The Inside Passage is a marine route along the western coast of North America. It runs from the Puget Sound in Washington, along British Columbia, and into the Alaska panhandle. Cruising the passage is a bucket list item for many adventurers.
The Alaska Marine Highway ferry covers the 964 mile distance from Juneau to Seattle area in three days, cruising at a leisurely 20 miles an hour. If it's on your bucket list, don't expect a Carnival Cruise, or a wildlife safari. This time of year, you won't see any whales, otters, or bears on the shore; at most, you'll see an occasional marine bird. The scenery doesn't change much; miles of rugged coastline, with stops at several ports along the way (Sitka, Wrangell, Ketchikan). If you're not the self-entertaining sort, you may find this trip boring.
But if you like leisurely train trips (which I do), you'll love ferrying the passage. Most of the trip was out of WiFi range, except for brief periods when we pulled into a port. When I wasn't in my cabin, I parked myself in a front row seat of the viewing deck, and spent long hours watching the coastline go by. I did a mini retrospective of the Alaska chapter of my life, reviewing all 15,000 of the photos I captured over the last two years. And I brought enough reading material to last me several weeks. So I was happy as a clam and relished the down time.
Would I do it again? Absolutely. Though next time I might want to do it in spring or summer, to see a different landscape.
Alaska Marine Highway ferry, MV Kennicott
The ferry was comfortable enough, though far from luxurious. I was in one of the mid-range cabins, which included a porthole window but no sink or bathroom. There were bathroom facilities down the hall, including showers. Everything was clean and pretty well organized. Every time I looked up, there was a crew member cleaning the windows, vacuuming floors, or washing the deck. The food was ok, though I brought my own, so only ate a couple times in the cafeteria.
The route hugs the coast, so you are rarely in open waters. We had one turbulent night, the impact of a cyclone that was moving through the Gulf of Alaska, but for the most part the sea was placid. As is typical of southeastern Alaska weather, it rained through about half of the trip.
Port of Sitka, Alaska
Inside Passage, Juneau Alaska to Bellingham Washington