Originally posted at Folinazzo.com – October 15, 2010
There are two ways to get to Martha’s Vineyard: by air or by sea. Since I’ve neither unlimited income nor a private jet, “by sea” it was.
At this time of year (late September), ferry schedules and options are not as plentiful as during the summer months. The schedule and location that worked best for us was from the Steamship Authority departing from Woods Hole, which is about a two-hour drive from Provincetown without weather or traffic delays. The trip is not all four-lane highway driving; plenty of time is spent on winding, two-lane country roads. Read: allow extra time when making the trip to Woods Hole and don’t “almost” miss the ferry like we did. We had allowed ourselves enough time to make the 9:30am ferry, but we ran into some construction along the way. We made it to the port just in time; it was maybe 9:26am, only to find out that we could not park our car in the lot there. We would have to drive four miles to the Steamship Authority’s remote lot and take the shuttle bus back. Excuse me, what? I must have looked at and examined the Steamship Authority website three dozen times before departing for Woods Hole, and nowhere was the parking situation mentioned. I breathed deeply and was about to resign to the fact that we’d have to wait for the next ferry (departing at 10:45am), when the Steamship Authority employee said to me, “Or you can park in that private lot right across the street. I don’t know how much he charges….” I peeled out of the parking lot and into the private lot, where we learned it was $20 to park for the day. Deal. We parked, unloaded the car and Lucia, and made a beeline for the ferry ticket window. Reservations are not necessary for the passenger ferry so we were able to get our tickets on the spot. The round-trip cost for three adults was $53 (Lucia sailed for free). There is also a car ferry – now THAT is another story. Before I learned differently, I figured a car would be necessary on Martha’s Vineyard, even for a day trip, so I began looking into car ferry information. I started having second thoughts when I saw the price. It would cost over $300, round trip, during the off season! That is way too much money to spend for a day trip. If we were staying on the Vineyard for a longer period of time, say, a week, it might make more sense. We decided to nix the car idea and just use public transportation once we arrived on the Vineyard. One more note about the car ferry: reservations during the off-season are not necessary but are recommended. During the high season, however, reservations for the car ferry are an absolute must.
The ferry ride itself was rather enjoyable. It was a Tuesday morning and it was easy to find seats. The deck, on the other hand, was packed. It was a gorgeously sunny day so I don’t blame those dozens of passengers for wanting to be outside, enjoying the pleasant temperatures and bright sunshine. Plus, there’s just something about being on a boat, no matter how big or how small. It was Lucia’s first boat ride so of course I had to take her up top. She ooohed and aaaahed, and was so not afraid!
Our initial stop on the Vineyard was Oak Bluffs, an immediately pleasing little hamlet. The walk out of the ferry station leads to an expanse of sprawling green lawn in the form of Ocean Park. The park is centered by an adorable gazebo and is surrounded by timeless Victorian homes. We walked along the dockside, poked our heads into the shops there, and turned our attention to Circuit Avenue. Felicia read that Circuit Ave. is the best place to spot a celebrity on the Vineyard. We didn’t run into any famous people but we did find lunch at Linda Jean’s Restaurant (delicious scallop roll and some of the best pancakes in the land). Tummies full, we continued our walk over to find the gingerbread houses. Yes, that’s right – gingerbread houses. They’re not edible but they sure are cute. They are actual Victorian cottages that officially make up the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association Camp Ground. These colorful, quaint domiciles are what fairy tales are made of; I couldn’t get enough of them. Doesn’t help, too, that these dollhouse-looking cottages are beautifully arranged around the grand, 100′ x 130′ Tabernacle at Trinity Park. As we walked through the park and gazed at the gingerbread cottages, I fully expected Hansel and Gretel to come walking past at any moment.
Mom and Felicia had to tear me away from the gingerbread houses; I could have stayed there all day. But we had plans to visit two more towns on the island, Edgartown and Vineyard Haven, and we would be doing so by bus. The Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority is efficient and very simple to use. (Stop at the visitors’ kiosk at the foot of Circuit Avenue for bus schedules and other valuable information.) Our stop for the ride to Edgartown was basically at Ocean Park. There was a transit employee there, answering questions and selling bus tickets; it was a pleasant surprise and made our public transit experience very simple and stress-free.
We arrived at the visitor’s center in Edgartown at the same time as about 300 tour buses (ok, maybe not 300 but there were A LOT). It was quite chaotic, there were people everywhere, and we needed to find a place to change Lucia’s diaper. We were able to get our bearings and take care of business once the crowd thinned out. We made our way over to the Dr. Daniel Fisher House. Built in 1840 for the man it’s named after, the founder of Martha’s Vineyard National Bank, the Fisher House is now the headquarters for the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. It is a gorgeous Greek Revival dwelling, bordered on one side by a lovely garden and gazebo. I can see why it’s a popular place for people to hold wedding receptions and other significant functions. Virtually next door is the Old Whaling Church, another grand example of Greek Revival architecture. Originally it was a Methodist church; now it is owned and operated by the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust, and serves as a meeting and performing arts center. After checking out the big sights, we made our way down Main Street, past more shops and boutiques and galleries, which, to me, seemed a bit more high-end than their counterparts in Oak Bluffs. It was also a bit more crowded there, but I still enjoyed the history, architecture, scenery, and narrow streets.
Next, it was on to Vineyard Haven, so we hopped back on the bus at the Visitor’s Center. I’m glad Vineyard Haven was our last stop because it was a major disappointment. If it had been my first encounter with Martha’s Vineyard, I would have turned right around and gotten on the ferry to go back to Woods Hole. There were some shops and the usual tourist sights, but that’s it. We did a quick walk through and decided to head to the harbor to get the ferry back to Woods Hole. Side note: yes, it is possible to take the ferry over to Oak Bluffs, and then take the ferry back from Vineyard Haven, or vice versa.
Overall, our day on Martha’s Vineyard was very enjoyable. Oak Bluffs was the highlight for me by far, and I realize we missed a lot of the island because we were on a limited schedule and did not have our own vehicle. Also, I’m sure our experience and our perception of Martha’s Vineyard would be drastically different if we had spent our time there at one of the tony beachfront resorts. Would I go back? Maybe, but I’d like to see Nantucket once before making a return trip to Martha’s Vineyard.