Going to Newfoundland is an amazing journey. But how do you get there?
There are few places that can boast such stark beauty and warm hospitality as Newfoundland. It's with good reason that so many people travel there each year. But getting to Newfoundland takes a bit of foresight and travelers always debate if they should fly or take the ferry. And if they do take the ferry, which one? I'm hoping my research and personal experience will help!
The province of Newfoundland and Labrador has two distinct (and equally amazing) parts. Labrador shares a border with northern Quebec and is accessible by plane and by car. Visiting there also requires planning and preparation for transportation -a topic deserving of it's own future blog post! The more visited island of Newfoundland is traditionally accessed by commercial airlines from other Canadian provinces (plus some international flights) and by passenger ferry from Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island. But which way of travel is best?
Before you go, consider how you'll get around
First things first! Newfoundland is a large island and distances between major towns are lengthy.
Your options for getting around include inter-provincial flights between major cities, private charters (in which case, you're likely reading the wrong blog!) and the DRL bus line, which covers 25 stops across the island (including the ferry terminals). And if you have plenty of time, experience, and powerful thigh muscles, you can also bike. But by far the most convenient way to get around is by car.
If your decision to fly versus taking the ferry is based on finances, don't forget to include the cost of either renting a car in Newfoundland or driving your own car across Canada to catch the ferry. Remember that Newfoundland is not an ideal place for tiny cars. High winds, blustery conditions, unpaved rural roads, and plenty o' moose require a sturdy vehicle. That's not to say that you need an SUV, but you should always match your vehicle to your plans and make sure you are safe and comfortable. Keep this in mind if you're renting a car - this is one occasion where the cheapest, smallest car is not a bargain.
The pros and cons of flying
Flying is obviously the fastest way to get to Newfoundland but, like all flights, they're never quite as quick as you'd like. Getting to and from the airport and the inevitable layovers in Toronto, Montreal, or Halifax all add up to significant time in transit. Still, it's a journey you can do in less than a day, which has tremendous appeal.
I think flying is the better choice in late fall, winter, and early spring. I'd rather be stranded by inclement weather at an airport than be stuck at sea and face a long, slow choppy crossing - or not be able to set sail at all, stranded in the small communities by the ferry terminals. Being marooned by weather is always awful but in this case I think airports have a slight advantage.
If you're flying to Newfoundland, odds are that you're flying into St John's. Keep a sharp eye for seat sales. There are some real bargains to be found. But if your final destination is another community, such as Corner Brook or Deer Lake, those sales are few and far between. If you see a great price, jump on it.
The pros and cons of taking the ferry
All your car related dilemmas are solved if you take the passenger ferry from North Sydney. You can take any vehicle you want, from a bike to an RV, and have the reassurance of a vehicle that suits your needs and which you're comfortable with. You can even bring along your pet!
Just be prepared for A LOT of driving. Distances in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland are deceiving. With absolutely no traffic or stops it still takes 4.5 hours to get from Halifax to the ferry terminal. Realistically, you should expect a 6 hour drive. And as it's recommended to arrive at the terminal at least 2 hours before departure, you can count on an 8 hour day even before you depart.
Roadtrippers can tour Cape Breton Island on route to Newfoundland. But I'll be honest with you (and please don't hate me for saying this!) there are long stretches in both provinces where there's not a whole lot to see and North Sydney, Port Aux Basques, and Argentia are not the most picturesque or engaging representatives of their respective provinces. Use your free time to explore beyond the ferry routes.
What's the ferry really like?
The best thing about taking the ferry are the friendly staff at Marine Atlantic. My friend Jessie, who blogs at Wandering Educators, was hugely impressed by how wonderful they were and you can read about her family friendly experience here.
As someone who is plagued with horrific motion sickness, I was thrilled that I never got seriously sea sick on the massive Marine Atlantic ferries - but at times it was close! Fortunately the large size of these vessels makes them more stable in the open waters.
On board, there are a few restaurants (none of which are particularly exciting), as well as pubs and some seasonal entertainment. There are gift shops, arcade areas, and plenty of seats to watch movies. You'll also find a gift shop, board games you can borrow, and a children's play area. That being said, the charms of the ferry wear off pretty quickly. These are LONG trips - bring a good book!
Argentia versus Port Aux Basques
The ferry to Port Aux Basques takes 6-8 hours and the drive to St. John's takes a further 9 hours. Meanwhile, the ferry to Argentia takes 16-18 hours and it's a further 90 minutes to St. John's. (For the purposes of simplicity, I'm assuming St John's is everyone's final destination). Taking into account that you will likely want to stop along the drive from Port Aux Basques to St John's to explore along the way, it's fair to say that no one option is quicker than the other and there are many factors that influence how long your journey will really take. If you are one of those rare creatures who can sleep anywhere, under any conditions, the overnight ferry to Argentia might feel like the shortest trip. The private cabins are basic but clean and comfortable. (Pro tip: Make your reservations well in advance!)
It's also a challenge to state which route is less expensive. On the surface, the crossing to Port Aux Basques is cheaper, but if St. John's is indeed your final destination, you will have to budget for spending a night on the road plus, of course, the cost of gas. The prices between the two routes can vary so much it's impossible to say which is more economical.
So what should you chose - ferry or plane? Only you can answer that! Your best choice will be a combination of timing, budget, travel style, and desired itinerary and each option has its pros and cons. But one thing is for sure - you're in for an amazing travel experience!
What would you choose - boat or plane?
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Flavors of PEI for the Fickle Foodie
5 Things I Loved About Newfoundland - and 3 That I Didn't
Art,Wine, and Memories of a Travel Splurge... Nova Scotia Style!