If you want to get your car between Victoria and Vancouver in the shortest amount of time possible, your only choice is BC Ferries. What began as a two ship, two terminal operation has now become one of the largest ferry operators in the world. They provide vehicle and passenger service on 25 routes to 47 terminals, with a fleet of 35 vessels, year-round. In April 2003, BC Ferries was transformed from a Crown corporation into an independent, commercial organization under the Company Act.
When travelling from the Swartz Bay terminal in Victoria to the Tsawwassen terminal in Vancouver, the ferry trip itself takes approximately 1 hour and 35 minutes. During the summer months, the ferries operate on an hourly schedule, departing every hour, on the hour. During the other seasons, sailings are reduced to every other hour, with a few occasional extra sailings in between. To see the most current schedule of sailings, click here. You really have to give credit to BC Ferries for their scheduling and operations – they have it down to a fine art and consistently run on schedule (barring the occasional mechanical problem or other problem out of their control). Click here to see the rates so you can know what to expect when you arrive and pay at the terminal.
It is advisable to arrive at the ferry terminal one hour ahead of your sailing time to give yourself the best chance of being on the ferry you want. You also have the option of purchasing a reservation for a particular sailing, however, unlike Washington State Ferries, the reservation fees are extra and not included in the fares. If you have a reservation, you only have to arrive 30 minutes before your scheduled sailing time to make it on the boat.
If you are walking on the ferry with your dog, you will be restricted to staying on the car deck during the sailing. There are small “rooms” on the car deck for those with pets, but they are far from adequate, especially in the middle of winter where it can be freezing inside those rooms. The rooms always stink, are cold, have no facilities for humans (those are on the passenger decks, where you aren’t allowed to go), have hard and cold steel benches, and while enclosed, are still exposed to the elements are the walls are not floor to ceiling, but rather barriers between you and the cars. Considering all this, you would think you would get a reduced fair, but unfortunately you still have to pay full price. This has to be one of my biggest complaints with BC Ferries – people with pets are not treated very well, confined to the car deck paying full fare, but unable to enjoy any of the amenities on board. I realize pets can not go onto the passenger decks, but at least make the pet areas somewhat respectable. To see photos of the kind of conditions to expect, visit Keira-Anne’s blog here.
Once on board on the passenger decks, there are a variety of things to keep you busy during the sailing. On board you may find (depending on which ferry you are on) a Pacific Buffet, Seawest Lounge, Coastal Cafe, cafeteria featuring White Spot Triple-O’s, a gift shop, arcades, kids play areas, and staterooms available for rent. During the summer months, there are also 30 minute presentations by Coastal Naturalists on the outer decks, covering topics about the ocean, BC’s unique wildlife and marine life, coastal, nautical and cultural history.
Here are a couple of tips for out of towners (or even locals) that we have learnt over the years of taking BC Ferries:
- When arriving with a reservation, you can go to any open ticket booth, you do not have to go to the one open for your destination
- When you have made a reservation, you don’t HAVE to print it off and bring it to the ticket booth, but ONLY IF you are paying with the same credit card that you paid for the reservation with
- Pacific Buffet meals can be added to your reservation when booking between Vancouver and Victoria on select vessels
- When driving to the Swartz Bay Terminal, the police often have radar set-up to catch those people speeding to make their ferry. They usually set-up under the overpass as you are approaching the ticket booths (click here to see a photo), and also on the highway about 1.5kms before reaching the terminal at the McDonald Park Road exit. Be careful and watch your speed!
- If you have made a reservation and need to make a change to it, you can change up to 2.5 hours prior to original booking time if space is available (change fee may apply)
Have a tip you’d like us to add? Contact us and let us know! Watch our time lapse video below of the loading and unloading of a BC Ferry (available in HD)!