We noticed that you're using an unsupported browser. The TripAdvisor website may not display properly.We support the following browsers:
Windows: Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Google Chrome. Mac: Safari.

Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

South Carolina
Level Contributor
6 posts
39 reviews
Save Topic
Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

My wife and I are considering travel on the Alaskan Ferry System in summer 2008 but as older folks wonder:

1. Would it be comfortable and safe enough if we took a cabin and went from Bellingham WA all the way up to the train connection to Denali Park?

a. Is there any cushioned seating on the deck?

b. Do we have to eat hotdogs and hamburgers all the way?

c. How are the beds in the cabins?

d. No disrespect but we watched people boarding at Bellingham

last year and it was colorful but also a bit like the bar scene in

Star Wars 1977

e. We don't want the "cruise" experience but we've ridden the

ramblin wreck known as Amtrak in our part of the U.S. and

don't want that experience either.

2. The Alaskan Ferry (Highway) System also offers some package deals which include side trips. Has anybody had any experience with them?

Thx. Bill

Adirondack, New York
Level Contributor
3,971 posts
90 reviews
Save Reply
1. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

Well, if you want to have a cabin with a bathroom facilities it would cost you. The cabins are tiny and beds are very spartan, it ain't a cruise ship. If you want just to get from Bellingham to Denali you need to know there is no direct connection. You need to switch ferries in Juneau and the ferry from from Juneau to Whittier runs only twice a month. The ferry arrives in Whittier around 7-8 am and from there you need to take a train, rent a car (one way), limousine or shuttle to Anchorage. From Anchorage, you if want to take a train to Denali, you have to wait until next morning or you may rent a car or RV and travel at your leisure on your own schedule. The Denali-Fairbanks train runs only once a day.

If you take the Columbia ferry from Bellingham to Ketchikan it has a nice restaurant so no need to eat hot dogs. From what I read some people bring on the ferry coolers with some food or at least snacks. Food is not included in a price of your transfer. And that is what the ferry is, only a transfer and no intended to deliver any extra services or to offer any luxury accommodatins or dining. There is a naturalist (or maybe a prak ranger) on the ferry.

Ferry won't be less expensive than flying. We are planning to take the ferry next summer but only because we want to have this experience, we know what to expect and what not to expect, want to bring our own car and stay at several destinations for a few days at each place. Finally we will be in Alaska for 2-3 months.

Truly, your discription of the ramblin wreck known as Amtrak and the bar scene in Star Wars 1977 (I am not certain what you mean) tells me you won't be too happy taking the ferry. You need to be prepared there are going to be people sleeping on chairs, decks, in tents everywhere and it is more like a rough camping place than a cruise line. If you are not ready for this type of traveling you may extend your research to cruising. Many people take cruises to Alaska and fully enjoy them. You can always fly between all these destinations and if you want to have a ferry experience then take ferries lets say bewteen Juneau and Wrangell or Haines or Petrsburg or Skagway or Sitka. Many options available without being on the ferry for too long.

I don't get your question about safety. Are you asking whether you may fell out of the ferry or are you worry about criminals being on the same ferry?

You are asking about traveling on the ferry one way but forgot to say how you're planning to go back to South Carolina from Anchorage or Denali or whatever place in Alaska is going to be your final destination.

Anchorage, Alaska
Level Contributor
96 posts
15 reviews
Save Reply
2. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

I have been on 3 ships in the Alaska Ferry System, and they really are all a bit different. But, I'll try to answer your questions, from my limited experience:

-Cushioned seating on deck? On all 3 ships I was on, there was a huge enclosed viewing area in the front of the ship with tons of seating. The quality of the seating varied. On the 2 older ships I was on, the seating was very comfy padded seats, sort of like first class airline seats - I even fell asleep there for a while. On one of the newer ships, I don't remember the seating in that area being so comfortable. There is also seating all over the ship - the dining type areas have booths, the upper open decks have lounge chairs. There always seemed to be lots of options on all the ships.

-Food selections vary by ship. The Tustemena had a sit-down dining room where we had a nice breakfast; I think all the ships have either a dining room or at worst a cafeteria, and you should have more options than hamburgers & hotdogs. There are also vending machines (ick!), but good for the hours the main dining facilities aren't serving.

-The only stateroom I have been in was on the Tustemena, and I took the cheapest option I could. It was quite tiny (not a lot of room for luggage) but functional. The beds in our room were bunk beds, so you either have to be willing to climb to the top bunk, or get a room with 2 sets of bunks so you can both have a bottom bed. As I recall, the mattresses seemed like really thick foam pads, but I was comfortable (I'm in my 40s, if that matters.) We did not get a bathroom in our stateroom, but the staterooms (those without baths) have common bathrooms/shower rooms for use ONLY by the stateroom passengers. You can also splurge and have a bathroom in your room.

