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Ferries to Vancouver Island: Can I just show up?

Travel Forums North America Ferries to Vancouver Island: Can I just show up?

1. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4951 posts) 5y

This thread is marked as being about Canada

I'm wanting to take a ferry over to Vancouver Island mid July; will have a long drive to get to the ferry terminal (Tsawwassen probably, as Victoria is the most likely first stop on Vancouver Island; I'm assuming there's no effective difference between that and a ferry from Horseshoe Bay?), so don't know exactly when I'll be arriving. From the looks of it, I should be fine just showing up and getting onto the very next ferry (with the car), but it'd be very good if someone with personal experience could confirm this, given that July is very much high season. I'd really hate having to stand there for several hours, waiting for a spot, or worse, not being able to get onto the last ferry of the day. Thanks in advance!

[ Edit: Edited on 03-Jul-2011, at 21:31 by Sander ]

2. Posted by wendables (Budding Member 3 posts) 5y

Yes, you can just show up. If it is busy, you might chance missing the next ferry but there are others after depending on what time of the day you go. There is an oPtion of reserving a space if you know what time you'll be there. Have you taken a look at the ferry website?

3. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 5y

If you don't mind waiting then don't bother with a reservation.

as Victoria is the most likely first stop on Vancouver Island; I'm assuming there's no effective difference between that and a ferry from Horseshoe Bay?

You're rather mixed up and as mentioned need to consult the ferry website/a map.

BC Ferries website here

4. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4951 posts) 5y

I guess I phrased that poorly; "that" was referring to Tsawwassen, so I was asking if there was any effective difference between taking a ferry from Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay, or a ferry from Horseshoe Bay to Nainamo (besides obviously where they arrive).

For my main question though, basically what the both of you are saying is that yes, there's a chance I might have to wait for an hour or two (i.e. for one or two ferries), but probably not, and certainly not more?

5. Posted by Karentto (Budding Member 4 posts) 5y

Yes, there is a chance that you'd have to wait for one or two ferries in Tsawwassen on a regular day. Keep in mind that the ferries to and from Vancouver Island are the busiest on the days leading up to and directly following weekends. If you travel on Canadian stat holidays, the waits can be even worse.

Also, the ferries to Victoria (Tsawwassen to Schwartz Bay) are usually busier because Victoria is a major tourist destination as it is the capital of British Columbia.

Reservations are a good idea but keep in mind you have to get there early to keep your spot. Check the website so that you know when the last ferry departs.

6. Posted by dbl-nkl (Budding Member 26 posts) 5y

You didn't mention where you were coming from, so.... You can also take a ferry from Seattle to Victoria; the ferries are not as nice as those in BC (my last trip was in the mid 80s) but the trip to Victoria is also very nice.

The BC Ferries reservations are good if one can't wait for 2-3-4 hours (kids, ADD, no reading materials, etc); in the summer it can also be very uncomfortable sitting with nothing to do, with limited shopping & services in Tsawwassen & virtually none at the Island terminals for the return trip, etc. Note that the reservation fee is in addition to the ferry fee.

Also the ferries don't run all day and the schedule is not regular, ie the delays between some ferries can be many hours.

Going to the Island m-a-n-y people tend to want to go early & for the return trip m-a-n-y people tend to leave late. The reservation may be a good idea.

When I used to go on business from Vancouver & I always used reservations unless I was taking midday trips when there are - usually - fewer people.

The Island is a terrific place to visit; my last trip was in 2004; I'm planning to go for a week or so in August this year... by ferry.

[ Edit: Edited on 05-Jul-2011, at 13:04 by dbl-nkl ]

7. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4951 posts) 5y

Thank you! Midday being quieter is very hopeful; we'll be coming from the Canadian Rockies (probably Jasper), thinking to drive to Vancouver Island in two days, which would probably mean being at the ferries in the early afternoon, depending on how long we want to keep going on the first day.

8. Posted by SamSalmon (Respected Member 626 posts) 5y

Cooking for hours in a hot car surrounding by thousands of other cars all in a concrete sea will grow old fast-Been There/Done/That.

9. Posted by Calcruzer (Moderator 2000 posts) 5y

Well, I actually have done this both ways--with a reservation and without. Both have their advantages/drawbacks. As Salmon Sam points out, waiting for a long time to board your car (especially for those coming from the Port Olympia southern point) would be a bit of a torture if the wait is very long. On the other hand, not having to get there right at a particular time has its advantages as well--especially if coming from the northern side (Tsawwassen).

Based upon my experience, I'd suggest a reservation from the Washington ports (Port Olympia or if going through the San Juan Islands)--and no reservation if traveling from the Canadian ports. I think Sander's suggestions are pretty much spot on since you plan to come from the Vancouver area.

Best of luck and enjoy the trip.

Post 10 was removed by a moderator