Gustavson Column: Hugs and kisses, Cross Sound Ferry

06/27/2014 8:00 AM |


Doctor, please take my temperature. I think there’s something wrong with me. I think I’m about to say something nice about, gulp, Cross Sound Ferry.

Yes, the same Cross Sound Ferry I’ve spent years hectoring in this very space over unauthorized site plan expansion, burdensome vehicular traffic (scores of cars dumped onto two-lane Route 25, every daylight hour on the half hour) and other issues.

Could I have mellowed with age? Perhaps that’s it. But I also think my perspective has changed after two recent experiences with overseas ferry services, one based in Spain, the other in Italy. 

The occasion was a three-day visit to Sardinia, the Italian island province where our former Orient neighbor and Times/Review colleague Janice Robinson has relocated in recent years. (Her brave decision could/should be the subject of its own column, but that must await another day.)

I’ll not dwell on the various indignities and inefficiencies visited upon their passengers by the two European ferry companies, Grimaldi and Tirrenia, but the short list includes confusing check-in procedures, missed schedules, clueless and inattentive crew members and nonexistent safety procedures. These were overnight trips, so our accommodations included port-hole-less cabins that, in fairness, were quite comfortable and fairly priced. Language barriers also might account for some of the tension, but just about everything else about the trips and the boats compared unfavorably to my now-favorite ferry company, Cross Sound.

In recent years, due largely to the presence of one of our daughters and her family in suburban Boston, the former Joan Giger Walker and I have become members of Cross Sound’s “frequent flyers” club. I reckon we’ve averaged about one round-trip every month, so we do have a good frame of reference for passing judgment on the quality of service. And, in general, that judgment is: excellent.

For us, the Cross Sound experience begins with the company’s easy-to-navigate online check-in process. As “frequent flyers,” we simply enter our log-in and credit card information before choosing the departure dates and times we want. Of course, you can do the same thing via a phone reservation, but we’ve come to prefer the online option.

Arrival at the terminals in Orient and New London has been greatly facilitated by the wireless ticket-producing devices carried by the Cross Sound employees who greet you at the entrance. And the staging areas are well-marked and easy to navigate. The stand-by process still can be a little confusing and tense, but there’s an easy way to avoid that: Make a reservation and arrive at least 15 minutes before your boat departs.

Then it’s no muss, no fuss.

Perhaps Cross Sound’s greatest achievement is its ability to adhere to its printed schedule. And that’s quite an accomplishment when you’re talking about dozens of boats moving hundreds of vehicles and thousands of passengers every day. Our Sardinian ferries did have greater capacities, but neither company appeared able to stay on schedule with just two departures in each direction every week!

The interior seating accommodations on Cross Sound’s boats are basic but quite adequate for the 90-minute crossing. And if you do what we always do –– send a passenger ahead of the car to save a table with bench seats –– you’ll travel in comparative style and comfort.

Finally, there’s Cross Sound’s food service, which is surprisingly good, all considered. The offerings are basic but the ingredients are fresh and fairly priced. And I even saw a crew member bringing a flat of local strawberries on board the last time we traveled.

Sure, I’ll probably always have issues with the amount of vehicular traffic Cross Sound’s ferries dump onto our local roads, but on the other hand I can’t imagine having to drive to Boston via the Long Island Expressway and the Throgs Neck Bridge.

And if you need any more reasons to appreciate our local ferry company, just head for Sardinia.

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