Archive for October, 2009

North to Alaska – Should You Take the Ferries with Dogs? Part 3

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

This past summer we visited Alaska, Yukon and BC with our standard poodle Toby. We traveled with a travel trailer and took the Black Ball Ferry, BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry up to Alaska and then drove back on the Alaska Highway. So can you take your dog on these ferries, which travel hundreds of miles between ports at times and can transport you and your vehicles thousands of miles on a trip between the lower 48 or BC and Alaska? You can, but there are many restrictions and that can make it difficult. Here is a summary of the rules and operations as it relates to pets on the Black Ball Ferry, the BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry System. The first part was about the Black Ball Ferry and the second part was about the BC Ferry. This part covers the Alaska Ferry.

The Alaska Ferry

We took the Alaska Ferry from Prince Rupert, BC to Juneau, AK. We took the M/V Taku, which is not the most advanced ship in the Alaska Ferry Fleet. The boat stopped in Ketchikan, Wrangell, Petersburg, Kake and Juneau. The trip took a total of 32 hours, including stops in port. Later, we took the M/V Matanuska, a larger ship, from Juneau to Haines, AK. This was a 4 1/2 hour trip. The Alaska Ferry has many other routes, such as from Bellingham, WA to Juneau with many of the above stops, shorter trips from Juneau to outlying areas such as Sitka, The long cross gulf trip from Juneau to Whittier and various other Alaska routes. There are currently 11 ships in the fleet.

The M/V Taku, although reasonably comfortable, was not even close to the quality of the BC Ferry ship that we took. It was considerably smaller, had far less room in the car deck for vehicles and crammed vehicles very tightly together and was clearly a much older vessel. There was a restaurant with limited hours, a number of lounges and a small bar. There were state rooms, but they were small and we were told by the crew that we had to keep our kids quieter since the crew was in state rooms nearby. However, the scenery is beautiful and there are a number of outside decks where you can view it. Also, there is a sundeck where some people slept and even tented. Again, dogs must remain on the car deck and people are not allowed on the car deck during sailings, only in port. For sailings with no port calls for over 8 hours they have a scheduled short pet call on the car deck where your dog can do their business and be fed. People who took the 2 day sailing from Bellingham to Juneau with their dogs said that they had 4 pet visits per 24 hours. On our cruise, the longest segments at sea were 7 hours, with others around 3 hours, 5 hours, and 6 hours. At each port we could go to the RV, take the dog out to the shore, and have between 30 minutes and 1 hour to walk on shore. Then it was back to the RV for the next segment. Unlike the BC Ferry, there was no separate room for kennels on the car deck so dogs with walk-on passengers would be in a kennel directly on the car deck. Some things to keep in mind on the Alaska Ferry for people traveling with dogs are:
- The cars, trucks and RVs are very tightly packed. You need to make sure, by staying with your vehicle until nearby cars are parked, that the doors will open to allow you to take your dog out. If you assume that this will be the case you may be surprised. Also, new vehicles come and go at each stop.
- There are a number of cargo trucks, some with powered refrigeration units. These create heat around them and it may get hot on the car deck near these trucks.
- If you are on a longer trip where your dog must do his business on the ferry there is not much room compared to the BC Ferry.
- Kenneled dogs are kept directly in the center of the car deck.
- You will not be able to see your dog except in port or, if very long segments of over 8 hours, a short pet call. We had two segments of 7 hours. Our dog did better on the first segments, but clearly appeared to be getting tired of the drill by the last segment. You may consider breaking the trip into the shortest possible ferry rides and stay overnight in a few of the stops so that you can all recover.
- The Alaska Ferry is very serious about the “No Access’ to the car deck while the ship is at sea. These is unlike the BC Ferry, which may possibly take you down if necessary. (See the sign in the photo). They blame “Coast Guard Regulation” but we asked a Coast Guard Person who told us that the only regulation is that a crew member must be on the car deck with passenger visits at sea and the Alaska Ferry itself allows visits at sea on the longer routes. If it was illegal, they couldn’t do that.

As on the BC Ferry, our dog did ok, but we did hear about and see some dogs who clearly took the trip hard, and were shaking or clearly upset at some of the ports. The shorter trips, such as the Juneau to Haines trip (4 1/2 hours) are ok, but clearly consider avoiding either the long trip from Bellingham to Southeast Alaska or the Cross Gulf Ferry to Whittier in central Alaska near Anchorage. Also, as you make stop after stop, the longer trip takes it’s toll on the dogs. Keep it as short as possible is the best advise that we can give.


If you do plan to make the trip from the Pacific Northwest to Alaska by ferry with a dog then the way we did the trip is probably the best way. Drive to Port Hardy, take the 15 hour BC Ferry to Prince Rupert and take the Alaska Ferry to Juneau. If we did it again, we would probably stop overnight in Ketchikan or Wrangell (a really small town that is very scenic) to break up the trip. Also, carefully choose your scheduled ferry as some of these trips take up to 45 hours, others as low as 30. To your dog that makes a difference.

Suggested Improvements for The Alaska Ferry

The Alaska Ferry could significantly improve the experience of travelers with dogs by some or all of the following suggested improvements:
- Have a number of cabins (say 2 – 4) with kennels in them and a dog can be allowed in the kennel in the cabin. Other than the walk to the nearest stairs they can be forbidden access to the rest of the ship. They could easily charge a significant premium for this service.
- Allow dogs on the outside decks or some of them. There is plenty of room. Many people would stay outside with a dog if it was required, at least on some segments.
- Have an on-board kennel on the passenger decks such as the Queen Mary has where you can visit with your dog during the trip.
- For dogs on the car deck the Alaska Ferry crew could be more understanding of the issues of pet owners. They could put something on each car that has a dog so that the loading crew keeps the doors clear and keeps them away from refrigeration trucks.
- Allow visits every 2 – 3 hours like the BC Ferry. Or allow you to buy access more often for something like $10 per visit to pay their crewmember to attend with you.

