2018-05-01 / Features

Ferries give all a chance to get on the water

I t’s not just for tourists, although it will certainly provide a unique experience for them.

Pensacola’s new ferry service -- which will take both area residents and guests in the community along a triangular route from downtown Pensacola, through the Quietwater Beach area near the clamshell on Pensacola Beach and on to Fort Pickens -- will be up and sailing soon, although most likely not by the mid-May date previously anticipated, according to Dan Brown, who is superintendent of Gulf Islands National Seashore.

Residents will be able to buy frequent rider discounted passes so they can ride many times for far less than one ticket price. There will also be children’s discounts and, possibly, special deals for seniors, military and families.

Regular tickets will be the hop-on, hopoff variety and will cost no more than $20, Brown says. A family can spend the day moving from location to location on the Pelican Perch or Turtle Runner without incurring extra fees for travel.

The ferries, which were named by local school children, are catamarans with dual hulls and two decks – the lower one enclosed and climate controlled -- and are described as “very comfortable.”

There are snack bars and restrooms below and the upper decks have cover but are open to the beauty of the water and the seashore. Ample seating is available.

Each ferry will accommodate 150 people, total, and will do about 12 knots at top speed, so the trips will be leisurely. Brown says he anticipates about 35 to 40 minutes between pick up and drop off points. It is possible the operator may add a third boat for an enhanced schedule in the future. “A lot of people around here have boats, but the majority of us don’t, so the ferries will be an opportunity for us to get out on the water at a reasonable cost and enjoy the marine resources surrounding our sugar white sands,” he adds. “We can board in Pensacola, go out to Fort Pickens and explore, then get back on and go to the beach and have lunch or enjoy the sand and water. Then we can get back on and end up in the city again, for dinner or entertainment downtown.”

The ferries will include park rangers on their passenger lists and they will be able to tell homefolks and guests about the area’s history and about the natural resource opportunities they can enjoy. In addition, they will be pointing out dolphins, pelicans and osprey and sharing information about them.

Brown estimates the ferries could bring 900 people a day to the beach on a schedule that will likely stretch from May through August, with week-end only service continuing through October. In 2019, weekend only service will begin in March and move into daily service in May.

Evening hours may be added to the daytime plans to accommodate those who want to move from Pensacola to the beach to dine or be entertained.

The operator is also considering specialty cruises.

At Fort Pickens, electric trams will meet the ferries to move people to the beach or campground at no additional cost. At Pensacola Beach, free trolleys are already in service and the ferry docking point is within easy walking distance of much that tourists will have on their lists to enjoy. Downtown Pensacola is open to Uber drivers and cab companies for those who want to move beyond the areas easily accessible on foot, and the city may be getting a service catering to bicycle enthusiasts, as well.

It’s a “ferry” welcome addition to enjoying the Pensacola experience.

The following is a tentative schedule, available as Splash! Magazine went to press.

Pensacola to Pensacola Beach
Depart 9 a.m., arrive 9:40 a.m.
Depart noon, arrive 12:40 p.m.
Depart 3 p.m., arrive 3:40 p.m.

Pensacola Beach to Pensacola
Depart 11 a.m., arrive 11:40 a.m.
Depart 2 p.m., arrive 2:40 p.m.
Depart 5 p.m., arrive 5:40 p.m.

Fort Pickens to Pensacola Beach
Depart 10 a.m., arrive 10:45 a.m.
Depart 1 p.m., arrive 1:45 p.m.
Depart 4 p.m., arrive 4:45 p.m.

Pensacola Beach to Fort Pickens
Depart 10 a.m., arrive 10:45 a.m.
Depart 1 p.m., arrive 1:45 p.m.
Depart 4 p.m., arrive 4:45 p.m.

Pensacola to Fort Pickens
Depart 9 a.m., arrive 9:35 a.m.
Depart noon, arrive 12:35 p.m.
Depart 3 p.m., arrive 3:35 p.m.

Fort Pickens to Pensacola
Depart 11 a.m., arrive 11:35 a.m.
Depart 2 p.m., arrive 2:35 p.m.
Depart 5 p.m., arrive 5:35 p.m.

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