferry in just a week means sitting on the ferry day after day, since you'll have very little time for any activities or side trips. That's a lot of time sitting around watching the scenery drift by...unless that's something you genuinely enjoy. The scenery itself will be the same in both directions, and you don't really get the best views from the ferry anyway. To cap it off, Juneau, Haines and Skagway are where the really nice scenery begins, in my very arguable personal opinion. You'll be turning around to head south just as you get to the good stuff, with no chance to get out and enjoy it up close.
On the plus side, you've got a good chance of hitting tolerable weather during the summer. If you hit a rainy spell, of which there are many, you won't even see much scenery. You might want to think about this.
Better if you can: if you really want to take a ferry and see S.E. Alaska, spend a week minimum in one direction. That'll allow you to get off the boat here and there, picking up the next boat the following day. From Juneau you could do an excursion to Glacier Bay or up onto the icefield to see what I mean when I say that the scenery is just beginning to get spectacular at the end of your journey. Fly back to Vancouver or Bellingham at the end of your trip.
And yes, the train from Vancouver passes through Bellingham, stopping next door to the ferry terminal. The bus stops there too. Beware the Airport buses, though (e.g., Quickshuttle), which stop elsewhere and require an expensive taxi ride.
Hope that helps.
Feb 25, 2012 11:57 AM
4Just one more thing: the images people have of Alaska--the reason everyone wants to go there--are more characteristic of Central and Southcentral areas than of Southeast (where the Alaska Marine Highway from Bellingham goes). If I had only a week to spend, I'd be looking for ways to get to and from Anchorage in order to go to Denali and other such places. You'll find lots of threads about this on the Thorntree.
Worth thinking about.
Feb 25, 2012 5:44 PM
5During my cruise up the Inside Passage, I saw quaint, tiny fishing villages along the Vancouver Island coastline. I saw salmon leaping out of the ocean and up their home river to spawn. I saw porpoises swimming alongside the ferry. I saw bears on the opposite shore. I saw many bald eagles and ravens. I saw the dense Tongass National Forest. I saw Mendenhall Glacier near Juneau from the boat. I disembarked for a few minutes at Ketchikan, Petersberg, and Wrangell, and for one hour at Sitka, at 6 a.m. We saw St. Michael's Russian Orthodox Church, walked a short ways along the main street to look through store windows, then traveled past Mt. Edgecumb Native Alaskan Boarding School, then past the original Russian Archbishop's home, and past the original home of the Russian leader's home, plus walked over a small bridge to see spawning salmon and totem poles. Then, we visited the Sitka Raptor Rehabilitation Center to see eagles being healed and readied for release to the wilds again.
If you stop off overnight in Juneau or Sitka, than you could catch another ferry onward. There are smaller ferries that you may switch to for segments, and there is the shuttleboat between Skagway and Juneau.
Feb 25, 2012 9:28 PM
6Ferry cafeteria: Not expensive by Alaska standards. Guests have access to a microwave in the cafeteria. Many guests bring a cooler and bags of food.
email: Not as of last year. Staff pointed out the age of the ships, although they have been rebuilt over the years. Some villages like Haines have libraries and public email access. Cell phones do service part of the route.
bar: also a community center. Bartenders do not take tips as they are employees of the state of Alaska
movies: about half are for children.
It is relaxing to just flow along, with the shore at times quite close. Sometimes a naturalist or park ranger will come on board and talk, but AMH makes it clear that they are not in competition with Holland America or Princess.
The Bellingham-Skagway part is mostly protected. When the ship comes to open watrer the guests are advised that it might be a bit rough for the next 16-30 minutes. The service into Whittier requires a trip across the Gulf of Alaska, and that can definitely be rough.
I also agree with markharf that you wold be better served to get to Anchorage and on to Denali. However, at Juneau you can walk out on a glacier and do excursions. Perhaps you should consider just taking the ferry to Juneau and then looking around that area if you are pressed for time and money.
Feb 26, 2012 6:50 AM
Feb 28, 2012 10:01 AM
8This is great, thank you everyone I really appreciate the honest answers. Perhaps I should think about going for longer than a week - I'm not really restricted that way anyway so it would be ok to do that. I imagine there will be a total mix of people on the ferry which is could be good fun! Sounds like I just need to be pretty organised with my planning and research to make the most of it!
Thanks again, much appreciated! :)
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