Following the blessing of the fleet, the Gulf Islands Ferry and its two 49-passenger catamarans, the Miss Anna Maria and the Downtown Duchess, finally had their maiden voyages Monday afternoon.
Passengers, primarily local county and city officials, plus area media, boarded the water taxis at the Bradenton Riverwalk, just east of the Green Bridge, for a 35-minute ride under bright, sunny skies to the Anna Maria City Pier.
“The weather couldn’t have been better. We saw dolphin at the city pier. The experience is so much more than taking a ride on the water,” said Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.
“It helps us show the real Florida,” he said.
Falcione spearheaded the development of the water taxi service.
Starting Dec. 8, pending final certification of the vessels, the public will be able to take a ride on the water taxi from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.
One-way ticket prices are $8 for adults. Special pricing includes $6 fares for those 55 and older and $5 for children 4-11. Children 3 and younger ride free with their families.
Dirk Rodgers, senior pastor of Roser Church, 512 Pine Ave., Anna Maria, prayed for safe travels for the crew and passengers of the water taxi.
Rodgers noted that at the founding of Roser Church in 1913, the only way to travel between the mainland and Anna Maria Island was by boat.
“We do pray You bless those who participate in this journey from here to there,” Rodgers said. “So many people, working so many hours for so long. It is truly a time to celebrate.”
Kevin Van Ostenbridge, chairman of the Manatee County Commission, said elected officials have talked about a taxi service between Anna Maria Island and downtown Bradenton and Palmetto for decades.
“We have all wanted multi-modal transportation,” Van Ostenbridge said.
Eventually, the Miss Anna Maria and the Downtown Duchess will be joined by a fast, enclosed vessel that could travel between the mainland and the island. The two existing catamarans could then be dedicated to transporting passengers up and down the coast of Anna Maria Island and along Longboat Key, Van Ostenbridge said.
Dan Murphy, mayor of the City of Anna Maria, called the arrival of the water taxi service a dream come true.
While he would like to see more done to help those who have service jobs on the island get to work, Murphy called the water taxi a step in the right direction.
Eric Cairns, manager of Cedar Cove Resort and Cottages and a member of the Manatee County Tourist Development Council, called the water taxi a “fabulous addition,” and said visitors have told him they are excited about the arrival of the new amenity.
What to know
What it costs: $8 one way. With special pricing for children 4-12 ($5 one way) and seniors 55+ ($6 one way). Children 3 and younger sail free with their families. Reserve seats with a credit card, Google Pay, Apple Pay or other cashless options. Once your payment is completed, reservation passes will be delivered to your smartphone.
Where to buy tickets: http://www.gulfcoastwatertaxi.com. Riders are encouraged to purchase tickets in advance, however, tickets can be paid when boarding the watercraft.
Where the ferry goes: Initially, there are two ports: one at the downtown Bradenton Riverwalk near the Green Bridge, the other at the Anna Maria City Pier. Future stops are planned at Coquina Beach and Bridge Street. The trip is anticipated to take 35 minutes. Final run times will be posted online once sea trials are finalized. Arrive 15 minutes before scheduled departure.
ADA accessible: The ferries were designed to ensure equal access and convenience for individuals with disabilities. The ferry has spacious, wheelchair-accessible ramps, and designated seating areas that adhere to ADA standards. Additionally, the crew members are trained to provide assistance and support to passengers with disabilities, ensuring a safe and enjoyable trip for all.
Pets: Leashed, well-behaved pets are allowed on board as long as they do not bother other guests. All service pets are welcome.
Restrooms: There is one restroom aboard each vessel.
Beach gear: Towels, picnic baskets, beach chairs and coolers are all allowed.
Bicycles: U.S. Coast Guard regulations prevent bikes from being brought onboard the ferries.
Groups: The ferry can accommodate groups most of the time if arrangements are made at least two weeks prior to the travel date. For more information, email email@example.com.
Wi-Fi: Gulf Islands Ferry offers complimentary Wi-Fi access on its vessels. Bandwidth is limited and there can be network dead spots along the ride.