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Pensacola Bay ferry operator to be announced by April ahead of May launch

Gulf Islands National Seashore said today that they expect to announce the selection of an operator for the Pensacola Bay Cruises ferry service in the next 30-60 days ahead of its May launch.


“At this time, no operator has been selected and a contract has not been finalized,” the National Park Service said Thursday. “Until these steps are completed, all information regarding prices, schedules, and services onboard the ferries are tentative.”

The two 150-foot passenger ferry boats are offloaded in Seattle, Wa. in preparation for shipment to Pensacola in 2017. (Special to The Pulse)

The NPS said Thursday that they received multiple responsive offers in January for the operation of the ferry service.

In its prospectus, released to the public in October 2017, the National Park Service set a ceiling for individual ticket prices and proposed many items including a potential schedule.

“These particulars will be worked out and agreed upon during contract negotiations between the National Park Service’s Southeast Regional Office and the concession operator, once selected,” park officials said. “Until that time the following information remains tentative.”

Last year, the park service announced the ceiling price was not to exceed $20 per adult for an all day, “hop-on, hop-off” ticket, although the ferry operator may charge lower rates depending on market conditions. All tickets will include admission to the Gulf Islands National Seashore, which is normally $10 per person.

The ferry operator is also required to offer large group discounts and may offer other discounts. Annual passes and seasonal rates are possible, but unknown at this time, according to officials. Children under the age of 3 will ride for free.

Renderings of the new ferry terminal now under construction in downtown Pensacola. (Bullock Tice Associates/Special to The Pulse)

The ferry operator is also authorized to offer “specialty cruises” outside of the regular ferry schedule if approved by the NPS. If they are using one of the two NPS-owned ferry boats, the excursion must enter park waters during the trip and operate during park operating hours.

The NPS has provided the ferry operator with a proposed schedule. Provided visitor needs for ferry transportation are addressed, the ferry operator may propose a different operating schedule for NPS review and approval.

The ferry boats will be taken out of dry dock in April and undergo final inspection and sea trials by the U.S. Coast Guard. Once completed, operations will begin; the national seashore anticipates this being completed in time for a May 18, 2018 start date.

“We’re excited to select a concessioner for the Pensacola Bay Cruises service, and to start finalizing operational decisions with them once selected,” said Gulf Islands National Seashore Superintendent Dan Brown.