The two 150-passenger, multi-million dollar catamaran ferries arrived at Plaza de Luna on Saturday afternoon to much fanfare in anticipation of the launch of the Pensacola Bay ferry service.
Arriving in Pensacola after a month-long voyage from the Pacific Northwest, the vessels stopped at the Palafox Street waterfront to welcome public officials and media to tour the 150-foot ferries. Hundreds of people watched the arrival of the ferries as they were already enjoying a food truck festival at Plaza de Luna.
Dan Brown, Superintendent of Gulf Islands National Seashore, was on hand to officially welcome the ferries. Brown said the vessels will be stored at the Port of Pensacola until the anticipated launch of the ferry service in spring 2018.
“We’ll drydock them for storage at the Port of Pensacola until we begin the ferry service next spring,” said Brown.
The delivery of the ferries comes in the wake of an unexpected year-long delay for the long-awaited ferry service, which officials have been planning since 1970s. In January, National Park Service officials announced the start of the service would be delayed until spring 2018.
According to officials, the postponement was caused by numerous factors, including delays in finding a qualified operator for the service and delays in construction for departure facilities in downtown Pensacola and Pensacola Beach, which are expected to be complete later this year. An operator is expected to be chosen no later than January 2018 in anticipation of a spring 2018 start date.
Once established, the service will operate the two 150-passenger ferries between downtown Pensacola, Pensacola Beach, and the Fort Pickens Area at Gulf Islands National Seashore. The ferry service is intended to serve as an alternate mode of transportation for visitors to the area when traveling to Fort Pickens, downtown, and Pensacola Beach. According to officials, if Fort Pickens Road is destroyed by another hurricane, the road will not be rebuilt and visitors will only be able to access the fort by boat.
The vessels, built by Washington-based All-American Marine, feature a climate-controlled enclosed main deck and a shaded upper deck for observation, will be equipped with a snack bar for food and beverage service, 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.
Prices for tickets will be finalized once an operator is chosen, according to park service officials.