Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Guide to Spending Extended Time on the Alaska Marine Highway

This is an overview and a guide on what to expect on the ferry and how to save your dollars:

There are three options when sleeping – in a cabin, in the lounge, or in the solarium. I fully biased towards the solarium.

The cabins will give you your own bed, bathroom, and space to live in. While they're small, it does give you privacy which can be worth it, I think, if you have kids. It will, however, cost you a couple hundred dollars more. The only time I was ever tempted to get a cabin was when I was recovering from the flu and totally exhausted and in need of some solid rest.

The lounge is a larger room with semi-comfortable chairs. People turn this space into a living area by stashing sleeping bags in corners and between the rows of chairs. Benefits to this space is that it is warm and dry. Depending on what ship you are on and your fellow passengers, it can also be noisy.

I'm quite biased towards the solarium and will choose to sleep there whenever possible (not all ships have one available). The solarium is an open air room (three side have walls and one is open) made of windows up on the top of the ship. It's up here that a lot of folks like to camp out. There are plastic lawn chairs that you can adjust the back on and, that's usually spend most of your trip.

I don't think there's anything like it.

The landscape is always there, in your face. The air is always fresh.

There are heat lamps that keep you warm (enough) but if your sleeping bag isn't enough to keep you warm, there are blankets available for rent. Blankets are $2 for the journey and pillows and towels are $1 each.

It's peaceful sleeping up here.

Also, I've noticed a trend that the awesome people tend to sleep up here. Not saying I'm awesome. I just live up there to be around the awesome people hoping it will rub off on me.

You can also set up a tent on deck. If you do that, bring duct tape to keep your tent from blowing away.


If you really want to save money, you're going to have to pack all your own food for the voyage. Food on the ferry is expensive and a simple meal can easily cost you $10 and I can't say it's worth it.

$10 at a grocery store could get you individual milk pouches, granola, apples, carrots, and hummus. I can feed myself, easily, on $10 a day.

There are a few foods available for free on the ferry in little packets, and they've never scolded me for taking them. They've got peanut butter, jam, jelly, honey, hot sauce, salt, pepper, salad dressings, soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, oil, and maple syrup. There's also hot and cold water available for free. There is a  toaster, microwaves, forks, knives, and spoons also there for you.

A lot of folks live off of sandwiches, ramen noodles, nuts, and other non-perishables.

On this trip I'm traveling with hummus, broccoli, carrots, Wasa crackers, mulberries, apples, sweet potatoes (nuke it), soy milk in single-serve boxes, and granola in portion-sized pouches. I do the granola that way because, if I had an open box of granola, I'd likely eat it all in one day. I also packed myself on package of Justin's organic dark chocolate and peanut butter cups.

I also always bring tea. Lots of tea. They have cups available but I prefer to lug a thermos around with me. That thermos will keep my tea at a hot temperature, even if I leave it overnight.

I wash my dishes in the bathroom sink.


They have showers for free. Towels are $1 for the trip. Bring your own suds unless you like running between the sink and the shower to use their hand-soap.


Normal, fine, and clean.

What to do:

Make friends, make music, make food, make letters, go for walks, read a book, write a story, and look out the window. Most of your time can be spent looking out the window and you'll never get bored. Before making music, I like to make sure everyone around me is ok with that. I've never gotten a negative response.

Things you can buy or borrow on board:

Books are free around the ship – check out the purser's counter.

The gift shop is loaded with postcards, small gifts, games, medicine, toiletries, and books.

The purser's counter has blankets, towels, and pillows.

Food can be bought in the cafeteria. They have sandwiches (meat, egg salad), salads, juice, cereal, pie slices, pizza, milk, tea, coffee, burgers, fries, fish and chips, chili, soup, and a few main meals each day. Last night they had pork ribs; turkey with mashed potatoes, gravy, and stuffing; and baked rock fish with lemon, vegetables, and rice or potatoes. I know they also have a “wide” selection of breakfast foods available.

What to bring:

Warm sleeping bag, sleeping pad, camera, food, clothes for two days (don't really need to change clothes that often), warm coat, notepad, book, and maybe a deck of cards.

In less than 24 hours, I'll be back in Haines, Alaska.
That's pretty exciting.


  1. Aw, man, sounds utterly wonderful!

  2. I sent you a postcard; did you receive it? (No expectation of response, esp. since I don't think I put my address, but just curious!)


Your words make me grin.

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