Alaska Marine Highway

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 super fast ferry, M/V Chenega runs in Prince William Sound.

Alaska Marine Highway

Blue Canoes:

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.)

alaska_marine

Food and Beverage Service:

The Alaska 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!)

Alaska Marine Highway Cabins:

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.)

LeConte

Roughing it:

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. (Pro tip: On most of the older boats the thick seat cushions slide off so you can lay a few of them down for sleeping at night – Alaskans have been doing this for years!). 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.

Recreational Vehicles:

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 until just before arrivals, so RVs and motor homes may not be used for dining and sleeping on the trip.
Electrical hookups for vehicle refrigeration 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 of boarding.
Taku

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 Trip.

Baggage:

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 aboard the Alaska Marine Highway:

Any vehicle that may be driven or towed legally on the highway may be transported aboard an Alaska Marine Highway vessel. 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.

For more information check out the Official Alaska Marine Highway website.
For fare info here.
For schedules here.

The Vessels:

The following vessels, from smallest to largest, currently serve in the Alaska Marine Highway’s fleet:

* M/V Lituya – Solely dedicated to serving the Ketchikan-Metlakatla route.
* M/V Chenega – (Fast ferry). Operates in Prince William Sound during the summer and serves the Juneau-Petersburg-Ketchikan route in the winter.
* M/V Fairweather – (Fast ferry). Operates a variety of routes in Southeast Alaska.
* M/V Aurora – Operates in Prince William Sound.
* M/V LeConte – Serves the feeder communities in northern Southeast, or for the more widely recognized term “the milk run.”
* M/V Tustumena – Serves Southcentral and Aleutian Island communities.
* M/V Malaspina – Runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska, frequently beginning in Prince Rupert or Bellingham.
* M/V Matanuska – Runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska, frequently beginning in Prince Rupert or Bellingham.
* M/V Kennicott – Runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska, frequently beginning in Prince Rupert or Bellingham and making a cross-Gulf of Alaska trip to Southcentral Alaska once a month.
* M/V Columbia – Runs mainline throughout Southeast Alaska, frequently beginning in Prince Rupert or Bellingham.

35 Comments

  1. Amy Wunnicke

    In my experience, people are allowed access to their vehicles at scheduled times on all routes while the vessels are underway. This is to facilitate taking care of pets one may be gravelling with or accessing/storing baggage & personal items (not for sleeping or cooking in one’s vehicle). :-)

    Reply
    1. Bill Hately

      Researching my father and mother, Edith Smith and Bill Hately, from Aztec, NM whose best friend in HS was Esther Crane. Please call 720-840-4166 or email.

      Reply
  2. Elsie Thomas

    We’re thinking of travelling to Sitka on one of these vessels from Bellingham, WA.
    We have a small companion dog. Are pets allowed?

    Reply
  3. Judy mahoney

    Is this a doable trip for over 65’s ? Maybe 3 nights on ferry in cabin then night or 2 on land with side trips and fly back home ? When would ferries be least crowded but weather not too bad? Thanks for any tips!

    Reply
    1. Dennis

      Sure is a doable trip. Ferries are crowded from May until August. Not terribly crowded but there are more people then. Any time is a good time to take a ferry in Alaska.

      Reply
  4. AlaskaMom

    I’m looking at buying a car in a different city of Alaska. Could I have someone put the vehicle on the ferry ( unmanned) and I pick it up on destination?

    Reply
  5. Saghar

    Hello,
    Does the ferry stops in Canada? Is it considered as an international trip and the os the American passport/ visa required?
    Thanks

    Reply
  6. Douglas

    HI,
    I am looking to move a tractor/trailer from Bellingham, WA to Ketchikan, AK. Rig is about 73′ in overall length. Is this doable?
    I have never done this before.

    Thanks in advance for your assistance.

    Reply
  7. Jackie Mihalec

    Is it doable to travel from Bellinham to Dutch Harbour return? And how long does it take and cost please. I am over 65. Sorry also best time of year.
    Thanks heaps.

