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Sunday, April 12, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Posh Cabins, Fast Boats And Slow Customs Lines

Special To The Seattle Times

From customized cabins on the water to longer customs lines on land at the U.S.-Canadian border, the late spring and summer seasons hold a number of changes for travelers going between Washington and British Columbia.

Now in its second season as the Princess Marguerite III, the former Royal Victorian vehicle-and-passenger ferry will resume season service between downtown Seattle and Victoria, B.C., on May 15.

The Princess Marguerite carries up to 200 vehicles and 1,070 passengers between Seattle's Pier 48 and Victoria's Ogden Point on once-daily round-trip sailings beginning May 15. Basic one-way fare is $29 for adults, $25 for seniors, $14.50 for children 1 to 11 years, and free for babies. One-way fare for driver with standard-sized vehicle is $49; that fee is $39 if booked two weeks in advance.

Clipper Navigation, which now runs the ferry, is redesigning the ship's nine private day rooms, customizing seven with different themes.

All day rooms include a bathroom, VCR, movies to rent, and seating for four. These rooms run $29, plus standard passenger rates. For $49, the day rooms can be stocked with chocolates, champagne or sparkling cider and commemorative glasses for special occasions.

A dining-room lunch buffet has been added to the ship's dining options, which also include a cafe, lounge and beer garden. The lunch buffet is $8.05 (U.S. with tax) for adults; 5.37 (U.S. with tax) for children.

Travelers going on special packages will pay about $117 a person (double occupancy) for the ride plus a night in Victoria.

The ship departs Victoria's Ogden Point at 7:30 a.m. and downtown Seattle's Pier 48 at 1 p.m. daily for the 4 1/2-hour trips. Its schedule runs through Sept. 27. Phone: 206-448-5000 or 800-888-2535 for information and reservations.

Clippering along

Seattle-based Clipper Navigation, which runs the Princess Marguerite III, also operates passenger-only catamaran vessels between Seattle and Victoria. Some routes include stops in the San Juan Islands.

Between May 16 and Sept. 13, Clipper ships make the trip four times daily. The 8:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Seattle departures are on the Clipper's high-speed Turbojet, which makes the trip in about two hours. The 7:30 a.m. departure makes stops in the San Juan Islands and arrives in Victoria in five hours; the 8 a.m. departure takes three hours. Round-trip fares on these trips vary from $94 to $109 round-trip (U.S.) for adults, depending on the vessel. Seniors pay $84 to $99; children's rates are $47 to $54.50.

Clipper officials say that in early May the company will be ready to take bookings on its web site: http://www.victoriaclipper.com

Floating for less

Those looking for more economical water routes to Canada are happy that the Washington State Ferry service between Anacortes and Sidney, B.C., will continue at least through 2000.

The state transportation commission had been considering cutting the route because of costs.

The year-round run to Sidney, 18 miles north of Victoria, leaves Anacortes at 8 a.m. and sails through the San Juan Islands and arrives at 11:15 a.m.

Beginning June 21, another ferry will leave Anacortes at noon and arrive in Sidney at 3:05 p.m.

On May 1, travelers may make reservations with a credit-card deposit for travel after June 21.

Through May 9, one-way fares are $29.70 (U.S.) for adult driver and vehicle; $6.90 for adult passengers; $3.45 for seniors and children 5 to 11 years.

Summer fares begin May 10: $39.75 for vehicle and driver; $8.90 for adult passengers; $4.50 for seniors and children. These fares run through Oct. 10. Children younger than 5 ride free all year.

Phone 206-464-6400 for more information. After May 1, callers in Washington state may call 800-84-FERRY for automated service or 888-808-7977 for an information agent. Computer users may learn more about the ferry system and its schedule at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries

Frequent flights

From the waters of Lake Washington and Lake Union, Kenmore Air seaplanes will have departures five times daily for Victoria's Inner Harbour, about two blocks from the Empress Hotel.

Round-trip adult fare is $165 (U.S.) in July and August, and $155 the rest of the year. Children pay $105 year-round. For a nine-hour day excursion only, the round-trip fare is $145 all year.

Another popular Kenmore Air May-to-September daily destination is Ganges on B.C.'s Salt Spring Island.

Kenmore Air also offers customized trips to a variety of boating harbors on the Inland Passage, with stops in Desolation Sound and at Campbell River, for whale watching, fishing, kayaking and more. Ask about packages that include accommodations. Phone 800-543-9595 or 425-486-1257. Its Web site: http://www.kenmoreair.com

Getaways by 'copter

Another flight option to Canada is Helijet Airways. The normal twice-daily helicopter service from Boeing Field to Victoria and connecting to Vancouver, B.C., will add a midday run starting May 16. The 12-passenger helicopter departs at 9:55 a.m., 1:40 p.m. and 6:15 p.m. for the 35-minute trip to Victoria's Ogden Point. Fares are from $168 with a free shuttle to the Empress Hotel.

For $304, passengers can fly to Vancouver's Coal Harbour (with a free shuttle to some downtown hotels). The summer season runs through late September. Phone 800-665-4354. Talgo train switch

A double-decker Superliner train will temporarily replace the Spanish-designed Talgo train on the Seattle-Vancouver, B.C., run beginning May 17. This Talgo is being moved to the Seattle-Portland run while Amtrak prepares for its November plan to place three Talgo trains on the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-Eugene, Ore., corridor.

The new train change won't affect scheduling or fares. The Mount Baker service between Seattle and Vancouver will continue to leave Seattle daily at 7:45 a.m. and follow the waterfront for about four hours arriving in Vancouver's Pacific Central station near Main Street and Terminal Avenue, south of Chinatown.

In Vancouver, train passengers can use the SkyTrain light-rail system to connect to downtown accommodations ($1.50 Cdn.); its main station is one block from the Amtrak station.

Transit buses run downtown as well, but the fare is the same and the SkyTrain is easier and faster. A cab ride to downtown sites is about $5 (Cdn.).

Amtrak leaves Vancouver at 6 p.m. Both Canadian and U.S. immigration will be cleared at Vancouver's Pacific Central station.

Adult round-trip fares range from $38 to $62 (U.S.); ask about discounts.

Children 2 to 15 years are half price; babies ride free. Phone 800-872-7245 or a travel agent. Or book your own travel using Amtrak's Web site: http://www.amtrak.com

Sit back, relax

All of the above routes may suddenly seem more attractive if you get caught in a long line of cars at the U.S.-Canada border this summer.

A drug-search emphasis added to the usual heavy weekend traffic can cause long delays at the Peace Arch border crossing at Blaine.

Recent weekend waits - especially on Friday and Sunday afternoons - have been longer than two hours. Even some weekday waits have stretched into 45-minute delays. Expect especially long lines on holiday weekends.

Border officials suggest travelers may save time by using the truck crossing at Blaine, or the crossings at nearby Lynden or Sumas, all in Whatcom County.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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