When I went on the road nearly 12 months ago, everyone thought I was crazy for bringing my cat along. No one had ever heard of a slow traveling cat! However, since we’ve been living the Free Life, we’ve run into quite a few cats. In fact, cats make the best travel companions – they are small, quiet, and low maintenance. Despite having the utmost confidence in my furry, travel buddy, Cal, I still couldn’t help but worry about bringing him onto the ferry to Alaska from Bellingham. Having booked our trip almost 6 months in advance, I had a lot of time to worry. The good news is – you don’t have to!
Cal and I are pleased to share our top 8 tips and tricks for traveling with your cat on the Alaska ferry. Before you travel, make sure to check out the Everything You Need to Know article for more details on traveling to Alaska via ferry.
1. Get your cat’s health certificate within 30 days of travel – the ferry to Alaska from Bellingam WILL check.
If you read the fine print on the Alaska Ferry website, you’ll see that all pets traveling into Alaska, must have a health certificate, issued by a vet, within the last 30 days. This applies even if you are traveling from Washington and it’s no joke. You can expect the attendant to check your certificate and verify the date that it was issued.
You should call ahead to make sure your vet issues health certificates (even if it says they do on their website) and do not wait until the last minute to book your appointment. I was almost left high and dry when I booked an appointment online only to find out the day before that the person who does health certificates was no longer working at that office. I had to scramble for a last-minute appointment, adding extra stress to an already complex trip.
2. Let your cat explore the car a few weeks before departure
While traveling on the ferry to Alaska from Bellingham, pets must stay in their owner’s vehicles for the entire voyage. I have to admit, I was pretty uncomfortable with this at first. The trick is to give your cat time to acclimate to the car. Specifically, you should allow your cat to explore the car, while parked, with you in it. Depending on the cat, I would recommend spending a few hours with your cat in the car at least 4-5 times over the course of the weeks leading up to your departure.
3. Prepare the car for the weather – the car deck on the ferry to Alaska from Bellingham is not fully climate-controlled.
The car deck can vary in temperature, depending on the time of year that you travel. The good news is, there are a few things you can do to keep your cat comfortable.
Colder weather is definitely easier prep for, including providing plenty of blankets and even a hand warmer, if your cat is used to a warmer climate. Make sure to test hand warmers in your car beforehand, as different cars can retain heat at various rates.
Preparing for a hot voyage is a little tougher, but at the very least you can make sure there is plenty of space for your cat to stretch out. You can also try a pet bed with cooling gel, like this one from Amazon.
4. Leave the carrier open and accessible
Even though my cat hates his carrier, I found that he spent most of his time in it, while traveling on the ferry. It may feel intuitive to store the carrier in the trunk while sailing, but your cat is familiar with their carrier and it can be a place of comfort, in case they get scared.
5. Bring your cat’s favorite things
The more familiar items, you can leave in the car, the better. For our voyage, I left Cal with his blanket, his carrier, and a few toys. I brought an abundance of treats, which he really enjoyed each time I came down to the car to visit.
6. Bring your favorite things
As an afterthought, I left some of my personal items in the car with my cat. When I returned during the first car deck call, I found him snuggled up on my jacket. The familiar smell was calming to him.
7. Get the car deck call schedule from the purser
Once your cat is settled in the car, it’s time for you to get settled on the boat. You can find a schedule for visiting the car deck posted behind the purser’s counter. If you do not see it, just ask.
Car deck calls will happen every 4 to 6 hours. Depending on weather conditions, the car deck calls may be early or late. I set alarms on my phone so that I could be ready 15 minutes before each call. While sailing, the car deck calls only last 15 minutes, so it’s important to be prompt.
Additionally, you may visit your cat for as long as the ship is in port, which is generally 3-4 hours. You can find a schedule for time in each port behind the purser’s counter. For the voyage from Bellingham, WA to Whittier, AK, you will likely stop in Ketchikan and Juneau. During these times, I sat with Cal, reading my book. After some initial cuddling, he largely left me alone to stare out of the back window. Even if your kitty ignores you, it’s still worthwhile to sit with them as much as possible.
8. Model good behavior for your cat – on and off of the Alaska Ferry
Cats are very sensitive creatures and tend to reflect their caretaker’s emotions. Being confident in your decision to bring them on the ferry is one of the kindest things you can do for your cat. The more you second guess yourself, the more stress you create for both you and your cat.
Do your research, purchase necessary items and when it’s finally time to take the ferry to Alaska from Bellingham, you can both relax and enjoy the ride.