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The Cat: The Fastest Way To A Two Nation Vacation

(May 2002)

For 42 years, traveling and taking your car between Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and Bar Harbor, ME, was handled by the Canadian government vessel, MV Bluenose. Taking six hours, the voyage was still a great alternative to driving 630 miles on land. Times have changed. In 1998, a revolutionary vessel replaced the Bluenose: Bay Ferries' Cat. The Cat is the fastest car ferry in North America and can zip 900 passengers and 240 vehicles across the ocean at highway speedsó55 mph to be exact.

The Cat

Gliding smoothly over the Bay of Fundy, the 300-foot Cat has cut the trip down to three hours. During the summer and fall seasons (May through October), over half a million people travel on the vessel. During the winter months, the Cat migrates south to New Zealand. This sea monster-like craft is so distinctive that she becomes a major tourist attraction in every port-of-call she visits.

Unlike traditional ships, the Cat's, with its unique catamaran design, doesn't ride on top of the waves but cuts through them. The vessel funnels the power of four 9,500 horsepower engines through four water jets, each pumping the equivalent of an Olympic-size swimming pool of water per second. There are two areas onboard where one can step outside and witness this amazing power. At the back of the ship, jets shoot out a tail of water that's over 20 feet high and 50 feet long. The spray will get you quite wet, but on a hot day, it's refreshing. The viewing deck at the front of the ship provides a great vantage point as well but also a good place for whale, porpoise, and sea bird sightings.

You can travel as a passenger or with your automobile. Cars, trucks, campers, and motorcycles are loaded into a unique tiered level system. Once you drive onboard, you will have to leave your vehicle and proceed to the passenger lounges, where most of the amenities one would expect of a cruise ship are available. Cafe 91 serves snacks and meals all day. There is also a bar and a duty free gift shop, and those wanting to try their hand at gambling will find over 120 slot and poker machines. The seats are airplane-like and plentiful, and allow you to relax and watch the ocean scenery. There's even film entertainment for the kids that is shown on large screen TVs.

AnitaVacation Thoughts

Reader Jack Hanover of Detroit wonders if the Cat is worth taking. It depends. If you are planning on exploring both Nova Scotia and Bar Harbor/Acadia National Park for several days, it's a great timesaver and well worth the fare. For those who'd like to explore both areas, there are also reasonably priced package trips that offer accommodations and rental cars. On the other hand, day trips between the two areas that don't allow ample time to explore may seem too costly, unless you're just into the novelty of traveling on a high-speed craft.

I found the trip quite fun, especially since I had taken the slower Bluenose some twenty years prior. If you don't want to make the long drive and plan to stay for a while in either destination, I'd say that the Cat is the best alternative to making the most of your valuable vacation time.

If You Go

For the peak summer season in July and August, I highly recommend reservations, which can be made online or by phone. Costs vary, with one-way passenger fares ranging from $40 to $55 (children five and under are free, and fares for children five to 12 cost between $20 and $25). One-way vehicle fares range from $85 to $500, depending upon size of the vehicle. Round-trip day cruises range from $40 to $55 (children five and under are free, and fares for children five to 12 cost between $20 and $25).

For more information or to book a voyage, visit The Cat website.

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