The Alaska Marine Highway System’s fleet of state ferries provides passenger/vehicle ferry service in 3 regions: Southeast, Southcentral/Prince William Sound and Southcentral/Southwest. There is also Cross-Gulf service in summer connecting Juneau in Southeast and Whittier in Southcentral.
The Alaska ferry system has 2 seasons: May 1 to Sept. 30 (summer), when sailings are most frequent; and Oct. 1 to April 30 (fall/winter/spring), when service is less frequent. Summer schedules, schedules, fare specials, to make online reservations or for answers to frequently-asked questions, go to the DOT website.
The reservation offices of the Alaska Marine Highway System are in Juneau. Write Juneau Reservations Office, 6858 Glacier Highway, Juneau, AK 99801; local phone (907) 465-3941; phone toll-free 1-800-642-0066; fax (907) 465-8824; TDD 1-800-764-3779; website www.ferryalaska.com. For updates on vessel information you may now also dial 511 to access the Department of Transportation’s Information System (also accessible by looking on website and clicking on a ship’s icon).
Vessels are indicated in all schedules by a 3-letter abbreviation. NOTE: Schedules and fares provided here are courtesy of the Alaska Marine Highway System. The state reserves the right to revise or cancel schedules and rates without prior notice and assumes no responsibility for delays and/or expenses due to such modifications.
Reservations: The Alaska state ferries are very popular in summer. Walk-on traffic is usually accommodated, but reservations are advised, especially for those traveling with a vehicle or wanting a cabin. You can make reservations online, or with travel agents/booking agents or with ferry offices; or by contacting the central reservations office in Juneau. Reservations for cabin space and for vehicles should be made as far in advance as possible to get the sailing dates you wish. Cabin space on summer sailings from Bellingham is often sold out early in the season. Reservation requests are accepted year-round and held until reservations open and/or seasonal sailing schedules are made available to the public.
While reservations are recommended, do not assume ferries are sailing at capacity. If you decide on the spur of the moment to include the ferry in your itinerary, phone or check online to see if the Alaska Marine Highway System has space available.
In order to guarantee a reservation, payment must be received by the payment due date on the reservation confirmation. Reservations not paid for by this date are automatically cancelled. Always factor in enough time when making connecting reservations to allow for unexpected delays.
You can pick up your tickets at any AMHS office or terminal.
To change a reservation, contact the central reservation office at 1-800-642-0066, or contact your local ferry terminal.
Cancellation charges apply for changes or cancellations involving a paid reservation for a vehicle or changes or cancellations for a reservation within 14 days of sailing.
Fares and fare payment: Payment for reserved space may be made by phone or online with a credit card or by mail with a cashier’s check, money order or personal check drawn on an Alaska bank. There is a small additional fee charged if you change your itinerary once space has been reserved.
Vehicle fares depend on the size of vehicle. You are charged by how much space you take up, so a car with trailer is measured from the front of the car to the end of the trailer, including hitch space. Charges are also applied to bicycles, kayaks and inflatables.
Passenger tariffs are charged as follows: adults and children 12 and over, full fare; children 6 to 11, approximately half fare; children under 6, free. Passenger fares do not include cabins or meals. Senior citizen (over 65) may qualify for a discount between Alaskan ports only; restrictions may apply. Special passes are also available to persons with disabilities. Contact the Alaska Marine Highway System for more on these fares and restrictions.
Vessels: The fast ferries are the newest vessels on the Alaska Marine Highway and travel at 35 knots. Traditional Marine Highway vessels travel at between 12 and 18 knots.
In-port time: In-port time on all vessels is usually only long enough to unload and load. You may go ashore while the ferry is in port, but you must have your ticket receipt and I.D. with you to reboard. Keep in mind that ferry terminals are often some distance from city center, and you may not have enough time to see much of anything, depending on how long and at what hour you are in port. You may want to make a “stopover.” If you don’t have time for a stopover, you still may be able to take a quick tour. Check with the purser about bus service from the terminal.
