We’ve left the Inside Passage and the ferry is now threading its way across the southern coast of Alaska, heading west to Yakutat and Whittier. I may be able to post this from Yakutat, though there are rumors that it’s a small village without cell reception or wireless. [Update: The rumors were right. No cell reception for Verizon folks at Yakutat, and no available wireless. I’m posting this from Whittier and backdating to Tuesday.] Did I mention there’s no Internet on the boat?
That was just one of the wrong assumptions I made about the ferry. The steward almost laughed at me when I asked if there was wireless: Gosh, no!
Another thing I got wrong is the food. On the Coast Starlight train, I had a roomette and three meals a day were included in the price of my trip. Not so on the ferry. I do have a roomette, but all food comes from the expensive onboard cafeteria. In the morning, a small cup of instant oatmeal, a banana, and some bad coffee costs $7. For the most part, it’s the worst kind of cafeteria food: packaged baked goods heavy with saturated fat, mealy red apples, unrecognizable items that are breaded and fried, pies, hot dogs, pizza, and seven kinds of burgers: hamburger, cheeseburger, bacon cheeseburger, chicken burger, halibut burger, vegan burger.
Some people were prepared for the food situation and brought their own provisions in coolers. At Ketchikan, I ran across the street to an A & P and scored better fruit, healthy soups in boxes, gluten-free crackers and granola, almond milk, tea, and other stuff. I’ve become friends with a woman who ran across the same street and got nothing but spark plugs for her motorcycle and a bottle of Scotch, because five days on a ferry can feel like a long time.
Besides Eddie Tobacco, who left the boat in Juneau, I’ve been hanging out with the bikers on the boat — or with other adults finding peace and quiet in the Kennicott’s defunct cocktail lounge. (The lounge and the gift shop have been shut down for budget reasons, and there are numerous broken seats in the movie viewing room. When someone tries to sit in one of those seats the commotion is every bit as entertaining as whatever film is onscreen, but I can’t help thinking it’s a liability issue.) Anyway. We (the Lounge People) sit at the old bar tables and have quiet conversations as we watch the port side of the world pass by. We read, study, or play cards, until someone sees a whale or a floating log that could be a whale and everyone stands up and hustles to the windows, straining their eyes and pointing. (We did see a lot of whales yesterday, including a pod of Orcas that passed by on both sides of the boat.)
I stay out of the ferry’s main observation lounge because it’s where the families gather. Kids are pretty excited when they first get on the boat. Most of the time, it seems like they have only three settings: (1) running, (2) yelling, and (3) eating. Later on, they sometimes display alternate settings for (4) throwing up and (5) sleeping. The old cocktail lounge is a great place to keep clear of all that.
Now I forgot what I was saying again. Oh. The third and final thing I misunderstood about the boat is the linen situation. Sheets, towels, and a pillow are available for rent on the ferry. When I made my reservation online, it said “No Linens” for my cheap room choice, so I took pains to find the right kind of sleeping sack for my bunk. (First, I got this one and then abandoned it for this one.) The sleeping sack is by far the biggest thing in my pack and I doubt I’ll use it even once. But that’s okay. Unlike the cost of food, it’s inexpensive to rent linens on the boat — only $3 for the whole trip. If I were willing to eat my pillow, I could save a lot of money.