New operator announced for Pensacola Bay Ferry, service to restart this spring

The National Park Service and HMS Ferries, Inc. have signed a 10 year concessions contract for the operation of Pensacola Bay Cruises. HMS will immediately begin preparing for the 2019 season. Service startup date, schedule, prices, and other details will be announced as soon as they are available. Tickets for regular service will be all-day hop-on, hop-off, and discounts may be offered for children, military, seniors, groups, and frequent riders. Park entrance fees are waived for visitors arriving at Fort Pickens via Pensacola Bay Cruises.

“We’re excited to start working with HMS Ferries, Inc. and to see this wonderful opportunity return to Gulf Islands National Seashore this spring,” said Superintendent Dan Brown. The service provides the community and visitors a unique way to experience the exceptional marine resources of Pensacola Bay and provides an attractive transportation option between Pensacola, Pensacola Beach, and Fort Pickens. Each leg of the triangular route passes through national seashore waters, which encircle Santa Rosa Island. Pensacola Bay Cruises will operate seasonally during the spring, summer and fall recreation season.

Pensacola’s downtown ferry terminal is located at Commendencia Slip near Plaza de Luna. (Special to The Pulse)

Pensacola Bay Cruises’ 150 passenger boats, named Turtle Runner and Pelican Perch, were built with funds received via a post-Deepwater Horizon oil spill settlement reached with BP. The settlement earmarked some funds specifically to compensate the public for the temporary lost use of the national seashore beaches and waters. The settlement earmarked other funds for restoration of the park’s natural resources injured by the spill.

HMS (Hornblower Maritime Services) has over 25 years of experience in the maritime industry, and currently operates boat cruises and ferries at locations across the country including the Mobile Bay and Gees Bend ferries in Alabama, and St. Johns River ferry in Jacksonville, Florida. They bring an experienced and capable team to the operation at Gulf Islands National Seashore and its community partners.

In 1978, Gulf Islands National Seashore’s 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 seven years.