Taking the ferry from Whittier to Bellingham

Discussion in 'Alaska' started by Steve907AK, Feb 6, 2013.

  1. Steve907AK

    Steve907AK Obsessed

    Joined:
    Sep 6, 2012
    Oddometer:
    55
    Location:
    Wasilla
    Does anyone have any recommendations regarding the quickest ferry to the lower 48? I've looked at the schedule online and it seems a bit confusing. Looking to go this summer but I want to get down there as quickly as possible on the ferry. Any recommendations? Thanks
    #1
  2. legion

    legion Voodoo Science

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2003
    Oddometer:
    13,603
    Location:
    61*N

    A quick enough ferry will be tough to find. I took a scoot to Valdez then hopped the ferry back to Whittier a few years ago. The novelty wore off in about 30 minutes and after a couple hours I thought I might have to slit my wrists.

    The ferry all the way from Bellingham is going to be like a six day coma. Might want to contact PAF or Span, etc. and see if it's possible to have them strap your bike to a pallet and then phanagle some way of riding down on the steamship with it. I know they have the ability to take a passenger but I don't know the specifics. It's likely to be more interesting than the ferry and it'd be quicker by half (it's a 3.5 day shot from Port of WA to Port of Anch on the steamer).

    Here's the summer schedule but I'd call anyway. Their schedule in my experience hasn't exactly been like the German rail system. At least what they've posted of it in the past.
    #2
  3. GRIZ

    GRIZ COMMANDANT

    Joined:
    Dec 24, 2004
    Oddometer:
    1,208
    Location:
    TEAM PTERODACTYL HQ. SPEARFISH, SD
    rode the ferry from skagway to prince rupert...36 hours...also have ridden the ferry from haines to bellingham 3 days. Very enjoyable for me. Just sayin'
    #3
  4. gharnden

    gharnden Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    104
    Location:
    South Central US
    I realize your question pertains to the quickest way to get there but for a lot of us that ride up from the lower 48, the ferry is very enjoyable and beautiful after being on our bikes for 2-3 weeks. There are a couple of fast ferrys that you can use. For example, in 2011, we took the fast ferry from Haines to Juneau and then another fast ferry from Juneau to Sitka. From there on down, I do not think was such a thing as a fast ferry. The fast ferrys cut the time in half. If you are on your bike, you might get off at Prince Rupert and ride the rest of the way (of course, that depends on where you are going). I always tried to book it myself and always found out by calling the Alaska Marine Highway directly they not only helped with the connections, time, etc., it also saved me money. Check into the fast ferries and connections as you may have already done that. Again, the ride from Haines/Skagway to Prince Rupert is amazing, at least for those of us that do not get to experience the Alaska coast very often.
    #4
  5. gharnden

    gharnden Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2009
    Oddometer:
    104
    Location:
    South Central US
    I believe the fast ferries are the Chenega (CHE) and the Fairweather (FWX). The Fairweather is what I have been on going from Hanies to Juneau and Juneau to Sitka.
    #5
  6. Solarmoose

    Solarmoose electric

    Joined:
    Sep 9, 2009
    Oddometer:
    804
    Location:
    Fairbanks
    We've taken the Prince Rupert to Haines run many times in both directions and have always enjoyed the time off the bike. But always ready to be back on the bike after a couple days on the ship. If I wanted to be on the west coast in a hurry the ferry would not be my choice. Riding the Alcan is, or certainly could be, less time. For most of us the best combo/compromise in time and money is ride to Haines and ferry to Prince Rupert since the Gulf Cross and YPR to Bellingham segments add significant amounts of both. I find the AMHS online reservations system gets what I want but the phone support is good too. If you've never taken the ferry, do it at least once.
    I've never heard of getting passage on the freight ships but that would be interesting to try. Anyone ever done that?
    #6
  7. richardak

    richardak Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2008
    Oddometer:
    156
    Location:
    Fairbanks, AK
    I would second the above comment from Solarmoose. From Alaska, it is only about 3 days to get past Prince Rupert and only 5 to the west coast and I'm no speed demon or iron-butt type of rider. Plus, the road route will probably be cheaper. I've taken the ferry once about 35 years ago and that was sufficient. I've never felt compelled to take it again. The scenery is great but I prefer the road.
    #7
  8. markjenn

    markjenn Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 9, 2003
    Oddometer:
    10,602
    Location:
    Bellingham, WA
    I'm another who have done most of these ferries, but probably won't again. Gorgeous scenery but being couped up on a ferry boat for days on end with not much to do and expensive/crappy food gets old very fast. The sleeping cabins are expensive phone booths. Some allow you to set up a tent on deck - this would be the way I'd do it if I were to ferry again, but I think any future trips to the N, I'll just ride round trip.

