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.