Alaska, "the great land" in Aleut, with its snow-capped mountain ranges and majestic, often inaccessible, wilderness had been on my travel wish list for quite some time. However, the mere thought of an expensive cruise kept me from making any concrete plans. When I finally learned about the affordable Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System, I didn't think twice, I booked a cabin on a ferry from Skagway (Alaska) to Bellingham (Washington) on the spur of the moment, and immediately started to figure out how to get there. In the end, I decided to fly to Whitehorse, Yukon, about a two hour drive from Skagway.
Upon my arrival I caught the bus between Whitehorse and Skagway. Most who take this ride hop off halfway, in Fraser, to take a tourist train the remainder via the White Pass Railroad. But continuing the scenic drive as the only passenger left on the bus with an extremely knowledgeable driver as my private guide, proved to be an excellent - and much cheaper - alternative.
When we arrived in Skagway, once a gold-digger’s joint that gave access to the famous Klondike area, and presently a fixture of most Alaska cruise lines, there are just a few hours left to savor a hearty clam chowder at the Skagway Fish Company, to wander along downtown's restored houses which evoke the romantic ambience of a legendary past, and to get a taste of what many other tourists seem to be heading for: jewelry, ice cream, and gift shops.
My cabin on The Columbia is small but comfortable, with a bunk bed for two people, a chair, a sink, and an en-suite bathroom with shower. There is even an internet connection for those who happen to carry their laptop. During the three day/ four night ride, there is no need to stay in the confinements of my own domain, however. There are several roomy lounges with comfortable chairs and windows all over the front and sides, for optimal views of the glorious scenery.
The side decks are sought after by photographers, sun worshippers, and smokers, and on the upper deck there is an opportunity to put up a tent if you are in the mood for a more "extreme" experience (bring duck tape to secure the lines!). A reasonably priced restaurant, a modest cafeteria, and a bar cater to the grumbling stomach or the thirsty throat.