MANNS HARBOR- The official start of the summer travel season is here, and for many, that means the annual pilgrimage to the beautiful North Carolina coast. For a lot of visitors, no trip to the area would be complete without a ride on the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Ferry System.
During the busy summer season, lines for a few of the more popular ferry routes can sometimes get backed up. However, there are some things that visitors and residents can do to avoid wait times and get to their destinations with minimal delays. Here are a few tips from the people who know their routes the best:
Hatteras-Ocracoke: On the Ferry System's most popular summer route, motorists who arrive at Hatteras before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. will generally avoid the daily crowds, as will travelers who get to Ocracoke's South Dock before 2 p.m. or after 7 p.m. In addition, the busiest summer days on the Hatteras Inlet route are Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. "People who make their day trips on Monday or Friday stand a much better chance of avoiding long waits," says Hatteras Port Captain Walter Goodwin.
Southport-Fort Fisher: "The best thing people can do is arrive at the terminal 45 minutes to an hour before their departure time," says Southport Ferry Operation Manager Kirk Pistel. "It gives them a much greater chance of getting on the ferry they want." Much like the Hatteras Inlet route, departing before 10 a.m. or after 3 p.m. will also help travelers avoid wait times.
Pamlico/Neuse River Routes: With heavy commuter traffic, the only times visitors might want to avoid the NC Ferry's Pamlico and Neuse River ferry routes are "rush hours", which are early weekday mornings from Minnesott Beach and Bayview and weekday late afternoons from Cherry Branch and Aurora. Other than that, travelers are encouraged to explore the region's coastal rivers by ferry. "Especially at sunset," says Neuse River Operations Manager Sue Kinner. "We have some of the most spectacular summer sunsets you'll find anywhere."
[Traffic is generally light at Hatteras before 10 a.m.]