A trip to Ocracoke Island was the plan of the day, but the How to and Why of Ocracoke Island was still a bit unknown. We certainly weren’t quite sure what to do, or where to go but we got on Highway 12 and headed South, to Hatteras Inlet, as we knew we would see signs to get us started on a trip to Ocracoke Island. Did I start this tale all off backwards? Well that is how I felt getting set up to go to Ocracoke Island! We had met up with a few people I had been conversing with online and they advised we get to Ocracoke Island and that it was so beautiful. The locals advised: get to Ocracoke Island on a Tuesday, not a Wednesday and get there early AM, and beyond that, there was no other information. I listened to their advice and headed for a trip to Ocracoke Island. I was wondering what we would do at Ocracoke Island and why would I take a Ferry? I also wondered if I could just ride on the Ocracoke Ferry or if I needed a car? Could we bring our bikes? Loaded with questions and not many answers, I got my kids up at the crack of dawn, and headed South, on Highway 12 to find signs to the Ocracoke Island Ferry. We were headed to a trip to Ocracoke Island and I knew very little about our days’ agenda, just that we were headed for a famous Vento Adventure, where I pack the kids off and we go. We were ready to spend the day on Ocracoke Island, seeking allergen-free food, beverages, a golf cart rental and of course the magnificent Ocracoke Lighthouse. This is my tale of the How To and Why of Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks.
As you know we were staying on Hatteras Island in AVON one of the seven villages. Travel to Ocracoke Island is only possible via FERRY so you gotta, and you have to take your car. Next year, as I was told, you might be able to just load your bicycle and self, but for now, cars only. Why is this? Well, once you get there, the town is about 15 minutes away, all there is before the town are sand dunes and ocean, with not much else. In order to get from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke Island you take the Ferry, and you take your car to the ferry, and when you get to Ocracoke you can drive to the Village.
A Trip To Ocracoke Island
I found it fascinating that I could take my SUV, my family and self to Ocracoke Island on the last running, FREE Ferry in the United States that transports cars. People were buzzing about this all over the Ferry, that it was almost unimaginable that you could put your car on the ferry and not pay for this great almost 1 hour ride over and 1 hour ride back. Literally, if you did nothing else and did not want to see Ocracoke Island, take the Ferry over and back just to say, “I did it!” I did it for the bucket list. The How To is as easy as the why of Ocracoke Island, in fact the Why: Ocracoke Ferry is the most popular ferry of the ferries that are managed by North Carolina Ferry System. Did you know that at one point in time the ONLY access to this island was via private charter or tug boat?
How To Get To Ocracoke Island
This video is how to get your car on the ferry at Hatteras Inlet and how to it looks on the other side at Ocracoke Island.
Get to the Ferry AS early as you can, the lines build, and you can see the marked lines if the lanes are empty, this place rocks the traffic of Hatteras Island on Wednesdays- through the Weekend. Why? After spending the weekend at the beach(if you just arrived) you might decided a little reprieve from the beach is in order, hence, the line begins with those that have had too much fun in the sun and want a little FREE Adventure.
You might hear people complaining about the priority pass, well let me tell you, it did not affect us and there are not enough of those passes out there to really put a damper on anyone’s adventure. Finally I might add in, if someone does have a priority pass, they totally deserve it. If you had to use the Ferry system to connect to Hatteras Island in order to gain things you needed on a regular basis and take that Ferry Trek EVERY-TIME, they totally should have priority, because without them, the Island would not be the same, so hats off! GET to the ferry early enough and you won’t have to contend with lines and waiting, it is a vacation, relax and let life happen!
In the OBX(Outer Banks) it seems that most people don’t get moving until well after 9 AM, therefore if you get up and go, you will beat the traffic at the inlet. When we returned later that day(after 1PM) the lines were extreme and while there were ferries running every half hour, they can only pack so many cars on the ferry at a time.
When you drive into Hatteras Inlet you will see lines that show you where to drive to catch the ferry. You follow the lanes that are not ‘coned’ off with orange cones and you become on of many in the line for the Ferry. You are parking behind other cars, unless of course you are first in line! While you are in line for the ferry, your car should be off and I would suggest putting your windows down to get the breeze through as there is a very welcoming breeze at the inlet. If you need to use the restroom there is one available right there and you just go up a few steps and you will find it. There are also some great people inside to talk to about your soon to be taken FERRY ride. I talked to them, they calmed my nerves a little bit as I had no idea what to expect.
