Andrew Merilees, president of the Haida Gwaii Tourism Association, joined Tourism Minister Stan Hagen, BC Ferries officials and other north coast tourism representatives on the Northern Adventure’s first voyage this week.
The group left Port Hardy Saturday evening after a ribbon-cutting ceremony and a three-hour delay, Mr. Merilees said.
But the new ship, which can travel at up to 21 knots (compared to a maximum speed of 14 knots on the Queen of Prince Rupert), made up for the delay and treated passengers to a fantastic trip, arriving in Prince Rupert Sunday evening.
“We had the best sailing you could possibly imagine,” Mr. Merilees said. “It’s a beautiful ship, it’s going to serve us well.”
The passengers were able to watch the entire hockey game, thanks to a new satellite system, he said. They also enjoyed their choice of a roast pork dinner with fresh vegetables, or more usual ferry fare like hamburgers and hot dogs.
The loading and unloading process is very different than islanders are used to, because the Northern Adventure has only one door. That means the smaller cars drive into the ferry first and turn around, and trailers are backed on, Mr. Merilees said.
“There’s cars parked sideways,” he said. “It’s going to take BC Ferries and passengers a while to figure it out.”
Mr. Merilees said the new ferry’s spacious back decks and large windows were highlights. Some of the other tourism representatives had never been on the Inside Passage before, and they were astounded, he said.
During the trip, Mr. Hagen, the BC Ferries team and the tourism industry leaders discussed partnerships, how to promote northern BC, and how BC Ferries can help, Mr. Merilees said.
He’s feeling optimistic after seeing the displays promoting Haida Gwaii on the Northern Adventure. Six of the eight photos in the cafeteria are of the Charlottes, he said, and there’s a large wall urging passengers to visit the islands.
The Northern Adventure will be serving both the Inside Passage and the Skidegate-Rupert route for the next six weeks, then it will serve the Inside Passage route for the summer.
The ferry attracted huge crowds at open houses held late last month, just before it went into service. More than 1,600 people saw the ship in Vancouver, while last week’s open house in Skidegate attracted 900. In Prince Rupert 750 turned out despite a record-breaking snowfall, with 525 at Bella Bella and 675 at Port Hardy.
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