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SPECIAL CRUISE ISSUE | ON A BUDGET

From Ship to Shore With an Alaska Pass

February 04, 2001|ARTHUR FROMMER

Sure, you can board an elegant cruise ship to Alaska and see its coastal sights, but what if you crave a broader look and more freedom to roam, like spending a few nights in Juneau or camping in Denali National Park? Obviously, the cruise ship won't circle back to pick you up, so how can those land-based travel desires be fulfilled?

Meet the Alaska Pass.

Valid for all of Alaska's major transit systems (Alaska Railroad Corp., Alaska Marine Highway System, Gray Line of Alaska, the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad), the Alaska Pass permits visitors to jump on and off ferries, trains and buses at will, paying one fee per pass period. An "8/12" pass allows eight days of travel within 12 days at a cost of $549 per adult, $275 per child age 2 to 11. Fifteen consecutive days of travel is $100 more ($325 for kids), and 12 travel days out of 21 will cost $699 ($350 for children). If you're planning an even longer trip, consider the 22-day pass for $749 ($375 for kids).

Because these are modes of transport used by locals, you'll get a feel for the "real" Alaska. Ferries can go much closer to shore, stop in small towns and carry as many residents as tourists in the summer months. You don't miss out on seeing the spectacular Inside Passage if you decide to cruise by ferry, and you'll see much that the average cruiser misses. The only possible omission from the classic Alaskan cruise itinerary is glacier viewing, but that can be easily arranged on your own with smaller local boats.

The pass can get you almost everywhere you want to go in Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada. It will also cover your transportation from the Lower 48 if you begin your journey with a ferry ride from Bellingham, Wash., about 85 miles north of Seattle. This year, a second ferry has been added from Bellingham for Tuesday departures, which should ease the crowding experienced last year.

Ferries also leave six times a week from Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia and are always much less crowded than those starting in Washington.

The trip from Bellingham to Juneau takes three nights (unless you decide to hop off on the way), which brings up the one sticky issue with ferry travel: accommodations. Many folks pitch a tent on deck or stake a spot in the lounge for the night. Each ferry has showers and a cafeteria.

If you're traveling with small children or need a bed to sleep, you'll have to compete for one of the few cabins aboard these floating buses. And you'll have to do so quickly: Bookings start in December, and June and July are almost sold out, but openings are frequent on the waiting list.

Cabins are not included in the pass price; they run between $213 and $405 for three-night stays.

To learn more you can talk with the people at Alaska Pass. And you might find that you can arrange an itinerary that allows you to do most of your sleeping onshore. Alaska Pass will even arrange itineraries for you, making all hotel bookings and advance train, bus or ferry reservations for an extra $75 per party--a nice service, if not absolutely necessary for the more independent traveler.

For more information on this freewheeling form of travel, go to the Internet site http://www.alaskapass.com. There you'll find suggested itineraries, lists of lodgings, even tales from travelers who have used the pass successfully. You also can call (800) 248-7598 or (206) 463-6550 for the Alaska Pass pamphlet, which is filled with useful coupons.

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