Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Summer is coming: Five tips when making a vehicle reservation during Ferries’ busiest time of the year

By Marqise Allen

Summer ferry reservations tend to sell out just as quickly as Seattle Seahawks tickets these days. And this year will likely be no different when the initial round of reservations for our summer sailing schedule are released at 7 a.m. on Tuesday, April 23.

But there’s no need to fret if you come up empty the first time around. There’s still hope for your wedding plans in the San Juan Islands, and you’ll still likely be able to get to that appointment on Whidbey Island. Most people can always at least get on a ferry on their desired day of travel. Please note, day does not mean time. There’s a difference. Ensuring you get to where you’re going may take some flexibility.
Summer is a very busy time at our ferry
 terminals, but making reservations early
 will help ensure you get on the
sailing you want.

How does the reservation system work?

Before launching into tips on how to secure a reservation, it’s important to explain how the system works. First, reservations are only needed on certain routes: Port Townsend/Coupeville and Anacortes/San Juan Islands (this includes trips to Sidney B.C. on Vancouver Island).

Thirty percent of the total standard vehicle space is released two months prior to the start of any upcoming season. The 2019 summer schedule goes from June 23 through Sept. 28. After the initial release, another 30 percent of vehicle space opens up for reservations two weeks before each sailing date. So if you’re looking to travel on July 18, that means more reservations are available on July 4. Looking for sailings on Aug. 26? Be ready to look for reservations on Aug. 12. The final 30 percent of space is released two days prior to each sailing.

So you may be thinking that this only adds up to 90 percent. And you would be right, person who is good at math. Ten percent of space is left open for emergency and stand-by vehicles.

The system is structured with separate release dates to accommodate tourists, residents, and many others with widely varying travel plans. People visiting the area tend to have their travel plans mapped out well in advance and need to lock in their accommodations sooner rather than later, hence the two month release. However, residents generally don’t plan their trips to the store two months in advance. Therefore, there’s the two-week and two-day release dates. If all the reservations were available on Day One, they’d get snatched up by tourists. By giving visitors multiple opportunities starting two months prior to the new season, they’re given the time they need to plan.
Sunny, warm weather means big crowds on our ferries, which makes making a reservation all the more important.


Side note: If you’re traveling with a vehicle that is 7-foot-2 or taller and/or 30 feet or longer, disregard the explanation about the tiered release system. One hundred percent of reservations for tall or large vehicles are available on the first release day.

Tips to get a reservation

“Enough with the history lesson. I came to learn how to get a darn reservation,” I hear you say. Patience, my reservation padwan. Understanding how the system works helps understanding how to snag that reservation. So on to the main event. Here are five tips to help you get the reservation you desire.
The first round of summer sailing reservations go live on the morning of April 23.


  1. Be Flexible: Trying to get that 2 p.m. sailing from Anacortes to Friday Harbor on a summer Friday? Yeah. You and everybody else. Reservations during peak travel times go fast. Try leaving a little earlier or later in the day. Leaving the day before or day after may also work if your schedule allows. Don’t lock yourself into sailing at a specific time, unless you need to. Give yourself options.
  2. Teamwork makes the dream work: It’s simple math. Your chances of getting that coveted reservation go up if you have friends and family working with you. But be sure to only book the number of reservations you need. There’s only so many to go around, and you don’t want to be THAT person that squats on a reservation that someone else needs. There’s also a no-show fee if you book a reservation and don’t take that sailing without canceling. So if empathy isn’t your thing, there’s that to consider too.
  3. Phone a friend: We may not have met, but we consider ourselves your ferry friends. Give us a call the morning of a scheduled release. We might have some additional information about that sailing you’re interested in.
  4. Check for reservations the afternoon before your sailing: Without fail, there are a slew of reservations that always become available at about 4 to 5 p.m. the day before a given sailing. That’s because 5 p.m. is the latest a passenger can cancel a reservation without incurring that previously mentioned no-show fee. People’s plans frequently change, so they’ll cancel those reservations at the last minute, freeing them up for other folks.
  5. Standby isn’t a bad thing: If all else fails, there’s always standby. As mentioned above, 10 percent of every sailing is reserved specifically for standby customers. On top of that, there’s always other reservation holders who don’t show up without cancelling. So you’re not putting your plans in the hands of some higher power by attempting standby, even on holiday weekends. Just show up early and give yourself plenty of travel time. You’re almost assured to get on a sailing that day.
So that’s it. With these tools and tips, you’re officially a reservation making expert. If you have any other questions about making a reservation or about the ferry system in general, there’s plenty of additional information on our website. You can also give us a call at 206-464-6400 or toll free at 888-808-7977. That’s also the same number you’ll want to call to make a reservation. Best of luck to you come April 23!