    - Mark
    #8
  9. ADVBMR

    ADVBMR Polygamotorcyclist

    Joined:
    May 18, 2007
    Oddometer:
    897
    Location:
    Anchorage AK
    What Legion said. The info on the net is a bit confusing. I just dealt with that. But they're very helpful on the phone and you'll get the info you need.

    The only high speed ferry I know is the Valdez to Whittier route, so normally you do the north to south route in 5 days or so. There are two ships running now from Bellingham. One has a 6 day layover in Juneau, the other only a 6 hour layover, and that wasn't clear from the website. To go to/from Whittier to Bellingham you have to change ships in Juneau. Call them for the summer schedule and whether there is a quicker ferry.
    #9
  10. Tim McKittrick

    Tim McKittrick Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 29, 2003
    Oddometer:
    1,907
    Location:
    Wasilla Alaska
    I have ferried whittier to cordova many times and recommend you just call the ferry office for reservations- the web site is a confusing mess and a chore to wade through. But if you call and ask for a specific date they can have you set up in a hurry.

    Taking the ferry is a bit like riding the rails- you won't have a lot to do and if you can appreciate that you will have a good time.

    If you can't, you won't.
    #10
  11. scooteraug02

    scooteraug02 Dog Rancher

    Joined:
    Feb 18, 2003
    Oddometer:
    4,555
    Location:
    Atlanta, GA
    We did Haines to Bellingham in August 2012. It left Monday at 6pm and we were off the ferry in Bellingham by 0900 Friday.
    It was nice to relax. You need your own tie downs. You can sleep in a tent on the back of the ferry for cheap is that is a concern.

    For us it was icing on the trip. A nice relaxing time with beautiful views.
    #11
  12. oclv454

    oclv454 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2010
    Oddometer:
    301
    The Whittier tunnel was one of the unexpected surprises on my trip last summer. A fun adventure all by itself.
    #12
  13. ThatGuy

    ThatGuy Brownie

    Joined:
    Oct 27, 2006
    Oddometer:
    5,839
    Location:
    Anchorage, Alaska
    As long as you don't put the front in the rail :deal
    #13
  14. Kul Mom

    Kul Mom aka sKul Marm

    Joined:
    Jun 21, 2006
    Oddometer:
    401
    Location:
    Anchorage, Alaska
    Very well put, Tim. For myself, I can and do.

    -KM
    #14
  15. oclv454

    oclv454 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 26, 2010
    Oddometer:
    301
    I didn't, but could see how you could. That's why I called it an "adventure". When I asked why the motorcycles go last, after all the cars, motorhomes, and trucks, the women said "because the motorcycles kept falling down and they have to send assistance into the tunnel and it's easier to get to the motorcycle if they go last". It was a rememorable two miles!
    #15
  16. THogland

    THogland Back in Alaska!

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2011
    Oddometer:
    77
    Location:
    Wasilla-ish, Alaska
    Having done all this research over multiple days earlier this month, I've got some info I can share.

    I was planning a RT, starting in Wasilla and ending in Salmon, ID (just south of Missoula, MT), so my route was biased towards driving the eastern side of the Alcan. The assumptions I used were that I could ride 500 miles per day and spend $100/day on hotels, meals, etc. on average. (Round numbers are nice for planning :D ) Leaving July 1st, coming back the 21st (i,.e. either get on a ferry or it the Alcan heading home, vacation over).

    Whittier-WA is a twice-per-month deal, on one ferry (and it isn't a fast ferry). Leaves Whittier on the 1st, arrives in WA the 6th; leaves WA the 7th, arrives Whittier the 14th is roughly the schedule. (2nd half of the month, add 15 days to those dates. Results left as an exercise for the reader :D) Stops in Yakutat, Juneau and Ketchikan, nowhere else. (So, if you try to add a fast ferry leg, you'll probably end up waiting someplace for a connection.) If you're going round-trip, you pay the vehicle fee and no rider fee, so about $750 each way. (Cabins were another $500-ish.) One way travel adds about $700 to that as well, since you lose the rider discount.

    Ferry left late on the 1st and got into WA about 9am the 6th, with ~800 miles to get to Salmon, so I still had two days to go, and would get to Salmon early the 8th; assuming my 500-mile riding average held up, I was leaving Great Falls, MT the morning of the 6th with about 350 miles to go, so would arrive early the 7th.

    Total cost (using the numbers above, plus 40mpg and $5/gal average for gas) was about $1100 Wasilla-Salmon on the ferry+interstate, and about $850 riding the whole way (plus one less travel day).

    Now, I'm sure *everyone* is yelling at their screens about "unrealistic estimates", and you're correct - guessing you'll be able to ride 500 miles per day on the Alcan with zero problems or delays is slightly optimistic. :rofl One day of muddy construction, or a flat that you can't repair, or shitty weather, or whatever, and that extra day is gone, plus it adds $100 to the cost of riding (at my also-slightly-optimistic $100/day average for meals/hotel). Or make it 400 miles/day, and you've added a day to it as well. The ferry is more money, and a bit slower, but it's GOING to arrive at 9 that morning, rain or shine. No flats, no construction, just plugging along at 13 knots. Oh, and you arrive rested and ready to ride. On the other hand, you can start your Alcan ride any day you want, not when the ferry schedule dictates.

