We spent last weekend (ie Memorial Day weekend) out on Orcas Island, which was our first overnight trip to the San Juan Islands in much too long, though we did spend a day on San Juan Island just last month. We don’t typically venture out that way during the summer months because it’s the busy season, but we had out of state family visiting and we wanted to spend time with them. That, and it’s never difficult to convince ourselves to head out on a ferry either to those islands or the Olympic Peninsula.
Of course, there’s a reason why we don’t usually travel to locations that require a ferry on holiday weekends: the line to get back on the ferry can be hours long. Instead, we usually travel there during the winter off season. In theory, the majority of the ferry spaces to and from Orcas Island are via reservation, but even if you’re on the website right when they’re released you have no guarantee of getting a space on a holiday weekend (as we learned the hard way, as did many other people we talked to in the line home on Monday).
On a typical weekend during the busy season, generally some time in April to mid October, we simply get to the ferry terminal first thing in the morning and take the first ferry home without much trouble. Since it was a holiday weekend, we expected it would be busier than even a normal summer weekend, so we arrived at the terminal at 5:50am prior to the 6:45am sailing.
We figured that an hour early would be plenty of time so that if we didn’t make the first ferry, we would definitely get on the next sailing at 8:45am and simply get breakfast from the hotel restaurant nearby, which is exactly what we did when we didn’t make that first sailing since they loaded only a handful of standby vehicles. Before that, a lovely friend of mine who live on the island dropped by the ferry line and brought us coffee and doughnuts to start our day before she headed off with her family for their – on island – Memorial Day plans. (Thanks, friend, the kiddo especially loved the doughnuts!)
So we had a lovely breakfast sitting on a rock overlooking the ferry dock, and then got back in the car when the 8:45am ferry arrived. And then we moved our forward a little ways and then stopped again. because they only loaded another partial line on that ferry. At that point, we were a bit surprised that showing up an hour before the first sailing of the day wasn’t close to early enough to get on one of the first two boats. And the next one wasn’t until 12:25pm.
We were having a relaxed weekend though, and took the delay in stride. After we were certain the ferry had pulled away from the dock and were taking no more cars, we decided to go for a long walk to explore a part of the island we’d never been before because it was past the ferry terminal but not in a direction of any of the populated areas on the island.
After that, we hung around the park like grassy area near the terminal for a while and then headed over to Boat House Cider Works for blackberry hard cider slushees (which were absolutely delicious) and the kiddo drew with some chalk and played with some of his toys. The time was getting close for the next sailing and lunch time, so we headed to the grocery store and grabbed sandwiches to eat in the car while we waited to board the ferry.
After all, we were the tenth car in line and the online page showing space indicated that they would have space for at least twelve standby cars. And then they didn’t load a single car. Not one. In theory, we were told that the usual 3:15pm ferry that runs only on Sundays would happen because it was a holiday, but that it wasn’t going to show up that day and they had no idea why. So then the next ferry wouldn’t arrive until 5:15pm.
At that point in the day, a few cars in the far outside lane pulled out of line and simply gave up. For those of us in the inner lines though, we were blocked in and couldn’t drive away even if we wanted to, plus we were so close to the front of the line that we knew we just had to get on the next one.
We made the best of the time while we waited, hanging out in the grassy area in the shade, walking around and exploring, napping (the husband), watching a few episodes of a favorite show (the kiddo), and blogging (me). 5:15pm finally rolled around and they announced that the ferry was going to be an hour late, so we went and had dinner at the local restaurant and then headed back to the car when the ferry finally arrived.
And then they loaded just six standby cars. Remember, we were car ten. The ferry pulled away at 6:45pm, an hour and a half late, and we were told the next ferry would arrive at 8:30pm (scheduled 7:50pm sailing). We’d really had a good day up to this time, mostly just laughing and incredulous about what was going on, but missing that ferry really started to sting.
The kiddo hadn’t napped and was getting a bit loopy at this point, so after hanging around outside for a bit longer (and making sure he didn’t face plant climbing and jumping off of rocks), I had him FaceTime my mother and she told him a story (at his request) about Ibee the eyeball and his friend Kevin (this story is NOT about me, Nana!).
Once they got off the phone, he’d settled down a bit, so we started his bedtime routine, brushing teeth and putting on pajamas. After reading a couple books, we got him in his car seat and he incredibly went to sleep.
Really, considering he is just four years old, the kiddo was a complete rockstar on Monday and we were actually able to have a mostly relaxed vacation day while being tethered to our car since we had to be ready to move it with each ferry arrival.
The 7:50pm ferry finally arrived around 9:15pm, and WE ACTUALLY DROVE ON, with maybe a dozen cars behind us. At 9:45pm, fifteen hours and fifty five minutes later, the we finally pulled away from Orcas Island. The ferry was about an hour ride and then an hour and twenty minute drive home (at least no freeway traffic that late), and we were in bed at 12:15am.
It certainly wasn’t the way we expected our last day of the long weekend to go, and it made for a long Tuesday back at work, but we had a much better day than it sounds. Even so, I don’t expect we will ever travel via ferry on a holiday weekend again unless we can leave the Wednesday after, even if we have a reservation, as the ferry we finally got on left two hours later than scheduled anyway.
