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Gulf Islands Ferry – A Great New Way to Travel to Anna Maria Island

| Vicky Sullivan |

I decided to make a reservation to test-ride the new ferry on Easter Sunday!  I had wanted to check it out since they opened but thought I would wait until they had time to get organized. I took an early morning drive out the beach and started my journey from the Anna Maria Island Pier. You can also catch the ferry in downtown at Riverwalk just past walking under the Green Bridge.  You will see the ferry sign directing you.  You can also catch it at the Bradenton Beach Pier where you can grab lunch or dinner at the Anna Maria Oyster Bar. Another way to catch the ferry is by coordinating times using the Island Trolley. You can catch the trolley right at the end of the dock!

I saw the ferry coming down the waterway, as I made my arrival. My boat was set to leave at 11:30 a.m., it was on time and I was helped on board by First Mate Terri.  Our Captain for that day was Jonathan. Currently there are two ferries running with four captains and six first mates.  The schedule runs Wednesday through Sunday; the ferry starts running at 10:00 am with the last ferry leaving Anna Maria Island at 9:00 p.m.  There was much hustle and bustle going on around the Anna Maria Island Pier.  The fishermen are always looking for a catch from the pier and the pelicans looking for their bait – lol.   There is live music and food on the Pier as well as walking down the street to shopping & restaurants. We left the pier and headed out in the bay towards Bradenton Beach. 

Since it was a holiday weekend, the waterway was busy with boaters, jet skiers and kayaks along the shorelines.  As we headed toward the Manatee Avenue Bridge, we could see the long line of cars at a standstill to get to Holmes Public Beach and beyond.  We laughed about how lucky we weren’t in that line and that the ferry is just what Bradenton needs to avoid that beach traffic.  It was a beautiful, sunny day and the water was beautiful and calm.  Our captain was traveling at about 20 knots which is about 23 miles per hour on land.  Fellow boaters passed us by with a friendly wave. After crossing under the Cortez Road Bridge, we pulled up to the Bradenton Beach Pier with pelicans and seagulls soaring around the dock.   Anna Maria Oyster Bar was busy with tourists and locals sitting on the outside deck dining on the yummy AMOB Pier seafood menu. Our stop lasted around 20 minutes for people traveling back to Bradenton.

Heading back out to the bay, we spotted local fisherman trolling for live bait.  Passing the Seafood Shack restaurant & marina, we headed east toward the riverfront.   Being a local, I have traveled these waters many times over the years, it is nice to sit back and look at views of sites like the shores of DeSoto National Park and Snead Island.   The Green Bridge was in our view as we made our way to the Riverwalk dock.  We picked up around 30 passengers headed to the island with beach chairs and gear in tow.  It is about a 35 minute ride to Anna Maria Island Pier.  If you take the entire round trip it takes around 2 hours.  There is currently no restroom aboard but the stop at Bradenton Beach Pier allows time for that. You could catch a little sea spray depending where you are sitting so bring a towel in your bag.  If you get cold easily pack a jacket or sweater.   It was a very enjoyable time and I plan on going again to take a ride out to the island.  If you want to go & hang out on the island or just take a boat ride and take the kids- this is THE way to do it! Just another great addition to our already fabulous Bradenton area! Check out all the info on the Gulf Coast Ferry HERE.

Vicky Sullivan Photos

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