Friday, February 15, 2013

West Coast Ferries

Some of the recent news about cruise ships has been unsettling. I was surprised that the passengers aboard the ill-fated Carnival Triumph, adrift in sewage in the Gulf of Mexico for five days, did not attempt to stage a mutiny. Have travellers become so inured to bad conditions through years of being subjected to humiliating security checks, at airports and elsewhere, that they will put up with almost anything?
In any case, for those of us who love to travel by sea, it is good to know that there are sometimes alternatives to the mega-ships of the major cruise lines. On the West Coast of North America, one of the most scenic cruising areas in the world, a number of ferries operate that provide an option.
These are working ships, not glamourous floating hotels, but they give passengers a chance to view mountains, forests and wildlife at moderate prices.
The Alaska Marine Highway System( has an extensive network of routes and ships that travel from Bellingham WA through the inside passage along Vancouver Island and along the shore of Alaska. Fares and routes are complicated, and you have to pay extra for a cabin, meals or a vehicle. However, these ships can get you from Bellingham to Ketchikan for as little as $239. and serve a number of ports that the big cruise ships never visit, so you can see more of the authentic Alaska not gussied up for tourists.
In British Columbia, BC Ferries ( also provide transportation not just between Vancouver and Victoria, the most popular route, but to many more remote areas of the mainland and Vancouver Island.
Finally, a nice way to travel between Victoria B.C. and Seattle is on the passenger-only ferry operated by Victoria Tours ( Fares start as low as $85, and the route goes through beautiful scenery in the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound. I took this trip about a dozen years ago, and found it delightful, especially since the ferry docks downtown in both cities.


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