    I tried shuffling departures, connections, etc. and all I seemed to do was add long delays in the middle of the ferry trip. Didn't manage to change the length of the trip. If you're willing to ride to Haines, you can shorten it a day, assuming you can leave this morning and catch the ferry tomorrow morning, 750 miles away. Optimistic, again, and it didn't save much $$...

    If you're trying to end up in Seattle (or close), then the ferry and Alcan are almost identical in time and cost. But, I wasn't trying to get to Seattle, so I didn't do any hard-core number crunching for that route, just some quick estimating.

    Hope that helps. If you've got any questions feel free to PM me.

    Tom@Wasilla
    #16
  17. marbee40

    marbee40 Some Fear is Good

    Joined:
    Jan 28, 2007
    Oddometer:
    1,195
    Location:
    45 minutes-North-of-Los Anchorage
    Doing the family adventure in June. Flying to Kansas to pick up my new 4x4 cage (long story, special order). Driving west via Moab, GSL, Bonnie Salt Flats, Bend, OR, and a few other stops. Heading to Bellingham to catch the ferry north. Due to my current employment, I'll get to ride for free, to include up to 19' of vehicle (perks, people, perks!). The bride and Jr have to pay their own way. We'll hop off in Haines and finish the drive from there to see a bit of the highway.

    When we figured in costs of driving the Cassier vs Ferry (to include my freebie ride), it damn near equaled out! Oh well, we'll bring our new DSLR and a couple good books.

    J
    #17
  18. THogland

    THogland Back in Alaska!

    Joined:
    Mar 6, 2011
    Oddometer:
    77
    Location:
    Wasilla-ish, Alaska
    (I just re-did all my math again - I'm planning to head down to CA/UT/ID in August...)

    Now, driving instead of riding makes a difference. I planned 400 miles/day riding, and 600 driving. But, I'll get 18 mpg driving and 40+ riding. I can pull off anywhere and sleep in the truck, plus carry food along to eat whenever I get hungry, unlike on the bike. It's 4 days ANC-SEA driving instead of 5 on the ferry Whittier-SEA. Haines-SEA is almost the same for the ferry due to all the stops it makes - the Whittier boat only stops 2-3 times.

    Math - 2400 miles at 18mpg and $3.50/gal = $467 fuel, plus 3 nights at $100 and about $200 food (between the ice chest and a few restaurants) is just under $1100. 2400 miles at 40mpg and $3.50/gal = $210 fuel. But, 5 nights and $50/day in food (lack of space for a big cooler :cry) adds $800 onto that - a bit over $1000.

    The ferry from Whittier is $1500 one way, and from Haines is $1300. That's a vehicle and driver, plus one of the micro-cabins to lock up the cooler :evil Still have to eat, which means either carry food or buy it there (expensive). On the plus side you arrive completely rested and ready to go, with zero car problems, weather delays or flat tires. The inside passage is *gorgeous*, and all you have to do is sit there and watch it pass by.

    So, the ferry is more money, but restful and without travel problems. The drive is much faster, depending on how fast you want to go. The ride is the best way to have an adventure - really experience the trip.

    What's the objective? :ear Me, I'm almost 100% riding round-trip, unless I do something stupid like buy a bike down there and do a fly-n-ride. :lol3 I'm going to set the GoPro to take a picture every minute or three and crunch it into a video showing 7000 miles of V-twin goodness :D

    (FWIW, if I could take the ferry for free, I'd do it in a heartbeat. If you'd like to sponsor me, send me a PM :evil)
    #18
  19. tomdubz

    tomdubz getting there

    Joined:
    Jun 29, 2010
    Oddometer:
    651
    Location:
    4 Cornerstan
    Schedule isn't hard once you figure out which one to look at. Kennicott is your tub of choice.

    http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/doc/schedules/Summer15/CrossGulf_S15.pdf

    key to abbreviations and the rest of the choices here:
    http://www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs/schedule_pdf.shtml

    and don't get a cabin. this is way more fun:
    https://www.google.com/search?q=ala...i=hywjVa63Go2pogTkz4CIDA&ved=0CCgQsAQ&dpr=1.1
    #19
  20. migilito

    migilito Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Feb 19, 2015
    Oddometer:
    249
    Location:
    s-cal
    Ive done the Ferry. The first day is "wow, look at that..." The next 4 days are suicidal. IMO, life isn't about cost effectiveness and whats the most expedient way to (fill in the blank). Do yourself a favor. Drive or ride. Meet people, talk to people, take the road less traveled. Leave yourself, your fears, you're time tables and your maps. Just point south and go.
    #20