New England getaways on public transportation.
When the weather forecast calls for a city steamer, Martha’s Vineyard and its cool breezes might seem almost impossibly far away. But with the right connections, you can leave South Station and land on the Vineyard by midmorning. Last year the New Jersey-based SeaStreak ferry company began promoting its catamaran from New Bedford in conjunction with bus service from South Station. A new bus carrier is involved this year, and the service recently resumed for the summer season.
The bus connection to the New Bedford ferry dock is Dattco (800-453-5040), a company best known for its Connecticut school buses. But the New Bedford bus is a far cry from what we remember from our school days. The new, well-maintained coaches have comfortable seats with electrical plugs and some of the strongest and fastest mobile Wi-Fi we’re encountered.
Affectionately dubbed the “Whaling City Express” by its crew, the sleek and shiny Seastreak ferry (800-262-8743, www.seastreak.com) features indoor seating on two levels, a small upper deck, and a snack bar. Since it takes only passengers, some freight, and bicycles (a multi-bike rack is mounted at the bow), loading and unloading is quicker than on a vehicular ferry. Most vessels on the route carry a maximum of 149 passengers, though a 500-passenger boat is sometimes pressed into service on weekends. For our midweek trip in late May, both the bus and the ferry were less than a quarter full, making for a relaxing journey.
For maximum time on the beach, we opted for the 7:15 a.m. bus from South Station (7 a.m. on weekends). Dattco does not sell tickets online (the schedule is on the Seastreak website), but when we called for information we were assured that the bus would not be full and that we could purchase tickets from the driver if the ticket window was not open (it wasn’t). We also had to ask the driver to drop us at the modern Seastreak terminal, which is a short detour from the downtown New Bedford stop.
We arrived by 8:30 a.m. (8:15 on weekends) and were ready and waiting to board the 9:30 a.m. ferry for the one-hour journey to Oak Bluffs. Seastreak (which sells reservations online to pick up at the terminal) has service to both Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven, and it’s possible to arrive at one and depart from the other. Daytrippers maximize their island time by taking the 9:30 a.m. to Oak Bluffs and departing on the 5:15 p.m. ferry from Vineyard Haven. Before leaving the island, call Dattco at 800-453-5040 to request pickup at the ferry terminal at 7 p.m. (7:40 p.m. on weekends). We have to admit that this was the only part of the journey that gave us pause. We feared being stranded overnight — but the driver was right on time and curious about our getaway.
WHAT TO DO
Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs both have public sandy beaches that begin steps from the ferry terminals. Both villages have small boutiques specializing in genteel WASP clothing, designer-driven housewares, and “gifts,” as well as good spots for casual and more ambitious dining. But you don’t have to feel captive in either village. The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority (508-693-9440, www.vineyardtransit.com) runs 13 bus routes that cover the island. Line 13 is the most useful; it connects Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown via the beach roads. Fares are $1 per town, including “town of origin.”
Renting a bicycle is another good option. Each village has a shop that specializes in bicycles rather than making them an add-on to moped and car rentals: Martha’s Bike Rentals in Vineyard Haven (5 Lagoon Pond Road, 508-693-6593, www.marthasbikerentals.com; $25 per day), and Anderson’s Bike Rentals in Oak Bluffs (Circuit Ave. Ext., 508-693-9346, www.andersonsbikerentals.com; $20 per day). Ask at either for a free map of island bike routes. One of the most popular is the 6-mile Beach Road path from Oak Bluffs to Edgartown, where you can pick up the route to South Beach. Another circuit cruises out of Vineyard Haven past the 1838 West Chop lighthouse.
To stay the night, try the surprisingly spiffy Vineyard Harbor Motel (60 Beach Road, 508-693-3334, www.vineyardharbormotel.com, from $195 or from $215 with kitchen) in Vineyard Haven, which has its own tiny private beach and a serene courtyard. In Oak Bluffs, Isabelle’s Beach House (83 Sea-view Ave., 508-693-3955, www.isabellesbeachhouse.com; from $315) lives up to its name, as the airy and elegant rooms are across the street from Town Beach.
We paid $24 each for round-trip bus tickets and $70 each for round-trip ferry tickets. For those prices we got cheerful and speedy service. The connection worked like a charm. Even with the wait between bus and ferry, we walked onto the Vineyard about three hours after we left Boston. The service runs through Oct. 14. Summer is looking better than ever.