43 comments:

Sylvia Roehnelt said...

Reservations are not needed to Whidbey Island but Whidbey is given as an example in both the tips and the notification email. Please tell me this is a mistake and not a last minute attempt to add reservations to the Clinton Mukilteo run. We do not want or need reservations on this route. Or if you are referring to the Port Townsend route, please specify in both the email and the tips when you give examples.

WSDOT said...

Yep. You are correct. As it states in the first paragraph explaining the reservation system, they’re available and encouraged on the Port Townsend/Coupeville route to and from Whidbey Island.

KevBob said...

Are there reservations available on the Edmonds ferry?

Jules said...

One more tip: For the San Juans reservations, you need to be through the toll booth 30 minutes prior your reserved sailing time.
If your ticket hasn't been purchased within 30 minutes of the sailing time AND the boat is overloaded, your spot is given to those people on stand-by. Don't show up 5 minutes before the boat is supposed to leave. It's rare in the height of summer that a boat to the San Juans isn't overloaded, so give yourself extra time in case there's a lineup at the toll booths.
Example: If your boat leaves at 4pm, you need your receipt to show you were paid for by 3:30pm. Try to arrive by 3pm and that'll give you 30 minutes extra in case there's a lineup at the booths. Let's work together and have a great summer!

Thanks,
Ferry Boater

WSDOT said...

Hey KevBob,

Reservations aren’t needed on the Edmonds/Kingston route. You can buy a ticket ahead of time online at https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/wave2go/, or you can also purchase a ticket at the terminal as well.

WSDOT said...

Jules, thanks for the fantastic comment! That is point spot on. Passengers should always show up at least 30 minutes in advance to ensure they get on the ferry.

Rajiv Gandhar said...

To be clear, will you please confirm that the only reservations that can be made on April 23rd will be for sailings on June 23rd. Your opening paragraph is misleading, because it implies that reservations can be placed on sailings over the entire summer schedule- which is not the case. Sailings for June 25th cannot be made before April 25th, etc.... right?

WSDOT said...

Rajiv, great question! Starting at 7 a.m. tomorrow, vehicle reservations can be made on any sailing throughout the ENTIRE summer, which runs from June 23 through Sept. 28. So you can make that reservation for June 25, or even Sept. 15. After tomorrow, additional reservations will become available again at the two-week and two-day marks prior your specific sailing date. Make sense?

Unknown said...

What is the cancellation policy and how does it work?

WSDOT said...

Life happens and plans change. We totally get that. So you can always cancel any reservation by 5 p.m. the day before your scheduled sailing, and you won’t be charged a fee. However, any cancellations after that will incur a $10 no-show fee.

Unknown said...

7 am mountain time?

WSDOT said...

Nope. It's 7 a.m. Pacific Standard Time. So that'll be 8 a.m. Mountain Time, unless you happen to be in Arizona where there isn't Daylight Saving Time. In that case, it will be 7 a.m.

Unknown said...

I want to take the ferry from Kingston to Edmonds in mid-July. I was wondering if it is more crowded on weekdays or weekends? All the info I've been able to find is about going in the opposite direction. Thanks

WSDOT said...

The Edmonds/Kingston route is one of the busiest routes in the system, particularly in the summertime. As far as best times to travel, it really depends. Friday afternoon and evenings, along with all day Sunday are generally the busiest times on the route. The trick is to avoid peak travel times if you can, which tend to coincide with heavy commute times when people are going to work or coming home. So leaving Kingston late in the morning at about 10 a.m. on a random Tuesday is going to be less crowded than traveling at about 4 p.m. that day.

Unknown said...