The really interesting bit is that I’ve not seen any news on the how bad the ferry situation in any of the local media, and I don’t know how bad it was on the other islands. Considering they report when it’s sometimes a three hour wait, it’s surprising that there was nothing shared. Regardless, I’ve never been on a ferry before where people are actually cheering as we pull away – nor experienced other people cheering us on as we drove forward in line because at least we were moving.
A much longer intro story than I normally have for a Friday post, but one I definitely wanted to share. Amazingly enough, we can still look back on the weekend with fond memories, and now we have a completely crazy story that we can share for years to come.
Friday’s Frugal Five
1. The first two nights of the trip we stayed in an Airbnb that my family rented and we were able to share the cost of the trip with them. With six of us in the house, even a bigger, nicer home is significantly cheaper to rent than two or more hotel rooms. Plus, it had a fabulous view and gave us quite a bit more privacy than a hotel would. While I sometimes like staying at hotels, most of the times I find renting a home through Airbnb to be vastly superior.
2. Because we had a full kitchen, most of our meals were made at the house, saving us a ton of money on restaurants during the trip. We still purchased some great local ingredients but spent a fraction of the cost of eating out at each meal.
We also did pick up pizza on our way in on Friday, but having it at the house with grocery store purchased drinks kept the cost down even from sitting and eating at the restaurant, and the kiddo was able to get up and play after he was done with his meal. Especially when traveling with small children, this can make a huge difference in the ability to have a relaxed meal. Plus they have a lot more fun when they’re allowed to get up and move around.
If you haven’t stayed in an AirBnB before, I would highly recommend it. We love the flexibility it gives us while traveling as a family – full kitchen, laundry, and extra bathrooms, and it’s usually considerably cheaper than a hotel, especially when you travel as a group. If you’re new to AirBnB, here’s a link for$40 off your first stay(affiliate link).
3. It rained all Saturday, but we still got out and made the best of the day. We went out to the farmers market, but it was a complete downpour so we ducked into the historical museum around the corner and spent a good amount of time slowly walking through the building. The museum has a “by donation” entrance fee, so part of my charitable giving this month went to supporting them. Even if we hadn’t gone in for long, I am always happy to support local histories.
After that, we went to lunch at Island Skillet, which has some of the best macaroni and cheese I’ve had in a long time. I actually got a BLT and salad, but I got to share some of the kiddo’s, which made me wish I’d gotten it instead. We took the kiddo back to the house and dropped him off when he’d fallen asleep in the car, and my husband and I were able to sneak out for a couple hours while he napped.
We got out to Island Hoppin’ Brewery and then walked around Eastsound for a bit before picking up ingredients for our final dinner with my family. While the beer at the brewery wasn’t the cheapest, we love supporting local businesses and they really have some great beer. And considering we didn’t have to pay a babysitter, we spent less on the mini date than we could have spent on childcare alone.
4. My family left midday on Sunday so we ended up taking the food leftovers with us that they hadn’t eaten during their trip (they had arrived a week earlier). We took that food with us and made a picnic lunch of salami and cheese and grapes and other snacks while hanging out at Orcas Island Winery. They had picnic tables and picnic blankets and the day was gorgeous, so we bought a bottle of wine and hung out in the grass. Even better, we made sure to eat up the leftovers that may have otherwise gone to waste.
5. When I was talking to a coworker about the ferry debacle after we returned, she remarked that it was good that we had the money to buy all of our meals out while we were waiting all day long. I hadn’t really considered it at the time, but being careful with our money the rest of the time meant that we could spend freely on Monday to make what could have been a completely terrible day a fun extra day of vacation.
We bought breakfast from the restaurant, bought hard cider slushees midday, bought nice sandwiches from the deli section of the specialty grocery store, bought a few other snacks during the day (hello husband and kiddo who eat a lot), and then sat down for dinner at the restaurant near the end of the day.
On a normal vacation day, we don’t buy all of our meals out, and we’re mindful of how much we spend on food, even if it’s more than many personal finance bloggers. Monday, though, all bets were off and we spent money as it made sense. That comment from my coworker really stuck with me though, because it really outlined how having a big buffer between our spending and our income means that we can be this flexible when the situation warrants it.
No, I wouldn’t like to spend another sixteen hours waiting for room on a ferry ever again, but the ability to spend money made it an enjoyable day after all.
We left for Orcas Island Friday morning spent quite a bit of time walking around, so I ended up with 17,000 steps that day without much effort. Thanks to the rainy weather on Saturday, we didn’t do as much walking, but I made sure to at least hit my 12,000 step goal that day.
Sunday we left the Airbnb we stayed at with my family and rented a glamping tent cabin at West Beach Resort. It cost just shy of $200 for the one night (including taxes and fees), so we decided to stick around the resort from the time we checked in around 3pm to get our money’s worth. Thanks to walking around the dock and beach at the resort, I still ended up with 15,000 steps that day.
(I meant to write more about our glamping experience, and maybe I will later, but Monday’s ferry experience got precedent today. Let me know if you think I should write more on that. It was definitely fun and something we will do again.)
Monday, thanks to the ferry debacle, was 20,000 steps, and Wednesday I finally got back to a real run plus a long walk. I’ve been so busy at and after work that I’ve gotten out of the habit of squeezing in my short workouts, but I at least started back at that with a ten minute elliptical workout on Thursday.
I hit the challenge goal of 100 hours outside Wednesday afternoon, and ended the month at 112.25 hours.
What’s your worst holiday travel horror story? I want to hear!