Welcome Aboard the M/V Kennicott
When most people think of an Alaskan cruise, they think of the ships the size of small cities. We saw many of them in Juneau, docked, three, four, five at a time, inundating the town. In a town of around 30,000 the population can nearly double when five cruise ships are in port at the same time.
Juneau has a lot of services in place to handle the tourist demands. You can sign up for glacier tours, or whale watching tours, or both right at the landing dock. You can have a fine meal, you can buy tanzanite or brown diamonds, or fine sporting gear just across the street, or you can take a cable car up to the top of Mt. Roberts – right from the dock where you landed.
No. We didn’t do that.
We boarded the M/V Kennicott out in Auke Bay, where the Alaska Marine Highway Ferries come in and out shuttling the locals from town to town. There are ferry routes that are regional, like you can take a ferry to Haines, or Skagway, or Ketchikan, or Petersburg, places on the SE panhandle of Alaska, or you can, like us, take a ferry that goes all the way around the Gulf of Alaska from Juneau via Yakutat, Whittier, Chenega Bay, Kodiak Island to Homer. You can even continue on to Seldovia before you head back. Some years, when the ferry hasn’t broken down, you can take a ferry all the way down to Unalaska/Dutch Harbor, all the way down on the very tip of the Aleutian Islands. Wouldn’t that be a grand adventure!?
It’s all part of the Alaska Marine Highway System, a very practical part of the entire Alaska transportation system which is a lot like Africa. You take a big plane or a big ship to get there, then you take a smaller ferry or a small – even tiny – airplane to get to the more remote places. Juneau is not connected to anywhere. All the highways end. Kodiak Island is . . . well, an island. There are many remote places that there is no way to reach without ferry or tiny aircraft service.
We picked up our tickets at the Ferry Terminal a couple days in advance, and were surprised to see that while the ferry was scheduled to leave at 12:00 noon, boarding said 0900 in the morning.
No problem. We were packed and ready to go, grabbed a little breakfast and coffee, and the shuttle took us out to the ferry terminal, about 15 minutes away. The Best Western Country Lane shuttle makes everything so easy; they take you to the airport, they take you to the terminal, they take people to the restaurants they want to go to, they run you downtown – a trip that costs about $35 if you come in to the Ferry Terminal and want to go into downtown Juneau. The shuttle is one reason why we chose this hotel, and we were so glad we did.
So we arrived, on time, at 0900 to board the ferry and the guy at the counter looked surprised and said “You want to board now?” and I said “It says we are supposed to board at 0900. It doesn’t make sense to me, either, but here we are.” He said “OK, you can board if you want.”
It’s not like an airplane. It’s not like you see “Boarding at 0900” and it means you MUST be there at 0900, in this case, it means “you can board if you want to.” LOL, this is my culture, and it’s confusing to me!
Laurie, the boarding purser, checks our I.D. and checks our tickets and waves us to the vehicle entrance with our rolley-bags, saying “just go in here and take the elevator.”
It wasn’t until after the trip that I learned the M/V part of M/V Kennicott means Motor Vessel, i.e. this is a ship that transports motor vehicles. We love learning new ways how things are done, and the boarding and unloading of the vessel was endlessly fascinating to us. Great technology, and it also requires great planning and execution.
We went to the purser’s office to get our cabin, but the cabins weren’t clean yet. He suggested we go up to the forward lounge, have a cup of coffee, he would call us when the rooms were ready.
This is a Haida clam basket (basket weaving is so fascinating to me, all those patterns. How did people figure out, oh so long ago, how to gather living plant material and weave it in these ways? On our trip, we saw baskets woven so finely that you could boil water in them. Imagine!)
I explored around a little, well, I snooped. While the cabins were being cleaned, I looked in to see the various kinds of cabins. It was so interesting. The majority of the cabins did not have bathrooms.
There were one person little cabins, like a booth, with two seats that would slide down and together, and a table that could be clipped up when a person didn’t want to sit at the table and wanted to sleep on a flat surface. It was a pretty narrow surface, and a room like a coffin, but it locked, and it would be a safe place for one person to sleep and keep their bags safe, too.
There were two person roomettes, they also had a little table and two bunks that attached to the wall unless you wanted to sleep, in which case they came down.
