British Columbia has some of the most scenic waterways in the world; a great way to experience this combination of wild ocean waters and majestic snow-capped mountains is by travel on the BC Ferries. Orcas sometimes leap unexpectedly in full view of surprised passengers and birdwatchers can spend their entire trip watching the skies and the rugged shoreline as the ferry winds its way to port.
The BC Ferries initial route, between Tsawwassen on the southern British Columbia mainland, and Swartz Bay on southern Vancouver Island, is still a vital link for island residents. BC Ferries also services mid-island Nanaimo, Horseshoe Bay north of Vancouver as well as smaller islands that dot the waters between the mainland and Vancouver Island. Some of the more remote island ports require connections to smaller vessels, usually at Tsawwassen or Swartz Bay.
The most dramatic scenery is arguably on the Inside Passage which runs from Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert, just below the Alaskan panhandle. Some of these BC Ferries routes require overnight passage. Cabins are available on some vessels; others offer sort of a soft adventure travel experience. Reclining seats are available, but if you have a small tent you may ask permission from the staff to set up on the outside deck.
Reservations are mandatory on the Inside Passage and Queen Charlotte routes and not a bad idea on any of the BC Ferry service routes, particularly in the busy summer season and on weekends. It is not uncommon for unreserved passenger vehicles to have to wait one or two sailings. Commercial vehicles and large recreational vehicles should make a point of always securing a spot ahead of time. Reservations may be made on the BC Ferries website. There is an additional service fee for reservations. Walk-on passengers, except for specific routes, do not need reservations.
BC Ferry terminals at the larger ports have an assortment of shops and food vendors to service passengers waiting to board. Warm weather invites impromptu picnics at outside dining areas. The ships themselves offer cafes, gift shops, play areas, video arcades and work stations for those wanting a quieter setting. Some of BC Ferries' larger ships offer the Pacific Buffet, a definite hit with passengers. All vessels offer wheelchair friendly decks and washrooms, elevators and on- board telephones. Cell phones usually work on the BC Ferries system, but the best service is definitely on the outside or decks - of course, that's probably where you’d rather be anyway!