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.