Getting To The Island

From Woods Hole, Martha's Vineyard appears to be just a good swim away—it seems that close! Well, not quite. It takes a bit more than a brisk breaststroke to get to the island.

More than once we've heard a visitor to Cape Cod asking a native of the peninsula for directions to "the bridge to Martha's Vineyard," and more than once we've heard the story of how a wisecracking local directed them to it. There's no bridge or tunnel for that matter. There are only two ways of getting to the island: by air and by sea.

By Sea

Journeying to the island by water, you get a feel for what Gosnold saw and felt upon that May day in 1602 when he first made his discovery. Yet, for a singular treat, make the journey after nightfall and watch as Nobska Light of Woods Hole, West Chop Lighthouse of Vineyard Haven, and East Chop Lighthouse of Oak Bluffs beam across the waves to one another like a triangle of lovers.

Once you've decided that you're going to travel to the island via water, you then have to decide how. Here are your options.


Falmouth Ferry Service
278 Scranton Ave., Falmouth• (508) 548-9400•

This ferry service is unique in that it runs from Falmouth directly to Edgartown (most other ferry services dock at either Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs, from which you must take a shuttle or other transportation to Edgartown). Round-trip fares run $24 for those over 12 and $18 for children 12 and younger; children 5 and younger sail for free. Bicycle rates are $4 each way. Falmouth Ferry Service runs daily from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. The trip takes exactly one hour. Parking costs $10 per calendar day.

Ocean St., Hyannis• (508) 778-2600•

Hy-Line is the only line that provides daily service from downtown Hyannis to Oak Bluffs from early May through late October. The crossing takes about one and three-quarters hours, and round-trip tickets cost $25 for those 13 and older and $12.50 for children ages 5 to 12. Children 4 and younger travel free with boarding pass. Your bicycle travels for $5 each way. From June to mid-September the line also offers the only daily inter-island service between Martha's Vineyard (Oak Bluffs) and Nantucket. This sojourn takes a little more than two hours; the round-trip fares are $25 and $12.50 for teens and up and children ages 5 to 12, respectively.

Island Queen
Falmouth Heights Rd., Falmouth• (508) 548-4800•

As the radio jingle says, you can ''sail away from Falmouth'' aboard the Island Queen. She departs from Falmouth Inner Harbor daily from Memorial Day through Columbus Day and arrives at Oak Bluffs Harbor 35 minutes later. Round-trip fares are $10 for adults, $5 for children younger than 13, and no charge for children younger than 3. You can bring a bicycle for $6, round trip. A great thing about the Island Queen is that its parking lot is only a few yards from the harbor, making it very convenient, especially if you are running late. Parking costs $10 per calendar day in the main lot and $12 per calendar day in the lot adjacent to the dock.

Rodney French Blvd., New Bedford• (508) 997-1688•

If you travel via the ferry Schamonchi, you can visit two of Massachusetts' three major whaling ports, New Bedford and Edgartown (Nantucket being the third), in the same day. The vessel makes the daily run from New Bedford's Billy Wood's Wharf to Vineyard Haven Harbor in 90 minutes. The fare is $17 same-day round trip for those age 12 and older, $8 for children 11 and under, and free for babies younger than 2. Your bicycle makes the passage for $2.50 each way. Schamonchi runs from mid-May to mid-October. Heck, after you've seen Edgartown you might as well catch an inter-island Hy-Line cruise to Nantucket to tour the third whaling port while you're at it! We're sure Herman Melville would be thrilled if you did.

The Steamship Authority
Railroad Ave., Woods Hole• (508) 548-3788, (800) 352-7144 (Mass. only)• Vehicle reservations: (508) 477-8600, (508)477-7447 (same day)•

The lifeline to the Vineyard, The Steamship Authority has been making the run between Woods Hole and Martha's Vineyard for more than three decades. The line's large ships provide daily, year-round service to the ports of Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven. The trip across takes about 45 minutes—it seems as soon as you leave Woods Hole you're arriving at the Vineyard. Passenger tickets can be purchased at all Steamship Authority terminals, the Plymouth and Brockton Bus Lines terminals, and Bonanza Bus Line Terminals. Passengers never need a reservation, but we recommend arriving one hour ahead of sailing time, as the Steamship Authority sometimes has cutoff times on busy weekends and holidays. The ride for passengers (no cars) costs $10 round trip for adults and half that for children. Children younger than 5 travel for free. It costs $6 to transport a bicycle round trip.

