Ah, the joys of driving to or from Long Island. Who among us hasn't experienced it? What's your favorite now? Is it that stop and go section of I95 around Co-Op City? It's charming, isn't it? What better way to spend an hour staring at the license plate of the car in front of you.
Or maybe you prefer the Southern State Parkway? That adrenaline rush of entering 65MPH traffic... absolutely exhilarating. If you're more the sedate type, the Long Island Expressway will be your road of choice. The construction zone in Nassau County is a great place to catch up on your sleep.
Yes, making frequent trips between Long Island and Massachusetts, I'm intimately familiar with the ins and outs of car travel. Sometimes when it all gets too much for me, I'll throw the budget to the wind and opt for the ferry. OK I'll be honest. Too often, I'll throw the budget to the wind. If you're planning a trip across the Long Island Sound, here are the ins and outs of the two main routes; The Cross Sound Ferry and The Bridgeport-Port Jefferson Ferry.
The Cross Sound Ferry
New London, CT -- Orient Point, NY
I'll admit to an emotional preference for The Cross Sound Ferry, as it was often a halfway meeting point for my husband and I when we were dating. That highly personal bias out of the way, this ferry line has some truly beautiful boats in the fleet. Of the six boats, my personal favorite is the Susan Ann. This sparkling clean and modern vessel has airline and booth seating and a comfy movie theater. History buffs will find the Cape Henlopen of interest, as this boat participated in the D Day Invasion of Normandy. Most of the boats do show a movie during the ride, providing some entertainment during inclement weather. If the weather is good however, you'll want to be outside during your trip, as both the Sound and the sky are beautiful and relaxing, day or night.
The trip takes anywhere from 1 hour, 15 minutes to 1 hour, 30 minutes, depending on sea conditions and the speed of the boat. One exception, the Sea Jet passenger-only ferry will make the run in 40 - 45 minutes. The ride itself can get a little rough halfway through, so those prone to motion sickness should be prepared for this part of the ride. Thankfully it's rather brief. "Silence of the Lamb" fans take note -- the famed Plum Island Animal Disease Research Facility that was promised to Dr. Lecter is passed by during this trip, and you're guaranteed to overhear at least one Jodi Foster impersonation during this part of the ride ("You can walk on the beach... underheavilyarmedguardsupervision...")
The web site states the fleet makes the trip year round at conveniently staggered times, but I've found the line to close during the winter months. The schedule changes with the season but you shouldn't have any trouble finding a boat that matches your schedule. Reservations are mandatory and during the summer season it is often necessary to phone at least a week in advance. For the high volume tourist weekends such as Memorial Day and Labor Day, be sure to make your reservations as early as possible. A major credit card is required to hold your place.
Finding the ferry from the New London site is a breeze, with well-marked signs directing you from I95. The same really can't be said, however, for the Orient Point ferry, as it's located far off the last exit of the Long Island Expressway at the end of a long, narrow and winding Route 25. Those unfamiliar with the area can easily find themselves confused, as there seems to be some strange ban on signs at the end of Long Island (except for the wineries). If you get off at Orient Point at night, the trip to the Long Island Expressway can be disorienting and confusing, as the road itself is pitch black with very few lights on the road. Be sure your car has plenty of gas, as there's only one lonely gas station open at night, far from the ferry terminal itself.
Pack a snack for the trip, especially when traveling with children. The food on the boat is horrifying, and more frightening is the prices. One notable exception is the baked goods that are rather tasty, but the price is still prohibitive.
Once in Connecticut, the New London/Mystic area has plenty to do for all ages. In Orient Point, there are wineries to visit, beaches, and Splish Splash water park, however these are a bit of drive from the ferry terminal.
The price is a pocket draining $38.00 car + driver one way fare. Additional charges apply to others in your car.
The Bridgeport - Port Jefferson Ferry
Bridgeport, CT -- Port Jefferson, NY
An oftentimes-overlooked fleet, the smaller Bridgeport-Pt. Jeff line has some attractive plusses missing in The Cross Sound Ferry. This fleet also sails year round with a smaller offering of three large boats. Not as spacious and clean as the Cross Sound vessels, the view from the top is still as breathtaking.
The ride across the sound can take anywhere from 50 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes, again depending on sea conditions. As the ride is Sound only, opposed to a brief segment where you hit ocean currents with Cross Sound, there is no fear of motion sickness as there is rarely more than a slight rock. On calm days I generally feel no motion at all. As this travels a smaller distance, you can see each shore during your entire ride. The view is still just as stunning.
For the directionally challenged, the opposite rules apply to this fleet from Cross Sound. Finding the Port Jefferson terminal is a breeze, with Route 112 North off the Long Island Expressway running almost to the loading dock itself. Bridgeport, however, is another story. While I feel equally safe in New London, Port Jefferson and Orient Point, I will not drive in Bridgeport after dark. The endless construction and tiny signs pointing to the ferry complicate matters.
Once again, the same rules apply to packing a snack for the trip, as the food is tasteless and overpriced.
In Port Jefferson, you can drive off the ferry and park your car in an adjacent parking lot if you wish to explore the village (and I hope you will!) One of my favorite villages in Long Island, Pt. Jeff is charming and packed with stores and restaurants, yet not too large to be overwhelming. In Bridgeport, there are a number of quality museums to visit in the area, but they will be a small drive from the terminal itself. The Bridgeport - Pt. Jeff line offers an added plus of arranging various day trips and tours so be sure to check out the website to see what's being offered at different times.
Another budget busting fare, the one way car + driver is $39.75 with the Bridgeport tax included. Note again additional passengers will be extra. Overheard on a June, 2000 trip from a boy appearing about 11 to his dad, "It was $55.00 for us just ONE WAY?!?! That's ridiculous!!!" I tend to agree.
While I am sure the expense of running a fleet must be staggering, I view both ferries to be rather overpriced. However, as I justify to myself upon forking over the debit card, sometimes the mental health aspect overcomes the desire to save money, as unless you are driving early in the morning or late at night, the traffic at various points to and from Long Island can be extremely brutal.
Not to mention, you can't view the stars reflecting on the Sound from your car. Happy Sailing!
This is an older article I wrote for Epinions on the Long Island ferries. It was written back in 2000, but I think still applies today. I've updated the cost of the trip, but all other information remains the same.