The long-awaited ferry service between downtown Pensacola, Pensacola Beach, and Fort Pickens will begin on June 22, Gulf Islands National Seashore officials confirmed Wednesday.
The National Park Service has signed a concessionaire contract with Gulf Coast Maritime Services, Inc., which will operate the ferry service as Pensacola Bay Cruises. The company currently operates the ferry at Cape Lookout National Seashore and has years of experience working with the National Park Service, according to park officials.
The ferry system — first envisioned more than 40 years ago — will be administered by the National Park Service in partnership with the City of Pensacola and Escambia County. Two 149-passenger ferries, named Turtle Runner and Pelican Perch by local fourth grade students, will run between the three stops. Each leg of the trip will last about 45 minutes and will include narration by park rangers or Pensacola Bay Cruises guides.
All-day, hop on, hop off ferry tickets will cost $20 for adults and will include admission to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which normally costs between $10 and $20 itself. Children’s tickets will be $13, with discounted tickets for active duty military and seniors offered for $18.50. Children under 2 will ride free.
“We are excited about our ferry service and look forward to sharing this experience with those who want to experience Pensacola from the water,” said George Aswad, the owner and operator of Pensacola Bay Cruises.
In 1978, Gulf Islands National Seashore’s original General Management Plan called for the establishment of a ferry service in Pensacola Bay. With help from the City of Pensacola and Escambia County and through numerous local, state, and federal funding sources, including damages paid by BP to the Deepwater Horizon Natural Resource Damage Assessment Trustees to mitigate for impacts the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill had on public access to and recreational use of local beaches and waterways, infrastructure and vessels were secured over the last six years.
The ferry system will operate from March 15 through October 31 each year, with daily service from May 15 through August 15, and weekend-only service from March 15 through May 14 and August 16 through October 31.
Built by Washington-based All-American Marine, the two ferries feature a climate-controlled enclosed main deck and a shaded upper deck for observation, and will be equipped with a snack bar for food and beverage service, a well as restrooms, passenger storage, flat screen TVs and a sound system for on-board interpretation by NPS rangers. The boats will be fully accessible, meeting all ADA standards, and will have bike racks for those wishing to explore Fort Pickens or Santa Rosa Island by bicycle.