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.|
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.