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Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

Rugby, UK
11 posts
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Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

Hello

We plan to make a short visit to Vancouver Island when we visit BC later this year. Have had a look on BC Ferries website and seen the various options. We will be picking up a hire car from central Vancouver at 7.30am and therefore the 9am (rather than 8am) ferry will probably be the best option. On the way back we will be leaving Tofino early to get back to Nanaimo and probably the 10.15 (rather than 7.45am) ferry will be the best option

Just a couple of questions - do people recommend prebooking (i.e. does the ferry sell out) and was just thinking to might be better to just pay when we get to the ferry so we don't have to worry about missing a certain time/crossing. I'm not sure if say for example you have a ticket for the 8am crossing and you miss it, they would just put you on the next available one

Thanks

Nick

Port Moody, Canada
Destination Expert
for Vancouver, British Columbia
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136 reviews
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1. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

Nick,

the answer to your question isn't straightforward and depends on a few things

1. When are you planning to travel? At certain times of the week and around holiday weekends ferries can sell out. All spaces cannot be reserved ( except on some Gulf Island ferries!) so you can just drive up...having said that there can also be ferry waits of up to 4 sailings on a Friday before a long weekend for example.. meaning waits of up to 4 hours or more...!!! ( last year I seem to remember one of the ferries breaking down just prior to a long weekend.. so even if you had a reservation you were in trouble as fewer sailings because of fewer ferries)

Even on a non holiday time or mid week there can be waits.. for example last week I beleive there were one sailing waits on Thursday afternoon..3 pm ferry full, have to wait until 5 pm..because the ferries also don't sail as frequently during certain times of year.. hence the when are you coming question.

2. Do you have a plane to catch? Do you mind sitting in a line up for one or more hours?

If you have a plane to catch I would definitely make a reservation and I would leave extra time as ferries don't always sail on time. If you have no plane to catch and don't mind possibly having to wait in line then just show up...especially if you are travelling mid week, mid-day.

As for your ferry going over to the island.. if you are picking up a rental car at 7:30 I wouldn't count on making a reservation for the 9am ferry because your rental will probably take at least 20 minutes to actually get the car,(paperwork etc) pay so it will be about 8 am before you leave Vancouver for Horseshoe Bay ( assumption here that that's the route you are taking) you should be able to make it there in less than 1/2 hour BUT if you have a reservation you MUST be there not later than 30 minutes before the sailing.. and I do mean MUST...if you are even 2 minutes late the reservation will have been cancelled, so you will be cutting it close. (If you are travelling on a weekday the Lions Gate Bridge will be one lane going to the North Shore so a bit slower going for a drive that should be about 20 minutes.)

If you have missed your reservation time you will be put in line for the next AVAILABLE ferry. Note "available"!!! if for some reason you are travelling on one of those long weekends and there is already a one or two sailing wait at the terminal you will go to the end of the line! I am really giving you a worst case scenario here because don't want you to have any surprises....

On your way back you do have two ferry options.. Nanaimo(Departure Bay) to Horseshoe Bay or Duke Point ( just south of Nanaimo) to Tswwassen which gives you a bit of leeway for getting back from Tofino

Rugby, UK
11 posts
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2. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

Thanks for the prompt reply. We would be travelling to Swartz Bay from Tsawwassen on the 1sep and then returning back to Tsawwassen from Nanaimo Duke Point on the 4 Sep. Obviously keen to get as early ferry as possible to maximise the time doing the 'touristy' stuff but take your point on not expecting the car rental to be ready to go at 7.30 etc.

Port Moody, Canada
Destination Expert
for Vancouver, British Columbia
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11,090 posts
136 reviews
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3. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

Are you only going to Tofino? or are you planning on spending time in Victoria as well? Or are you taking ferry to Swartz bay to do the drive up the island? I ask because you could also do the ferry from Tswwassen to Duke Point which would save you time on getting to Tofino....and as you are picking car up in downtown you realize you will be driving much further for Tswassen Ferry than to Horseshoe Bay, and although going against traffic the Deas tunnel will be one lane only going south which will slow things down even more.

calgary
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4. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

September 4th is the start of a long weekend, I would most definitely get a reservation for that portion.

Canada
Destination Expert
for Vancouver Island
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2,473 posts
146 reviews
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5. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

Not only is Sept 4th the start of a long weekend (Labour day), but it is also the last day of summer holidays for the kids, so the ferries will really be busy. I'd expect them to be busy all that week. If you could possibly change your dates for your Vancouver Island visit, I'd certainly recommend it. hate to be a party pooper, but it's really not a good weekend to have a "quick" trip to Tofino.

With regard to the reservation - read the website - not only do you have to be there at least 30 mins in advance, but you also can't show up more than 1 hr in advance. If you miss your reservation (even by a nanosecond on their clock) it's too bad for you. They don't accept any excuses, you just have to then sit in the lineup for whichever is the next "available" ferry.

Sechelt, BC
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6. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

The labour day weekend is the busiest weekend of the year. Make a reservation!!!

Rugby, UK
11 posts
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7. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

Thanks again for all the replys. It really takes a lost of the worry out of planning holidays. The plan for Vancouver island is to spend one night in Victoria and then 2 nights in Tofino. I know this is probably not long enough but it was this or miss it all together so I guess we'll just have to make the best of what we have.

Reading the above, I'm starting to think the following would be the best plan

Pick up car from Vancouver 7.30-8.00 and then 1 hour drive to the ferry terminal so thats at least 9.00 by the time we get there, so to be save go for the 10.00 ferry which will get us to Swartz Bay at 11.30. I suppose if we get to the Vancouver port in time for the earlier sailing we could ask to be put on the earlier crossing if there's space??

On the way back we would leave the Tofino hotel early (say 8.30am) and hopefully get to Nanimo around 11.30 (we are staying at the Long Beach so would you est this journey at 3 hours?). That should have us ready for the 12.45 crossing. If the journey was a couple of hours then maybe we start a little earlier and aim for the 10.15 crossing?

Thanks again for all your help and recommendations

Rugby, UK
11 posts
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8. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

Sorry would have edited above post if I could figure out how. Just checked on googlemap and its 221km from Long Beach to Nanaimo which should take just over 4 hours! Aim for the 12.45 ferry me thinks then!

9. Re: Ferry Vancouver to Vancouver Island - Prebook?

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