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CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE
What: Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System
Where: Alaska's Inner Passage
Perfect for: Independent travelers dying to see Alaska's spectacular scenery but who'd never book a regular cruise.
Youth Factor: There really aren't a lot of highways out herethat's what the ferry system is for. But these local boats use the same routes as the megaships, so savvy adventurers can cruise ultracheap and avoid the tourists. Fly into Juneau, then head wherever you want. You don't even need to book ahead. Tip: Our first leg would be to the old gold rush town of Skagway, which takes around four hours and costs less than $50. (It's more for a cabin, but you can also pitch a tent on a special deck.)
Cruise Mates: Commuters.
High Seas: Traveling as the locals do translates into Alaskan authenticity: Lunch on a reindeer sausage from a street cart in Juneau, or get invited by new friends to catch pizza and a movie at Anchorage's Bear Tooth Brew Theatrepub, a hot spot with loony locals (www.beartooththeatre.net). You can always partake in tourist activities such as a helicopter tour, but since you'll book directly instead of using a cruise line's middleman, you'll save bucks.
Rough Sailing: These are public transportation boats, not commercial cruise ships, so the comfort level is more Staten Island Ferry than QE2.
The Deal: Alaskan ferry rides start at $38 per person, $57 for cabins.
Alaska Marine Highway System
800 642 0066