If I am planning a 4 day round trip bike tour from Sidney, B.C. and taking in some of the San Juan Islands, which is the best way to see them according to how the ferry runs? Also, how is the fare figured? Thank you!

WSDOT said...

Summer is the perfect time to spend a few days in Sidney, B.C. and the San Juan Islands. I think the easiest way to figure out what would be best for you would be to narrow down which of the islands you want to see between Shaw, Lopez and Orcas. Once you’ve got that part figured out, planning a trip will be much easier. Then you can always give us a call at 888-808-7977, or write in to www.wsdot.wa.gov/Ferries/infodesk/customerfeedback. We can help you firm up those travel plans.

Jenny Robertson said...

I'm unclear on if I can get from Anacortes to Sydney without a car. I tried to make a reservation, but don't have car dimensions!
Jenny

Joseph said...

Hi. I would like to take the Edmonds Kingston Ferry Friday June 28th. I noticed that I don't need reservations, is that correct? Also, what is the best time to take the ferry in the morning?Thank-you.

WSDOT said...

You are correct, Joseph. There’s no need for a reservation on the Edmonds/Kingston route. However, you can still buy a ticket online ahead of time to make things faster when you get to the terminal. As far as best travel times, here’s a link that shows which sailings are the busiest throughout the day on that route. It’s for the spring schedule, but we should have one coming out for the summer schedule here in a little bit.

Unknown said...

So if I purchase a ticket online I can use it for any sailing in either direction?

WSDOT said...

That’s right. You can buy a ticket and use it for any sailing in either direction on that route.

Unknown said...

Is it too late to get a car reservation from Anacortes to Friday harbor for June 21. Or do you release another 30% two weeks ahead of June 21 and then 2 days ahead. I was able to make reservations for the rest of my trip but if I cannot get my car on the first leg of the trip- I’m out of luck!?

WSDOT said...

It's certainly not too late. Like you mentioned, there's two more releases at the two-week and two-day marks where an additional 30 percent of reservations will become available each time.

Unknown said...

Traveling from Orcus to Lopez, do I need reservations? Is there a fee? From what I have read, "no" to both, but want to be clear on it. Thanks.

WSDOT said...

That's exactly right. No reservations are needed for inter-island travel. And since you're traveling east, there is no fee. Fares are only paid for westbound travel.

B.Hood said...

I am traveling by foot without a bike - I cannot make a reservation correct? There is always room?
How early do we need to arrive?

WSDOT said...

B.Hood, that is spot on. No reservations are needed if you’re just walking aboard. There’s typically always more than enough room for any sailing. However, you should still arrive about 30 minutes before your sailing to get your tickets and come aboard.

Unknown said...

Vashon Island- reservations? advised or don't worry about it? thanks!

WSDOT said...

Don't worry about it! We don’t have reservations for travel to Vashon Island. So you’re good to go. However, you can buy your tickets online ahead of time to help speed things up when you get to the tollbooth.

Unknown said...

I am traveling to Orcas from Seattle, and trying to get ferry reservations with return trip (as a guest/ did not sign up for an account):
Leaving Anacortes on Fri., June 28 and returning from Orcas on Sun., June 30. Your advice will be appreciated.

OUTBOUND TRIP
Nothing was available last week, before this second tier, 2-week-in-advance, date in either direction. So I got online this morning at 7, or 7:01am, to book reservations - and the only availability that showed up for June 28, Anacortes to Orcas, was already only at 6:00 and 7:25am or the later night trips. Why were not ALL times available when I got online right at 7am?? I signed up for the 7:25am ferry, but am not happy about that.
QUESTION: If I go online for the third tier of reservations (at 7am on June 26th, which is two days in advance of sailing) to try to change my reservation, will the current one remain confirmed - and not be released - while I'm searching for another time, and until a new reservation time is actually confirmed? I would not want to lose the current reservation if no other better choices were available.

RETURN TRIP
Also, when booking the outbound trip today (on June 28th) at 7am, nothing was shown available for the Sunday, June 30 return.
QUESTION: Is that because the second tier times for the return date won't appear until this coming Sunday, June 16, at 7am?
Also, If that's true, would I just request a NEW reservation online then, or do I need to put in my current confirmation number for the outbound trip and add to it?

