The Cape May-Lewes Ferry’s Passenger Service Improvements
Though business has been steady since it first launched in 1964, new seats, earlier departures and on-board activities make the 85-minute cruise a destination all its own.
It’s a blazing afternoon on Lewes Beach, and children are skipping over bleached horseshoe crab shells while their parents click their Kindles and adjust their umbrellas. Regular visitors don’t look up when a large ship pulls away from Lewes, even when the sun strikes its alabaster decks and cawing seagulls take flight to keep it company.
That’s because the Cape May-Lewes Ferry vessels have become as familiar to beach-lovers as the lighthouses and breakwaters. Since it launched in 1964, the service has ferried more than 40 million passengers across the 17-mile gap between the two historic towns.
This year, the ferry has installed new seats to better accommodate passengers. It has also added new early morning departures (6:30 a.m. from Cape May; 8 a.m. from Lewes.) “It’s something our customers had mentioned often,” says James Salmon, public information officer for the Delaware River and Bay Authority, which owns and operates the service.
Yet the ferry is more than a way to reach a destination. It is a destination. Some take the 85-minute trip just to see the lighthouses—which can be accessed only by water—and the point at Cape Henlopen. Birdwatchers appreciate the views from sea, and dolphin sightings aren’t uncommon.
The ferry also offers special onboard activities. In July and August, for instance, kids can cruise with Pirate Pete, the ferry mascot, face-painters and children’s entertainers. The play date is scheduled for Wednesdays from Cape May and on Thursdays from Lewes.
Tuesdays get a tropical flavor with festive drinks and Caribbean music. Friday happy hours on the ship feature “Rock the Boat” evenings with bands, including Blondage (July 7 and 14) and Sir Beatle (July 21 and Aug. 8).
On July 3, the ferry will take passengers from Lewes to watch the fireworks, which blast off from a barge near Cape May. (People can gather on the terminal’s lawn on the Cape May side to view the show.)
The events don’t end in the off-season. Sip wine with appropriately paired food on Fridays and Saturdays, from Sept. 13 to Oct. 5, and enjoy a Rhythm & Blues Cruise on Oct. 12.
The terminals are equally eventful. Consider the Brews by the Bay event at the Lewes terminal on June 15, and paranormal investigations led by Delmarva Historic Haunts. (Dates to be announced.) Founder Rick Coherd has witnessed a spike in paranormal activity on the site. A historical marker on the property tells of a burial ground in the “immediate vicinity” for the unidentified sailors whose bodies washed ashore.
Families on both sides of the bay can play miniature golf and enjoy On the Rocks, the terminal’s restaurant. This year, Highwater Management, run by Matt Haley, is managing the food operations. “We expect the relationship to result in better food and service for our customers,” Salmon says.
To be sure, you don’t even need to board the ferry to enjoy a burger, a brew and the view. “It’s a great location logistically,” Haley says. “There’s a ton of potential to improve an already great product.”