Marine Highway celebrates 50 years, and guess what? Kids love it
Alaska does love its ferryboats. Steady symbols of 49th State transportation, the historic “blue canoes” deliver people and goods along a 3,500-mile route between Bellingham, Wash., and the Aleutian Islands. Serving as both a lifeline to coastal communities and a roving tourist destination, the Alaska Marine Highway System (AMHS) provides passengers an unprecedented view of life in the Last Frontier, and is an excellent way to travel with children.
Celebrating 50 years of marine transportation in 2013, those blue and yellow ferries are spiffed up and ready to sail to 35 destinations, and they want you to come along for the ride. Whether your family frequently sails aboard any of the 11 vessels, or are newbies to the art of ferry travel, AMHS trips are guaranteed kid-pleasers.
What makes a ferry ride so special? Picture an old steamer ship, complete with spotless stateroom, classic service, and scenery as lovely as one could ever spy from a cruise ship; passengers have access to all that and more aboard a ferry. For children, the freedom to explore in an unhurried atmosphere means getting to know Alaska in a very real way. Delivery trucks share car deck space with enormous RVs, and passengers from all walks of life inhabit the lounge areas, outside decks, and casual dining rooms. AMHS crewmembers appear to enjoy their jobs as much as passengers enjoy the scenery, too, and everyone reaps the benefits. Want to see real Alaska? This is the way.
Many parents pack up kids and gear in backpacks and walk aboard, hopping off at various communities of interest, staying a few days before moving on. Others load up bicycles or kayaks and spend a week tooling the roads and waterways of Southeast towns in a delightfully unhurried manner. No matter the mode of transportation, savvy reservations agents at AMHS can assist with itinerary planning and ticketing options, including stateroom accommodations for those middle-of-the-night departures and longer routes.
Families should consider early or late-season travel aboard a ferry. Definitely less crowded than the busy summer months, spring or fall can afford wildlife viewing, quiet cities, and a definite pull toward local flavor of communities en route.
Very aware that many visitors desire affordable, independent options while exploring Alaska, AMHS offers a number of specials to suit just about every style of travel. Sure to be popular this year is the Mirror Image special. Those driving a vehicle will especially appreciate the 30 percent off discount for all vehicles and passengers through April 30, and free passage for drivers from May 1-Sept. 30 for round-trip travel. Of course, parents always love the fact that tickets are half off for those ages 6 to 11, and free for kids ages 5 and younger.
The showstopper for 2013, however, is the Golden Ticket Giveaway. Remember the movie “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?” Golden Tickets were the prize to find, and AMHS has jumped aboard with a monthly contest for anyone wanting free passage anywhere the ferries sail. Enter once a month during 2013, and you just might be sailing along for free in 2014. Visit the Alaska Marine Highway website (www.ferryalaska.com) for details. Call toll-free for tickets, 800-642-0066.
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