A Ferry Good Experience

It has to be one of the most hassle-free and relaxing ways of travelling – riding the Northumberland Ferry – where you can take your car or go as a foot passenger. On board there is plenty to stimulate your senses because with Northumberland Ferries, it’s not just the destination that’s important, but the journey too.

My husband Terry and I board the afternoon sailing on the Holiday Island Ferry (built in 1971) as foot passengers. We leave Caribou, Nova Scotia and cross the Northumberland Straight to Wood Islands, Prince Edward Island in 75 minutes.

On the starboard side of the open deck we stand, screened by a lifeboat, as the gentle hum of the engines spring to life. The ferry slowly edges out the dock – a white wake following– and into the great open sea.

I reflect on the famous 1965 painting To Prince Edward Island, showing Alex Colville’s wife Rhoda standing aboard the ferry peering through a pair of binoculars. And I wonder if Rhoda beheld similar cloudscapes or images of red cliffs and rippling blue seas as the ones we see today.

My thoughts are interrupted by a salty aroma filtering through an open door. Inside, Chef Ilona Daniel has a big pot of fresh PEI mussels – steaming away – for all the passengers to enjoy. Chef Ilona says she utilizes local artisan produce and products, working collaboratively with the community.

“I’m showcasing and using the Island’s fresh local ingredients. It’s about forging strong bonds to help each other grow, and sharing these experiences with people to inspire them. This is an integral part of my culinary identity.”

Terry and I take a bowl of mussels. They’re slow steamed in browned COWS Creamery (sea salt) butter, with fresh garlic, dill, a little grated carrot, and the new Upstreet Craft Brewing Czech Style Pilsner. The mussels are delicious and fun to eat. In fact, Terry and I enjoyed them so much that we went back for another round.

Chef Ilona is cooking on board as part of the new Northumberland Ferries program this summer called Seaside Experiences. It’s all about giving passengers on select sailings a true Maritime experience that showcases the finest cuisine, entertainment, and music that Canada’s smallest province has to offer.

You can also dine at the full cafeteria that offers a wide range of dishes, from hot dogs and French fries, to traditional PEI lobster rolls and cold plates. As well, passengers can enjoy an ice cream at the small café.

On the open deck, Johnny Ross, from The Ross Family Ceilidh, is playing a lively and entertaining mixture of Maritime jigs and popular romantic tunes on his piano. A large crowd gathers (pets included) on the upper and lower decks to watch.

Pets are allowed on the passenger decks as long as they are leashed and are kept outside. Terry and I see a lot of dogs strolling around with their owners. The dogs range from a chic-looking Poodle to a little Chihuahua sitting on its owners lap – terrified.

Johnny inspires the crowd to clap along, and surprises us all when he taps out a few chords with his foot. “To stand up on one leg is not easy on this surface!” He exclaims, before sitting down and continuing to play.

For over 70 years Northumberland Ferries have been providing memorable experiences to passengers. And for decades, the ferry was the only method of transport to and from the Island. Nowadays it sails from May to December, offering passengers a unique perspective on the Maritimes, at a modest fare.

“This is how you celebrate the Maritimes,” says Nancy, from the tourism office on board the ferry. Smiling and gazing out the window, Nancy shares with us her treasured memories. “I’ve observed seals and whales, wild sunsets and star-peppered nights, and met many wonderful people.”

Travelling this way, where you can relax with friends and family while breathing in the invigorating salty air, can only enhance the journey. And out on the open deck Terry and I take in the views, while remarking how these 75 minutes have gone by in a flash. Disembarking, I reflect that the ferry is my favourite way to get to our beautiful Island home.