Alaska publishes guide to ferry schedules

JUNEAU, Alaska -- As part of an effort to make itself more tourist- and agent-friendly, Alaska's state-run Marine Highway System published a 56-page travel guide and summer schedule.

"This is the first time in years that we have a stand-alone brochure," said Sharon Gaiptman, marketing manager. The guide will be made available to agencies upon request with a second run to be printed in April, Gaiptman said.

The guide provides descriptions and Web site names of communities served by the Alaska Marine Highway System.

The ferry system carried some 220,000 passengers and 62,000 vehicles last year along its two routes, which originate from either Bellingham, Wash., or Prince Rupert, British Columbia, and travel through the Inside Passage and along the Alaskan coast to the Aleutian Chain.

"One of my goals is to make travel agents more aware of us," Gaiptman said. "I look at travel agents as most people would, as an expandable sales force for us."

The Marine Highway System pays 10% commission.

An itinerary for two adults traveling with a recreational vehicle can cost around $3,500, she said.

The summer fleet's nine ships range in size from the 220-passenger Tustumena, carrying up 36 vehicles, to the 971-passenger Columbia, toting up to 134 vehicles.

All of the fleet's ships have heated observation lounges and solariums for the viewing of scenery and marine wildlife. Cabins are available aboard six of the nine ships; all ferries have cafeterias with meal and beverage service.

Research shows the Marine Highway System does not compete with the cruise lines, Gaiptman said.

"If you take a cruise, you go from Point A to Point B," she said. "With the Marine Highway, agents can tailor a program for their clients. You get to have Alaska on your terms."

To make reservations, call (800) 642-0066 or (907) 465-3941; fax (907) 277-4829;

e-mail [email protected], or visit www.alaska.gov/ferry.

New vessels to get fleet up to speed

JUNEAU -- Alaska's Department of Transportation and Public Facilities awarded a $68 million contract to Derecktor Shipyards of Mamaroneck, N.Y., for the design and construction of two fast ferries, which are expected to enter service in 2004.

"It's a big step in revamping the Alaska Marine Highway System," said Dennis Poshard, assistant to the department commissioner.

One vessel will provide high-speed service between Sitka and Juneau; the other will improve service to communities in Prince William Sound.

When the ships come on line, many of those communities that receive service two or four days a week will have daily service.

The new ferries, capable of traveling at a speed of 35 knots, will be able to carry 250 passengers on the main deck and 35 large vehicles on the cargo deck. With the new vessels, the ferry fleet will grow to 10.

Because of their speed, the new ships will enhance travel on the Marine Highway because "they'll be running as day ferries, where you can do roundtrip service within a 24-hour period," Poshard said.

The Marine Highway's existing ferries, Poshard said, are operated continuously on long routes, based on time schedules.

"It may be a five- or 10-day route. The times they get in may be two in the morning. It's often inconvenient. The day ferries are going to be operating on a pretty consistent, convenient schedule.

"These are the first two ferries of what we hope will be several more to come." -- P.F.

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