Ferry terminals on the Southcentral/Southwest system are located within a half-mile of city centers. In Southeast, ferry terminals close to city center include Wrangell and Skagway. Terminals more distant from city center (from nearest to farthest) are: Petersburg (0.9 mile); Ketchikan (2.5 miles); Haines (5 miles); Sitka (7.1 miles); and Juneau (14 miles).
Stopovers: A stopover is getting off at any port between your point of origin and final destination and taking another vessel at a later time. For travelers with vehicles and/or cabins this can be done as long as reservations to do so have been made in advance. Passenger, vehicle and cabin fares are charged on a point-to-point basis, and stopovers may increase the total ticket cost.
Waitlisted and Standby Travel: If the desired space is not available, reservation personnel may offer to place your request on a waitlist. If cancellations occur, you will be notified of confirmation of space, at which time payment will be due.
If your cabin request has not been confirmed by the time of sailing, you may sign up on the purser’s standby list on board. Once the sailing is underway, the purser assigns available cabins to those on the standby list.
If you arrive at a ferry terminal without confirmed vehicle space, you must sign up on the standby list at the terminal.
Check-in times: Summer check-in times for reserved vehicles prior to departure are: Bellingham and Prince Rupert, 3 hours; Ketchikan, Juneau, Haines, Skagway, Homer, Kodiak, and Whittier 2 hours; Petersburg, 11⁄2 hours; all other ports, 1 hour. Passengers without vehicles must check in 1 hour prior to departure at all ports except Bellingham, where check-in is 2 hours prior to departure. These check–ins are necessary even if you already have a reservation and a ticket. When you check in you will be assigned a lane for boarding and you will be recorded on the manifest.
NOTE: It is especially important that motorists with ferry reservations out of Whittier time their arrival to allow for the tunnel opening as well as for ferry check-in.
Cabins: There are not enough cabins on the ferries for all passengers. If you are traveling on one of the longer ferry runs, such as the 37-hour trip between Bellingham, WA, and Ketchikan, AK, you will have either 2 nights in a cabin—if you managed to reserve a cabin for the trip—or you’ll go “deck passage,” spending 2 nights on the floor or in a lounge chair (see Deck Passage description following). Due to U.S. Coast Guard regulations, passengers cannot sleep in their vehicles. (Access to the car deck while the vessel is underway is restricted for all passengers; passengers may only access their vehicles while the vessel is in port or during periodic “car deck” calls while under sail.)
Most cabins on the Southeast system ferries have a toilet and shower. Linens (towels, sheets, blankets) are provided. Pick up cabin keys from the purser’s office when you board. Cabins are sold as a unit, not on a per-berth basis. In other words, the cost of the cabin is the same whether 1 or more passengers occupy it. You can get on a waitlist for a cabin at the purser’s office.
Restrooms are available for deck-passage (walk-on) passengers on all vessels. Public showers are available on most vessels.
Deck Passage: If you do not have cabin space on overnight ferry sailings, you will have to go deck passage. Since the passenger capacities of the larger ferries far exceeds the number of cabins available on overnight sailings, quite a few passengers spend the night sleeping in one of the reclining chairs or on the floor in the inside lounge, or roll out a sleeping bag in a plastic lounge chair or on the floor on the solarium deck. If you choose this route, a sleeping pad greatly increases the comfort of reclining chairs or floor. (Overhead heaters keep the solarium deck pretty toasty, although the exhaust fans can be quite noisy.) Small, free-standing tents are also permitted on the solarium deck (but not under the heated covered area) and on the stern of the cabin deck if space allows (except on the Kennicott). Beware of wind; some campers duct-tape their tents to the deck. Pillows and blankets are available for rent from the purser on most sailings. Public showers are available on most vessels.
Smoking is allowed on the outside decks only, specific locations vary by vessel.
Vehicles: Reservations are strongly recommended. Any vehicle that may be driven legally on the highway is acceptable for transport on the 4 larger vessels. Most vessels on the Southeast system can load vehicles up to 70 feet long with special arrangements. Maximum length on the Tustumena is 40 feet. Vehicle fares are determined by the overall length and width of the vehicle. Vehicles from 81⁄2 to 9 feet wide are charged 125 percent of the fare listed for the vehicle length. Vehicles over 9 feet in width are charged 150 percent of the fare listed for vehicle length.
