Magazine article Sunset

Better Than a Cruise: Get Your Open-Water Fix, Fast and Cheap, from an All-Day Ferry Trip amid Breaching Orcas and Bald Eagles to a 3-Minute Ride with a Captain Named Ray

Magazine article Sunset

Better Than a Cruise: Get Your Open-Water Fix, Fast and Cheap, from an All-Day Ferry Trip amid Breaching Orcas and Bald Eagles to a 3-Minute Ride with a Captain Named Ray

Article excerpt

A day of wonder

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Inside Passage, British Columbia

ONBOARD The 315-mile route from Port Hardy, on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, to Prince Rupert, in northern B.C., is the same one that Alaskan cruise liners follow. And B.C. Ferries' newest vessel, the Northern Expedition, offers a decidedly cruise-ship-like experience: 55 staterooms, buffet with linen napkins, and a lounge with plush recliners stationed by picture windows. Skip the ship's movie theater and watch the nature show outside: rain-forest islands, white-sand beaches, snow-clad peaks, orcas, porpoises, and bald eagles, on land Spend a few days poking around Rupert, with its small inns and cafes, from $187 US./person plus $425 US./vehicle; bcjerries.com -LESLIE FORSBERG

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1-hour rite of passage

Catalina Island Ferry

ONBOARD The ride from the busy mainland to sweet Catalina is as classic a Southern California pleasure as screaming on the Matterhorn or eating a Double-Double at In-N-Out. For the true experience, take the original ferry route from San Pedro to Catalina's unofficial capital, Avalon. Four of the fleet's eight vessels are high-speed catamarans. on land Soak up the sun on Descanso Beach, rent a bike (from $8/ hour), or try a guided kayak trip ($48). From $35; catalinaexpress.com - PETER FISH

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45-minute sea safari

Maui to Lanai

ONBOARD The best time I ever had on the water in Hawaii was on a regular of water bus to Lanai, with pods of spinner dolphins leaping alongside and humpback whales breaching and spouting nearby. The ferry crosses the 'Au'au Channel, the warmest in Hawaii and a favorite of humpbacks from November to April. ON LAND Skip the $10 shuttle and walk 10 minutes to the Manele Bay public beach, the same one Four Seasons guests pay big bucks to enjoy. $30; go-lanai.com - LISA TROTTER

90 minutes to a secret San Juan

Anacortes to Shaw Island, WA

ONBOARD Pick Shaw, the smallest of the ferry-served San Juan Islands, for a crossing as glorious as the others--past islets with glassy coves, Pacific madrones, and harbor seals--yet with a fraction of the crowds once you get there. If the ferry slows in the middle of a channel, it's probably pausing to let an orca pod cross, and to give you time to catch a glimpse. To skip the lines at Anacortes terminal, swap your car for your bike. on land The island is just 7.7 square miles. There's no town, but the Shaw General Store has picnic supplies and freshly baked cinnamon rolls. It's 2 cyclist-friendly miles to Shaw Island County Park and its quiet, sandy beach. $43/ vehicle and driver, $i6/bicyclist, $i2/passenger only; wsdot.wa.gov/ferries - SOPHIE EGAN

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30 minutes for the kids

Oakland to San Francisco

ONBOARD You'd think the highlight of crossing the bay would be the big finale, pulling up in San Francisco with the downtown skyline as backdrop. But the part that makes my kids fight for railing space is the slow chug past the enormous trans-Pacific cargo ships at the Oakland docks. From the ferry's outside deck we watch the cranes stack shipping containers one by one into what looks like an oversize, patchwork-colored Lego fortress. Past the docks, the ferry picks up speed in the open water, then passes under the belly of the Bridge. …

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