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Adventure to Alaska: the Inside Passage

The Malaspina cabin was hot and stagnant this July, but comfortable with two sets of bunk beds, a closet and a bathroom.  Thankfully, we were able to procure a fan for our second night of sleep. Our port-side window, though it let in a significant amount of heat, was our portal to the vast, hazy horizon.  We explored all parts of the boat but couldn't resist the constant urge to return to the deck with binoculars...what's out there? what animals runs free in the trees? what life resides under the green blue waters?  How big are those glaciers and snow fields in the far-off mountains?

Port side deck view along a typical narrow passage.
We slept through our port in Ketchikan which was in the (somewhat) dark, early hours of the morning. Too bad on all accounts. I had a long list of places to visit in Ketchikan but not much is open at 2 AM. We considered staying for a night in order to be at port, with wifi, during the Women's World Cup soccer championship game but this change was too was costly, with too much delay in waiting for the next ferry and it didn't really help us with the soccer. So we missed Ketchikan.

Other daytime ports were 20 minute stops. In Wrangell, Kenedy and I made a mad dash for provisions at the general store while Tucker and Kris pursued the local coffee/cafe for baked goods and drinks. 

The weather was nearly perfect for a boat ride: warm and dry. Overall, the summer weather was unique for Canada and Alaska (and Colorado where we had record breaking snowfall and summer was delayed by about two months).  While parts of British Columbia were flooding, Alaska was burning. And it showed in the smoky, dim sunset-like haze that affected the skies throughout the inside passage.

Next port: Petersburg
Life on the boat was a balance of stillness and excitement.  We were warned in advance that there would be no connectivity on the boat (something I relished and the kids loathed). So, we were prepared for boredom with books and movies, games and journals, cameras, binoculars and treats (beer only in the cabin). Tucker watched multiple movies (the Ferry has a theater room!) and the time went fast with ports, changing sights and wildlife sightings.

We almost missed our Ferry while waiting for coffee and talking to a fellow Coloradoan in Petersburg.  He was on the ferry with his dog (pets are allowed on the car deck), moving to Alaska to meet his wife who is a traveling nurse.

The ferry at port in Petersburg.
Many passengers camp on the deck or in various other spots for overnight passages. Some only get on the ferry for one port. We met two couples from New Zealand who purchased RVs and were two years into summer RVing around North America.  They were having the time of their lives hopping on and off the ferry every few days and camping at each port; a very full inside passage experience compared to our quick three-day pass-through.

Kids sports teams also ride the ferry.  A girls baseball team took over the lounge-that-no-longer-serves-alcohol (or anything else) for their sleepover-boat-trip to games. They were the first of several teams that joined us on the ferry.

Outside of Petersburg we navigated a ridiculously narrow passage. At least a hundred bald eagles and brownish, fuzzy eaglets were there to distract us as they criss-crossed the channel from tree to tree. We held our breath while the captain gracefully, skillfully steered the boat between and around buoys, islands and sand bars.

ridiculously narrow
Our last port on the first day was at Kake where we watched transparent yellow jellyfish and lazy sea otters floating in the water while we waited for the ferry to unload, load up and leave.

Here we learned the importance of timing for navigation of big boats through high and low tides in the narrow, shallow passages within the islands.  The town of Kake was without power so the ferry ramp would not lower and neither cars nor people could depart or load.  We waited as long as possible but the town was never powered and eventually the ferry left to meet the tide.

Cabin Bunk on the Malaspina
We reserved a spot for a 30 foot car + trailer and a four person berth with full facilities and a window.  Our car + trailer length was actually 28 feet but we did not know that when we made the reservations because...we did not yet own a trailer, much less know the length! Yes, that's how we roll.

Our path through the inside passage: Prince Rupert to Juneau, Juneau to Gustavus, back to Juneau and then to Haines. Total price = $3,500. We were able to change the days of our Gustavus leg very easily for a $20 fee.

The Malaspina cafeteria serves breakfast, lunch and dinner.  There is also a gift shop with treats, I think? We did bring our own breakfast (oatmeal) and coffee (aeropress) and sandwiches for lunch but splurged on dinner; anticipating fresh, delicious seafood. Kris also splurged on breakfast. Cheater!

How's your oatmeal? Not so good? I'm Sorry. These pancakes are amazing.
Our port at Sitka was in the wee hours of the morning, again. Like Ketchikan. Tides do not cater to tourism but this is a good reason to do it again! The weather for our third and final day on the boat was more subdued than the previous two with low clouds obscuring the islands surrounding Sitka.

What obstacles lay in wait beneath that dark water?
So whales. Did we see them? You bet! Many, many humpback whales spouting and breaching along the shores of the passage.  We also saw sea lions, seals, otters, jellyfish, porpoises, eagles and all sorts of ducks and water birds.  The three day, two night ferry ride from Prince Rupert to Juneau was glorious, beautiful, quiet, amazing, unique and educational. This adventure can't get that much better, can it?

Only in Glacier Bay...

Margerie Glacier on the Glacier Bay Cruise