On the vehicle deck, a crew member will direct you to your parking location. Park, set your hand brake, lock your vehicle, take the personal possessions you will need and proceed to a passageway leading to the passenger areas. If the vehicle you are putting on board will not be accompanied, lock the vehicle and leave the keys with the loading officer. RVs cannot be used as dining or sleeping facilities while on the ferries.
Hazardous materials may not be transported on the ferries. The valves on propane or similar type tanks must be turned off and sealed by a ferry system employee. If this has not been done by the time you board, notify the purser when surrendering your ticket for boarding. Portable containers of fuel are permitted but must be stored with vessel personnel while en route.
The state assumes no responsibility for the loading and unloading of unattended vehicles. If you choose not to bring your vehicle, it may be possible to put it in storage at the departure port and return, round-trip to your vehicle at the end of your journey.
Food Service: Food service varies from vessel to vessel. Hot meals, snacks, and beverages are available on all vessels, except the Lituya, in cafeteria or snack bar style. The Columbia and Tustumena also have full service sit-down dining rooms. Food service hours vary based on sailing departure times, so keep in mind that if you board at night, you might miss the meal service. An example of cafeteria hours (from the Taku) are: Breakfast 7–10:30 a.m., Lunch noon–4:30 p.m., Dinner 6–9 p.m.) The cost of meals is not included in passenger, cabin or vehicle fares. Tipping is prohibited.
Alcoholic beverages are served on the Columbia, Kennicott, Malaspina, Matanuska, Taku and Tustumena. Beer and wine service is available on the Fairweather and Chenega. Alcohol may be consumed only in cabins or cocktail lounges by persons 21 years of age or older, and may not be consumed in public areas of the ship.
You can bring your own food and beverages, but keep in mind that refrigeration is not available on board. Microwaves are available on all vessels. Coin-op ice, soft drink and candy machines are available on mainline vessels.
Luggage: You are responsible for your own luggage! Foot passengers may bring hand luggage only (not to exceed 100 lbs.). There is no limit on luggage carried in a vehicle. Coin-operated storage lockers are available aboard most ships, and baggage carts are furnished on the car deck. Baggage handling is NOT provided by the Alaska Marine Highway System.
Vehicle deck restrictions: Periodic “car- deck calls” are made 3 times a day between Bellingham and Ketchikan and on Cross Gulf trips. These are announced over the loudspeaker and allow passengers approximately 15 minutes to visit the car deck and walk pets, retrieve items from cars, etc. Otherwise car deck visits are allowed only when the ferry is in port.
Pet policy: For a pet to be transported via ferry vessel they must have a valid rabies certificate and a health certificate, issued within the past 30 days. Both must clearly identify your animal and be presented at check–in.
Dogs and other pets are not allowed in cabins and must be transported on the vehicle deck only (the only exception being animals aiding disabled passengers). Proper paperwork is required.) Animals and pets are to be transported inside a vehicle (car decks can be cool in winter) or in suitable containers furnished by the passenger. Animals and pets must be cared for by the owner. Passengers who must visit pets or animals en route should apply to the purser’s office for an escort to the vehicle deck. On long sailings, the purser will announce 15-minute “car-deck calls,” when passengers may visit the car deck. At this time pet owners may feed, water and/or walk their pets on the car deck. You may also walk your pet at port stops if purser allows. Keep in mind that some port stops are very brief and that sailing time between some ports will be as long as 37 hours (Bellingham to Ketchikan). Car deck calls are dependent on the weather and other variables.
Cross-Gulf Ferry Travel: Cross-Gulf ferry trips connect Whittier, Yakutat and Juneau, with through-service to and from Ketchikan and Bellingham on the MV Kennicott. Cross-Gulf ferry travel is both similar to and different from Inside Passage travel. The Kennicott’s amenities and procedures are similar to other vessels in the fleet. The real distinction of the Cross-Gulf trips is that you sail across the Gulf of Alaska, less protected waters than the Inside Passage, and you may encounter white caps and some significant rolling motion. Conditions in the Gulf may prohibit regular car deck calls, a possible hardship on pets waiting to relieve themselves.