We travelled on the Nova Star from Portland ME to Yarmouth NS last week with a vehicle. We purchased heavily discounted tickets at a price point that made sense compared to driving with a hotel along the way. It takes a little longer than driving but the benefit is the night cruise with accommodations and the break from driving.
We booked our tickets online and received email confirmation with receipt. We arrived at terminal at 730 pm (90 minutes prior to sailing) as was recommended minimum. The ferry hadn't unloaded yet. I expected loading to be a seamless process where you drive into line and show attendant your email and passports. Unfortunately it was not that organized!! You have to park by the ticket office (where there is no parking) and wait in line with foot passengers to get your "paper tickets". This took 35 minutes as there was a huge line. Many people were annoyed at this crazy system. With our paper tickets (which could have been emailed as were on regular paper), we then drove into the automobile boarding line, showed another attendant our "tickets" and passports, and boarded a few minutes later at about 815 pm. Ship left a little early at 850 pm. Paper tickets had cabin number and we proceeded to cabin.
TAX SCAM WITH ON BOARD PURCHASES
We were pleasantly surprised that the prices for beer and food were very reasonable. $4.5 US Dollars on menu for American /Mexican beer. When we got our beer, the visa payment slip had only a total amount with a big spot for gratuity. The total amount was much higher than menu prices so I inquired and was told there was a TAX. I was a little surprising as we were in international waters with casino open. I gave her a 20% cash tip, but asked for an itemized receipt. This was a bit of a process but after second request I received a proper receipt which showed a 15% automatic gratuity with no tax. This was not shown on the credit card slip you sign nor indicated on the menu. When I explained that tax is different from gratuity, the waitress said that company keeps the entire 15% and they depend on additional tips to make a living. Staff are aware that this charge is included and what it is, but elect to mislead. In summary, reasonable prices on board, but a corrupt system which misrepresents and includes without any explanation a 15% gratuity and then asks boldly for an additional gratuity. That is wrong and needs to be explored by Maine officials. If it is sold as a tax it should go to our government like other taxes. An automatic 15% gratuity needs to go to crew and be indicated on menu and receipts like any restaurant. An itemized receipt, not just a visa slip with total, should be provided with each transaction.
In the morning, we bought two coffees for 4 US. There was a large tip bowel with most passengers leaving several dollars. When I "asked" for itemized receipt it showed the coffee price with an additional 15% gratuity for a total of $4. THIS IS CORRUPT AND WRONG.
First of all, all itineraries including on board itinerary shows a 9pm LOCAL TIME departure with 8am LOCAL TIME arrival. There is a one hour time change and ship did not dock until 0850 LOCAL TIME which I was told is standard time every day. I presume no one at the company has adjusted for the time change. Travel time was about 11.5 hours which is consistent with several other reviews.
90 minutes before 0850 true local time, there was an announcement to please be out of cabin in 30 minutes and to wait in public areas for 60 minutes before docking. We had a cabin with a large window facing forwards so we missed a wonderful opportunity to stay in cabin and see the coastline. Written materials in cabin say guests are ENCOURAGED to leave cabins 60 minutes before arrival. We obeyed the verbal announcement and stood in a crowded area with no view for 80 minutes. Next time we would ignore the "encouragement" and stay in our cabin relaxing and enjoying the view until docked. Perhaps this is simply a way to encourage more breakfast purchases as people wait for 70-80 minutes in a crowded area before going to car deck.
There was a huge line at Canada customs. There was no obvious pattern in regards to loading and offloading of vehicles. Arriving early in Portland does not guarantee that your vehicle will get off ship first.
A great comfortable alternative to driving, but only a viable option at current discounted price point. If there were no discounts we would have driven. we will be taking it again next week and several more times in August / September.
Stay in cabin and sleep a little longer. Count on arrival at 9am arrival local time with 60 minute border security line.
Always ask for an itemized receipt to keep the company honest. There is nothing wrong with a 15% automatic gratuity but it is very wrong to only provide a total and say the additional amount is a TAX and then boldly request an additional gratuity.