Cape May-Lewes Ferry Celebrates its 50th Anniversary.

This summer marks 50 years since the Cape May-Lewes Ferry began cruising the roughly 15 nautical miles of water between Delaware and New Jersey.



Purchased in 1964 by the Delaware River and Bay Authority, the four steam ships, which made up the Cape Charles-Kiptopeke Ferry system in Virginia, had been rendered obsolete with the opening of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.

Now half a century later, the Cape May-Lewes system sits at a similar critical juncture. Ridership is down from an all-time high of 1.2 million passengers in 2001 to 795,000 ferry riders in 2012. Improved roadways, including the completion of the 103-mile Del. 1 in 2003, and outlet shopping and casino access on both sides of the Delaware Bay haven’t exactly helped those numbers.

But the powers that be are by no means ready to abandon ship. As the times change, so, too, does the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, and upgrades and improvements are nothing new to a fleet of four steam-powered ships that were eventually replaced by diesel-powered models and refurbished and upgraded in 1996 (the Motor Vehicle Delaware and Twin Capes), 1998 (the MV Cape Henlopen) and 1999 (the MV New Jersey).

James Salmon, public information officer for the DRBA, is certainly aware of the numbers and the peripheral threats to foot and auto traffic on the ferry systems. “I think there has been a perfect storm of situations that has impacted ferry traffic, including a change in vacation patterns and demographics in the region, other attractions and improved roadways,” Salmon says. “What we’re trying to do is position the ferry as a destination in and of itself by improving the vessels and developing onsite events and attractions to spur daytime visitation.”

The MV New Jersey and MV Delaware, for example, feature improved amenities that allow passengers to make the approximately 85-minute trip a real treat. The New Jersey features the Laughing Gull Lounge, with a bar and seating area, offering beer from the Cape May Brewery and Dogfish Head Brewery. The Delaware, on the other hand, features the Lido Bar, with live entertainment twice a week, including Tropical Tuesdays, when themed frozen drinks are available, and Rock The Boat Fridays, when local rock and pop cover bands play.

The Delaware also runs sunset wine cruises in the fall, during which a connoisseur from nearby Outlet Liquors in Rehoboth Beach performs tastings for passengers. (The rate for a round-trip ticket, four tastings, paired hors d’oeuvres and live entertainment was $45 per person last year.)

In terms of the nuts and bolts of the vessels, Heath Gehrke, director of ferry operations, says the DRBA has applied for a federal grant that would allow for a possible re-powering project over the next five years, which would involve adding greener and more fuel-efficient engines to the fleet. A first-class cabin has also been discussed, as have changes to the seating areas.

“We want to continue improvements to the cabin for a better customer experience,” Gehrke says, “but you can already see those improvements taking place at the terminals. Last year we started serving freshly prepared sandwiches and salads, and the kitchen at the Lewes facility is undergoing major renovations, so that we may offer hot items like chicken fingers and French fries, both at the terminal and on board, this summer.”

 

The terminals are also seeing the benefit of more foot traffic due to bocce tournaments, beer festivals and live outdoor music. On The Rocks Bar and Grill, located both in Cape May and Lewes, offers grilled burgers, seafood, draft beer, tropical cocktails and live entertainment Monday through Thursday. Family fun events, with games for kids and face painters, take place on Wednesdays and Thursdays as well, all of which should be good preparation for the 50th anniversary celebration on June 28 in Cape May and June 29 in Lewes.

Away from the vessels and terminals, another world also awaits would-be visitors; especially those who enjoy a long bike ride during the warmer months. Car and driver/passenger fares are $36 to $44 one-way and $68 to $88 round-trip through October. However, foot passengers and those with bicycles pay only $10 one-way and $18 round-trip through October. Once riders get to either side of the bay, bike trails allow for some serious exploration.

Cape Henlopen State Park, which will also celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, is the first to come to Gehrke’s mind.

“That park is spectacular to ride in, and when the final phase of the Breakwater Junction Trail is completed (May 1), you’ll be able to ride all the way to Georgetown,” Gehrke says. “You can ride all the way to Rehoboth from Lewes if you want, and on the Jersey side, you can ride to the Cape May County Zoo or Cold Spring Harbor Historic Village, and most of the trails are off the road. I’m expecting to see a real spurt in bike traffic this year.”

