Four Days Down the Inside Passage
Trip Start Jun 18, 2010
61Trip End Ongoing
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Tuesday, August 17 through Friday, August 20
Life aboard ship.
As I have mentioned before, Karen keeps referring to this part as "The Cruise"; if you have ever been on a cruise, this is far from it; granted we eat onboard and we are on a floating vessel that’s bigger than our ski boat back home, but these two similar facts alone does not make this a cruise. Don’t get me wrong, this Alaska Marine Highway Ferry system is “Top Shelf”, but compared to a cruise, this is like riding a Greyhound Bus as opposed to flying in first class. I’ll not get into the cost of this part of our trip other than to say transport of ourselves and our rig was not cheap, but we wanted to take a break from the driving but yet still be making progress toward home. This accomplished both so here we are.
I will try to explain the next four days as best I can without getting repetitive; to start with, we wanted to depart from Whittier, Alaska, but all passage from there was booked so we had to drive to Haines, Alaska to get a departure that fit our schedule. So, here is the sailing and port schedule for the vessel we took, the Columbia:
Port Day and Date Time Action
Haines Monday, August 16 8:15 PM Departs
Juneau Tuesday, August 17 12:45 AM Arrives
4:30 AM Departs
Sitka 2:00 PM Arrives
4:15 PM Departs
Petersburg Wednesday, August 18 4:15 AM Arrives
5:45 AM Departs
Wrangell 8:45 AM Arrives
9:45 AM Departs
Ketchikan 3:15 PM Arrives
4:45 PM Departs
Bellingham Friday, August 20 8:00 AM Arrives
As you can see, we are on essentially the milk run so to say
There are always more passengers than cabins available on these ferry vessels; remember, they are primarily for vehicle transport, so we were lucky we got a cabin. Originally when we booked, the cabins were sold out so we had to wait list for one and we got lucky. For those who don’t get a cabin or choose to reduce their expenses for the trip, there are recliner lounge chairs, benches and always the floor for sleeping; we saw people using all of these. There were some things that we were surprised to see like the tents pitched on the open deck and people spending the night sleeping in the deck loungers outside. All of this seems perfectly fine with Alaska Marine; I don’t think I would care for a recliner lounge chair for four days and nights.
Our cabin cost us a bit more since it was a four person cabin (double bunk beds) but at least we had a private bathroom and some extra room to store our stuff; hey, you take what you can get in these situations. There was no room service to change the sheets or make the beds; however, there were clean towels and washcloths available if you needed replacements during the trip
Meals and snacks were available and you paid as you ate; there was a café, a full restaurant and a cocktail lounge, a very nice laundry with coin operated machines. As it turned out, the meal prices were reasonable and surprisingly, there was no tipping allowed; all Alaska Marine employees work for the state and are not allowed to accept tips. We’ve learned that access to the vehicle is available during sailing time in addition to the various ports of call. These access opportunities are called “Car Deck Calls” or “Pet Calls”; these two terms refer to the same activity onboard and they are announced by the Purser. During these 15 minute periods, the car deck is accessible by the passengers to retrieve items from their vehicles and to take care of pets. These were pretty hectic and the time passes quickly so you had to grab fast.
We filled our days and evenings with eating, sleeping, reading, visiting, wildlife watching (we saw eagles, whales, and dolphins), computering (me) and knitting (Karen)
Our preplanning for meals really paid off; the various Healthy Choice and Dinty Moore type microwave meals have come a long way in the last year or so and we had purchased just enough to last us for the four days. We had some fruit with us and the ship always provided access to what ever condiments we needed; as you might suspect, they always had an inviting desert selection that we had to sample on one or two occasions (no cinnamon rolls however). Perhaps this was just false economy thinking, but after having one breakfast meal in the onboard restaurant that was $21, we felt we did OK with our tote-a-meal planning.
As you can read between the lines on the above sailing schedule, there were ports that had time to go ashore, but at 4:00 AM we chose not to; other ports, the time of day cooperated but the length of port call or distance into the town made getting off pointless. The two ports we felt we could achieve something in by getting off were Sitka and Ketchikan.
Sitka is on Baranof Island so the ferry service is obviously crucial to life there; we took a bus ($10/pp) into the downtown and just did the tourist stroll. Some facts about Sitka which I found interesting were: there is a total of 14 miles of paved road in Sitka, essentially 7 miles on either side of town (ironic as it may seem, we even had to wait for good old Alaska road construction while on the bus going into town). The two major industries in town were healthcare and education; go figure that one out
Ketchikan was a lively place and seems to get a lot of notoriety because it is usually the first port of call on the northerly route of the cruise ships. It is not uncommon for Ketchikan to have four or more of these ships in port pumping thousands of people into town (there were three in port when we arrived). Obviously this tourist surge is important to their community so, like Skagway, the harbor and downtown cater to this business. We chose to just walk off a couple of blocks and get a few items from a grocery that was near our docking space since our time was limited. Going south, Ketchikan is the last port of call before Bellingham so we are now on the final 36 hours of this Cruise; arrival is tomorrow at 8:00 AM and we begin the next chapter in the return leg of our journey.