Did you finally book that ticket on the Seattle to Anchorage Ferry? Are you teetering on the decision? Do you have to take the ferry for work? It doesn’t really matter how you ended up researching the ferry, what matters is that it’s a unique experience, unlike any other mode of transportation. If you’re like me, you’re wondering how can you possibly prepare for an experience that seems so foreign? Do you pack for a cruise or bus ride? The answer is Yes!
This summer I spent nearly 10 days on the Alaskan Ferry, traveling from Seattle to Anchorage, and back. During that time I learned a few things that could not be found online.
Booking your tickets online
When I first started to book my tickets, I was a little frozen. Like most people, I have become accustomed to cleverly designed sites that subtly push me through the purchasing process to the extent that sometimes I don’t even remember hitting the “buy” button. Well, not this time. It felt as though the website was designed by someone who really did not want me to buy a ticket.
First of all, it took a few minutes to get to the correct site, which is the homepage for the Marine Highway System on the Alaskan Department of Transportation site. Once I finally navigated to the purchase form, I had to enter a lot of information, before seeing my options. The interface is definitely clunky, but if you stick with it, the site will eventually provide all of the info that you need to book your ticket. One thing to note is that the closest port to Seattle is Bellingham and the closest port to Anchorage is Whittier. So, you’ll be booking your ticket from Bellingham to Whittier. Don’t worry though, this route will get you where you want to go!
Bringing your pet – the many rules of the Seattle to Anchorage Ferry
You CAN bring your pet onto the Alaskan Ferry, but there are restrictions. All pets must stay on the car deck for the entire voyage. When you are not with your pet (which is most of the time), they must remain in your vehicle, if you brought your car, or in their carrying case, if you did not bring a car. You can expect to store your pet-occupied carrying case in a designated area, next to other pets. It can get loud and stressful in this area and may not be suitable for all pets.
You can visit with your pet while the boat is in port, which tends to be a 3-4 hour window and for 15-minute intervals during “car deck calls”. There is an area for pets to relieve themselves and owners must clean up after them. I worried incessantly about my cat staying in the car, but it turned out to be totally fine.
Are you traveling with a cat? Check out: The ferry to Alaska from Bellingham – all you need to know about bringing your cat.
Bringing your car – Navigating the car deck on the Seattle to Anchorage ferry
Upon arrival at the ferry terminal, you will park outside of the ticketing office, go inside and retrieve your tickets. The attendant at the counter will direct you to the “car staging area” and tell you which lane to park in. Once you are settled in the staging area, expect a long wait. On both voyages, I waited for over two hours. When it’s finally your turn to load, it’s an easy drive over a wide, metal bridge onto the boat. Attendants will direct you into a forward-facing parking spot. The entire parking area is shaped like a U, so you will park your car facing forward and then exit the vessel by driving in the same direction.
Once the parking attendant gives you the thumbs up, you are free to unload your car and, if you purchased a cabin, take one of two stairwells (or elevator bays) to the deck with the purser’s counter. Think of the purser as the front desk of a hotel, only less friendly. Either the elevator or the stairwell will clearly indicate on which deck the purser is located. If you did not purchase a cabin (aka stateroom), it’s time to stake your claim on a sleeping area.
Traveling in a stateroom
If possible, I’d highly recommend booking a stateroom for your journey on the ferry. They range greatly in price, depending on the ship and the amenities. When traveling on the Kennicott I was able to book a stateroom with no windows and no bathroom for just $194 for four nights. On the way back, however, the Matanuska only had staterooms with bathrooms available, which cost me $420 for three nights.
My personal experience in the stateroom with no bathroom was great. There are plenty of restrooms on board, including single-room bathrooms with locking doors and sinks inside. I also found the on-board showers on the Kennicott very easy to use and not busy at all. The simple joy of somewhere quiet to read during the day and somewhere private to sleep was the real value of the stateroom for me.
Traveling without a stateroom – where to sleep on the Seattle to Anchorage ferry
On both voyages, I noticed a handful of people who traveled without staterooms. This is where the Alaskan Ferry really shines as a unique mode of transportation. For folks without rooms, you can sleep just about anywhere. I noticed several tents in the indoor solarium on the Kennicott (you can not camp outside on that vessel due to wind) and I also saw tents in the outdoor solarium on the Matanuska. I also saw passengers sleeping in reclining chairs and on the floor in their sleeping bags. Being on the ferry promotes this strange sense of comradery, as it’s really just one giant sleepover with a bunch of strangers.
Up until dinner time on my first night, I had remained in a state of transportation-based cognitive dissonance. Is this a bus or a cruise, I kept asking myself? But when dinner rolled around, my question was answered. It’s not a cruise.
Each vessel provides a full menu and liberal operating hours, serving hot food from 7 am to 9 pm, only closing for 90-minute intervals before lunch and dinner for the staff to eat. However, the menu is more along the lines of what you would expect at a little league game (think: hotdogs and cheeseburgers) and it’s served in a cafeteria-style line. At some points, the lines were pretty long, but as long as you are willing to eat early or late, the wait time is not that bad.
The (lack of) Internet and cell service
There is no wifi on the vessels and you will receive very little cell service during the voyage from Bellingham to Whittier. I highly suggest downloading any movies or shows that you would like to watch as well books to read and music to listen to. Take nothing for granted, these vessels are operated by the Department of Transportation, not Carnival Cruises.
Now that you know what to expect on the ferry to Alaska, you can sit back and relax. If you are traveling alone, you can enjoy days of quiet contemplation with a bulletproof excuse to ignore your email. If you are traveling with family, you can enjoy some good, old-fashioned bonding time away from the stresses of everyday life. Either way, this experience will be something to remember!