According to the League of American Bicyclists, an advocacy group that each year assesses the bicycle friendliness of all 50 states, Delaware and New Jersey were ranked No. 5 and No. 7, respectively, in 2013. Cape Henlopen State Park alone features five different bike trails, including the Bike Loop Trail, a three-mile, paved trail that “allows for a full experience and appreciation of the park,” according to the Delaware State Parks website.

With all the cars and bikes traveling to and from Cape May and Lewes over the half-century of the ferry’s operation, naturally the question of whether to build a bridge has come up. After all, the Cape May-Lewes Ferry vessels were first obtained as a result of another bridge being built. Salmon, however, dismisses that idea, due in part to some “major hurdles” that would be presented to construction today that wouldn’t have been an issue some 50 years ago.

“As a society, we’re much more conscious of the environment and how our actions affect it today than we were in the ’60s,” Salmon says. “Not only would the cost be prohibitive [to build a bridge], but the environmental hurdles, such as legislation to protect the piping plover and horseshoe crabs, would make it nearly impossible.”

For the time being, former terminal manager Gerald Hitchens is content with that news, and hopes the ferry system, which employed him from its opening in 1964 until his retirement in 2003, will continue to thrive well into the future. Hitchens, who worked first as a dockhand and later as a ticket taker on the boats, says there isn’t a better way to travel.

“I’ve always believed that there was no better form of relaxing travel than by ferry,” says Hitchens, a Georgetown native who went to work for the ferry straight out of high school. “Seeing the dolphins jump over the waves, feeling the breeze in your face and smelling the salt air is and always will be better than sitting in traffic and smelling the fumes of the cars in front of you. You just can’t duplicate travel by boat with a car.” 

IF YOU GO

Though still in the planning period, the 50th anniversary festivities on June 28 in Cape May and June 29 in Lewes will include speeches by local dignitaries at 4 p.m., followed by an unveiling of a patio made of engraved bricks that patrons of the ferry can purchase, followed by an outdoor screening of a WHYY- produced documentary on the 50 years of the ferry service, at 8:30 p.m.

Additionally, visitors can expect to see a classic, 1960s car show, face painters, balloon animal sculptors and a bouncy house for the kids, carnival games, food vendors offering popcorn and snow cones, and a Dogfish Head beer tent.

The Funsters, a Delaware-based rock-and-pop cover band, will play in Lewes, while Lima Bean Riot, a Philadelphia-based, six-piece cover band, will play the Cape May side. For updates on the celebration, check out capemaylewesferry.com.

 

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More information

Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities at the Delaware Museum of Natural History's newest special exhibit. Undertake...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual exhibitions for its members. Famous painters and Sunday painters were able to exhibit their work in enormous open shows...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
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Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
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Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery will host bariatric support groups on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Medical Staff...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
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Telephone: 302-536-5395
Contact Name: Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery
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Tutto Fresco has live entertainment every Friday night from 6:30–9:30 p.m. Call for details. http://tuttofrescode.com/

Where:
Tutto Fresco
514 Philadelphia Pike
Wilmington, DE  19809
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Meeting every Friday, Bayhealth Kent General Hospital, 640 s. State Street, Dover, 7:30 pm., Private Dining Room #3 in the basement. For those who have, or think they may have a gambling problem....

Cost: 0.00

Where:
Bayhealth Kent General Hospital
640 S. State Street
Private Dining Room #3
Dover, DE  19901
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Telephone: 800-855-2CALLGA
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JOHNNY WINTER ALL STAR BAND The Johnny Winter Band has been wowing audiences everywhere with incredible music played by Johnny's band and guest artists. Join Paul Nelson and The JW Band in a...

Cost: $20 ADV + $22 DOS + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live Wilmington
500 N Market St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 215-222-1400
Contact Name: MP Intern
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Now in its 8th year, the PAWS for People Conference/Annual Meeting is designed for those who love their pets, are pet enthusiasts or who want to learn more about the world of Pet Therapy. This...

Cost: $45 through 2/14; $50 after that date; $5 discount for PAWS members.

Where:
Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children
1600 Rockland Road
Wilmington, DE  19803
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Sponsor: PAWS for People
Telephone: 302-351-5622
Contact Name: Clarice Ritchie
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February 3 – 25 Group Show featuring still life paintings in oil by Rosemary Castiglioni; gestural animal paintings by Gay Freeborn; and plein air landscapes from Zion National Park,...

