Advance Planning is the Key to a Smooth Crossing
If you've ever investigated a trip to an exotic, out-of-the-way island, you quickly found out that you biggest hurdle was getting there. Les Îles de la Madeleine is no exception. It takes some careful advance planning, and you really do not want to travel without some sort of advance lodging arrangements. This page explains how to get to the Magdalen Islands.
A modest airport on Havre-Maisons is served by Air Canada "Jazz" with daily flights from Montreal on a DeHavilland Dash-8. With connections available from all over North America, the cost of this flight seems steep at first glance. Weighed against the cost of ground travel, including hotel stays, fuel costs, ferry crossing fees and the time involved, air travel is a reasonable alternative for the solo traveler or perhaps for a couple.
For a family or for travelers who wish to enjoy the full Maritime experience, the ferry crossing from Souris, Prince Edward Island is the way to go. In order to make it work you have to consider your day of arrival, and plan backward. Here's how...
First, consider when your lodging on Les Iles begins. If you are renting a private home, many have a Saturday to Saturday booking requirement, so you'll want to arrive on the islands on Saturday. You might plan to arrive on Friday, but you'll need to book a room somewhere for Friday night. Because the check-ins tend to be in the afternoon, we'll use a Saturday arrival for this example.
As of 2008 the CTMA ferry departs Souris PEI at 2:00 PM. It's important to remember that this is in the Atlantic Time Zone. If you forget to reset your watch, you'll be an hour late. The ferry loads prior to the departure time, it loads very quickly, and vehicles are loaded in a certain order based on size.
To accomplish this, the ferry company has you line up in specific rows at the staging area in Souris. You've probably figured out by now that you can't wheel up to the boat at a few minutes before 2:00 and expect a warm reception. If you are traveling during the summer months, we recommend that you arrive about an hour and a half prior to departure. This may seem like overkill, but it's always better to be at the front of the line and put your mind at ease. It also compensates for any unforseen delays on the drive to Souris. The passenger terminal at Souris is new and attractive, a very pleasant place to spend an hour reading, people-watching, or strolling about the pier.
Loading your car onto the ferry may be something new to you. I'll warn our senior readers that driving your car up a steep metal-grate ramp to the upper level may be a daunting task, and it's understandable. If you are apprehensive about this, talk to the people at CTMA in advance and let them know you need help.
Once on board, you will need to leave your vehicle and walk up a couple of typical ship's staircases. CTMA provides assistance for handicapped travelers, but again, you'll need to advise them in advance of your scheduled crossing. The crossing takes five hours, and there are generally enough diversions on the ship to make the time pass quickly. Considering you have no options, food and beverages are surprisingly quite reasonably priced. The company usually provides some sort of musical entertainment in the lounge. The boat has a special stabilization system to keep it smooth sailing. All in all it's a pleasant, worry-free crossing. The only thing you need to do is pay your fare sometime before you arrive in Cap-Aux-Meules. When you first get on board the queu to do this is quite long, but it's completely unnecessary to wait on the line. As long as you've paid your fare prior to arrival, you'll be fine. You have to show your receipt for passage when you drive off the boat.
Here's a video from CTMA that will give you some idea of the ferry experience:
Please note that you have to click the little arrow twice to get it to play.
Timing Your Arrival in Souris
If you attempt to make the 2:00 PM boat after a long trip from the mainland, you're taking a huge risk. The last thing you want to do before presenting yourself at the ferry is to stock up on provisions. There is no shortage of groceries available on Les Iles, however your arrival time will be such that you won't want to go shopping when you get there. You'll need to drive to your accommodations, settle in, and perhaps then cook or head out to a cafe. Strange things can happen; you may have been told that the door was open and the key waiting on the kitchen table, only to find the door inexplicably locked. So having a few groceries and items on hand prior to leaving PEI is a good idea. Don't stock up too much, mind you, because you will quickly discover that you can feast on seafood at very reasonable Îles Madeleine pricing! In short, add a half-hour or more to your drive time across PEI to stop for some groceries.
To make it as easy and worry-free as possible, the best way to do this is to spend a night in advance of the ferry crossing on Prince Edward Island or New Brunswick, Moncton area, get up early, and head for Souris.
Another way to do it is to arrive in Moncton, overnight there, and then spend a day touring Prince Edward Island.
The Federation Bridge is a sightseeing adventure in itself, and well worth a stop at the information center on the PEI side. If you do decide to spend a day visiting PEI, spend your second night in Charlottetown, a large town (they like to call it a city but that's a bit optimistic) with a beautiful harbor and surprisingly good restaurants and nightlife. After a restful night in Charlottetown, you'll have time to enjoy breakfast somewhere, and make a leisurely drive to Souris. Don't forget the groceries.
Again, the alternative to this two-night staging plan is to bunk down one night in either Moncton or Charlottetown, it all depends on your ETA. The journey from Boston, Massachusetts to Moncton is a very long day. Pushing it to Charlottetown and then heading out for Souris in the morning can be done, but you need to be something of a road warrior to make it happen.
Here are the links to hotels we've visited and recommend for the staging section of this trip.
In Charlottetown, the Best Western Charlottetown is close enough to the harbor to walk, yet just far enough from the water to have reasonable prices. It's really the best combination of value and location, if you want to see the town. On the other hand, if upscale is more your preference, the Delta Prince Edward Hotel is the way to go. The Delta Prince Edward is located right in the hub of all the harbor activity, restaurants, pubs and nightlife. You pay accordingly. It's tough to get discounts on this luxury hotel, but here's one way: click this link to GTA Hotels and enter Charlottetown PEI in your search.
In eastern New Brunswick, there is no shortage of lodging options, but again the best deal happens to be a rather newish Best Western, this one in Moncton. It's nicer than the B/W in Charlottetown, but the location is kind of mid-village shopping mall. Either way, it's convenient, it's clean, and it's one of the best values in town. click here for the Best Western in Moncton . We've made arrangements with Best Western to pay a very modest commission if you use these links; if you find this website helpful it's a way that you can help us cover our costs without spending an extra dime. Thank you for considering this.