Venturing out into the big blue doesn’t mean you cannot camp. Yes, I’m talking about camping while at sea! The Alaska Marine Highway is one all-encompassing mode of transportation that is really a vacation in itself. Un-cruisers, take note – this is often referred to as “the poor man’s cruise” since it takes the same route as many major cruise ships for a fraction of the cost. Bonus? You can bring your car and Benji too! The kids will love the adventure of camping aboard a gigantic ship. Here is a quick reference guide based on our first-hand experience to serve as a how-to for first-timers.
1) Stake out your spot.
With sports teams, business travelers, families and tourists all traveling on this floating public transit vessel, you will always have company! The ferry system runs year-around, since many communities in Southeast Alaska are only accessible by air and water and this acts as their interstate! You will want to find a spot up in the area signed “Solarium” if you’re planning to pitch a tent.
If you’re going minimalist and using only a sleeping bag and pillow, your options are much more vast as to where you are able to set up camp. Find a spot and do so as soon as you board so that once under way you have a little slice of real estate to call your own while sailing.
2) Be courteous.
There is a wonderful, quiet, dark room that rarely sees banter, rambunctious children, or many folks wandering through — it’s the theater area and it should be avoided if possible. Not only will you be cramping the style of the movie watchers that will wander in (no one wants to hear you snore while trying to catch a flick) but you’ll also be disrupted by laughter, smells of popcorn, and movie mayhem if you’re trying to catch up on beauty sleep there. Tempting as it is since the mood is well-set, avoid the lounge. Also, if you’re aboard a ship that has children’s play mats – please don’t swipe them for bedrolls! Comfy though they may be, they’re for the children’s play area to keep the kids occupied and happy!
3) Splurge on luxury items.
If you’re in the solarium, there are lounge chairs and they are at a premium! You must act quickly to snag one or two of these (especially if you’re a family and you want to be in the same area) — this top deck amenity is a popular makeshift cot. The solarium has strange yellowish lights and it can be chilly since it has open-air portions. I find it louder than other parts of the ship as well. BUT, for views that are unmatched by any of the observation areas and a little more adventure, this is a fantastic spot to be! Bring your pillows, sleeping bags, snacks and entertainment items (we pack a backpack for the family) before you leave the car deck – once you’re moving you won’t be allowed back down except while at the next port or at specially scheduled times.
This can be a one-of-a-kind experience and definitely one that will wow the audience at show-and-tell for being so unique. It can be a total blast for kids — where else can you camp on a ship? Southeast Alaska has many opportunities for the little (and big) explorers in your family. Book a trip soon, sailings during peak season can sell out fast!
Amanda Williams is a journalist in rural Minnesota. Her stories have been published in Matador Travel Network, Midwest Living, Family Handyman, and several other publications. A solo mother of two young boys, she writes about adventures from National Parks to waterparks.
She loves sharing tips and insider information for others to use to make their trip just a little bit better. She and her kids scuba dive and live for new experiences and thrills. Road trips are always on the horizon and she's embraced van life and has driven from the Midwest to Alaska (via Canada) with her kids encompassing 32 days of wild adventures.
Amanda is classically trained as a wildlife biologist and has worked as a National Park Ranger, in addition to other exciting jobs like being a wildland firefighter and even playing the part of a living historian, as a cook in a turn-of-the-century logging camp. Because of these outdoorsy experiences, stories relating to outdoor adventure are often a focus of her writing.
She hopes to inspire other solo parents to take on Disney, camping, and trips abroad with their families with the confidence to make those memories, even as the lone adult in the mix!
Her most recent obsession is photographing adventures from the land, water, AND skies, as a licensed small unmanned aircraft system (drone) pilot.
Learn more about her at https://www.wayfaringmandy.com/ or follow her on Instagram, @WayfaringMandy.