Until Monday, commuters between Malta and Gozo had to use the ferry at Ċirkewwa to cross between islands.
That changed on Tuesday, when two fast ferry services to Gozo began operating from a newly-built terminal in Valletta.
Virtu Ferries and Gozo Fast Ferry are competing for passengers along the Valletta-Mġarr route.
Times of Malta hopped on the first scheduled trip from Valletta with the Gozo Fast Ferry and returned back with competitors Virtu Ferries to see how the two services vary in price, facilities and experience.
Where and how do I catch the ferry?
Journeys from the Valletta side begin at the new Lascaris Wharf Terminal, which was built in one month.
From the Gozo side, ferries depart from a ferry terminal at Mġarr, Gozo. There are a number of ways to get to the Valletta terminal.
Passengers can drive and try their luck with on-street parking, but finding a spot can be hit-or-miss.
Another option is to park your car at the Floriana MCP car park, and catch bus X133 from the Valletta bus terminus. This free shuttle service will stop at the bus stop ‘Lascaris’ just outside the terminal.
If you are heading to the ferry from Mater Dei Hospital, the University of Malta or Junior College you can catch bus X300 to the terminal building.
If shuttle buses are not your thing, you can take the Upper Barrakka lift down to Lascaris Wharf, cross the road and arrive at the terminal in just a matter of minutes.
A trip on the lift costs €1. Gozo Fast Ferry will waive that if you pay for the lift and ferry using a Tallinja card. Virtu Ferries passengers get a free return trip on the lift within one hour of arriving in Valletta on the same day.
In Gozo, passengers can catch bus 301 from Victoria, which runs frequently and will take them straight to the fast ferry terminal.
How do I book my fast ferry tickets?
If you have a Tallinja card, then you’re ready to go: just tap the ticket machine at the terminal and prepare to board either ferry.
Gozo Fast Ferry also allows passengers to buy tickets online, in person at the terminal or via their smartphone app. Buying tickets at the terminal will cost you more, though.
Virtu Ferries allow for online bookings as well as ticket purchases at the terminal for the same price as available online. The company does not have its own app.
With both companies, passengers can display their ticket on their smartphone and have it scanned on the ticket reader easily, without needing to print it out.
Can I take my pet with me?
Gozo Fast Ferry allows passengers to take their dogs on board, provided they're muzzled, or cats if they're in cages.
The Virtu Ferries website states that pets are allowed on board.
What about bicycles?
Gozo Fast Ferry passengers can bring their bikes aboard for free, up to a maximum of nine bicycles per vessel.
Virtu Ferries charge a €3 fee per bicycle.
How much do fast ferry tickets cost?
Whilst both catamarans offer discounted fares for passengers who have a Tallinja card, Gozo Fast Ferry fares are currently cheaper if you’re an adult: we paid €19.98 for two adult return journeys (€15.98 with Tallinja cards), compared to €24 (€22 with Tallinja cards) for two similar trips with Virtu Ferries.
Price disparities narrow significantly if you live in Gozo: Gozitan residents will pay €4.50 for a return fare with Gozo Fast Ferry and €4.60 with Virtu Ferries (€5 if you don’t have a Tallinja card).
A child with a Tallinja card who lives in Gozo can benefit from the cheapest fares of all: €2.70 for a return trip with Virtu Ferries.
If you’re a student, senior citizen or EU disability cardholder and not living in Gozo, then special fares with Gozo Fast Ferry appear to be the more cost-effective option.
Both ferries include a VIP section, though these have not yet opened and prices have yet to be announced.
What was the journey like?
The journey to Mġarr with Gozo Fast Ferry was a smooth one. Seats are comfortable and spacious.
The company has two ferries, both recently built in 2018, and both have around 300 seats available for passengers.
Catching the Virtu Ferries boat back to Valletta was a slightly noisier experience. The San Franġisk catamaran has been around longer than the new Gozo Fast Ferry vessels, and its seats were more rigid and had less legroom.
The company also has two vessels, San Franġisk and San Pawl both of which can cater up to 330 passengers.
Refreshments and snacks
Both companies offer a selection of drinks and snacks for sale. An espresso on the Gozo Fast Ferry was €1.25 and €2 on Virtu Ferries.
Menus with price lists were available on the Gozo Fast Ferry vessel but not on the Virtu Ferries boat, and staff on the latter were unsure of the prices of some items. Given that it was their maiden trip, we'll cut them some slack.
Due to the pandemic, passengers must wear a mask on the ferry and follow social distancing rules. Both companies have reduced their ferries’ maximum capacities for the time being.
Did the trip take 45 minutes?
Yes and no.
The first scheduled trip to Mġarr with Gozo Fast Ferry left at 4:45pm on the dot from Valletta. It arrived at the Gozo breakwater on time but then had to wait outside the Mġarr terminal, as one of its competitor's vessels exited the terminal.
Because of this logistical issue, we touched land in Gozo half an hour later, at 6:00pm. Operators say this issue will be resolved.
The Virtu Ferries trip back to Valletta was scheduled to depart at 7:15pm.
The San Franġisk began its journey as scheduled, and arrived in Valletta at 8:00pm - bang on time.
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