There were four person cabins without baths and four person cabins with baths. If only two people were in the cabin, the unused bunks were attached up to the walls, and you had a couch to sit on during the day. The outside cabins had nice large windows, big square ones.
There was a solarium up on top designated for campers. There are a LOT of campers in Alaskan, not just Alaskans, but also visiting campers from all over the world. The solarium gives them a safe dry place to pitch their tents. There are also big lockers where they can stow their gear.
People are also allowed to camp in the aft lounges, upper and lower, but the signs ask that you only roll out your sleeping gear between 8 at night and 8 in the morning, so that all the passengers can use the lounges during daylight hours.
This isn’t a cruise ship. This is transportation. This is how people get from one place to another, how they take their kids to boarding school when their village is too small to support a school. This is how high school teams might travel to their away games. These are working ships.
When the purser announced that people could come check in to their cabins, I went, but I ended up at the end of a long line. I saw people get assigned and then the purser would hand them a set: one pillow, two sheets, one pillowcase and one blanket. (@) (@) ! No! No! I did not sign up to be making up bunk beds! Enough democracy!
Lucky me, those sets were for the roomettes, and you don’t even have to rent them, you can do without them if you prefer. I think the rental per night for the set is $3.00, but they also have it broken down, so if you just want to rent a pillow and pillow case it might be $1.00 per night, or just a blanket. Our cabin is beautiful and spacious. We have a big window, and dolphins romp by, and beautiful mysteriously foggy islands. We have our own toilet and shower, thanks be to God, and a washstand with plenty of clean towels. This is heaven. 🙂
The food is not elegant, but neither is it institutional. It is a giant step above McDonalds, or any of the fast food outlets. These are the menus posted in the hallway leading to the galley (kitchen):
There are a variety of food stations – drinks of all kinds on the left, a salad and soup station on your right. Every day there were three soup choices, a soup like chicken noodle or French onion, a smoked salmon or clam chowder, and a chili. There were four prepared salads, and a big bar with greens and accoutrements; carrots, tiny tomatoes, peas, etc.
There was also a deli sandwich and pizza station, where the lady would make you what you want.
There was another station, the hot station, where you could order several different hot things. There would be three main meal choices at every meal, like beef stew, salmon steak or pork fried rice, for example, and a veg and a starch. They even had brown rice.
After you paid, cafeteria style, you enter the dining hall. It’s a working ship, remember, so it’s not just paid eaters who eat there, but also there is a microwave available for people who bring their own food. I saw one young man who had the BEST food, the first day he had a cucumber with salt and pepper, and bread. At breakfast, he had brought his own granola kind of mix. (Then he was gone, it’s a ferry, and people come and go.)
There are families with children warming up spaghettio’s, and single women with bowls of Ramen. It’s all very democratic, everyone sitting in the same dining hall.
There is always a large display full of desserts; they must have specialized in desserts, very tempting desserts. AdventureMan succumbed one meal to a piece of Coconut Cream Pie, and I yielded to a Blueberry Pie at another meal.
They also had all kinds of condiments, in case you like a little kick with your foods, the more common ones, ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise you pumped into small containers, but there were also things like Thai chili sauce, Tiger Sauce, Tabasco sauce, soy sauce – things different people like.
There were several booths with Alaskan wildlife and bird life on them:
Near the dining hall, across from the gift shop was a small room for small children with a rubber floor 🙂
This is the bar, which was closed every day until around 5:00 and it was the only place on board that sold alcohol. You weren’t supposed to take it out of the bar. They had Alaskan beer, which is very tasty.
This was lunch our first day on board, Smoked Salmon Chowder and a shrimp salad:
After every meal, we walk the decks, and, in fact, other than climbing in and out of my bunk, most of our exercise was walking, walking, walking, and climbing stair up and down. It didn’t do us any harm 🙂 The scenery is ever changing. Our first day out, we pass the same humpbacks we had seen on the whale watch the day before, spouting, someone always can be counted on to shout “Thar she blows!” The Alaskan waters team with wildlife; sparkling fish jumping, dolphins, seals, sea lions, otter – we saw them all. I would be typing up notes in our cabin, facing out the window, and I would see a couple dolphins just zipping along, so graceful, just doing their dolphin thing.