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.

Exercise Update

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!

28 thoughts on “Friday’s Frugal Five (Orcas Island Edition)

  1. We took the kids – 8, 4, and 1 at the time – to Ukraine using frequent flyer mile points. We couldn’t be choosy with our tickets, because of the frequent flyer miles, so we took an overnight flight to Paris, then had a 12-hour layover. We decided to make the most of it and promised the kids we would go to the Eiffel Tower. When we got to the airport, we checked into an airport hotel so we could all sleep for 2-3 hours. I woke up to a text from my sister: “Is the World Cup going to interfere with your plans?” I had no idea what she was talking about but a quick Google search told me that Paris had won the World Cup for the first time in 20 years, that the city was in chaos, that the players were coming into *the airport that we were in* in about an hour and a half, and then there would be mass chaos toward the center of town as they put on a parade.
    .
    I screamed at the kids to wake up, and we bolted out of the airport. We managed to find the one taxi driver who was foolish enough to agree to take us downtown in this mess, paid him a billion dollars or so, and rushed our way to a platform that overlooks the Eiffel Tower (there was no way we were going to get close). We quick quick snapped our pictures, and then jumped back in the cab; it was not clear if we were even going to get back in time for our flight, the traffic was so bad.
    .
    It was the most harried I’ve ever been in my life (and I live harried), jet-lagged, stressed out, determined to carry through on my promise, freaking out about what I would do with three small kids if we missed our flights. We made our flights.
    .
    To this day, the kids recall it as the single best day of their lives.

    1. HA! Omg that is an amazing story. And it’s so funny what the kids remember about trips compared to what we remember:)

  2. It’s really great that you guys were able to stay positive through the debacle! I bet the cider slushies helped..and I want one like right now. Despite all your difficulties this post is making me itchy for my upcoming trip to Bellingham. I love the PNW coast in summers, and all the super cheap Air BnB’s available up there are totally frugal Friday worthy!

    1. Hard to beat the PNW coast! And now I’m dreaming of how I can make those slushees happen at home… have a great time in Bellingham!

  3. i thought i had a prize winner for 2 hours round trip driving to NOT go to the beach last saturday. your fiasco blows ours away completely. how could they pull away without letting any cars on? that’s just ludicrous, and you seem like you enjoyed the day more than i would have. i would have been going apesh*t crazy.

    it’s good to be back to the workout routine this week after a 10 day respite.

    1. They pulled away with cars that had reservations and cars from San Juan Island (where they stopped first), but they still should have let on a dozen or so standbys. I think the only reason why we were so calm was the ridiculousness of it all (and everyone in line feeling like we were “all in it together”). That, and it would have been much different if we’d know from the outset how long we’d be stuck. As it was, we kept expecting to “get on the next one.”

  4. You definitely have more patience than I do. I’d have been pretty pissy by the end of things. On the other hand, it sounds like you still had a great day, so maybe that would’ve ameliorated some of the frustration for me and kept me un-grumpy.

    I don’t have any great holiday horror stories to report, sadly (happily?), so I’ll just tip my hat to yours (and the one about Paris in the comments).

    1. So glad you haven’t had any real horror stories haha. And like I said to that Paris comment, the only thing that kept us sane was the expectation that it was almost over 😉

  5. I took one of those ferries to Vancouver Island way back in 2007. Such a beautiful place. And then we did a whale watching trip in a small boat and the Orcas actually swam under our boat, it was amazing!

  6. That’s a crazy ferry experience. Luckily someone had armed us about it for the holiday weekend so I e didn’t end up going. We camped at the KOA in Leavenworth for a night instead. I actually learned about it from one of your posts. We moved to shoreline in January with our 2 year old from CA so I’ve been looking to your posts for places to visit and things to do. Would love to hear more about your glamping experience. We want to visit one of the islands one of these weekends but might wait for the winter.

    1. That KOA is so great! Was it your first trip to Leavenworth? Port Townsend is also probably the most kid friendly town in this area, so I would highly recommend a visit there (though also via the Kingston ferry).

      1. Yup, our first time in Leavenworth. Definitely an interesting town. I’ll have to look into port Townsend.

      2. Awesome. Glad I can give you some ideas for places to visit!

  7. That ferry story is about the worst travel experience I can imagine! Ugh! I absolutely hate lines and hate even more being trapped in them with no way out. You guys sound like you kept a pretty positive attitude, though! Props to your kiddo for handling the whole day so well. And good point about being fortunate to have the funds to eat out!

    1. Being able to get out and wander around vs being trapped in our car made the difference. That and the weather was beautiful. Still, not something we ever want to repeat.

  8. Wow, I’m so impressed by your ability to remain calm and go with the flow to turn a bad situation into a lovely day! Good point about how your normal practice of cooking your own meals during your stay gave you the flexibility of buying meals out during your long wait for the ferry. Just imagine if you lived paycheck to paycheck, that could have been a crisis. Overall, sounds like a lovely trip despite the delay to get home.

    1. Yeah, it was an amazingly good trip that we still look back at positively even with the ferry nonsense 🙂

  9. You just described one of the reasons that I always opt to go AROUND the ferries, lol! What a crazy adventure, it’s a good thing that you were able to make the best of it!

  10. That is some Jedi level calmness in face of those ferry challenges. Quite impressive.

    One thing caught my eye. The fact that the museum was actually donation only. My parents tell me that as late as the 1960 and 70s, the famous NYC museums were as well. I could not imagine that. These days they are not cheap, although I still think they are worth the entrance fee.

    1. There are actually quite a few museums in this area that are by donation only (pretty much all of the small ones).

  11. 15 hours! That is crazy. I’m going to chime in and say I’m glad you stayed positive and enjoyed the day- and I agree the kiddo was a superstar!

    My worst recent travel story…
    We were flying from Dublin to London in Feb this year. It’s a 1hr flight.
    We were delayed 4 hours and 50 mins due to a 15 minute snowstorm.
    We were on the plane, all loaded up and ready to push back, when it started snowing. Rather than pushing back briskly and going we hung around for
    10 mins, at which point the plane had snow on wings and needed de icing (fair enough). But the Ryanair de icing equipment wasn’t working!
    All other flights from Dublin were able to leave with a 1 hour delay ish. We had to wait, on the plane, 4 hours and 50 mins. By the time we took off we had eaten all the snacks on board and there was no water left in the toilets for hand washing. When we landed it was so late we had missed our last train home from the airport and we had to take a taxi.
    We also kept calm and read / smacked/ snoozed, because what else were we going to do? It was Sunday and we were working the day after. But I did notice there were no children or babies onboard, which was lucky for all involved !

    1. OUCH. Sitting on the tarmac for hours is the worst. Running out of hand washing water… 😧

  12. Now you can imagine what it is like living on an island, we have no choice but to use the ferry 🙂 That is of course why I hide in the forests and mountains, rarely leaving across the water anymore. So happy that you made the most of it.

    1. Yeah, if you live on the island you never have to leave 😉 And definitely not leaving on a holiday weekend.

Leave a Reply