Over a million visitors will view Alaska’s spectacular Inside Passage this year, and the vast majority will do so from a cruise ship. Yet very few of these folks will spend quality time exploring Alaska’s wonderful coastal communities or get a glimpse of authentic local life.

For an alternative to an Alaskan cruise, consider exploring the 49th state as Alaskans do—by state-run ferry. Serving travelers for 50 years, the “blue canoes” of the Alaska Marine Highway System provide a vital link to rural towns, sailing along 3,500 miles of coastline between Washington State and the Aleutian Islands.

Ferries aren’t as fancy as cruise ships, of course. Most of them operate a small cafeteria-style restaurant; larger vessels, like the Columbia, also offer staterooms and dining rooms serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Still, it’s a good idea to pack extra food, drinks, games, and movies, and remember that wi-fi will be spotty at best. Yet what ferries lack in creature comforts, they more than make up for in value. After all, AMHS vessels offer multiple decks for viewing the same wildlife, glaciers, and rugged Alaska shoreline cruise passengers pay top dollar to see.

Families have plenty of options when it comes to seeing Alaska by ferry. Here are three routes with definite kid appeal: