Pro: ferry reservations

by Hilary Canty

Our family move to Orcas in the early 1990s began with missing the ferry. We arrived in Anacortes, waited two hours for the boat, only to see it come, load and go.  We had inadvertently driven down the wrong lane and sat patiently, not realizing our error. What an introduction and the first of many long waits in Anacortes over the years.  We learned to travel with books, walking shoes, a fully charged ipad and a well stocked cooler in case the wait was longer than hoped.  The panic and rush to get in line and then the wait seemed a small price to pay for living on Orcas.

As long as the waits could be (my personal record was 6 hours, with a toddler – oh boy), when the Washington State Ferry system announced the new reservation system, I was not excited because I am change resistant.  The 30-30-30 plan sounded more like a fad diet or a retirement program, neither of which are favorite topics. The multiple meetings and articles explaining the new system instilled deep fear that navigating the complexity would not be worth the effort.

But change happened, and, much to my surprise, I figured the new system out.  It turns out it works. Our family has traveled off-island several times since the reservation system started, and the peace of mind a reservation brings is well worth the effort. Having to remember to call at 7 a.m. two days out is fair trade for waking to stalk the ferry cam and gamble on the number of cars ahead on the road as I raced from Olga.   Knowing that we have a spot on the return boat has made our I-5 drive safer and saner as well. Our only issue so far has been being charged a “no-show” fee when we forgot to mention a reservation when boarding. But we received a full refund when we called and explained the issue.

I have heard from folks who used a business account to manage reservations in the old system and they find this system is frustrating.  It is ironic that they are inconvenienced by opening up the convenience of a reservation to all.  There is also a fear that emergency travel will be negatively impacted. Our local ferry workers are both reasonable and compassionate when it comes to a crisis.

Once I decided not to make the new system a crisis, it turned out to be a great opportunity. Twenty years of relying on the ferry requires some flexibility and patience. That has not changed. I fully expect there will be times when we cannot get a reservation on the boat we want, just as there were times with the old system that travel was thwarted and we had to make a new plan. But, so far, for us and many we know, the new system seems to be working. And while there are some who feel otherwise about the system, I hope they give this more than a few months time.

Hilary Canty lives in Olga