As a new-ish Washington State resident, I’ve recently discovered that I have options when traveling to the most menial destination. When I learned that I could either drive or take a ferry to Seattle, I was perplexed by this either/or choice. Who wants to sit inside a car when I can shave off 30 minutes and experience travel by ferry? This travel option is both intriguing, in a romantic swashbuckling fairy-tale sort of way, and a little intimidating in an unknown new experience sort of way.
Movement from one body of land to another by way of a large water-bound vessel conjures wonder and excitement, especially when you’re me and your travel amounts to planes, trains and automobiles. But yet many Washington State residents travel to and from work via ferry with the same regularity as people who live on the East Coast commute via the subway. But we’re not talking leaving your car behind and boarding BART or Light-rail. We’re talking driving a vehicle onto a ferry and driving it off.
The first time I traveled by ferry was when my husband and I went to Seattle. We drove to the Bainbridge Island terminal in order to take a ferry directly in to Downtown Seattle. A safety-flag carrying attendant directed us to a line where we would wait for the next ferry. We then joined hundreds of other vehicles into our designated lane. So seamless is the transition from parking to sailing, if you remain in your vehicle you may not even realize once the ferry has departed.
Since it’s about a 30 minute trip, riders have the option of staying inside their vehicles or vacating them to enter the main deck. After climbing two flights of stairs, I entered the main deck where I was rather taken aback by what I saw. I was not expecting to see built in Winnebago style tables and plastic benches next to the windows along with a cafeteria complete with two people working cash registers.
The cafeteria fare consisted of canned soups heated inside institutional steel containers (the kind with the hole on top of the lid for the ladle), a popcorn and soft pretzel heated unit, an assortment of tea, hot chocolate, coffee and a plethora of overpriced convenience store-looking packaged sandwiches and snacks.
The workers are friendly and it’s nice to have a little cafeteria instead of vending machines. After I purchased a cup of soup I walked around the retro strictly functional interior where I observed travelers playing cards, board games brought from home or reading books.They even sell playing cards inside the cafeteria.
Some travelers bring a travel pillow and curl up on a bench to nap. One family brought along their lunch to dine at one of the many window booths. Best part is, every seat has a view.
Up yet another flight of stairs, the open-air deck offers breathtaking views from every vantage point.
The return trip from Seattle to Bainbridge Island cost more than the reverse trip. But unlike Bainbridge Island, Seattle offered more appealing pre-boarding concessions. Once you pay and park, depending on how much time you have prior to boarding the ferry, you can leave your car and enter a “mini-mall” just for ferry travelers. There’s a wine-bar, an espresso place, a Subway and a taqueria . It’s all so bizarre and funky but yet perfectly appropriate. An announcement alerts travelers when it’s time to board the ferry. Thanks to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) app, I can determine whether this makes sense for me depending on my time frame. I can view the number of spaces remaining and time it just right so that I can pay and drive on the ferry just before it departs. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/
I imagine my ferry fascination will gradually wane over time just like everything else. The beautiful thing is unless one is traveling to a nearby island like Whidbey, transportation by ferry is not required, it’s an option. Just like taking the bus. But if I have all the time in the world and wish to take in the Washington State vibe, let the wind run through my hair while gazing down below at the chilly and often choppy waters, the ferry can be both therapeutic and enjoyable.