Planning a road trip to Vancouver Island? Here are 5 important things you need to know about traveling with BC Ferries to get you started.
If you’re traveling by vehicle to Vancouver Island, then BC Ferries is what you’ll need.
BC Ferries operates 365 days a year with a ferry leaving from the lower mainland of BC to Vancouver Island pretty much every hour.
If you’re traveling to Vancouver Island from the United States there are some advantages and disadvantages to taking an American ferry that you’ll want consider. USA Ferries To Vancouver Island And How It All Works.
With a fleet of 35 vessels, serving 25 routes and 47 terminals between Lower-Mainland BC, Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Discovery Islands, Sunshine Coast, BC Ferries is one of the largest ferry operators in the whole world.
Taking a ride on a BC Ferry is part of the whole Vancouver Island vacation experience. The larger BC ferries between the mainland and Vancouver Island are state of the art outfitted with a gift shop, a restaurant, multiple decks, coffee shops, lounges, wi-fi, and observation decks.
The route to Victoria even has a full buffet. During the peak whale watching season you may even hear the captain come on the PA system and direct your attention to whales or porpoises swimming by.
5 Important Things You Need To Know About Traveling To Vancouver Island On BC Ferries
1. Multiple Ferry Terminal Names For The Same Location
Yes, it’s normal to be confused by the double names. A quick way to understand what’s going on here is to keep in mind that you can ask for a ticket to your destination city or the name of the terminal you are traveling to.
For example: Duke Point or Departure Bay are the location names of the terminal and Nanaimo is the city destination for both those terminal locations. You can also ask for a ticket to Swartz Bay (Terminal location) or Victoria (City destination).
2. To Make A BC Ferries Reservation Or Not To Make A Reservation… That Is The Question
I can count on one hand how many times I’ve made a BC Ferries reservation, however without a reservation it can add some extra stress. It all depends on your travel schedule flexibility, if you want to save money, and how much risk you feel comfortable taking on with potentially being delayed until the next sailing.
During the peak summer tourist months a reservation in hand gives you a lot of peace of mind and you don’t have to arrive super early to get in line with general boarding. We recommend a reservation during the peak summer tourist season.
You can make your reservation on the BC Ferries website for the main ferry routes. You’ll be guaranteed a spot as long as you arrive at the time the reservation dictates.
If you don’t make a reservation, then upon arrival you’ll be directed to the car line up for general boarding. If there are no reservations available online for the ferry time you want, then just arrive extra early for that ferry for general boarding as they never sell all the spots on the ferry through their reservation system. BC Ferries will always leave spots for general boarding.
There is always room for walk-on passengers.
3. The Main BC Ferries Routes Between Lower-Mainland BC To Vancouver Island
Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal (West Vancouver)
This ferry will take you to a terminal in downtown Nanaimo (Departure Bay) on Vancouver Island. The Horseshoe Bay Ferry Terminal is just outside of Vancouver and an hour from Whistler. It’s hard to believe this beautiful terminal is only 10 minutes outside such a large metropolitan area, but it is. Arrive early and walk over for some fish chips in the quaint town of Horseshoe Bay overlooking the ocean.
You can also access the Sunshine Coast from the Horseshoe Bay ferry terminal.
Tsawwassen Ferry Terminal (Vancouver)
This ferry terminal is located 40 minutes south of downtown Vancouver. This is the largest of all BC ferry terminals with multiple destinations including Nanaimo and Victoria on Vancouver Island.
Nanaimo (Duke Point) which is a ferry terminal 10 minutes south of Nanaimo on Vancouver Island.
Victoria (Swartz Bay) which is a ferry terminal 30 minutes north of Victoria on Vancouver Island.
You can also access Salt Spring Island or other Gulf Islands from the Tsawwassen ferry terminal.
4. Making Sense Of The BC Ferries Sailing Schedule
In short, ferries from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Duke Point (Nanaimo) are mostly every 2 1/2 hours.
Ferry times from Tsawwassen (Vancouver) to Swartz Bay (Victoria) are mostly every hour.
Ferry times from Horseshoe Bay (West Vancouver) To Departure Bay (Nanaimo) depart approximately every 2 hours.
Review the complete BC ferry schedules and get ready to sail away into island time. The sailing time from the Mainland to Vancouver Island are between 1 and 1/2 and 2 hours depending on the route you choose.
5. How Much Does It Cost To Take A Ferry To Vancouver Island?
Islanders feel it’s pirate robbery and you may too!
Here is the quick break down of the rates for the main routes to Vancouver Island? Full list of BC Ferries Rates
Okay, I know, it may still be a little confusing on how to get to Vancouver Island on BC Ferries…. not to worry, feel free to comment below and we would be glad to help further. Or visit our friends at BC Friends online.
This BC Ferries route map will help orient you. Look for some of the terminal names we listed above. (Click on map for full size)
OR just forget BC Ferries altogether, ditch the car and jump on a Harbour Air float plane to Vancouver Island!