Intro To The Alaska Ferry System:
Many people overlook the fact that Alaska ferry services are scheduled from ports in Washington and Alaska on a very regular basis. Ferries also provide travel services across the coastal gulf and other sea ports around the state. It’s called the Alaska Marine Highway System and it’s integral to the economy and travel systems in water stricken Alaska. Taking a ferry is an effective way to get to and from Alaska as well as different locations within Alaska. It can also allow you to bring your own vehicle, as well as all your gear quite easily. If you’re limited on time and want to maximize your trip to Alaska, this is a viable option you should consider as an alternative to an Alaska road trip.
Not only can this be a beautiful mode of travel, especially for water lovers, it also allows a lot more flexibility that you might not otherwise have. For example, it’s your only option if you want to visit Kodiak, the capital city of Juneau or the southern peninsula. In it’s most basic accommodation for two people and a vehicle, it’s somewhat cost-effective compared to regular road travel when you factor in all that’s involved, but more adult fares or sleeping cabins can quickly exceed the cost of a road trip. That said, it’s also much faster, too, so what you lose in money you gain in time.
Where Does The Alaska Ferry Leave From?
It’s most common to catch the Alaska ferry out of Bellingham, Washington in the northern-most tip of Washington’s northwest corner. Bellingham is roughly 2 hours north of Seattle, a convenient air terminal. Alternatively, you can also catch the ferry from Prince Rupert, BC which is a fair bit north of Bellingham, but might be a decent option for eastern US or Canadian visitors. Reservations are always required and it’s always strongly recommended to arrive at the ferry terminal well before the ferry’s departure.
These routes follow Alaska’s inside passage, taking you up to Alaska, largely following the coast line. There are several destinations which you can choose, with rates varying depending on distance traveled.
What Does An Alaska Ferry It Cost?
We’re not here to give you exact rates for every possible iteration as the rates might change frequently. Rates for an Alaska ferry are generally determined on a per-person basis, the more people you have in your party the more it will cost. You can choose whether you want to take a vehicle with you, at an extra cost, or whether you’ll just rent a car when you reach Alaska. You can also choose whether you want a sleeping quarters or whether you’ll just rough it on the general ferry. You are generally not allowed access to your vehicle while the ferry is in motion, so you can’t plan on sleeping in your car.
The general range of rates will be around $800 per person, depending on source and destination, if you opt to not take a personal or rented vehicle with you. If you want to add a vehicle under 15 feet, that will cost around $1600 in addition to the fare. Sleeping cabins can cost $600 to $1200 more, depending on the desired level of services and how many sleeping berths you opt to buy. There are additional costs for food and drink, as might be expected. Also remember that a return ferry trip would be a separate fare. You might consider taking the ferry one way and driving the Alaska highway for the return trip or vice versa.
Some additional options that you might be interested in are bicycle transport services, which are somewhat inexpensive. Also, you can transport kayaks, which might just be a way to get your floating vessel to some of the best waters on earth!
In general, the Alaska ferry service does offer discounts to children. At the time of this writing, children under 6 are allowed to ride the ferry at no additional cost. Children between 6 and 11 are allowed to ride the Alaska ferry at approximately half the normal adult rate. Children 12 years and older are assumed to ride the ferry as a full adult fare.
Whew, That Adds Up!
Yes, it does. Alaska ferry services aren’t necessarily a cheaper option than a road trip to Alaska, but the real advantage is that it saves your time and allows the transport of your personal vehicle and all your gear, which ultimately minimizes expenses on the back-end of the ferry services. It can ideally offset a car rental, but it might be worth comparing what a car rental would cost versus the cost to transport your vehicle.
Obviously if you can forgo the sleeping cabin and reduce the numbers in your party, it’s a somewhat competitive option. When you start looking at a family vacation, however, you can easily be looking at more $5,000 for just ferry services, which certainly makes the road trip and flights a better financial option.
The ideal scenario would probably be to consider a one way ferry trip with a drive back (or vice versa), which could easily save a few days on your itinerary. This could add a pleasant side trip aspect to your adventure and give you memories for the rest of your life!
Alaska Ferry Deck Camping:
It may come as a surprise for you, but most of these long distance ferries offer an option for pitching a tent on the deck of the ferry. This can provide your own private vestibule as well as a sleeping area for you and yours, something that fits right in with the theme of this site!
Unfortunately, this is not a free option, but it is very cost-effective compared to inside sleeping services. In most cases, it’s around a third of the cost of normal sleeping room services and is generally not charged on a per-person basis. It can be a very cost-effective way to endure often 40 hour ferry tide along the inside passage.
The one thing to keep in mind here is that you’ll absolutely need a means of transporting your tent, sleeping gear and all other required items from the vehicle deck to where you’ll be assigned to place your tent. This could require you to pack some gear in a larger backpack or a coordinated effort within your party.
That said, how cool would this be?!?! It’s definitely on our to-do list!
The best source for information about cross gulf ferry services is the Alaska Marine Highway System. Here is where you’ll find specific information about rates, routes, schedules and all the other necessary information for you to consider whether a ferry trip is right for you.