Northumberland Ferries aims to create special experiences for its passengers

When you live on an island, travel to and fro can be somewhat complicated. For 77 years, Northumberland Ferries (NFL) has continued to steadfastly transport people and products across the Strait. Connecting the east end of the Island with Nova Scotia, NFL moves over 400,000 people every year.

NFL wanted to enhance the atmosphere of fun and enjoyment for their passengers, so in 2015 they launched Seaside Experiences. “It was a dream that we had, about how do we make our experience on the ferry better for our passengers, how do we showcase local foods, local beverages, local artisans. That was the goal, it started small. We’ve built on it every year,” Jessica Gillis, marketing and customer experience manager for NFL, said.

Aiming to provide a floating farmers’ market feel through the months of July, August, and September, Seaside Experiences has chefs, local businesses, and artists on the ferries. The vendors provide cooking demonstrations, local foods and beverages sampling, and local music performances. A captive audience, passengers are able to interact with the various vendors onboard during the 75-minute crossings between Caribou and Wood Islands.

PEI Preserve Company has participated in NFL’s program since the beginning. While many of the participating PEI vendors are located in the east end of the Island, PEI Preserve Company’s location in New Glasgow wasn’t deemed an issue for them. “We saw it as an opportunity for us to interact with potential guests and let them have a taste of what we do, both with the product and through our hospitable host,” Bruce MacNaughton, owner of PEI Preserve Company said.

One of three chefs participating in Seaside Experiences, Chef Ilona Daniel, collaborates with local food producers like the Lobster Fishers of PEI Marketing Board, engaging visitors and locals alike. NFL is also working with creating partnerships with Chef Daniel and Chef Treena MacLeod and other local PEI vendors. Chef Daniel said, “We seek out exceptional PEI products and their producers to team up with me to do demos and samplings while sharing the best-kept foodie and location secrets with our passengers about to embark on their Island adventure, or reminisce with those passengers leaving the Island. In the conversations with those departing the island, we often find ourselves discussing what they should do when they return for their next visit.”

The third chef onboard with the program hails from Pictou, NS. The Kilted Chef, Alain Bossé, highlights the many delicious dishes and local products we offer here in the Maritimes.

Creating an immersive atmosphere on crossings, NFL often pairs local musicians with vendors. Guy LeClair, hospitality manager with NFL describes what can happen as a result, “On certain crossings, you’ll have say, on one side of the room, say a lobster demo, PEI Preserve Company, here and a band in the middle; it essentially turns into a kitchen party. People get on there [the ferry] and say ‘This is fantastic’.” NFL obtains special licensing, allowing businesses like Copper Bottom Brewing, Upstreet, Island Honey Wine Company, and PEI Brewing Company to offer sampling onboard and to sell their products to passengers for consumption off of the ships. Daniel said, “East Coast food and music adds definite excitement to the experience. On Canada Day weekend we are hoping to serve PEI lobster rolls. Noshing on PEI lobster on the deck of a grand vessel sounds like a superb way to start your celebrations of the Red and White if you ask me!”

There is no charge to participate in the Seaside Experiences program, and many are small businesses looking to gain further exposure and sales of their products. “Some vendors are more focused on the sales that they realize on the day, others are looking for mainly exposure and the two blend together really well,” Gillis said.

The program continues to expand. “We’re completely open to new vendors, anyone that’s interested. Eventually we’d like to expand it and maybe even bring it even further into mid-June,” Gillis said. A new business looking forward to participating this summer is Maritime Marzipan. Co-owner Jessica Fitz said, “Seaside Experiences is a great way for us, as a fairly new business, to gain exposure beyond the Island’s borders. We are proud to be a small business on PEI, and are hoping to get other people as excited about marzipan as we are. And being in direct conversation with our retail customers allows us to do just that.”

Giving many Atlantic businesses exposure in a unique format, you can also have a Seaside Experience on NFL’s sister ferries (Bay Ferries Limited) that link between Digby, NS and Saint John, NB and Yarmouth, NS and Maine. The program will run six days a week during July and August and on weekends during September, and the schedule is published on NFL’s website, should you want to plan a special trip this summer.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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