    Reply
  8. RICK Z

    Today is Jan29th. are there any ferries leaving Alaska near whittier to Bellingham in Mid February? The AMH website is a bit messy to maneuver,

    Reply
  9. Carmel

    We bought an Alaska Marine Highway map on board (the really long one) but can no longer find it. We would like to buy another to frame to remind us of a fabulous holiday. Are they available to buy anywhere?
    I have searched every where on line with no success.
    We live in Australia but will be in L.A. later in the year & have a brother in Vancouver if this makes it any easier.
    Appreciate any suggestions.
    Thanks
    Carmel

    Reply
  10. John

    We’re leaving Bellingham may 12 on route to Haines. But then we thought maybe we should get off and see Juneau. Would we have to wait a week to get back on the ferry to reach Haines?

    Reply
  11. STEPHEN GEIGER

    I want to make a summer time ferry boat ride round trip from Seattle to unalaska. I’m having trouble finding out how much it would cost a single 65yr old person. Can you please help?

    Reply
    1. Dennis

      Call (800) 642-0066. It’s the Marine Highway direct line. The ferry actually doesn’t serve Seattle. Bellingham, is where the ferry would depart. It’s about 90 minutes north of Seattle. From there you would need to take a series of ferries to reach Dutch. Call them for more info. The new website is very user-friendly and you’ll find out more info by calling.

      Reply
  12. Louise

    Thank you for all the provided information. We are planning to fly into Juneau in September, using the ferry to get to Sitka and then Ketchikan where we will fly home. We will be on foot. You mention “hand” luggage not weighing more than 100 pounds (which is pretty hefty hand luggage). We will each have a suitcase, full-size and were not planning on a cabin. Will this be a problem?

    Reply
  13. Pam

    Hi, we are planning a trip for next summer. We want to have a car and a small trailer and drive from Denver to Bellingham and then travel the inside passage via the ferries ending in Haines We are most interested in seeing the animals and doing some hiking and then seeing any ports that might be interesting (i.e. Sitka looks like fun). I “priced” a trip from Bellingham to Ketchikan (how is the Misty Fjords NM?) to Sitka to Juneau to Gustavus to Haines with a 30 foot (estimated, we don’t own either the car or the trailer but are looking at a small teardrop) and it was >6500 (ouch) for my retired husband, myself and our teen son. Any suggestions from you regarding how to make this an interesting, less costly trip would be so welcomed. Any suggestions of what “not to miss” would be great. We don’t have a specific timeline as I will be retiring and our son will be on college break. We would like to spend some time in Haines before driving the interior roads. Thanks, Pam

    Reply
    1. Dennis

      The ferry isn’t cheap when dragging a car and trailer with you. That’s for sure. One money-saving plan could be to drive your car and trailer through Canada to Haines and store it. Then hop on the ferry south to Juneau and Ketchikan. You don’t need a car to see most of the towns in Southeast Alaska. And by renting one wherever you need it that would be way cheaper then shipping your own around the ferry system. OR, scrap driving your own car to Bellingham and fly there from Denver. Take the ferries all the way up to Whittier near Anchorage, bus to Anchorage, and buy a cheap but worthy car there. Have fun in Anchorage then sell the car and fly home. Just a couple of ideas…

      Reply
  14. Christine K

    Hi Dennis, Thanks for all your advice. I have my ticket from Juneau to Ketchikan for July 4. Since I’ll be landing in Juneau at 9:30pm on the 3rd, I won’t be able to bring food or drink along for my journey, except some instant coffee packets and maybe some oatmeal. Can you give me an idea how much to budget for food/drink on board the ferry. Breakfast, a couple eggs. Lunch a light sandwich. Dinner, some Alaskan seafood. Thanks so much

    Reply
    1. Dennis

      The food on a AMH ferry is pretty much like the fare you’d find at a little league snack bar, you’ll survive eating it but it ain’t pretty. It’s basic and to the point. The hamburger is a patty, with a plain bun, a piece of lettuce, and something that resembles a tomato, with fries. The veggie bowl is a bowl of raw veggies. The fruit bowl is cut fruit in a Styrofoam bowl. They have packaged crackers, nuts, yogurt, milk etc.
      Budget? On a May, 2017 trip to Cordova I spent around $14 for a burger, a bowl of fruit, and a carton of juice. That’s the best estimate I can give you. I’ll look up the prices and post them on this page next time I take a ferry. No idea when that will be…

      Reply
      1. Christine K

        Thanks for the prompt response and giving me your best estimate of what to expect. My expectations are now lowered :) Appreciate the information.

        Reply

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