If these improvements were made, we would be happy to take the Alaska Ferry with our dogs.

More information on the Alaska Ferry and a link to the Alaska Ferry Website

North to Alaska – Should You Take the Ferries with Dogs? Part 2

Monday, October 26th, 2009

This past summer we visited Alaska, Yukon and BC with our standard poodle Toby. We traveled with a travel trailer and took the Black Ball Ferry, BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry up to Alaska and then drove back on the Alaska Highway. So can you take your dog on these ferries, which travel hundreds of miles between ports at times and can transport you and your vehicles thousands of miles on a trip between the lower 48 or BC and Alaska? You can, but there are many restrictions and that can make it difficult. Here is a summary of the rules and operations as it relates to pets on the Black Ball Ferry, the BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry System. The first part was about the Black Ball Ferry. This part covers the BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry will follow in part 3.

The BC Ferry – Northern Route from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert, BC

From Victoria we drove about 250 miles to Port Hardy which is on the northern end of the long, thin Vancouver Island to catch the first of the long ferry rides to Alaska. This ferry is at sea for 15 straight hours on the famous Inside Passage and travels about 400 miles north. There are no port stops at all. The Northern Expedition is a gorgeous ship. While not as big as a cruise ship it is similar to one. There are two restaurants, movies and a number of lounges. There is incredible scenery and many decks to observe it from. State rooms are available for you and your family, minus your dog. Pets are allowed on the ferry, but must remain on the car deck. For people with vehicles, either cars or RVs, this means that the pets must remain in the vehicle. If you are a walk-on passenger the ferry has a number of kennels in a small kennel room on the car deck that your dog can stay in. People are not allowed to stay on the car deck during the voyage. However, there are 5 scheduled car deck access times during the 15 hour cruise where people can go to the car deck to visit their pets and walk them on the car deck. This allows access every 2 1/2 to 3 hours. Towards the front of the car deck you can let your dog relieve themselves along the walls, rails or cones. The ship crew will take care of cleanup. There is no grass so we found that our dog was quite unwilling to go here. However, after about 8 hours he finally went on the garbage can. There were about 5 other dogs on the ferry with us. It seems that 2 of them did their business relatively quickly and the others eventually went further into the voyage. However, all eventually went. The BC Ferry car deck is well-lit, roomy and open. It is not very noisy except at the far back of the car deck where the engines are. As you have no say where your vehicle is placed, hopefully you will not be placed there. It appears that cars, and not RV’s are usually placed in this area, but there are also many cars in the other parts of the car deck. The crew of the BC Ferry, in general, seems sensitive to your needs when traveling with dogs.

The BC Ferry may allow you to visit the car deck at unscheduled times. They require that a crew member accompany you when on the car deck. If someone is available, they may, but also may not allow a visit. On our voyage the crew of the BC Ferry was helpful when asked.

Our dog handled the 15 hour voyage well, but he was always extremely happy to be visited. We fed him a little at each visit, instead of one larger meal. If you have more than one dog, they will probably be happier than a dog by itself.

The Ferry left Port Hardy at 7:30 am but you need to be there by 5:30 am. It arrived in Prince Rupert at 10:00 pm. During the summer that far north it may still be light out when the ferry arrives. At Prince Rupert we then took the Alaska Ferry to Juneau.

More Information on the BC Ferry is at this link.

North to Alaska – Should You Take the Ferries with Dogs? Part 1

Monday, October 26th, 2009

This past summer we visited Alaska, Yukon and BC with our standard poodle Toby. We traveled with a travel trailer and took the Black Ball Ferry, BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry up to Alaska and then drove back on the Alaska Highway. So can you take your dog on these ferries, which travel hundreds of miles between ports at times and can transport you and your vehicles thousands of miles on a trip between the lower 48 or BC and Alaska? You can, but there are many restrictions and that can make it difficult. Here is a summary of the rules and operations as it relates to pets on the Black Ball Ferry, the BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry System. The first part is about the Black Ball Ferry. The BC Ferry and the Alaska Ferry will follow in parts 2 and 3.

The Black Ball Ferry

This ferry takes you in about 90 minutes between Port Angeles, Washington and Victoria, BC, a distance of about 25 miles. Victoria is on Vancouver Island so it must be accessed either by ferry from the U.S. or from Vancouver, BC. The Black Ball Ferry can take your car, your motor home or any other RV across. Your dog is also allowed. On the Black Ball Ferry your dog must stay in your vehicle or on a leash or in a carrier on the outside deck on the ferry. They are not allowed in the inside lounges. However, we are happy to have ferries that allow dogs in outside areas as neither the BC Ferry or the Alaska ferry allow dogs off of the car deck at all. It can get windy or chilly, which won’t usually bother a dog, but some owners may not be too happy about it. We kept our dog in our travel trailer on the ferry, but only because we wanted to see how he would do on this shorter ride before we took the significantly longer ferries in a few days. A ferry ride on the Black Ball Ferry to visit Victoria and Vancouver Island and the dog-friendly Butchart Gardens is also a worthwhile vacation.

Here is a link to further information on the Black Ball Ferry