A Volcano, A Ferry, Whales, and Me

Over the weekend I traveled with my family to Sitka, Alaska.  We rode over and back on the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System.  Beautiful scenery along the four hour ride.  In addition to majestic views of mountains, Mt. Edgecumbe volcano, cute little islands, partially hidden cabins and the occasional fishing boat, we spotted orcas, humpback whales, jellyfish, eagles, sea gulls, and other wildlife as we moved slowly along the waterway.

My last ferry ride was to visit my grandparents when I was probably about 10.  So I hadn’t been on a ferry in 20 years and noticed quite a few things:

  • Threat level signs are posted.  Not surprising, but still unnerving.  Everything in life is a risk but the mental image of an exploding ferry wasn’t pleasant.  We boarded anyway.
  • Thank God there aren’t naked x-rays required to board a ferry.  I really don’t need more radiation.
  • Boarding process is pretty much the same as I remembered from childhood.  Get there early, wait until they tell you to drive on (we brought our vehicle with us).
  • The car parking area looks the same as I remembered it.  Basically a big garage.  Take the stairs up to the seating area.

That’s where the fun begins.  While everything up to this point was the same, once on top of the ferry it was quite different.  I remember the ferries I rode as a kid looking pretty much like an airport gate waiting area with uncomfortable groups of chairs scattered about, open floor space for tossing down a sleeping bag to rest, and vending machines for snacks.

On the newer Fairweather ferry:

  • Comfortable seating more like airplane seats (they reclined), but wider and with plenty of leg room.
  • Nice tables interspersed throughout the seating.
  • A quiet study area with desks, small desk lights, electrical outlets, and comfortable looking desk chairs for those who wanted to work.  If I weren’t traveling with my kids, that’s where I’d have been.  But the table spaces are very nice and I’m writing this blog post while they play legos and eat snacks.
  • Kids play area with couches and a TV.
  • A mini arcade with two big game machines and a drink vending machine.
  • Flat screens scattered around the ferry with GPS maps showing our location.
  • Clean bathrooms (they were clean when I was a kid, too, this is just something nice and worth mentioning).
  • Decorative paintings, photographs, carvings and other wall décor from local artists around Alaska.  I’m sitting near a beautiful oil painting called “Twilight on Knik” by Sharon Nichols.
  • A snack bar with hot, fresh coffee as well as a variety of snacks including several gluten free options (always makes me very happy to find things I can safely eat).  Typical junk food was available but they also had salads, yogurt, a selection of teas and other healthier options.

The models of ferry the state runs vary a bit but this particular one has a nice outdoor deck with seating on the back if you prefer fresh air and large windows along all the sides for viewing the scenery and wildlife.

I’m sure there are business and marketing lessons in here somewhere.  Probably something about making things simple and comfortable, giving people lots of choices, that prettiness is a nice bonus (there’s a lovely maroon and tan color scheme going on in here)… I’m too tired to really identify them after the trip.  But I can tell you that given the choice, I’d take a leisurely four hour ferry ride over the 30 minute jet ride any day.  Better views, less radiation, no frisking, and free refills on the coffee.

And because this post wouldn’t be complete without photos, here are some I snapped from inside the ferry as we traveled and one my husband captured of a gorgeous sunset.

Tomorrow I’ll be back to business related content.  But I wanted to share a bit of my journey with you and share that if you’re ever in Alaska, the ferry system is a fabulous way to travel.

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  1. The pictures are gorgeous! I can almost feel the water under me. And the deck where people sit sounds almost luxurious! Lots better than the “parking lot” feel I remember too.

    Thanks for sharing your trip. :)
    Paula Lee Bright recently posted… Joplin- Missouri- St Louis Is Praying For YouMy Profile

    1. It was a beautiful trip. “Parking lot” feel is a perfect description of my older memories. LOL

  2. Wonderful photos! Sounds like you had a nice trip. Thank you for sharing with us!

    1. Thanks Lucretia. We did.

  3. Michele,

    This takes me back to my childhood too. We took a ferry to Victoria. To this day the memories still stand out.

    Your trip sound wonderful! Enjoy.
    Sheila Atwood recently posted… When Should Your Blog Be The Exception To The RuleMy Profile

    1. Some of my favorite childhood memories are playing on the ferries as a kid, too. :)

  4. These pictures are gorgeous, and I enjoyed the break from the “business” stuff to share in your experience.

    I’ve never visited Alaska and have always wanted to, so your post was really nice way to do that vicariously.

    Thanks, Michelle.
    Steve recently posted… The Importance of Compassionate CriticismMy Profile

    1. Thanks for stopping by Steve, I’m glad you enjoyed the pictures. It’s a beautiful place to visit (or live).

  5. Hey Michelle, This is so fun! I love ferries! We usually take a trip out to British Columbia to ride the ferry from Vancouver to Victoria or Nanaimo. It is SO beautiful and such a fun trip on the ferry too– those BC ferries are so big, almost like mini cruise ships! Thanks for sharing your experience!
    God bless,
    Emily Stoik

    1. The one I was on was very small in comparison — maybe I’ll get to ride a “big” one (and visit Canada) some day!

  6. Absolutely awesome but it sounds like the ferry seats were more comfortable then the airplanes these days

    1. It was SO much more comfortable! Even with the much longer time I’d choose it over an airline flight any day.

  7. Michelle, Alaska is on my bucket list. Is South Africa on yours? :)

    Is Sitka the place featured in The Proposal? We LOVED that movie, esp the gorgeous scenery

    1. I think it was supposed to be set there, I haven’t seen it though.

      I would love to visit South Africa one day!

  8. Beautiful place Michelle! I am living in Greece and I travel a lot. I like places you can visit by boat where you can relax and clear your mind. It’s a perfect escape!
    John Mak recently posted… Diet to Go Promotional CouponMy Profile

    1. There’s something so peaceful about a slow boat ride. It is a perfect escape from every day stress and craziness.

  9. Its nice to see pictures of my old stampping grounds. I lived in Juneau for 17 years. I have now been in Oregon for almost 14 years. Pictures of South East Alaska always make me miss the beauty.
    Joan Riley recently posted… Quilt Applique Block 2 FinishedMy Profile

    1. It is beautiful, isn’t it? I am enjoying the southeast. I’ve visited Cordova, Juneau, Sitka, and Haines. All pretty.

      Oregon is beautiful, too. I was there quite a few years back for vacation and had a lovely time. I was right on the border between Oregon and Washington.

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