Top Alaska Ferry System Tips
Ten tips to make your ferry experience pleasant!

I have taken many, many trips on the Alaska Ferry System over the years. My first few trips were just plain disasters and I have learned a ton during subsequent trips. I remember vividly my very first trip up the Inside Passage to Alaska, I was so excited! But because of lack of knowledge and just plain bad luck it turned into a disappointment. I now know how to travel, when to travel, and what to bring!

That first trip on the Alaskan Ferry I arrived early and took my position in line, just like I had been told. As departure time drew closer, I began to think something was wrong as the only activity I saw was a deer crossing the road. haha!! An hour prior to my scheduled departure I went to the front door of the Alaska Ferry office, nothing! Finally, I drove to a local motel and asked about the schedule. My 8am departure turned out to be 8pm. Doh! Spending 12 hours in town was fine, I had a wonderful time exploring the area but then realized, my travel up the Inside Passage would be at night! Oh No!!! I didn't get to see any of the incredible views, no spotting wildlife, nothing. Darn. If only I had read these tips before that first trip!

Top 10 Alaska Ferry System Travel Tips

  • Car deck space sells out quickly on the Alaska Ferry, especially at peak travel periods, so if you are planning a trip on the ferry with a vehicle, make your reservation early! If you're taking a vehicle aboard you must arrive 1-3 hours early depending on the port.

  • Watch the travel times, not just the dates, to ensure you do not miss the amazing scenery by traveling at night. I made this mistake on my first trip to Ketchikan on the Alaska Ferry System. I boarded the 8pm ferry and arrived at 2am - and missed the sights!!

  • Most Alaska ferries have food & drink available but it can be quite expensive! Bring your own snacks & drinks to save $$. You can use the microwave at no charge and can get both hot & cold water for free on the Alaska ferry system. I bring my own Starbucks Via Instant Coffee packets and my own coffee cup for my morning coffee! And there are lots of meals in a cup like Kraft Mac & Cheese, and Cup of Noodles. Just a little advance planning can save you lots!

  • Bring books, magazines, a laptop, mp3 players, or whatever you need to keep yourself (or the kids) entertained! 36 hours is a LONG time sitting around or walking the decks. There are no organized activities available on board, though occasionally some have movies or naturalist programs given by U.S. Forest Service employees. Check out my Recommended Reading List for Alaska! 

  • The Alaska ferries are not the best at temperature control. They can start out cold and 15 minutes later - HOT! Dress in layers (learn how here!), bring pillows, blankets, socks, etc. to make the trip comfortable. I vividly remember a trip where I ended up sleeping on the floor with only a small blanket - freezing my tushy off....I'll never make that mistake again!

  • Staterooms are available on most Alaska ferries but can be quite costly. They also sell out quickly so be sure to reserve staterooms six months or more in advance. But don't fret if is not available, call and ask to get on the waiting list and sometimes a cabin opens up closer to departure date. If you can't get a stateroom, comfortable, reclining chairs are provided in many rooms, deck chairs are available, and desks can be found throughout the cabins. Showers are also available on most ferries for a nominal fee and typically includes a towel & bar of soap.

  • Don't forget your Camera & Binoculars for spotting wildlife! A keen eye will reward you with whales, seals, eagles, & possibly even bears during your trip and many times the captain will alert the ship when whales or dolphins are spotted. Binoculars are a must as well as they make it much easier to spot wildlife on the beaches & in the trees. My recommended pair of binoculars are the Bushnell H2O Waterproof/Fogproof Binoculars. They are a perfect weight and are built for use in the changing weather.

  • Take everything you need with you on the ferry from your vehicle, you are only given occasional access to the vehicle after the ferry leaves (usually 2-3 times a day). Consider packing a special bag to use onboard - a backpack works perfect as well!

  • There are often Alaska Ferry System discounts available - like 'Driver travels free!' Don't pass up these discounts! And don't forget the special fares for senior citizens, children, Veterans, & persons with disabilities. Many times you can find discounts up to 50% off the regular fare!

  • Want a splash of adventure? Sleep in the covered, heated, solarium. Arrive early and board quickly to stake out your chair.

I sure hope these simple tips make your travel on the Alaska Marine Highway ferry system a breeze! I remember being so disappointed my first trip because of lack of knowledge. I hope these tips help prevent the same for you so you enjoy your travel!

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