The soft shades of morning sunlight illuminates Scarlett Point as the M. V. Northern Expedition (Prince Rupert Ferry) begins the 15-hour cruise up the Inside Passage from Port Hardy on Vancouver Island to Prince Rupert on the British Columbia (B.C.) mainland. The postcard-like scene reveals hidden coves, sailboats at anchor and fishing lodges sitting on the edge of tree studded islands. Not a bad beginning to an Alaska Highway road trip, eh? But to make the most of your boomer travel experience, keep reading for our best Prince Rupert Ferry tips.
Alaska Highway roadtrippers usually start at Mile 0 in Dawson Creek, B.C. But to add variety to the journey, consider starting your Alaska Highway road trip on the water by taking the Prince Rupert Ferry from Port Hardy to Prince Rupert. This gives you the opportunity to drive the remote Cassiar Highway, including a side trip to Fish Creek Wildlife Observation Site. And you’ll connect with the Alaska Highway 13.3 miles west of Watson Lake, Yukon Territory (YT). That’s what we did.
Prince Rupert Ferry Tips: How do I Get There?
To reach Port Hardy, departure point for the Prince Rupert Ferry, is an adventure in itself. Alan and I took a scenic ride on one of the B.C. Ferries from Horseshoe Bay in West Vancouver to Departure Bay in Nanaimo, then drove Highway 19 up the Vancouver Island coast to Port Hardy.
After Campbell River, Highway 19 becomes narrow and curvy. Watch for logging trucks and deer crossing the road. We don’t recommend driving it at night.
Rest for the night at one of the Port Hardy hotels, or build in several days to explore the wild tip of Vancouver Island. Since we’d been driving across Canada from Montana, Alan and I found that staying in Port Hardy for two nights gave us time to relax and catch up from the miles of driving. We arrived at the ferry terminal well-rested and ready to enjoy a day of cruising on the Prince Rupert Ferry.
You could almost feel the anticipation when Alan pulled our truck into line to drive onto the ferry. On one side of the parking area, a refreshment stand did a brisk business selling coffee. In the semi-darkness, passengers walked through the lines of cars, camper vans and trucks, stopping to visit with new-found friends as steam from the hot drinks that they held drifted into the air along with conversation snippets. “Where are you headed?” was the question of the morning.
I noticed The Milepost camper van and went up to the driver’s window to introduce myself to the editor, Kris Valencia. We had been emailing back and forth over the last month. Kris invited me to meet her sometime during the day for a cup of coffee so that I could ask questions about driving the Alaska Highway. It resulted in this interview.
Soon, Alan was parking the truck in our allotted slot. We gathered up gear for the day—backpacks filled with reading material, cameras, snacks and my computer—then climbed the stairs to the passenger section of the ferry.
What’s the M.V. Northern Expedition like?
On the M.V. Northern Expedition, Alan and I discovered a ferry ship that seemed more like a cruise ship. The seats were cushioned and came in all sorts of configurations. In one section the seats were angled so that we were looking at the windows rather than seatmates directly across from us. Another section had seats aligned horizontally to the windows so that there was an ever-passing parade of jaw-dropping sights.
For those who required their scenery in a prone position, the $35-dollar-fee Aurora Lounge provided full reclining seats. Or passengers could book a full cabin if they preferred to sleep through the ride, although why you would want to miss seeing the Inside Passage scenery is beyond me.
Thanks to a tip from a friendly attendant who shared one of his best Prince Rupert Ferry tips, Alan and I spent most of our time on 6th Deck aft where covered and open deck sections made the perfect combination. We had the covered deck to escape from the elements but could reach the rail-side view in a quick couple of steps. Of course we had our coats but the purser’s office also rented blankets for use on Deck 6.
“We’re passing God’s Pocket Marine Provincial Park—the best cold water scuba area in the world according to Jacques Cousteau,” a pleasant voice announced. The commentary continued intermittently as the M.V. Northern Expedition made her way up the Inside Passage.
And then there was the commentary from passengers up on Deck 6.
“Look there’s a whale spouting”
“Did you see the pod of dolphins?”
“Wow! Look at that sunrise!”
Facts About the Prince Rupert Ferry
M. V. Northern Expedition accommodates 600 passengers/130 vehicles and has 55 staterooms.
The Port Hardy to Prince Rupert itinerary is a daytime ferry ride in the summer but reverts to overnight service at other times of the year. The summertime journey is mostly an express ride, although certain sailings do make stops. It’s best to check the schedule.
Prince Rupert Ferry Tips: Where to Eat
We ate breakfast, dinner and lunch at the Canoe Café. The cafeteria-style restaurant offered comfortable seating, a wide selection of hot meals as well as beer and wine. During breakfast, a young European backpacking group sat near us, feasting on cereal they had brought onboard, supplemented by milk they purchased in the café. The staff obviously doesn’t mind if you bring your own. I’m not sure this would apply to alcohol.
Other dining choices include the Vista Restaurant and The Raven’s Lounge but we found the Canoe Café to be adequate for our needs.
M.V. Northern Expedition also serves a barbecue lunch on Deck 6 aft (our favorite viewing spot).
More Prince Rupert Ferry Tips
If you’re a shopper, the Passages gift shop offers an assortment of merchandise including sundries, books and items reflecting the region.
Need to clean up after days of camping? Showers are available. Towels can be rented from the Purser’s Desk.
The Puser’s Desk offers travel advice as well as B.C. Ferries vacation packages for sale.
Although there is a charge for reserving your vehicle’s space online, we highly recommend that you book ahead. This is a very popular route that fills up quickly.
By the time M.V. Northern Expedition arrived in Prince Rupert, it was around 11 p.m. and we were glad that our lodging had been reserved before leaving home.
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