We arrived at about 7:30 in the morning and yes the rest area was open and people were walking all over the parking lot! I spoke with the guest service people in the building to find out what else to do on Ocracoke and grabbed a brochure as well as a map, so that when we got there, I could just drive right into town. IF you are curious, from Avon on Hatteras Island, the ride is only about 20 minutes to the Hatteras Inlet and from Buxton only ten minutes, as Buxton is closer.
On the ride home, my License was requested, and the number was written down, but not on the way over, you never know who is being ‘spot checked’ and who is not, so have your license with you!
Once the ferry was in its port, they lower the gate and signal to you to move your vehicle. You will be told WHERE to put your car. You are driving your car ONTO the FERRY, you are parking your car, and you are putting the ER Brake on and taking the KEYS out of the ignition. You may sit in your car all the way over, or you may stand out of it. Depending on the ferry style(there are a few) you may find seating if you so choose in the MIDDLE of the Ferry. I found pulling through the little ported tunnel on our first Ferry quite the challenge as my SUV Is huge!
There are several styles of Ferries, which I had no idea about. Some offer seating, some are very tight and don’t have seating, but if you CAN get your car door opened, you can get out and walk around. Our morning Ferry offered an inside sitting area as well as side benches to sit on so you can get out and move. However, our afternoon Ferry made me so nervous as we were pretty much STUCK in our car as we were Door-to-Door with other vehicles and there was an 18 wheeler on our Ferry(talk about making me nervous and on pins and needles the whole ride, uggggg)
Piece of Info You Might Want to Know In Case You Are Worried About Ferry Travel
18 Wheelers and other Large Trucks do travel back and forth to the island, I mean, Ocracoke Island needs foods and provisions too, and this is how it gets there! Now you also want to know that 18 Wheelers get on this FERRY with you as do cars. Sure I freaked out a little bit but that 18 wheeler had to go over on the ferry so now it’s coming back a whole lot less loaded, I guess I should be glad, but I just felt anxious(if you have anxiety issues, fear of water, or space issues, this ride may not be perfect for you, just sayin….)
We watched our captain steer through the red and green markers that led our way and just enjoyed the ride, you can do the same. Those markers let you know where your Ferry should and should not be, our captains rocked the steering!
Nature? Well, some say you can often see dolphins are birds that trail along, however we did not see any of this. In fact, our morning ride was super choppy, loaded with waves, foggy at points and just not what everyone had described. Let me show you how ROUGH our water was, and you might find it interesting, as this car will take the brunt of the waves that are INBOUND. Now is a little bit of fun this particular couple had a brand-new car and did not realize they were about to be soaked take a look at this couple in a convertible and the waves whipping in from the front of the ferry saturating the vehicle. See the video here and watch to see the water come into the car.
You pull to the front of the Ferry, and there is a gator net there, and they crew puts down stop blocks in front of each LEAD vehicle, four of you across. Turn off ignition, put the car in park, put on the ER brake and crank your windows down(just so you can put them up if you are lead car, you should be fine)
We did take the opportunity on the morning ferry to photo and video and see the push off as well as whenever we connected back to land. To get to Ocracoke your Ferry will SNAKE in the ‘S’ form avoiding all the sandbars along the way, as the water has changed so much over the last few years, the ride has increased in time, but again, this is the last working set of ferries that don’t charge to transport your vehicle from Island to Island it is so cool! I could not see to the bottom of the water so no blue crabs, no dolphins just water splashing.
There are life jackets and bathrooms on the Ferry, I used neither, but the bathrooms are there so no worries mates! Instructions are given at the beginning of your ride from the Captain, listen because they do not repeat(unlike Disney attractions).
When you actually get from the Hatteras Island to Ocracoke and the boat stops right as you’re pulling in you can start your vehicle again and take your emergency brake off but not until you’re almost parked. The staff and the crew will direct you as to when you can disembark your vehicle and you just drive off the ramp and when you get off of the Ocracoke ferry you turn to the right and head on down to a 55 mile an hour highway. Once you go about 15 minutes, you will get to the hub of Ocracoke. We drove right in from the Ferry to the village and followed it to a parking lot that allows you to park for 72 hours at a time at no charge. This epitaph is right in that parking lot, so make sure to stop and look at it, and capture your photo, it is all part of the history of Ocracoke Island.