The Steamship Authority is the only ferry service that can transport your car to the island, but make your reservation as early as possible by calling the numbers above. Space fills up quickly, especially in summer. The price for a round-trip car reservation depends on the time of year. From May 15 through October 14, it's $94, dropping to $42 in the dead of winter.

If you decide to leave your car behind, which is actually a pretty good idea as the island has an outstanding shuttle service, the Steamship Authority has a number of parking lots available. Beware that those near the docks fill quickly. The authority is good about posting notices on the major routes into Falmouth as to what lots are open. Believe the signs and allow for a little extra time to unload your gear and load up on a shuttle bus to the docks. Parking fees depend on the lot you in which you park. Expect to pay $10 to $12 per calendar day.

Private Boats

For those of you who captain your own vessel, the island offers four harbors where you can dock. Menemsha offers slips with electricity; the harbormaster, (508) 645-2846, can provide more details. Edgartown Harbor has moorings available by the day, week, or season. None have plug-in facilities. One pump-out station and one pump-out boat are available. You can reach the Edgartown harbormaster at (508) 627-4746.

Vineyard Haven offers moorings, launch service, and dockage. The harbormaster's number is (508) 696-4200. Oak Bluffs has plug-in slips for sail and motorboats; a small number of moorings are available in the harbor. The Oak Bluffs harbormaster's number is (508) 693-4355. As you can imagine, there is a high demand for slips in season. Be sure to plan ahead.

By Air

If you cross by sea you'll notice the sea gulls of Woods Hole following along in hopes of grabbing a morsel of food from the passengers. Large, powerful engines move the ferry forward, yet the gulls seem to coast along at the same speed with very little effort, their God-given aerodynamics accomplishing with ease what it takes man's mighty machines to do.

The gull's graceful aerial passage reminds us that we too can fly to the island and causes us to consider what wondrous sights can be seen along the way. Several airlines service the island and can provide those incredible sights.

The island has two airports: Martha's Vineyard Airport, (508) 693-7022, near the center of the island, and the smaller Katama Airfield in Edgartown, (508) 627-9018, offering runways of grass (how quaint!). Katama is one of the original Curtiss-Wright fields from back in the early airmail days and is one of the largest turf fields of its type remaining in the Northeast. The following airlines serve the Martha's Vineyard Airport.

Cape Air
• (800) 352-0714•

Cape Air makes regular daily flights between the Vineyard and Hyannis, Boston, Nantucket, Providence, and New Bedford. In fact, their summer schedule offers over a dozen flights a day from Boston to the Vineyard. The airline has an interline baggage agreement for joint ticketing and interline baggage handling for connecting flights with most airlines. Cape Air also has joint fares for discounted travel with America West, Continental, Delta, and US Airways Express.

Continental Express
• (800) 525-0280•

This airline operates during the summer months, providing access to the island from Newark, New Jersey. The 14-day advance ticket fare is $263 round trip.

Ocean Wings Air Charter
• (800) 253 5039•

For those folks who don't look forward to spending several hours in a car followed or preceded by a ferry ride, you may want to look into Ocean Wings Air Charter. Ocean Wings is an air taxi from areas in Connecticut, New York, and Washington, D.C., to Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. It's a great mode of transportation for a family—they accommodate up to seven passengers per flight. Price varies depending on location. You might pay a little more than you would for a scheduled flight into Boston or Hyannis, but the convenience is well worth it.

USAir Express
• (800) 428-4322•

If you are from the Boston area, you can take the direct route to the island onboard one of USAir's regularly scheduled flights. Four non-stop flights are offered daily from Boston's Logan Airport with fares around $169 for a round-trip ticket.

Getting Around by Car,
by Bike, or Moped?

Arriving at the island without your car? No problem. The island is prepared for your arrival in a big way. There are cars, mopeds, scooters, and bicycles for rent. Buses run every 15 minutes during peak season, and, in the summer, school buses are used. For less than $5 the buses will shuttle you to the three towns of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown and back again! Sightseeing tours and taxis are available as well.

Depending upon your visit, you may not even need any of the above. For instance, if you arrive at Oak Bluffs or Vineyard Haven via ferry for a daytrip and don't plan to leave the town at all, your legs alone can get you to nearly all the hot spots. Or, a shuttle can take you to an adjoining town for a couple of bucks and your legs can take care of the rest.

