Ferries are one of the best ways to travel between islands and one of my favourite ways to travel between Hong Kong and Kowloon is to ride on the Star Ferry for a cheap fare and probably one of the most scenic short inter-city ferry rides. Then there is the Staten Island ferry in New York. However the ferry service I am about to write about is somewhat different. This is one of the busiest ferry routes as it transports cars and passengers between Vancouver and Victoria, which is the provincial capital of British Columbia.
This ferry service runs from early in the morning with a nearly hourly schedule on peak hours (morning and evening sailings) and once every 2 hours for non-peak hours. The ferry does not run on a 24 hour schedule and can get busy on summer seasons, causing waits in both terminals for passengers. While Vancouver hosted the winter Olympics in 2010, the provincial ferry company BC Ferries received 3 new large vessels under the Coastal name (Celebration, Renaissance and Inspiration) with 2 that plies the route from Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay regularly. Swartz Bay is the de-facto arriving dock for Victoria and is about an hour drive from Victoria’s city centre. Tsawwassen is located about an hour and a half away from downtown Vancouver in the suburb of Delta.
Arriving at Tsawwassen, drivers could purchase a ticket or go through kiosks when they have made an online reservation. A small fee is charged for online reservations though it means a guaranteed departure at a specific sailing and is recommended for peak summer season. There is a market at the Tsawwassen side with various shops retailing food, coffee and souvenirs that make for a nice stop while waiting to embark on the ferry. Ticket prices are not cheap though with prices starting from around C$80 for 2 person with a normal-sized vehicle for the roughly 2 hour ferry journey.
Queues for the ferry is very orderly with marked lanes and staff assisting in the embarkation. Loudspeakers also signal to travellers when their vessel is ready for boarding along with displays in the market area on the name of the vessel and scheduled boarding times. Once on board, the deck for the cars are also clean and spacious enough for hanging out in. Though with a lot of amenities onboard, there is really no need to just stay in the deck for vehicles.
Having been onboard this sailing a couple of times before, I think the breakfast buffet on morning departures are worth going to. The Pacific Buffet serves a hearty breakfast selection including even Asian dishes like Shao Mai dumplings, and a variety of ham, sausages and eggs.
Sweet selections includes French toast and assorted Danish pastries. There are healthy options too like cereal, yogurt and a variety of fruits. For C$18++ per person, I thought the buffet was priced reasonably and it certainly filled me up such that we could proceed for the next phase of the roadtrip without stopping for lunch on arrival at Swartz Bay.
For those travellers wishing for solitude, there is an enclosed club area which includes coffee and tea requiring a small fee. The area is small and separated by an entrance making it more conducive for those looking for space to work.
Other travellers could enjoy a lot of seating space on the main deck when it is cold and windy outside. There are also some booths with power plugs as I sometimes see students occupying these space. Wifi is provided complimentary onboard most common vessels though they are spotty and does not work well throughout the vessel and they are fine for simple web browsing.
Besides the main deck seating, there is also a cafe and a gift shop on the same deck. In particular the gift shop’s magazine section can see some crowds. The cafe and fast food restaurant would also normally have queues for sailings around lunch and dinner time, so better to go to get food a while after departure or closer to arrival.
The best way to spend the sailing is actually by finding a seat on the open top deck which has great views of the strait of Georgia while sailing. Along the way, keep a lookout for orcas (killer whales) and of course the other BC Ferries heading in the opposite direction.
Naturally, a sunrise and sunset sailing is the perfect time to enjoy the scenery while onboard the top deck on the ferry. On peak summer season, the deck can be crowded as it becomes the place where most passengers head to. But on the other seasons, the deck can be cold and windy so passengers should always prepare for some cold weather jacket when taking the ferries or at least a good windbreaker to capture the views while onboard the ferry.
For the price of the ticket, I would not say the ferry journey is cheap but with ample amenities and under a great weather for the crossing, taking the ferry is still an experience to be enjoyed and photographers would enjoy the sunrise and sunset from the ferry with all the beautiful scenes of the Gulf Islands and the Strait of Georgia. With that, I highly recommend touring Victoria and Vancouver Island from Vancouver by taking a trip on BC Ferries!