Time was when the drive to southern Nova Scotia was 15 grueling hours in a car. Now you can get there with your car on Nova Star in 12 hours and only two and a half hours of it behind the wheel.
A full-service cruising ferry
Nova Star Cruises is a full-sized passenger and vehicle ferry that operates between Portland, Maine and Yarmouth, Nova Scotia on a daily schedule. It leaves Portland at 8 in the evening, arriving in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, at about 7:30 the next morning. Return trips leave in the morning and arrive in Portland about 7 pm.
In addition to being a car ferry, Nova Star is a cruise ship with plenty to fully occupy any family for the duration of the cruise. In fact, they offer a 24-Hour Getaway Cruise for under $150 per person that includes the cruise and an inside cabin. The turnaround doesn’t offer much time in Yarmouth but there is enough on board to make this into a mini-vacation. There are also packages that can get you there without the hassle of a long, tiring, drive.
Nova Star has two dining options for guests traveling with them. Fathoms Buffet restaurant offers an impressive array of entrees. Traveling recently, we were impressed not only with the number of options, but the quality as well. Tables for guests are large and have broad views over the ocean. Friendly and helpful wait staff helps carry trays, find seating and takes away soiled dishes. The second restaurant, Currents, is a fine dining experience, separated from the less formal dining room. Currents is noted for its cheese board of regional cheeses and its emphasis on fresh seafood from the Gulf of Maine.
Things to do aboard
On the rear section of deck seven the Nova Star has popular casino that operates while the ship is at sea. The casino has a pair of manned blackjack tables, one electronic poker table and 70 slot machines. Located right behind the Casino, with views of the sea, Big Nellie’s Bar has comfortable seating. Two decks up, at the rear of the ship, is the Sea Glass Lounge. While drinks are available here, it is also a great place to sit in a comfortable chair and look out at the sea through huge glass windows. On an upper deck close to Currents Restaurant, Piper’s Pub is a good place to get a burger or sandwich or to have a drink. The Aqua Conference Room is a large space with table and chair that is often used for movies during passage and for dancing at night.
Another attraction is the large and well-stocked Novatique Retail Store close to the Fathoms Buffet, beside the ship’s customer service desk. The shop is filled with attractive goods, featuring local products of Nova Scotia and Maine. Opposite the guest services desk is a small, attractive play area for little kids, including a tot-sized slide and age-appropriate games. Crafts and other activities are planned for older children, and the desk socks a wide variety of games. Check with the service desk to reserve any of the broad range of services at the ship’s Nova Spa; the voyage is a perfect time for a massage.
A nice range of overnight options
There are three cabin options on Nova Star, each of which will sleep up to four persons. The least expensive are inside cabins, which have an identical layout to outside cabins except for the lack of a porthole. A large round mirror, perhaps more useful than a porthole, serves as the focal point of inside cabins. Outside cabins are attractive for the portholes that provide good views when entering and leaving port. At the front of the ship the cabins are premium because of the wonderful views of the ocean and harbors. Owner’s cabins are larger and have one double bed and two fold down beds, one of which makes a day couch. They have two large round porthole windows at each corner of the bow section, one to the side and another to the front of the ship. Adjacent are the Deluxe Ocean View cabins that are similar but which have one porthole window.
If a cabin is not what you want
For travelers who don’t want the expense of a room there is plenty of seating around the ship but Nova Star also offers a special seating section with full high-backed reclining seats that can be reserved for only a nominal additional fee. These are much better spaced than those on an airline.
Nova Star deals
When booking check the Nova Star site carefully, there are lots of surprises. One of the best deals is that if you book a round trip, the return trip for the vehicle is free and there is a 10% saving on fares and cabin. A round trip for two with a car, leaving on a Wednesday would cost under $600.