For the return trip, I chose to take the ferry from Departure Bay in Nanaimo. What is worth noting down is that Nanaimo has 2 ferry terminals, with another crossing from Duke Point. While taking Highway 1 towards both ferry terminals, there are signs on the highway indicating the ferry availability and scheduled crossings. Living in Vancouver meant it was more convenient to board the ferry from Departure Bay which arrives into Horseshoe Bay. The ferry back to Vancouver from Duke Point reaches Tsawwassen which is more convenient for access to the airport and Richmond, Surrey, Delta and the border crossing back to the United States.
Being my first time taking the ferry from Departure Bay, I was fortunate to be able to make it in time for the next sailing. In fact with some time to spare, I checked out the Quay Market which has souvenir stands and places to get some food along with washrooms. There was also a nice view of the bay from the deck in the market.
As usual, I checked out the scheduled vessel that will bring us back from the screens in the market and discovered we will be onboard the Queen of Coquitlam. It should be expected that the ferries serving the Departure Bay to Horseshoe Bay route be smaller. In fact the ‘Queen’ class of ferries are even smaller than the ‘Spirit’ class of vessels which still serves the Tsawwassen – Swartz Bay route.
Once onboard the ferry, I head out towards the top deck. That is because in the summer, the top open air deck always provides the best views. From this older vessel, part of the car deck is actually open as well so some of the vehicles would not be sheltered. The interesting part is the deck in front of the bridge is accessible to travellers as well providing a vantage viewpoint and becoming one of the prime spots on the outdoor deck.
With a smaller footprint, the ferry only has one level of indoor deck and feels smaller but does not lack the amenities of the larger vessels. There is a comfortable seating area that was adequate even for the full occupancy for our sailing.
What was lacking in the ferry was the paid lounge which I believe only the ‘Coastal’ class vessel has installed. Otherwise there is still the gift shop, a faster snack bar, vending machines and outdoor deck seating.
Since I took this ferry crossing on the summer time, it was a nice way to view the sunset which comes very late in the northern hemisphere.
At one end of the vessel is the Coastal Cafe which features food & beverages from White Spot and Bread Garden. While there was again a huge line-up at the start of the journey, there was less people later on and finding a seating spot was still easy. I had a clam chowder and salad for my dinner about an hour before we were scheduled to arrive and it was less than a 5 minute wait.
After my meal, I head back up to the outdoor deck as we got closer to the Coast mountains. The silhouette of the mountain range on the west coast with the setting sun made for a very nice way to end this journey. It should be said though the journey between Tsawwassen and Swartz Bay is more scenic in that it passes through the Gulf Islands. While this journey is scenic at the beginning and the end.
Docking into Horseshoe Bay gives travellers that certain sense of arrival due to the way the harbour wraps around the vessel and it sure was one of the more spectacular ferry journeys I have had. Even with the smaller ferry and paying essentially the same price as my outbound ferry journey, I would still prefer to take this ferry crossing since the amenities were nearly the same, and I had one of my most memorable ferry crossing onboard BC Ferries!