In 1948, three Haines residents set up a company called Chilkoot Motorship Lines and purchased the MV Chilkoot, an ex-US Navy landing craft. The line struggled financially, and after a few years was sold to the territory of Alaska in 1951. In 1957 they acquired a larger vessel, which ended up being Alaska’s first state-owned ferry when Alaska became a state in 1959. The ferry fleet expanded, and in 1963 the Division of Marine Transportation was established, founding the Alaska Marine Highway System. Since then, the fleet has steadily expanded and the routes have continued to grow.
Ships: 5 mainline ferries (with cabins) and 5 day boats/shuttle ferries
How Many Passengers: For the mainland ferries, from 160 -499 passengers. Each ferry also has varying vehicle capacity, and pets are welcome onboard.
Personality: These are working ferries, made more for getting from Point A to Point B rather than for style or luxury. Public spaces are simple, yet comfortable.
Fellow Passengers: You will find anyone and everyone on the Alaska Marine Highway. Backpackers, college students, military families, vacationers, and people headed to or from their various places of employment.
Cabins: Cabins are simple and efficient. There are two-berth and four-berth options, and you pay for a cabin per cabin, not per person. Cabins on the larger ships have en suite facilities. Each ferry also has a very small number of accessible cabins that sell out very quickly. Guests do not have to buy a cabin to take the ferry, either. Some people sleep in their own tents under heat lamps on the deck or in loungers in the covered solarium area on the vessel.
Dining: Food and drinks are available for purchase onboard. Two of the ferries offer a dining room with sit-down service, the others have a cafeteria-style restaurant. If you bring your own food, there are microwaves available for guests’ use.
Amenities: Observation lounges, heated solarium, a movie lounge, writing/quiet lounge, showers, laundry facilities, and a children’s play area. Fresh towels, pillows, and blankets are available for a small fee.
Best For: Anyone looking to explore Alaska in a more unusual way, someone who wants to visit the rural towns that the ferries stop in, or someone that simply needs to use this method of transportation. Stops are often not as long as on a conventional cruise, so think of this system as your method of transportation to visit a place you might want to explore for a few days.
Included Alcohol: None
Where They Go: A large number of towns in: The Inside Passage, South Central Alaska, and the Kodiak & The Aleutian Chain