Young girls laugh as they wiggle through mock portholes then rush to slip down a slide in the play area. A man sits with his back against a wall on the floor nearby, engrossed in his book. A mother nurses her baby, while curled up on a carpeted bench in the corner.
Considering the hours of driving time this young family is saving, it’s understandable why they’d prefer to take the ferry across the Gulf of Maine. Although some might argue about the cost of the convenience, those interviewed for this story didn’t complain.
Alice and Chuck Wilson from Cape Elizabeth, Maine visited northern Nova Scotia several years ago but wanted to return to see the southern tip of the province. They visited Digby, Annapolis Royal and Bridgewater then booked into the Comfort Inn in Yarmouth.
The couple referred to the area as being a “nice little town” but what really sparked Chuck Wilson’s interest was Firefighters' Museum of Nova Scotia on Main Street.
He’s a retired fire chief and saw a patch for his town’s fire department. He also saw the patch for South Portland where his son is a deputy chief.
“That was something special,” he said.
The couple enjoyed walking along the waterfront and even a trip to the Cape Forchu Lightstation in the fog.
“Being from Cape Elizabeth, we’ve got all kinds of lighthouses,” said Wilson. “Yours is unique.”
The Wilson’s sailed on the Nova Star because of the time it saved. They said the ship is beautiful and that the $21 million spent so far is an investment.
“If it’s successful it’s going to mean a lot to Yarmouth,” he said.
Not everyone here in Nova Scotia shares the same opinion about the $21 million, however, since the money from the province of Nova Scotia was supposed to be spread over seven years and has all been handed over to Nova Scotia Cruises before the first season has even ended. Many wonder how the company can stay afloat if it has already used up the envelope of cash. And will the province have to ante up more money?
At the start of the season passenger numbers have been down on the service – not reaching the targets set out by Nova Star Cruises. July and August numbers have been better.
One common complaint when the service was launched was the high fares, which potential customers said was driving them away from the ferry. Since then Nova Star Cruises has introduced numerous discounts to entice more people to use the service, including not charging for children under the age of 18. A family of four making a return trip on the ferry in August would spend around $675 US. Without the discounts the trip would cost around $1,401. If you want to add a cabin to your cruise, with the discounts offered, it will increase the cost of the trip (one-way) by a range of $111 to $167, depending on the type of cabin you choose.
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Michele and Martin Davy were travelling from Ottawa with their five children, Kieran, Brendan, Mariah, Declan and Seamus. They were visiting family in Yarmouth and took the ferry to Portland to drive home through the States.
Michele’s father used to own the Colony Restaurant. She lived in Yarmouth for 20 years and remembers working as a waitress for many years, starting at the age of 15.
Passing by the closed Colony complex – a victim of Yarmouth's economy in recent years – makes her feel sad, she said, as well as the absence of other motels and hotels that existed years ago when other ferry services operated, but she’s noticed a positive difference in other areas of Yarmouth. There’s a more attractive waterfront and new buildings going up.
The children visited Port Maitland beach, an antique store on Water Street and Upper Clement’s Park.
Cheryl Barr and Scott Stevens are from Evergreen and Steamboat, Colorado, respectively. They came to Nova Scotia for the wedding of Barr’s nephew at Pete Luckett’s vineyard in the Annapolis Valley.
“The vineyard was spectacular,” said Barr. They flew in to Halifax, rented a car and dropped it off in Yarmouth before catching the ferry.
Drop off instructions for the rental were confusing they said, and a better shuttle service for clients would be beneficial.
On board the Nova Star if you want to keep in communication with the outside world and you want Wifi you do need to purchase it. The cost is $10 for an hour of satellite wifi, which can only be used in certain parts of the ship on one of the decks. And since the boat was built in Europe, the outlets on the ship cannot be used without adaptors. The boat only has a set amount of adaptors available for loan to passengers.
Trouble with their Harley touring bike shortened Lee Ann and Mike Higginbutham’s trip in Nova Scotia. The East Central Illinois couple (a teacher and farmer) came across on the Digby ferry because they had seen some Nova Scotian roads described as being the most scenic routes in North America.
Over the past few weeks they travelled across New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Upper New York and Indiana.
The largest wooden church in North America on the French Shore was a highlight for Mike Higginbutham.
“We definitely want to come back,” he said. “Next time I want to make it to PEI.
The MacPherson family (James and Mia with sons Eric and Ian from Kitchener, Ontario) made stops in Halifax, Dartmouth, Lunenburg, Peggy’s Cove and Mabou, Cape Breton, where they went square dancing.
Mia MacPherson says she wished she had of had more time, to see West Pubnico.
“I speak French and so do the kids and it would have been nice to have gone there,” she said.
They say they appreciated the ferry for the time it saved driving.
“It’s a shorter time and it doesn’t cost all that much,” he said.
Carl and Barbara Price are retired and alternate their home between Old Orchard Beach for the summer and Marco Island in the winter. They drove from Maine to take the Digby ferry.
“It took six hours from Old Orchard Beach to Fredericton,” said Carl Price.
They say they loved the lighthouse and that they had a “very good dinner,” at Rudders.
Barbara Price suggested staff on the ferry be appointed to stand at the door and greet people and that better instructions be provided for voyage activities and ship layout.
(Note: Carla Allen of the Vanguard was invited to attend a familiarization tour onboard the Nova Star as a guest of a local tourism operator. The cost of the tour was paid for by Nova Star. While onboard Allen took the opportunity to speak with passengers about their thoughts on Nova Scotia and the ship.)