Ferry service provider BC Ferries offers a popular form of transportation for those who need to travel between Vancouver and the coastal and island communities in the Canadian province of British Columbia. Tourists and locals alike avail of BC Ferries, which accommodates both vehicles and travelers on foot.
Finding myself in Vancouver for a business trip this spring – while simultaneously trying to squeeze in some holiday time with my mother and daughter – I had the bright idea that our family should ride the ferry from Vancouver Tsawwassen Terminal to Victoria Swartz Bay Terminal in North Saanich, which is 32 km north of Victoria on Vancouver Island. The trip also provided me with a good opportunity to compare the ferry experience against Pacific Coastal Airlines, a modest island-hopper which was reviewed by RGN contributor Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren.
If you plan on taking your vehicle with you on the ferry, locals warn that you should always book the space in advance or risk having to wait for the next ferry. Walk-on tickets can be purchased on-site but BC Ferries advises that due to COVID-19 and limited sails, they are asking customers to book in advance to avoid sailing waits.
Standard vehicles cost around $57CAD one-way plus the fare of each passenger which ranges from $9 to $18 depending on age. When I traveled with my family, capacity was roughly 40% on what should have otherwise been a very busy day for the ferry service. As such, there was plenty of room to explore different amenities during the 1.5-hour trip.
If you have children, rest easy in the knowledge that BC Ferries features two playrooms, and runs cartoons on the television for kids under 5. A small arcade is also available, with a handful of games on offer for older kids.
There are multiple seating options available. The regular mass seating area provides scattered power ports for charging devices if you’re lucky enough to be near one. But dedicated cubicles have personal power ports, and plenty of room to set up a laptop in private.
The main cafeteria area is akin to a diner or food court. It usually serves both hot and cold meals and everything is very clearly labeled for any passengers with allergies or dietary restrictions. We enjoyed a gluten-free burrito and coffee. But given the COVID-19 crisis, it’s good to be prepared with your own snacks.
BC Ferries is now offering some select packaged hot foods, as well as other prepackaged items. On its website, BC Ferries states that it is “carefully reopening additional terminal and onboard amenities across the fleet. Expanded offerings include a limited menu at the Coastal Cafe and Arbutus Coffee Bar”.
We were thrilled by the scenes on our outbound trip, and kept a keen eye on the ocean as sightseers will often catch a glimpse of sea life and even whales. However, we were not so lucky this time.
Strong winds and inclement weather can force staff to close off the outer decks to passengers, and this was our experience on the return trip from Victoria Swartz to Vancouver Tsawwassen Terminal. Luckily, we found plenty of seats with vistas from inside the vessel.
When the world is not grappling with a global pandemic, BC Ferries offers access to its SeaWest Lounge for a mere $13CAD. This affords passengers a slightly more comfortable seat in a quiet area with a lovely view. Complimentary coffee and snacks are also included in this fee.
At the moment, however, the SeaWest Lounge is closed due to COVID-19, but BC Ferries says it is slowly re-opening some amenities.
There were plenty of staffers on board and I found the customer service to be top notch. Passengers can even avail of concierge services, and purchase bus passes for various tourist attractions. I was able to get a band-aid for a cut, and even obtain transit information for arrival to port.
Employees were seen constantly wiping down common areas for passengers’ peace of mind and safety. This type of visual instills confidence in passengers amid the pandemic.
But frequent cleanings are not enough. Beginning 24 August, BC Ferries will require customers to wear masks or face coverings at terminals and while on board ferries.
“All walk-on and vehicle passengers will be required to wear face coverings at all times when at a BC Ferries terminal or on a BC Ferries ship, with the exception being if a customer is inside a vehicle or consuming food or drinks while maintaining physical distance,” it says.
“Also exempt are customers with an underlying medical condition or disability that inhibits the ability to wear a face covering, who are unable to place or remove a mask or face covering without assistance, and children under two years of age. This requirement also applies to BC Ferries employees, except those working behind a physical barrier or within employee only areas while maintaining appropriate physical distance.”
While I’m certain the ferry experience would differ if the vessel was filled to maximum capacity, the options for diversion on BC Ferries were impressive, and tailored to meet the diverse needs of passengers, be they families on a holiday, business commuters or in my case, a little of both.
All images credited to the author, Becca Alkema.