-Type of passengers? I think it depends on the route, but you will get tourists, and you will get people trying to get to other parts of Alaska for jobs, visiting relative, shopping etc., you will get hunters, fishermen, young adults trying to see Alaska on the cheap. Some people won't spring for a stateroom (there aren't enough anyway - book early if you want one), so on overnights, there are people spralled all over the common areas of the ship - and they pretty much have all their gear with them. It can be a mix of characters - I don't think the Alaska Ferry system passenger mix is very uniform, don't expect anything like a standard group of cruise ship passengers. Remember, some people ARE using this for transportation, on a lot of routes the tourist trade is a bit secondary. I've never ridden Amtrak, but if I wanted to try a comparison, I did Greyhound buses in college and I hope to never do THAT again...but, I'll happily plan another trip using the ferry system. I haven't had a reason to be concerned about the Ferry clientele, but, I do only have experience on 3 trips.

-You didn't ask, but the Alaska Railroad, particularly in the summer, is almost 100% tourists, so that experience is not going to be a thing like Amtrak.

-I do not have any experience with package deals with the Ferry system.

South Carolina
Level Contributor
6 posts
39 reviews
Save Reply
3. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

Many thanks for your insightful comments. Bill

haines, alaska
Destination Expert
for Haines
Level Contributor
7,094 posts
33 reviews
Save Reply
4. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

Good morning Bill

Plus for the ferry system is that it is an affordable and comfortable option to travel between southeast ports.......some towns can only be reached by ferry or by small planes which are more expensive than the ferry......

Minus would be that the schedules may be difficult to plan around......

Flying into Juneau and taking the ferry to several different towns would be much more affordable than taking the ferry from Bellingham all the way to Whittier......

Just got back home yesterday on the ferry.......nice quiet cruise, yummy pancakes and bacon for breakfast, even saw whales !

Boston...
Level Contributor
5,524 posts
47 reviews
Save Reply
5. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

An affordable option? I don't think so. I drew up a detailed plan of a possible SE trip, and was astounded by the price- $2800 for two people (without air fare) the majority of which was the ferry. Looking at the specific costs, you could go on a cruise for what it costs to go from Bellingham. And that's while sleeping on deck. I was really looking forward to seeing Petersburg and Haines, but the prices of the ferry are just plain pitiful.

Kristian

Hagerstown, MD
Level Contributor
23 posts
1 review
Save Reply
6. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

You can save some money by boarding the ferry at Prince Rupert, BC instead of Bellingham. We figure the trip from Prince Rupert to Haines with stops in Ketchikan, Sitka, and Juneau for 2 adults and a 22 ft camper will cost about $1300-$1400. We're expecting no-frills transportation with beautiful scenery and interesting people along the way. I expect it will be like east coast Amtrak but with scenery and without unexplained delays.. I understand your analogy with Star Wars (also applies to Amtrak) but that was my favorite part of the movie. Considering the geography of southeast AK there aren't many options for travel at your own pace especially if you're ascared of flying.

Massachusetts
Level Contributor
411 posts
33 reviews
Save Reply
7. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

I did the ferry this past summer with 3 children and 3 adults. You can search for my trip using my username and my total expenses clocked in at around $10k (not including airfare) - that included absolutely fabulous once-in-a-lifetime excursions. I flew into Sitka, ferried to Haines, day tripped to Skagway from Haines and ferried to Juneau and then flew home. Our trip was 10 days long.

So I guess what I'm saying is that the ferry can be reasonable; it just depends on where you choose to go. I never felt like I overspent during my vacation.

Adirondack, New York
Level Contributor
3,971 posts
90 reviews
Save Reply
8. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

$10,000 for 10 days and 6 people I guess is not too expensive vacation. Thank you for directing me to your post. I"ll try to find it and read it some time.

We are planning to travel for almost 3 months next summer and do all possible things we should do in each destination (Juneau, Haines, Ketchikan, Petersburg and Wrangell) and staying in each 3-5 days. We are hikers so don't worry about not having enough to do.

I don't think the OP asked about the ferry being the least expensive mode of transportation. His concerns were about quality of food, safety, comfort of seating, cabins, beds.

IMHO, for visitors the Alaskan ferry is about having an unique experience and not about saving money

haines, alaska
Destination Expert
for Haines
Level Contributor
7,094 posts
33 reviews
Save Reply
9. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

Just to clarify the cost of the ferry........I'm a little confused by the $2800 cost that Blue quotes.......

My brother came to Haines a couple of weeks ago.......him + car + cabin......Bellingham to Haines one-way....approx $1450.....A passenger without a car who is sleeping on the deck would be charged a lot less than that.....

While taking the ferry all the way from Bellingham to Juneau is probably more expensive than flying from Seattle to Juneau, once you get here the ferry IS definitely more affordable to take between coastal towns than flying between them.....

Adirondack, New York
Level Contributor
3,971 posts
90 reviews
Save Reply
10. Re: Pluses/Minuses of Alaskan Ferry System?

mombera, I am glad you clarified this. My calculations agree with yours. From Bellingham to Ketchikan for 2 people, car and a cabin with a bathroom I got $1200.00 + -. Then from Juneau to Whittier should be almost the same.