With family vacation budgets tight this summer, we've tried to make the most of each day off we have, so car ferries have become our new cruise lines.
The whole East Coast has bodies of water that you can cross in your car, as does much of the country. What better way to spend a sunny day than out on the water? Parents love driving to destinations, kids love being on boats, and with gas prices as high as they are, putting your car and your kids on a car ferry is not as expensive as it seems.
With so many great sights on both Eastern Long Island and the Connecticut shoreline, we decided to start near home. The perceived difficulty in traveling between the two in a timely manner has prevented many (including us) from taking what is really a great trip.
Luckily, the Cross Sound Ferry provides an easy and accessible way of getting between Long Island and the Atlantic coast of Connecticut. The ferry runs quite frequently between Orient Point, New York and New London, Connecticut.
We started early, packed up the car with snacks, and began the drive from Long Island's South Fork. In an hour we headed west on Route 27, taking exit 65N to head north and then east to get to Orient Point, on Long Island's North Fork. The drive is gorgeous.
(However, depending on which part of Long Island you are coming from, the Shelter Island ferry may be more convenient, especially for those in East Hampton, Amagansett and Montauk, and that cruise is also quite enjoyable.)
There are a number of beautiful wineries along the North Fork to see. Greenport is a historic seaport with a Main Street filled with antiques and nice cafes, so we stretched our legs and had a snack there.
Once on the ferry, there is a full bar and a small restaurant, almost like on a real cruise ship. The main attraction is the views, with gorgeous views of Long Island Sound. You'll find most of the kids enjoying the 90-minute ride outside on the upper deck. It's also exciting to go back to the car deck and get everyone back into your car to disembark.
Once in Connecticut, I recommend leaving industrial New London and driving about 15 minutes west to beautiful and historic Mystic. Mystic has a great array of tourist attractions including the world class Mystic Aquarium, a beautiful waterfront downtown district, and great shopping and restaurants. For those who want to gamble or see a great selection of entertainment, the Mohegan Sun casino and resort is only about 20 minutes north in Uncasville, Connecticut.
Just like on a cruise, we set sail on the 7:30am ferry and returned at sunset having had a full day of sightseeing surrounded by hours on the high seas.
So what's the cost for a cheap fun daytrip with the family? For a family of four with a car (trucks are more expensive) and two kids under age 13, it's $80 one way or $144 roundtrip.