Yukon ho.
March 20, 2011 1:32 PM   Subscribe

To Alaska by ferry with car. How is it?

Washington to Haines or Whittier, one way, early summer / late spring.

For example, suppose you wanted to stop and play tourist at various places along the way, e.g., Juneau, Sitka, Ketchikan, etc.; would the car end up being a nuisance? Is it feasible to stop for a few days, and drive back on the next ferry? Do you have to plan out your schedule before hand due to space limitations on the ferry?

Stuff you should know beforehand?

For reference. And a metafilter reference.
posted by coffeefilter to Travel & Transportation around Alaska (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I did it. It was a great experience. The ferry stopped at Juneau and Sitka for about 12 hours in each port, and got off the ship and checked out the area.

The inside passage is a beautiful place. The ferry was comfortable. I paid extra to have a private cabin with a bed.
posted by Flood at 1:43 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: I did it without a car. As an up-and-back vacation without a car, it's still pretty terrific. If you have your car, you basically can't get to your car except when the ferry is stopped [or special "okay go to your car" times, so don't think of your car as a locker or somethign that you could sleep in or otherwise hang out in.]. I went from Bellingham up to Skagway and back down. Took seven days. Brought a cooler with food (oatmeal, ramen, fruit, beef jerky, other packable, travelable food) and a little water-heater. We'd usually eat one meal in the cabin and one in the cafeteria [decent for cafeteria food and reasonably priced]. One year I rented a stateroom [with sister and boyfriend] and the other years I just set up a sleeping bag on the ferry and slept that way. There are other in-between options, like renting a room with no bathrooms or linen service. More like camping but you have private spece for your stuff. Most of the towns you stop at are either walking distance from the ferry or, in one case, there's a little bus that goes into and back out of the town that you can get on (for cheap). They're pretty serious about the schedule so even though you're in a few of the towns long enough to see little stuff, you have to be dead certain you'll make it back to the ferry on time. The best time I had was when we happened to get on a ferry with an Elderhostel and there were a whole bunch of historic interpreters on the trip, super fun.

I went in the wintertime [twice over xmas and once in February] so I have no idea what space issues there would be at a more popular time. I wrote up a few little things about the trip that you can read to get more of an idea: 1997, 2000, 2001. As you can see, this was a while ago, I'd make sure you have more current info than mine.
posted by jessamyn at 2:13 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Note that the ferry terminal in Juneau is outside of town (and a bit farther than the city bus goes), which is true of Sitka also. A car would give you a lot of freedom to see things, but you may want to weigh the costs of putting a car on vs. the cost of paying for cabs. I have seen private busses that run from the ferry terminal during the summer, but that still wouldn't take you everywhere you may want to go, especially if your time is short.

Since you're going at the start of the tourist season, you should make reservations once you have your schedule pinned down, especially if you want a stateroom.

Also, see both Sitka and Juneau if you can.
posted by D.C. at 2:39 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: I can't comment about traveling with a car, but I can tell you one thing about car travel on the ferries: be prepared to wait. A lot.
Cramming all the cars into the holds of the ferries is nothing short of miraculous. I spent six weeks bumming around on the ferries of Alaska including the Gulf of Alaska route a few summers ago, and those ferries have everything on them. Mobile mammography units, moving trucks, rvs, all sorts of things. As a result, the crew has to load them on in a very specific order, and you might get loaded first, you might be waiting for hours. I think the reason most ferries are delayed is simply because making every vehicle fit on there takes a long, long time. Bring snacks, bring entertainment, because the drivers I saw spent a long time waiting in the cars to be loaded onto the ferry.

That all being said: I love those ferries, and I love the inside passage. I can't wait to go again.
posted by clockbound at 4:32 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Using the Marine highway with a car is pretty great, really. The only thing you need to be mindful of is reserving space for your car on the ferry you desire will be the hardest part of your trip. So, pick the towns you want to visit early, then get on the horn with one of the agents and plan it out. The schedule is difficult to navigate when you start getting on and off multiple times and the agents are usually pretty helpful.

Once you take care of reserving space for your car, the rest is easy. Having wheels in SE is really great as the buss system often won't take you to the best hiking spots. For instance, the Juneau city bus will not take you to the ferry nor will it take you to the glacier. Sitka and Haines ferry terminals are a long ass walk out of town, too.

Also, there are three reservation options you will need to consider: Your passenger reservation, your car reservation, and your stateroom reservation. See up thread. My suggestion is get a stateroom if you are going to be on board for more than six hours.

And clockbound is right, using the Marine highway means lots of waiting. So bring lots of entertainment. That said, the ferries are super comfy once you get on. If you get one of the longer run ships, they have a bar, a lounge, a cafeteria, a movie theatre.... oh, yeah. Lots of room to spread out. The forest service comes on and does educational shit. The view is fantastic. You will love it.
posted by Foam Pants at 6:09 PM on March 20, 2011

Best answer: Does anyone know the policy regarding motorcycles?

The cost of loading any vehicle on to a Alaskan ferry depends on the size of the car. I did it with a Mini Cooper. When I was paying for my car, because of the short length of the car, I was given the "motorcycle" rate. But being a small car did not get me on or off the ferry any faster. There is definitely a long wait (2hr) as they load and unload the cars.

When you load your car, you have to give your final destination. You can then only unload your car at that point.

Some people on the ferry with me had a small RV. They were not allowed to sleep in the RV while the car was in the hold. But you can get to your car at certain times. You do not have unlimited access to the car while it is in the hold.
posted by Flood at 4:52 AM on March 21, 2011

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