The Alaska Marine Highway System operates along the southcentral coast of the state, the eastern Aleutian islands and the Inside Passage of Alaska and British Columbia, Canada. Ferries serve communities in Southeastern Alaska that have no road access, and the vessels can transport people, freight, and vehicles.
Alaska Marine Highway
Known to Alaskans as the "Blue Canoes"
Want to have a great
time and see the real Alaska up close and
personal? Try the Blue Canoes (as Alaskans call
them). The Alaska Marine Highway System achieved
the nation's highest designation for a scenic
route. It is one of only 27 highways in the
country that have been designated as an All-American Road.
The 3,500-nautical-mile ferry route connects 33
ports and stretches from Bellingham, Wash., to
the Aleutian Islands. Alaska Marine Highway ships
run for 8,834 miles from Bellingham north to Skagway,
across the Gulf of Alaska, into Prince William Sound,
and out to Dutch Harbor, the tip of the Aleutians.
Additional service is offered across the Gulf of
Alaska stopping in Valdez and Whittier. The M/V
Tustumena provides service from Homer, Seward,
Kodiak, and Dutch Harbor. The new fast ferry, M/V
Chenega will begin service this fall in Prince
Established in 1963, four years after Alaska became a state, the Alaska Marine Highway System celebrates 40 years of ferry service along the byway. A fleet of nine ferries, equipped with cabins and cafeterias, serves 33 coastal communities and offers a non-touristy, no-frills way to cruise our 49th state. You'll meet real Alaskans and view the same dramatic scenery and wildlife that draw cruise ships to the Inside Passage. A U.S. forest ranger is often onboard during the summer, offering daily free naturalist programs. Ferry rates vary, depending on how far you travel and whether you bring a vehicle. Sample fare: A three-night voyage (no vehicle) with cabin from Bellingham, Wash., the ferry's southern terminus, to Juneau runs about $750 for two people. (Note that hardy, budget-minded travelers often set up tents in the ship's solarium and dine picnic style.)
Food and Beverage Service:
The Marine Highway System serves hot meals,
snacks, and beverages on all vessels. The M/V
Tustumena and the M/V Columbia also provide
full-service dining rooms. Vending machines make
a variety of foods and beverages available around
the clock. The cafeteria menu includes Alaska
seafood, hot meals, salads, sandwiches, yogurt,
fruit, juices and snacks. (Spendy and bland from personal experience)
Cabins are available on the M/Vs COLUMBIA,
MALASPINA, MATANUSKA and TAKU in the Southeast
System, and the M/V TUSTUMENA serving the
Southwest/Southcentral Systems, and are sold as a
unit. Most cabins feature private bathroom
facilities. Room service or daily makeup of
cabins is not available. However, trash is
collected daily and fresh linens are available on
request. The M/V KENNICOTT has a limited number
of Roomettes, these rooms have only 2 berths and
no facilities, BUT, are relatively inexpensive.
Sleeping bags are welcome in these rooms. (A
cabin of any size is highly recommended from my
years of personal experience, especially during the summer when the boats are packed to the rafters.)
They don't make it easy for you. Passengers
without cabins will find a very limited number of
recliner chairs and spaces to roll out sleeping
bags. Summers can be packed to the rafters.
It can also be cold and stark on the outside decks
under the heat lamps. Many adventurous
travelers put up small tents on the deck. Pillows
and blankets are available for rent on most
sailings. All vessels have public showers.
Please notify your agent if your vehicle is an RV
or motor home. While the fares are the same as
the standard rates, for information purposes,
these vehicles are booked under a separate code.
Passengers do not have access to the car deck
while underway, so RVs and motor homes may not be
used for dining and sleeping on the trip.
Electrical hookups for vehicle
units are not available, and bottled gas
containers on the RV must be turned off and
sealed by a Marine Highway employee at the time
Senior Citizen Travel:
From May 1 through September
30, seniors 65 years and older may travel aboard
the M/Vs LeCONTE, AURORA and TUSTUMENA between
Alaskan ports only at 50% of the adult fare.
(This discount applies to the passenger only, not
the vehicle.) Advanced reservations are
encouraged. Proof of age is required. Vehicles,
cabins, food and beverages are charged at normal
rates.Senior rate travel is not allowed between
Seward and Valdez, Whittier and Valdez, or any
round trip from Homer, Seldovia or Kodiak to
Dutch Harbor/Unalaska on the same Aleutian Chain
Foot passengers may bring hand luggage only, with
weight up to 100 pounds total. (So they say, I've
cruised over a dozen times and not once was
checked for carry-on weight, nor was anyone
else.) To help passengers get their hand luggage
on board, baggage carts* are driven to the car
deck. (*No baggage carts are available on the M/V
TUSTUMENA) Passengers are responsible for the
handling and safety of their luggage. Baggage
handling is not provided. There is no weight
limit on luggage carried in or on a vehicle.
Coin-operated storage lockers are available
aboard most ships for storage of small
hand-carried items. Unaccompanied baggage is not
allowed on board Alaska Marine Highway vessels.
It is considered freight and must be shipped via
commercial carrier or U.S. mail.
Transporting a Vehicle:
Any vehicle that may be driven or towed legally
on the highway may be transported. Vehicle fares
are determined by the vehicle's overall length
and width, motorcycle fares will be booked at the
10 ft. length. Vehicles 8-1/2 to 9 feet wide will
be charged approximately 125% of the listed fare.
Vehicles over 9 feet wide will be charged
approximately 150% of the fare listed for the
vehicle length. If you are towing a vehicle, the
overall connected length is used to determine
fares. Access to the car deck is prohibited while
underway. Escorted trips are periodically
announced by the purser between Bellingham and
Ketchikan and you have access to your vehicle
while the vessel is in port.