To understand Fire Island, located off the South Shore of Long Island, New York, it's important to first understand its geography. This unique stretch of beachy land spans roughly 31 miles and while its Westernmost end can be reached via a bridge to Robert Moses State Park, the rest of the island can only be reached by ferry. Since cars are not permitted on Fire Island, this is where some of the confusion comes from; for visitors, car access ends at Robert Moses State Parkway, which leads to the Robert Moses Beach parking lot. Past that point, it's time to get a ferry ticket!

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To be fair, once ferry schedules are involved, any potential trip becomes a little more complicated. Coming from a local, however, a trip to Fire Island is far from the confusion of following a city subway map or determining which major roads will lead into New York City (pro tip: don't bother driving yourself). From one local to an adventurer, it is possible to navigate Fire Island as though you've lived there your whole life if you're following this guide.

First Of All, Where The Heck Is The Ferry And How Much Does It Cost?

So, you've gotten this far and you're ready to enjoy a beautiful, quick 20-minute ferry ride. Now, where do you find it? There are actually two locations from which to board the Fire Island Ferry, and they're both in Suffolk County (the eastern end of Long Island. The first, and most western port, is the Bayshore Ferry. If you know where on Fire Island you're headed, this is easy to figure out. Fire Island Ferries (the main of the two) leaves from Bayshore and goes to Kismet, Saltaire, Dunewood and Atlantique, Fair Harbor, Ocean Beach, Seaview, and Ocean Bay Park. The Sayville Ferry Service runs out of Sayville and takes visitors to The Pines, Cherry Grove, Sailors Haven, and Water Island. It will only be one of these two ferry services and if you're really unsure, each port has a detailed destination map at the terminal - so there's really no messing it up.

The next part is very important: the ferry schedule can be confusing. Seasoned locals know how to read it no problem but newcomers often struggle with the list of peak dates, times, and return times. The best thing anyone can do is take their time and when in doubt, ask about the times at the terminal window. Or, you can just go about it like a local - get there at the earliest time to board, and then be completely flexible with your return time in case you miss the first few ferries... Just make sure not to miss the final call otherwise you'll be sleeping on the beach.

So, how much does it cost to ride one of these bad boys? If you're staying on Fire Island, a one-way ticket is $11 for adults, $6 for kids, and $10 for seniors and active or veteran military. If you're only spending the day there then you'll want a round-trip ticket, which is $21 for adults and $11 for kids. This is of the utmost importance: If you have a round-trip ticket, do not lose it. There's nothing like the panic of getting ready to board, usually after waiting in a long line, and realizing your ticket is floating away on a wave somewhere. Bonus tip: either be prepared to pay upwards of $20 for a parking spot (and even valet) or get there super early to find a cheaper parking lot or just park in a (legal) spot down the road from either terminal.

Tips On The Ferry And In Fire Island

While you're on the ferry, avoid rookie mistakes. It will be windy... You're traveling across an open body of water at a fairly quick speed. Therefore, hang onto your hat (literally) if you're on the upper deck, and hold onto your sunglasses. During the summer (COVID-19 limitations aside), the ferry is usually packed during peak times. Get there early and scout out a seat but don't be rude if more people need to squeeze in next to you - it's a short ride, so you can deal. The ferries to Fire Island provide one of the most relaxing and laid-back rides you're like to ever take and while it's over before you know it, it's a beautiful trip on a warm, clear sunny day. Enjoy it!

Do yourself a favor and pack these things: Sunscreen, bug spray, bottled water, and go the extra step and wear your bathing suit under your clothes (or just in general, no one judges you in Fire Island or on the ferry... we're all too sun-tired). A large beach tote is the easiest thing to bring on the ferry and if it zippers, even better - it's a good place to store your wallet or valuables. It's also easy to stash under a restaurant table when you're eating! If you're worried about carrying multiple things, rent a wagon! With the no cars rule, red and wooden wagons can be rented at every ferry terminal and they're super helpful on the boardwalks. In short, don't stress - Fire Island is a stress-free zone and it's truly the place where New Yorkers living south of Downstate go to decompress and enjoy a place that doesn't feel like the city or Long Island. In time, you'll learn to love this, too.

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