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Island Escapes: Taking the Ferry to Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard

Ferry heading towards a Nantucket beach


Some of the best aspects of living on Cape Cod include the endless supply of beaches, the expanses of isolated hiking trails, and the miles of paved bike paths to explore.

You'll also find world-class restaurants, high-end marinas, and buildings from the earliest days of European settlement in the Americas here.

With there being so much to do on the Cape, you might never want to leave, but there are a couple of beautiful islands nearby that you might have heard about a time or two.

And with so many ferry options available, there has never been a better time to visit Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket for a day, a week, or anywhere in between.


Here's how you get there:

The Steamship Authority

The most frequent daily service to the islands comes through the Steamship Authority, which runs boats from Woods Hole to Martha's Vineyard and Hyannis to Nantucket.

When heading to Martha's Vineyard, you can arrive at either Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs, depending on where you want to spend your time.

The Steamship Authority operates a year-round ferry service to Vineyard Haven from the Woods Hole Terminal and offers a seasonal schedule to Oak Bluffs from the middle of May until late October. Each sailing takes about 45 minutes, and a one-way ticket is $8.50 for adults, $4.50 for kids between five and 12, and free for younger children. You can also bring a vehicle to the island for an additional fee, but reservations are required to do so.

As for the island terminals, both Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs are vibrant neighborhoods on Martha's Vineyard featuring great restaurants, some nightlife, and incredible beaches. If you're looking to get off the Cape without venturing too far, this is the place to do it.

Something to remember is that the Woods Hole Terminal doesn't have parking, but they do operate a free shuttle from several sites in Falmouth. Check ahead to see where you can park.

When traveling to Nantucket, you'll have to make your way to the Hyannis Cruise Terminal. Trips from here take two hours and 15 minutes on the traditional ferry, although their high-speed boats will have you there in an hour.

The rates for the traditional ferry are $18.50 for adults and $9.50 for kids between the ages of five and 12 each way, while the high-speed prices are double. There is capacity for vehicles on the regular ferries with a reservation.

Parking is limited at the Hyannis Cruise Terminal, but there is a free shuttle service that will take you from off-site lots on Lewis Bay Road, Yarmouth Road, and Brooks Road to your boat.


Hy-Line Cruises

Hy-Line Cruises doesn't have as many daily sailings as the Steamship Authority, but its boats are newer, and all of them have high-end amenities. All of Hy-Line Cruises' vessels are high-speed, as well, so you can get from its Hyannis Harbor location to Oak Bluffs on Martha's Vineyard or Nantucket in one hour.

This ferry's destination is the Nantucket Downtown Historic District, which features museums, old houses, restaurants, art galleries, and other sights worth seeing.

One-way rates from Hyannis to Oak Bluffs are $29.50 for adults and $19.50 for kids between the ages of five and 12, while the Nantucket ferry is $41 for adults and $29 for kids. There are four sailings to and from Martha's Vineyard and nine sailings to and from Nantucket daily.


Freedom Cruise Line

When you're looking to get to downtown Nantucket but don't want to deal with the traffic in Hyannis, Freedom Cruise Line in Harwich Port is an option. Sailings through this ferry company leave from Saquatucket Harbor, which sits in a far less crowded part of the Cape and has a large on-site parking lot. As a bonus, parking is free for day trippers and $22 if you're spending a night on the island.

One thing to keep in mind is that Freedom Cruise Line doesn't offer many sailings throughout the day. In the spring and fall, you'll only find one trip per day, while the summer months extend three journeys in each direction. As a result, you’ll want to make a reservation if you have your heart set on departing from Saquatucket Harbor.

The one-way cost of the Freedom Cruise Line ferry is $41 for adults, $29 for kids under 12, and $5 for children under two. Each sailing takes 80 minutes.


Island Queen

Falmouth Inner Harbor is a bustling area full of yacht clubs and marinas, so it makes sense that you’d find a couple of ferry terminals there, as well. One of these terminals is where you’ll find Island Queen, which operates sailings from the Inner Harbor to Oak Bluffs every day of the week between late May and the middle of October. The service's offerings are expanded in the summer, as they have seven sailings during the week and three supplementary departures on weekends during that time.

The Island Queen offers high-speed service, with all of its sailings taking only 35 minutes each way. Keep in mind that reservations are not required and tickets are open-ended, so it is recommended that you arrive at least 45 minutes before your desired departure to ensure that you get a spot.

One-way trips are $14 for adults and $8 for children between five and 12, and there are discounts when you purchase you a round trip ticket. The terminal's parking lot is about 200 meters away, and spaces cost $20 per day.


Falmouth-Edgartown Ferry

We’ve discussed the routes from Cape Cod into Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs, but what about the third major destination on Martha’s Vineyard?

From Falmouth Inner Harbor, you can catch the ferry right into Edgartown, which features fine seafood restaurants and scenic beaches overlooking Nantucket Sound. In fact, Edgartown is probably the most popular port for those with their own boats, since they don’t have to deal with as much ferry traffic on this route.

The Falmouth-Edgartown Ferry, which takes an hour in each direction, operates three times per day on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays in the spring, and four times daily in the summer.

The sailings cost $30 each way for adults and $20 for kids between six and 12, while younger children are free. You can also buy a commuter pass where you pay for ten trips at once, which will save you some money in the long run.

On-site valet parking is available at a rate of $25 per day.


Take a Day or Two Away From It All

Spending some time on Martha’s Vineyard or Nantucket allows you to take a quick vacation without having to venture too far from home. Your house on Cape Cod is likely only a short drive from one of these terminals and from there, you can find yourself exploring an entirely new part of the country in about an hour.

Perhaps the best part about these ships is that many have an on-site bar, so you can get into holiday mode the second you step aboard.


Bon voyage!

Published July 29, 2019 in Exploring Our Area