Cost: free

Where:
The Station Gallery
3922 Kennett Pike
Greenville, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-654-8638
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Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities at the Delaware Museum of Natural History's newest special exhibit. Undertake...

Cost: Adults: $9 Children (3-17): $7 Seniors (60+): $8 Under 3: FREE Members: FREE

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Wilmington, DE  19807
View map »


Website »

More information

Uncover the facts, fictions, and fossils of Dinosaur Revolution as you LIVE LARGE in reptilian role-play activities. Undertake three Mesozoic Missions spanning 150 million years and mimic dinosaur...

Cost: Free with Admission

Where:
Delaware Museum of Natural History
4840 Kennett Pike
Newark, DE  19807
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Telephone: 302-658-9111
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The Wilmington & Western Railroad's Hockessin Art Festival is a fundraising effort to benefit the railroad. Over 25 artists will be displaying and selling limited-edition...

Cost: $3 for art show admission; $5 for train fare (children under 2 are free)

Where:
Hockessin Memorial Hall
606 Yorklyn Road
Hockessin, DE  19707
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Sponsor: Wilmington & Western Railroad
Telephone: 302-998-1930
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Are you interested in learning more about what volunteer opportunities the Kalmar Nyckel Foundation has to offer? Consider attending our Volunteer Open House at our shipyard in Wilmington, DE from...

Cost:

Where:
Kalmar Nyckel Foundation
1124 E 7th St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Between 1917 and 1944, the Society of Independent Artists (SIA) hosted annual exhibitions for its members. Famous painters and Sunday painters were able to exhibit their work in enormous open shows...

Cost: Free with Museum admission

Where:
Delaware Art Museum
2301 Kentmere Parkway
Wilmington, DE  19806
View map »


Website »

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DCM Guests will experience, engage in, and take home different STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, Mathmatics) activities run by Science Ambassadors from the Charter School of Wilmington...

Cost: $8.75

Where:
Delaware Children's Museum
550 Justison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Telephone: 302-425-4890
Contact Name: Joe Valenti
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The Rehoboth Beach Film Society announces the next play in the exciting series of National Theatre Live screenings. National Theatre Live is a groundbreaking project that presents the best of...

Cost: $18-$20

Where:
Cinema Art Theater
17701 Dartmouth Drive, #2
Lewes, DE
View map »


Sponsor: Rehoboth Beach Film Society
Telephone: 302-645-9095
Contact Name: Jeri Kaplan
Website »

More information

Build a hydraulic-powered machine while learning about pressure, water, and power. Families work together to solve science mysteries and engineering challenges. Activities are included in regular...

Cost: Adults: $14, Children 6-14: $5, Children 5 and under and Hagley Members: FREE

Where:
Hagley Museum and Library
200 Hagley Creek Road
Wilmington, DE  19807
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Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery will host bariatric support groups on Tuesday, Feb. 7 from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 27 from 6 to 7 p.m. in the Medical Staff...

Cost: FREE

Where:
Nanticoke Memorial Hospital
801 Middleford Road
Seaford, DE  19973
View map »


Telephone: 302-536-5395
Contact Name: Nanticoke Weight Loss & General Surgery
Website »

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An evening of entertainment and hope at the 2017 Wilmington Heart Ball. Each year, community members, medical professionals and corporate leaders come together to celebrate the lifesaving work of...

Cost:

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
815 Justison St
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Join us for an unforgettable evening of entertainment and hope at the 2017 Wilmington Heart Ball.  Each year, community members, medical professionals and corporate leaders come together to...

Cost: $175

Where:
Chase Center on the Riverfront
815 Justison Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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Sponsor: American Heart Association
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We are a mixture of some of the best and hardest working musicians in the Philadelphia area specializing in a mashup concept, fusing the music of The Allman Brothers Band and The Grateful Dead....

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live- Wilmington
500 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE
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Mo Lowda & The Humble is a three piece Indie-rock group from Philadelphia, PA. The band has created a unique musical style combining various genre's ranging from garage rock to jazz fusion;...

Cost: $10 + FEES

Where:
World Cafe Live- Wilmington
500 North Market Street
Wilmington, DE  19801
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