Traveling on the ferry

Traveling on the ferry

Alaska has more coastline than the rest of the United States combined. Needless to say, travel along the Aleutian Islands, through Prince William Sound and in the Southeast is very maritime in nature. Many people have leisure boats, particularly in the Prince William Sound, but most travel on the waters using the Alaska Marine Highway, or ferry. And for most of these coastal towns, that is the only way to get in other than a plane. They are not connected to the rest of the state through the road system.

Our vessel to carry us to Cordova from Whittier was the M/V Aurora. Our particular route was a straight shot to Cordova for a seven-hour trip. Sometimes they have a diverting route that stops at Valdez in between Whittier and Cordova – not this time. With the high-speed ferry Chenega, this would only be a three-hour trip. Unfortunately, the Chenega is out of commission until early July. I have made this trip a few times before, but it was Michelle’s first time on the ferry.

I absolutely adore riding the ferry. When out exploring, I have always preferred the slower modes of travel. I prefer Nordic skiing over Alpine skiing. I prefer paddling a canoe over taking a motor boat. I was also born in love with the ocean, but really did not fully appreciate my adoration for the open sea until I served in the Navy. Put these two things together, and the ferry makes for a great way to get around. Along the way, I frequently take walks about on the weather decks to enjoy the scenery, watch birds and look at the many marine mammals along the way. On this leg, we saw several sea otters, several groups of Dall’s porpoise, and two humpback whales. The whales were too far away to photograph, but one was engaging in some rather odd behavior. It was close to the shore as we approached the Orca Inlet on our final turn into Cordova. It was repeatedly thrashing and whacking its tail against the surface of the water, over and over, as if it was trying to beat the very ocean itself into submission.

Aside from the scenery and views, the ferry is also a really comfortable ride. The lounge areas have theater-style chairs as well as booth setups with tables. There is a lounge with a large flat screen television that offers some programming (I don’t know what – Michelle and I watched episodes of “Eureka” on my laptop). There is also a cafeteria that provides a decent menu and a variety of snack foods. But my favorite part is the deck chairs and outdoor heaters. If you are really tired (like I was when we returned to Whittier, leaving Cordova at 5:00 a.m.), you can stretch out on the long deck chairs and take a nap. If it is chilly out, you can sleep in a covered area with blasting heaters overhead – the Solarium. I think I took a four-hour nap on the way back.

The other things that makes the ferry a superior mode of travel is the relationships you can build with perfect strangers. If you have ever taken the train cross-country, you know what I am talking about. You get to know the people who sit near you, you tend to talk to the same people who are out on the weather decks looking for birds and marine mammals, and then, after you see them for seven hours on the ferry, you run into them frequently throughout the weekend. And for those who are just visiting like you, there is the chance to get to chat with them some more on the way back home.

I would highly recommend to anyone traveling to Alaska to use the ferry system if you want to be on the ocean for long periods of time and travel from port to port. You control your own schedule and you have a more raw, natural experience.

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