The first leg of our journey: The ferry ride.
We left Olympia, WA at 0900, and arrived to Bellingham at noon and checked in. They wanted us checked in by 1500 for a departure time of 1800. So obviously we got there in plenty of time! After checking in and getting the Jeep in line, we walked to the downtown area (two blocks away) and had lunch. Then we went back to the Jeep and waited (and waited). It was kinda fun; we met lots of folks that were chatty, and started making friends. They were interested in our Jeep and trailer too. We eventually got loaded on the boat and were on our way. Since the ferry was making multiple stops, there’s an art to loading the ferry so the first vehicles on are the first vehicles off. They have us packed in pretty tight. Fortunately they didn’t give us any grief about having firearms in the Jeep, other than telling us to make sure we kept the Jeep locked.
Then we went to find our rooms. We checked in, got our keys, and put our stuff in our room. It was a small room, but do-able. A bunk-bed with a sink, and a private bath and shower; not big, but big enough. The beds came with linen and pillows, and towels and washcloths. After that, we went exploring on the ship.
The boat has plenty of forward viewing areas with plenty of seating,and two decks on the back where you can sit outside. A lot of folks don’t get a room; they sleepon one of the back decks either in a tent they set-up (literally duct-taped tothe deck) or in lounge chairs with sleeping bags. Part of it is covered, so if it rains you’re not getting wet. Some sleep in the theater or on the observation deck inside. There are also public showers and bathrooms on the ferry. The ferry is very nice and clean; well maintained and modern. They’ve taken good care of it, and they take pride in their ferry. There is a movie theater (that’s what they call it anyway), a small gift shop (the size of one of my kid’s bedrooms), a snackbar/grill,a sit-down restaurant, snack machines, a bar/lounge, and of course the car deckwhere we’re all parked.
One thing that was interesting is lots of folks bring their pets on the ferry, but their pets have to stay in the vehicles. So a couple of times a day they’d open the car deck for 15 minutes so folks could go down and get stuff out of their vehicles, and check on their pets. Which means its potty time. Yup; you’ve got 15 minutes to get your dog to go potty on the car deck, and then you have to clean it up (they supply the paper towels and trash barrels). It’s actually fun to watch everyone getting their dogs and walking them around; I called it the dog show. Keith and I would go down at every car deck call and hold people’s leashes for them after their dogs went potty so they could clean it up. Sounds weird I know; you’d have to be there to appreciate it. It’s a fun way to meet and make new friends. When the boat would dock, everyone that had a pet would get off with their dogs so they could stretch their legs (and ofcourse, go potty). Laugh if you want; if you take a couple day ferry ride with your dog(s), their being able to go potty will be on the forefront of your mind.
Meals: The snackbar/grill is not cheap, and the sit-down restaurant even more expensive (especially lunch and dinner). Here’s what we did: Dinner Friday night – snackbar/grill (figure about$9.00/person for a burger and fries [drink extra]). Breakfast the next morning (Saturday); the sit-down restaurant (about $9.00-$12.00/person for a Denny’s like breakfast) –we had to try it at least once. Lunch –MREs sitting on the back deck. Dinner –snackbar/grill. The next day (Sunday) we had our first stop in Ketchikan. We had about a two hour stop before we had to be back on the ferry, so we went to an A&P grocery store about a block away that had a little deli and had breakfast there. For lunch MREs again, and for dinner back to the snackbar/grill. Monday morning we ate at the sit-down restaurant for our final meal on the ferry (corned-beef hash, scrambled eggs, hashbrowns, and toast for me anyways), as we got to our destination soon after (Haines, AK) around 1100 and drove off the ferry.
About small children: Think of the ferry as a fancy Greyhound bus. Yeah, there’s food available, and you can get a room, and there is a theater that shows a few movies, but the ferry isn’t set up for entertaining kids. There’s no playground. They will go stir-crazy (and drive those of us that didn’t bring kids crazy) if you let them or didn’t plan accordingly. If you’re bringing kids (little-ones to teens) bring stuff for them to do that doesn’t make noise. If they’re going to watch movies on a portable player or laptop, or play a video game, make sure they have earphones unless they’re watching/playing it in their room. The scenery along the ferry ride is awesome and breathtaking; kids don’t care about that. Can you tell I’m not a kid person? Don’t ruin the trip for others – it’s a four day trip from Bellingham to Haines. Plan accordingly.
Clothing – plan on layers. There’s snow on the mountains. It’s not warm; sometimes it’s downright chilly. The boat cruises along at a pretty good clip (up to 20 knots), so even if it isn’t really that cold, the wind chill factor will kick in. You’ll want to spend sometime outside. We saw whales, sea-planes, bald-eagles; sometimes you’ll want to just sit outside and watch the scenery go by. It probably looks the same as it did in the 1700/1800’s when the first explorers were discovering it. Make sure you’ve got your camera and binoculars (I have small ones that go in a pouch you can put on your belt) with you, as you never know when the captain will announce “whales on the port-side one mile ahead”. They do have coin laundry facilities on the ferry if you need it. The temperature inside the ferry is very comfortable.
People taking the ferry all seemed very friendly and more than happy to talk. They want to know where you’re going, what you’ll be doing in Alaska, etc. Some on the ferry are like us (tourists); others are going to Alaska to work or going back home to where they live in Alaska. If you’ve ever thought of taking a ferry up to Alaska, I highly recommend it. It’s the first leg of our journey, and so far it’s been a good one. Beautiful scenery, friendly people, a clean pleasant comfortable ride, and a good kick-start to our trip.
The cost for my Jeep and trailer (22 feet long total – and that’s with a relatively small trailer), a two person room with private bath/shower, andtwo people from Bellingham WA to Haines, AK: $2500.00. It ain’t cheap, and that doesn’t include food. But it’s worth it (for us anyway).