This day was going to be our shortest drive yet! According to Google Maps we needed just under 5 hours to do it. Our experience thus far told us it would be more like 6+ hours, but still! It sure was nice to sleep in, take our time with breakfast and packing, and get on the road by 11:00 am knowing we still had plenty of time to make it to our destination.
After so many days of driving, crossing over onto Cape Breton Island felt almost surreal. Could we actually be almost there? (All along our first “real” destination was Newfoundland. It was the light at the end of the never-ending-driving tunnel.) The roads got a little worse, and Google Maps tried to make us do an un-necessary U-Turn (a nightmare situation when towing a trailer!), but the already pretty landscape turned all the more beautiful.
We pulled into the town of North Sydney, Nova Scotia around 6:00 that evening. I had looked up some info. on the Marine Atlantic website and found that they do not want people checking into the ferry terminal any more than 4 hours before departure, but you must be there at least 2 hours before departure (ie – we needed to be there between 8:00 and 10:00). We followed Erick and Sherri to a Canadian Tire parking lot just a few minutes from the terminal, and getting permission to park there for a few hours, we walked down to Main St. to see if we could find somewhere to eat supper. Sherri got a good picture to represent our experience, and tells a bit about it here:
Dale wanted to have a good old authentic maritime meal and, no that did not fit into my budget so it went onto the “cheat” section of my budget paper. Sad face. We left the cars and trailers at Canadian Tire and walked down the street till we found a family restaurant. We noticed part ways through the meal that we had set the kids in the booth where the wiring was hanging all crazy from the light fixture. Someone, not me this time, joked that maybe if one of the kids could take one for team we could get our meal free. The waiter came inches from dropping a tray of glasses full of ice water on the baby of our group’s head and that didn’t get us a free meal so I guess we were pushing for some other way.
Then it was time to go! It took mere minutes to check in and pick up our reserved tickets, at which point we were directed to a line-up of other campers/trailers (who, by the way, had obviously been there more than 4 hours early).
It was a lot of hype and excitement to end up sitting in a parking lot for 2 hours. (More really, because although boarding started at 10:00 it was all the semi’s that loaded first. Then a large number of the cars. Finally, followed by the trailers (and the remaining cars).
I knew the ferry was big, but it was crazy to actually drive up inside and find yourself in a large (tightly packed) parking deck.
The passenger seating and cabins were all on the 7th and 8th floors, so up the stairwell we went (don’t forget what deck you’re parked on!). Sherri will tell you a little bit about where their family ‘stayed’:
Our family chose to stay in the recliners for our night on the ferry. It was a decision based on bunks for night vs. clam dig on PEI. It’s a bit easier for us to watch 2 kids and, no, not ideal, but doable enough for us to choose the clam dig and forgo the bunks. The seats were just ok At first it was tricky to find 4 together. We were about to give up and split up and a gentleman sitting along in a row of 4 noticed and switched places so we could be together. It was very nice of him. Erick didn’t sleep well on those chairs. I was fine, but found the night too short to get enough sleep. The girls fit better in small spaces still so they were oblivious. Listening to the snores of other people was something to get over. When they get close to the unloading time they flip those light switches on nice and bright!! No patience for the sleepy ones. It’s ruthless and probably necessary. Once they start unloading it’s a pretty quick event.
We had opted to pay the extra money for a 4 bed berth (which came with a bathroom/shower too).
The 4 beds are only singles, but we squished in! In the end, our oldest was the only one who had a bed to himself – but we were so tired that it didn’t matter and we all slept soundly. I tried to stay up to watch us pull out of port, but 5 minutes into our departure I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Dale and Erick did go for a walk around to explore the ship a bit. I decided I would check it out in the morning. It should be noted that the next day, shortly into our drive, Dale looked at the clock and said “Oh yeah, I forgot there was another time change! It’s only 5:30 back home (rather than the 8:00 Newfoundland time), no wonder I’m so tired!” I could only retort back: “Yeah, I’m sure it has nothing to do with the fact that you and Erick walked around until 1:30 last night and had to get up at 6:00!” Wow. Just wow. LOL!!!
An hour before arrival to the Port-Aux-Basques dock, a bell went off and a notice was given over the intercom that we were approaching port and it was time to gather belongings. I went to take some pics of the ferry, buy some coffee and muffins, and we prepared to disembark and set off on our journey through Newfoundland!