Monday 8 July 2013

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How to Pay Extra for Your BC Ferry Ride

If you've been following More Kids Than Suitcases on Facebook, you know that we spent the last weekend in Victoria celebrating Canada Day. It was a fantastic time, other than some crazy people trying to blow us up, but I kind of suspected it would be. Victoria is one of my favorite places to visit and I always have a wonderful time when I'm there. With the beauty of the buildings and the convenience of having an ocean harbor right in the middle of town, I often ask myself why I don't visit this city more often.

Then I remember the $250 surcharge to get there. 

I suppose it's one of those drawbacks to visiting an island (except Staten Island), but getting to Victoria isn't cheap. For our family of five the ferry fare including a car on the Vancouver to Victoria route (technically the Tsawwassen to Schwartz Bay route) is $121 each way. That breaks down to $51 for the car and $70 for the passengers. Kids under five sail free but apparently being 6'1" disqualifies my son from passing as a four year old, no matter how bad his vocabulary skills are. Unfortunately if you want to visit Victoria, you're going to have to pay the bill.

What if they just act like they're four? Do we get a discount for that?

As promised however, there is a way to pay even more. BC Ferries has a program whereby for a fee (there's always a fee) you can reserve a spot on a certain ferry in advance. It costs $15 if you plan more than seven days in advance or $18.50 if you book within a week of departure, and for that consideration you gain the right to show up not more than an hour before your preferred sailing but no less than a half hour prior to departure. For example, we reserved a spot on the 11 am sailing for our trip to Victoria (costing us $18.50 because we do nothing a week in advance) so we were required to show up between 10 and 10:30 am, which we almost did.

Important ferry tip: Girls with long hair should stay off the outside deck!

We actually got to the ferry terminal at 9:55 am, but since there was still space on the 10 am ferry, they just loaded us onto that one. The type A part of me really wanted to circle around and wait five minutes so that I could use my already paid reservation on the next ferry but eventually logic prevailed and I decided that getting to Victoria an hour early was a better plan than sitting in a parking lot for sixty minutes to justify the cost of my reservation. Lesson learned - if you're going to be early for your desired ferry, you probably don't need a reservation.

Not a situation where you need to make a ferry reservation.

On the way home we made a reservation on the 3 pm ferry, figuring that our morning would be fairly full and we wouldn't be able to get to the terminal much before that. That plan changed when we decided that instead of lunch we just wanted to have frozen cheesecake on a stick. Yeah, we make nutritional decisions like that all the time. Needless to say the expediency of having cheesecake for lunch placed us well ahead of schedule, so instead of lazing around the hotel for an extra hour we decided that we might as well drive up and catch the 2 pm ferry. Lesson learned - if your plans are fluid, you probably don't need a reservation. 

Still don't need to make a reservation...

So with our brilliant foresight and planning we managed to turn a $121 ferry fare into a $139.50 ferry fare in each direction. That's an additional $37 tacked onto our bill for reservations we didn't use, pretty much guaranteeing it a spot on my "Dumbest Things I've Spent Money On" list. If you don't think $37 was too much to pay for peace of mind, let me try and put it in terms we can all understand. That's an extra seven pieces of cheesecake on a stick. Uh you're understanding the wastefulness aren't you? To be fair, I'm sure there are situations where making a reservation on a ferry is important. If you're traveling on a major holiday or during the winter months when the sailings are much further apart it might be a good idea. On the other hand, if you've already set up an online account with BC Ferries you can just make a reservation using your mobile device should you see your preferred sailing filling up fast. For most of us though, it's probably better to just show up and take our chances. Worst case scenario you'll end up having a little time to explore the ferry terminal and enjoy a little time in the snack bar. Check and see if they have anything comparable to the cheesecake on a stick. If they do, you're really wasting your time getting on the ferry anyways aren't you? did make a reservation didn't you?
 Written by Steve Pratt