We then picked up our golf cart rental. You can rent the carts for 2, 3, or 4 hours, I believe that in two hours you will have seen everything you need to see, and you can easily head back to Hatteras Island. At about 12 o’clock the island really came alive and so many people were coming on and the go carts were actually almost rented out completely. The streets are small and tight for cars, so getting around is really much easier by walking, or golf cart, rather than car, trust me on this! If my foot had not been in a cast, we would have WALKED the whole main part without a problem.
Our first stop was actually to the Ocracoke Lighthouse on Lighthouse Road. We just kept taking all the little roads after we visited the Light House, but they all lead back to the main road some way or another. All roads lead back to the main road so you cannot get lost. Riding in the golf cart allows you to get close and personal with the environment, and all of the houses. I like stopping along the way to look at all the houses in the detail for instance one of the houses offering the house number marker with me paddle which was so cool and this particular house and garden wall made of seashells or conch shells very pretty.
Ocracoke is Bohemian and theme, and in many places looks like a small Disney town. It is pretty, quaint and very laid-back as anything goes. The fresh shrimp boat comes in the afternoon and you will find signs telling you that the shrimp is in. If you have ice with you, haul it back to your home and use it for dinner! They do run out of ice however, as we found out so it was NO shrimp for us!
Dining with Allergies or as a Vegetarian
As far as dining choices you will find a lot of places to eat along the street, on the bay-front, and all along the road. We actually stumbled across a small side restaurant that offered fresh made iced tea each class was three dollars and she had several flavors. But that wasn’t the main attraction this man had a stand that offered hot-dogs, vegetarian walking tacos, regular walking tacos with either beef or chicken. In addition we were able to feed my son with all beef hot dogs no latex, no nuts and no fish. The same place also offers the best deal in town for beverages, only $1 a bottle or can!
Ice Cream or Slushies
Ice cream is all over the island ranging from fresh scooped to soft serve, and there is even a place to get slurpees. Now this was a great option for my son as well as they had multiple flavors he could choose from and have an allergen free Slurpee well my children snacked on ice cream by the scoop, cheesecake ice cream in fact. The pricing was not great, but you are on an island, so it is what it is. The place we wanted to go to around the corner was $1 for ice cream and they were not open until 2, we went by twice, so we ended up here and satisfied.
You could have waffle cones or cake cones, your choice, but they do serve it in a cup no matter what because the heat is so oppressive the minute you step out the door, the scoop falls off the cone, lol! The Golf Cart Advantage played nicely here as we pulled right in our golf cart and got a front parking place. This was the first place I found Wi-Fi something that was not a usual find on the island. I think the name of the place was called slurpee something sorry we saw so much we can’t remember it all. We sat in the furniture on the porch in the covers shade and enjoyed our treats for a while before we moved on.
When we shopped we found some very nice gift shops, in fact we came up with some Christmas ornaments that had the lighthouse on them all very pretty. After our day, and when it was time to go home we simply check our golf cart back in and it over the keys and returned to our car. To get back to the Ferry again, it is 15 minutes and important you get in line again and there’s a rest area there if you need it.
The trip back is a great time to rest from the day you have had in Ocracoke Island. The Ferry departs every half hour up to Midnight. Make sure you leave plenty of time to travel from the village to the Ferry Port. If there are storms, or storms foretasted, beware, because your Ferry may be delayed or not go or come. Excessive wind, bad weather, or your inability to get to the ferry all can play into reasons why you might not be able to get from or TO the island, so listen to the forecast and plan accordingly. Don’t speed, there are police and if you drive the golf cart around you drunk you can get a DUI so said the guy we rented from(FYI) The ferry ride is nice, and so very picturesque.
Answering another few questions you might have: Did I see anyone just going on with a bike? No in fact I did not, nor did I see any JUST RIDERS without cars. Apparently you can, but I was told you could not? While I can’t give you an answer, I can tell you that you have to drive 15 miles to the village(hub) or you won’t see much other than beaches, so take your car it’s free!
The trip is a great day trip, it can cost you nothing, or it can cost you a meal, it is really your choice. You can find allergen free food on the island, you can find vegetarian food, and regular food as well as ice cream. There are plenty of shops, great boating, fun beach experiences, and loads of fun driving a golf cart off its normal Golf Trail! Lavishly live travel out loud and visit Ocracoke Island With the “The How To and Why of Ocracoke Island” in Outer Banks North Carolina.