This is probably as good a point as any to give you an idea of distances between the island towns. Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs are side by side, straddling the Harbor of Vineyard Haven; it's a 10-minute car ride (if that) from the ferry dock of one, around the harbor, to the ferry dock of the other. Southeast of Oak Bluffs is Edgartown, a good 15-minute car ride along Beach Road. Southwest of Vineyard Haven lies West Tisbury, maybe 10 minutes from Vineyard Haven and about 20 minutes from Edgartown via the Edgartown-West Tisbury Road. From that point in West Tisbury to Beetlebung Corner in Chilmark is about 4 or 5 miles, about 10 minutes of driving. Another 6 miles (10 minutes, perhaps 12) along State Road brings you to Aquinnah. Then, to get from Aquinnah back up north to Vineyard Haven, allow perhaps 35 to 40 minutes for the 18-mile trip. There, you just traveled the island in one paragraph's time!

The basic rule of thumb in driving between towns is fairly easy. Once you get in town, traffic slows considerably, especially when ferries are arriving or departing. The towns of Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven are far more active than West Tisbury, Chilmark and Aquinnah.


Auto rentals during peak season are offered at, of course, peak prices. It seems the average rate for an average car runs about $60 on an average day. Larger cars, of course, are more expensive. Jeeps and off-road vehicles cost even more. In Vineyard Haven is Thrifty Car Rental, (508) 693-1959 or (508) 693-8143, and Holmes Hole Car Rentals, (508) 693-8838 or (800) 696-8838. Budget Rent A Car, (508) 693-1911, is located near the harbors at Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs and at the main terminal at Martha's Vineyard Airport. Budget offers free customer pickup at Edgartown.

For about $45 you can rent a moped for the day; add about $10 for a double moped that allows two adults to ride on the same two wheels rather than renting two mopeds. Daily bicycle rates run from about $12 to $15 for a three-speed and $15 to $25 for a mountain bike. As you come off the boat at either Vineyard Haven or Oak Bluffs these rental outfits are everywhere. In fact, we challenge you to swing a striped bass without hitting a bike rental shop.

By Shuttle Bus

The island's bus service is superb. The drivers, who each probably answer the same dozen questions a couple of hundred times a day, do so in such a courteous way that you'd think you were the first person ever to ask, "Does this bus go to Edgartown?"

Island Transport, Inc
• (508) 693-1589, (508) 693-0058•

Also known as Martha's Vineyard Sightseeing, Inc, Island Transport is the transportation specialist on Martha's Vineyard. For first-time visitors they offer a fully narrated two-and-a-half-hour tour that costs $13.50 for adults and teens and $4 for children age 12 and younger. These leave twice a day in the spring and fall and continuously during June 16 through October 20.

If you are just looking for a way to beat the traffic, public bus service is provided from early spring through late fall. Regularly scheduled routes run through Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven. From June 24 through September 4, the frequency of service increases and additional routes through West Tisbury, Chilmark, and Aquinnah are added. If you travel between Vineyard Haven and Edgartown the fare one-way is $2.25 or $3.25 round-trip. Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs is $1.75 one-way, $2.25 round-trip. They offer a great all day pass for $5 which is good for unlimited travel on all "Yellow Line" buses for one calendar day. A weekly pass of $15 is also available and is good for unlimited travel between Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Vineyard Haven for seven consecutive calendar days.

Martha's Vineyard Regional Transit Authority
29A Church Street, Edgartown• (508) 627-7448•

The VTA offers 11 scheduled routes around the island. From Vineyard Haven to Oak Bluffs the round-trip fare is $2.25; Oak Bluffs to Edgartown is $2.25; Vineyard Haven to Edgartown is $3.25; Vineyard Haven to Aquinnah is $5, and Oak Bluffs to Aquinnah is also $5. They also offer an All Island Pass: The one-day pass costs $5; a three-day pass is $10.

In Edgartown, nothing can beat the Edgartown Shuttle, (508) 627-7448, which you can ride for the cost of the change you might find buried in your sofa at home (50 cents one way). From mid-May to mid-September the shuttle runs throughout the historic streets of Edgartown. Edgartown also has an open-air trolley that carries passengers from the center of town to the very popular South Beach every 30 minutes, mid-June to mid-September, for $1.50. All persons 60 and over and 12 and under ride for free.