Thank you.

WSDOT said...

Travel through the San Juan Islands is incredibly popular this time of year and reservations for the midday sailings always go quick. However, I’m glad to hear that you were able to get a reservation for that day. As you mentioned, you can always try again two days before at 7 a.m. for the third tier. If you’re able to get a better sailing time, just go ahead and cancel the original reservation. There’s no penalty for cancelling a reservation until after 5 p.m. the day before the scheduled sailing. As for your return trip, you’re correct. It’s a completely separate reservation. The next tier didn’t open up until Sunday at 7 a.m. Like with your outbound trip, it’s a-ok to make a reservation just to secure a spot on the boat and try to get a better sailing at the two-day release. Just be sure to cancel that original reservation.

And if all else fails. You can always try looking online from about 3 to 5 p.m. the day before your sailing. People will often cancel their reservations at the last minute, so you might be able to find something more desirable. Be sure to let us know if you have any other questions.

Unknown said...

Planning on a morning sailing Anacortes to Sydney on July 16/2019. We will be on a motorcycle, riding from Arizona so we are "guesstimating" the day we'll arrive in Anacortes (all depends on the weather!). Are there spots available specifically for motorcycles or are they considered part of the normal auto capacity. Wondering if need to make a reservation.

WSDOT said...

You'll definitely need a reservation if you're driving a motorcycle and be sure to note whether you'll have a sidecar or trailer when making the reservation. As for where motorcycles are placed, they're usually parked in the front or back of the vessel where cars can't be. Depending on the amount of traffic for that sailing, they may also be placed in other areas to make sure we're able to get additional cars and trucks on board. Side note: I'd recommend making a reservation for July 16 to lock it in. You can always call us back any time before 5 p.m. the day before to change it, if need be. Hope that helps. Safe travels on what sounds like an awesome trip!

Unknown said...

Is there a limit on how many reservations one person can make? I have heard some San Juan Islands hotels make/hoard many reservations then cancel them before the 5pm day before deadline?

WSDOT said...

Customers can make as many reservations as they need that are available. For example, there are a lot of weddings in the San Juans during the summer, and many people will often try to secure multiple reservations for their families and bridal party. However, we also monitor who is making these reservations to ensure one person or bots aren't snagging a significant amount. We haven't seen that happening. Reservations have just been going really quick this year, particularly for the popular sailings on big travel days.

Chris L said...

Is there a parking lot at Anacortes so that we can walk on? Do walk-ons need reservations in the summer?

WSDOT said...

Thanks for the great question, Chris. There is parking at the terminal. The cost comes to about $12/day for your standard vehicles, but that average drops the longer you stay. The cost is a bit higher if you're parking a RV, boat or other large storage vehicle. You can find the exact rates and additional information on the website for the Anacortes terminal. As for reservations, no need to get one if you're walking on. They're only needed if you're bringing a vehicle aboard.

Brandon said...

Do you need to reserve a spot if you're going to be a walk on passenger and how much time should I allow for parking and getting on ferry from Anacortes to Friday Harbor?

WSDOT said...

No reservations needed if you’re walking aboard, Brandon. So you can buy your ticket online ahead of time or just wait till you get to the terminal. As for when to arrive, I would recommend arriving at least an hour before your departure. That way you can comfortably find parking and get situated. It’s never fun rushing and stressing when you should be on vacation!

hermes said...

So do I join a different queue if I have a reservation? If not, how can I be sure I will get to the toll booth 30 mins before sailing even if I join the queue the recommended time before sailing?

WSDOT said...

You're exactly right. You've got to be through the toll booth 30 minutes before your scheduled sailing departure. There isn't a separate line for reservation holders when you arrive. So you'll want to get to the terminal at least an hour in advance to make sure you get through the line before the cutoff time.

hermes said...

so what happens if I get to the terminal one and a half hours in advance and still don't get to the booth 30 minutes before sailing?

WSDOT said...

An hour is generally enough time on most days. However, customers can also sign up for our travel alerts. These are texts/emails that offer real-time, route specific updates. It’s a great tool to use when mapping out your travel plans and determining when you may want to arrive to the terminal on those busier days.

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