Retirees - is Alaska on your bucket list? Consider using the Alaska Marine Highway.
The Alaska Marine Highway is a system of ferries that run from the Port of Bellingham, Washington, to several communities in Alaska. Most of these communities are only accessible by air or by sea. The ferries are not luxurious by any means, but the accommodations are adequate, the ships are clean, the food is good, and the staff is friendly and courteous.
We drove to Bellingham, but you can also fly into Seattle and take a shuttle to Bellingham. On the ferry, you pretty much get what you pay for. You can book a stateroom – or if you’re more adventurous, you can pitch your tent on the top deck or sleep in the recliner lounge. The cafeteria is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner – with two or three specials for each meal along with standard grill items and an array of packaged fruits, salads and desserts. Only one of the ships – the Kennecott – still has a bar, and adult beverages are allowed only in your stateroom, but you can bring your own.
You can bring your car onboard. Fees are based on length. We saw small cars, large motor homes towing boats, and cars loaded with household belongings. Pets are allowed, but must remain in kennels on the car deck, and you can only visit them on “car deck calls” announced by the Purser’s Office every few hours.
Once onboard, the voyage is pleasant. While it’s often too cold to watch the scenery go by from the
Our final destination was Ketchikan – the first major port on the route. It’s a 38 hour cruise with only a couple of open water crossings where you could feel the rocking of the boat. The crew warns you in advance of open water crossings – just in case you need to take a Dramamine. This route also serves Wrangell, Petersburg, and Juneau.
A bit of history: Alaska was granted statehood in 1959. The first state legislature passed a bond issue to build three ships for the planned marine highway system. The three ships were completed in 1962. Our ship, MV Malaspina, was one of the original three ships.
Malaspina? Sounds like Latin for “bad back.” Turns out she was named for the Malaspina Glacier, which in turn was named for Italian explorer Alessandro Malaspina, who visited the area in 1791. And while the ship’s “back” is sound, you can see a few “age spots” where the water hits.
The ferries are austere, in contrast with the many cruise ships that sail Alaska’s inside passage. But if you’re looking for good value in a pleasant trip to your Alaska destination, the Alaska Marine Highway may be for you.