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When we booked our Alaska Scouting trip, we decided we wanted to see a little bit of everything. Never having been there, we made the best choices we could with the information we knew. We knew we would head to Anchorage and over to Juneau, but we were unsure how to get back down to the lower 48. Chad, being the Alaska junkie that he is, had read all about the Inside Passage and how spectacular is was.

The best way to see the ocean is via boat, but we weren’t interested in a cruise, not to mention, we couldn’t afford that.

After checking things out, he (we) decided on the ferry from Juneau, AK, down the inside passage to Bellingham, WA.

We would be traveling with children, so we bit the bullet and got a stateroom complete with it’s own bathroom.

**Helpful hint: Staterooms get reserved quickly, so don’t hesitate with your reservations if you decided to rent one.

We were excited about the boat, but really didn’t know what to expect. 

It was very informal. There were even people camping on the deck at night. It turns out, a lot of locals use this as their means of transportation, so to keep costs down, they are allowed to bring a tent or sleeping bag and set them up on deck or in the inside viewing rooms between specific hours. Actually, I’ll correct that. No tents inside, only on deck. 

I was shocked at how lax everything was. Even boarding was as easy as could be. Being accustomed to air travel, I was expecting chaos, stress, and headache. But it was anything but. No lines, no no rushing. So peaceful. I kept expecting to be told we couldn’t have certain items, like food, from outside places, but again, the rules were very accommodating. Want to bring an ice chest with your own food? Go right ahead! Those who had their vehicles or RVs down below deck could head down there for a quick meal throughout the day at the given intervals.

I will mention that you do not have unlimited access to the vehicles, etc, below deck. There are specific times (I think around 4 times per day and a few times per night) for 15 minutes that you could come and go until it was locked up again.

The rooms were small, but had a nice big window. We had a double so it consisted of 4 twin sized beds in bunk bed fashion, a small sink with soap and towels, a very small little “closet” and a separate bathroom with shower and toilet. Overall, plenty of room for our needs.

**Helpful Hint: The rooms are provided with towels, soaps, wash-rags and bedding, as well as a thermostat for the room.

There were two options for food. One was a “restaurant” with a limited but not too bad menu. It was housed in the back of the boat with great views. They served breakfast, lunch, and dinner there. The other was a more cafeteria style venue that serves hot sandwiches, salads (NOT a salad bar), yogurts, cereal, etc. We ate at both. And quite honestly, were sick of both by the end of the trip. But it was a nice option in case we didn’t have time to get off the ferry at some of the ports (Ketchikan and Sitka).

Nuts and bolts aside.

What was the experience like?

Nothing I could have expected. The ferry far and away took every image I had and exploded it with absolute awesomeness.

It was windy. But it was also the ocean so that wasn’t very surprising. That said, the ship was well designed in that there were plenty of areas you could be on the deck without wind exposure. Additionally, there are many insude viewing rooms, so if it gets too cold, you can still see the beautiful views. Last little hint – the upper deck (where many people sleep at night) has heat lamps and a kind ‘greenhouse’ style roof for more protection and warmth  

Our first hour on the boat, we saw the first (of many) Humpback Whales far off in the distance.

We were giddy like little kids on Christmas morning. Our excited squeals caused a bit of a rush to the side of the boat as other tourists like us leaned as far over as possible, camera lenses and binoculars in hand.

That was just the beginning of our sea life observations.

The wind was biting, but it didn’t phase us as we traveled from one side to the other of the deck.

Clara was the ever rambunctious 2-year-old, running amuck on deck.

And mama was on the verge of heart attack at every move. The railing surrounding the deck – the only barrier between safety and frigid ocean water 20 feet below – had four bars, each of which had a gap of approximately 10 inches in between.

PLENTY of space for a 2 year old to lose their footing, slip under, and fall into the ocean.

{Or so said my imagination and anxiety.}

Now let me preface this with the fact that I’m not one to harness my child, typically. But when it came to the safety of her falling – well – I was willing to concede.

To gain buy-in, we told Clara she was a kitty (her animal of choice during the trip) and that it was time for her leash. I know, I know. It sounds terrible. It wasn’t, I swear. Ethan, Mr. Ever-Prepared, had 30 feet of para-cord available for us to fashion a homemade harness and leash for Clara the Cat.

There were a few sideways looks from patrons when they first saw this, but Mama handled that with a swift “It’s better than her falling overboard” comment. The ship’s staff were very thankful that we had done this, as they were often concerned for their younger passengers as well.

But the views.

Astounding. Every time we turned around, we were presented with another fantastic picture. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any more spectacular? We would see a Bald Eagle swoop into the ocean for fish, or a grizzly bear on shore hiding in the grass. And the Orcas.

Yes. The Orcas.

There is something so magical – so mystical – about seeing the animals in their natural environment. Like we are merely observing this tiny moment of their lives. Which is true. We get this glimpse of what their world is like when they are uninhibited. And it’s extraordinary.

Unlike anything else.

This magic kept Chad on the deck for roughly 20 hours/day. With the daylight being much more extended than the lower 48, there was ample time to see everything. Sunsets lasted so much longer, drawing out the intense colors for what felt like hours.

I will say, the sleep we did get while traveling was relaxing. The gentle rocking of the boat and the continuous whirring of the engines was soothing to the point of ultimate relaxation.
Once landing in Bellingham, our sea legs proved to remind us we were now on land, and I must say – we were pretty sad to be back on shore. If you ever have the opportunity to travel like by the Alaska Marine Highway, I highly recommend it. 

Author: Erin

I'm doing what I can to provide the best life I can for my family. I love cooking & baking, homestead arts, DIY, and gardening {as well as coming up with projects for Mr. Wanderstead Husband!!}...but I love to explore the world around us too! We will figure out how to do it, and eat well while trying.

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8 thoughts on “The Other Highway to Alaska: Ferry Boat Travel

  1. I was never a harness mom either, but I think i would make an exception in this instance as well 😊

    What great pictures! Alaska is definately on my bucketlist!

    Posted on May 10, 2017 at 10:05 am
    1. I would have been way too stressed to enjoy the trip if we hadn’t done it, so in my mind it was worth it! And thank you! The pictures barely touch the beauty that Alaska holds 🙂

      Posted on May 11, 2017 at 12:20 am
  2. This trip looks heavenly. I would definitely like to try it some day.

    Posted on May 10, 2017 at 5:04 pm
    1. It was amazing. I think you would love it.

      Posted on May 11, 2017 at 12:19 am
  3. Thanks for this informative and well photographed post, Erin! You are inspiring me to do just that trip. I think I will focus on spring or summer of 2018 so that I can get those reservations early and I can research the virus options. You’ve done a great job of summarizing what sounds like an unforgettable trip. And, yes, a kitty leash was a wise idea for sure! xo

    Posted on May 10, 2017 at 7:19 pm
    1. Thank you! There is so much information and I wanted to get it across, but ultimately, I wanted to share (or try) the magic that we felt while on that boat. I hope you get to make that trip!!

      Posted on May 11, 2017 at 12:19 am
  4. Beautiful description of your awesome trip

    Posted on May 12, 2017 at 2:54 pm
  5. Next month my family trip book Los angles. i”m excitement.

    Posted on May 25, 2017 at 8:01 pm