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Seán Dwyer

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I have stowed my gear in my cabin on the MV Columbia, the gem of the AMHS. The ship travels at 17.3 knots, holds 499 passengers, and is one of two ferries in the system with a dining room. I am curious to see this vessel I have been waiting 30 years to board, so it’s time for a tour.

I scan the Cruise Terminal from Deck 6, and I get a view unlike what I see from the Fairhaven boardwalk. Among the images I retain is the presence of Coast Guard vessels. I don’t know if they are there only when the ferry is docked, or if we have constant Coast Guard protection, but it’s a comfort in case we have trouble.


Another important find is the snack bar. I note that Alaska bananas are much browner than those from Central America. I like my bananas mottled, so I will probably partake of this treat at some point. My walk has made me hungry. I dish out a bowl of pepper jack broccoli soup. It’s pretty tasty and will hold me over till the dining room opens at 6pm.


I discover, though, that the ferry runs on Alaska Time, which is an hour behind Pacific Time. While my phone says it’s 4:30, it’s 3:30 on board. I don’t get to eat dinner until 7pm, when I thought I would have dinner at 6. I decide to go easy on the snacks, as one of the dinner options is grilled wild Alaskan sockeye. Far better than a second bowl of soup, and reasonably priced.

Something important to know that contradicts to a degree the information on the AMHS website is that there are sheets, a blanket, and a pillow on each berth. I was led to believe that all linens had to be rented for a small fee from the purser. I guess they meant extra bedding. I didn’t need to drag my pillows along, and if I had not brought towels, I might have gotten by with a smaller suitcase.

The woman who almost sold me a ferry ticket in 1989 mentioned sleeping on deck. While I would not recommend skipping the cabin experience, I did go to have a look at the Solarium. It’s a heated, enclosed area with a number of lounge chairs. When people who have no cabin inevitably reserve one by dropping their gear on a chair, the other option is to lay out your sleeping bag on the floor (not pictured, as the guy doing this was asleep).

Those with tents can set them up outside the Solarium. Experienced ferry riders know to tape their tents to the deck, as stakes are really hard to pound through concrete.


Outside, I see gadgetry that will certainly be important to my safety. There’s something that reminds me of Wall-E, which will, I assume, be lowered into the water to rescue me if I fall over the railing. Not that I plan to lean over at any point. There are also some antennae that must help keep us on course and help the crew communicate with the outside world.

I do wish they would attach some sort of cell receiver to this structure, so I could post this tour in real time. But there is no cell service and no Wi-Fi. I do feel as if I am communicating with the world as I write these words on Saturday morning, but I know you won’t see them until Monday.

The inevitable gremlin of seasickness hits some people who ride this ferry, and for their convenience, there are bag dispensaries in convenient locations. Outside my cabin is not such a location, so the bags are on the floor. It could be that someone dropped these and will return to toss them, but I don’t mind thinking that the crew foresees possible issues for passengers housed near me and are protecting me from unpleasant situations.

What would a ferry be without an example of a King Salmon? Such beautiful fish we have up here. We need to protect them to keep food on our tables and their predators fed as well. The Columbia has posters that discuss ocean acidification and its effects on the environment. Sobering information.


I settle in until dinnertime. That’s tomorrow’s tale.


What have you written today? Talk to you soon!

9 comments on “A Three-Minute Tour

  1. tweaknee says:

    Thanks for sharing, Sean! I’ve always been curious about the journey to Alaska aboard this craft.

    1. caithiseach says:

      I thought a detailed account might entice some potential travelers. It’s a great ride!

  2. racheal sliter says:

    enjoy yourself

  3. Anne Ciochetto says:

    My uncle and his family did this trip a few years ago. It was one of his favorite memories. Hope it’s the same for you. Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

    1. caithiseach says:

      Really lovely trip!

  4. Thanks for the tour. My mom recently asked me if I’d ever heard of this ferry, and I said, “Oh, it’s definitely not up to your travel standards,” but it sounds like there are a few amenities. Like pillows!

    1. caithiseach says:

      I haven’t been aboard a cruise ship to know if the cabins are better on a liner. I suspect the ferry would dismay people with no sense of adventure and a boatload of entitlement. But there’s plenty to love.

  5. It’s been on my bucket list forever. We watch it leave every week, from our deck. Bon voyage!

    1. caithiseach says:

      I thought I saw you waving at me!

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