PEI is, by far, Canada's smallest province -- it's only about 193km (120 miles) long from tip to tip, which is amazing -- and that keeps your transit down to a minimum. With one or two smart bases, you can easily explore the whole thing in a week. However, traffic on island roads -- slowed by farm tractors, shutterbugs, cows, the elderly, leisurely drivers, terrain, and odd twists and turns along the route -- tends to be quite a bit slower than you'd expect. So don't count on the sort of speedy travel you can enjoy on a fast Nova Scotia two-lane. Just kick back and enjoy the scenery; you'll get there. Eventually.
In recent years, a number of PEI hotels and attractions have banded together to market a ton of different vacation packages that offer discounts ranging from moderate to generous. There are some good values hidden in there. Call the provincial tourism office at tel. 800/463-4734 or 902/368-4444 to discuss or receive information about these island packages.
Tourism PEI publishes a comprehensive free visitor's guide to island attractions and lodgings that's well worth picking up. It is available at all information centers on the island, or in advance by calling tel. 800/463-4734 or 902/368-4444. The official PEI website is located at www.gentleisland.com.
PEI's splashy main information center is in something called Gateway Village (tel. 902/437-8570), just as you arrive on the island via the Confederation Bridge. It's a good spot for gathering brochures and asking last-minute questions. There's also a well-laid-out interpretive center featuring exhibits on island history and culture. The Gateway -- which also features a number of retail shops selling island products -- is a little odd, however. Its own promoters say the Village portrays a "turn-of-the-century PEI streetscape encompassing an exposition pavilion, food and retail services, liquor store, visitor information center, and the Festivals at Gateway." (Huh?)
Yes, you can stop here for brochures and maps, grab a snack and a break, and take a quick walk through the interpretive center. But push onward -- this island's got a lot to offer. Why spend any more time than you need to at a tourist kiosk?
When to Go -- PEI's peak tourism season is brief, running 6 or 7 weeks from early July through late August. Many attractions don't fully open until July, and a few close up shop before August is even done.
Tourism officials and entrepreneurs are trying to convince shops and attractions to maintain longer seasons and opening hours (especially during the shoulder seasons), but they still have a ways to go. If you plan to visit in June or September (and those can be lovely times to come), expect to be disappointed by some restaurants and attractions being closed. My advice? Check the listings in this book carefully for restaurant, hotel, and attraction opening seasons. And definitely think about basing yourself in Charlottetown for awhile if you'll be making a shoulder-season visit -- the capital city's restaurants mostly keep year-round hours (thanks to the presence of legislators).
If you're coming by car, as the vast majority do, you'll either arrive by ferry or drive onto the island via the big Confederation Bridge (tel. 888/437-6565 or 902/437-7300), which opened with great fanfare in 1997. (On the island, you'll also sometimes hear this bridge referred to as the "fixed link," a reference to the guarantee Canada made back in 1873 to provide a permanent link from the mainland. These people have long memories!) Whatever you call it, though, the dramatic 13km (8-mile) bridge is open 24 hours a day and takes 10 to 12 minutes to cross. Unless you're high up in a van, a truck, or an RV, however, your views are mostly obstructed by the concrete barriers that form the guardrails along both sides.
The round-trip bridge toll as of 2009 was C$43 round-trip for passenger cars (more for vehicles with more than two axles); the toll is collected when you leave the island, not when you enter it. (If you drive on in a rental car and fly off, you escape the toll altogether.) Credit cards are accepted at the bridge plaza.
Cyclists and backpackers can also cross the bridge, but not on the road; instead, they must use the bridge's shuttle van, which charges C$4 per pedestrian or C$8 per cyclist with a cycle.
Even if you didn't bring wheels to Canada or rent any after arriving there, you can get here via several long-distance van services. PEI Express Shuttle (tel. 877/877-1771; www.peishuttle.com), one of them, runs one van daily each way between Halifax, Halifax's airport, and Charlottetown. The ride takes about 5 hours from downtown Halifax (about 4 hr. from the airport) and costs C$60 one-way for adults, C$55 for students and seniors, C$45 for children under age 12. (There's an additional C$5 surcharge if you're picked up at or dropped off from Halifax airport, and a C$5 fuel surcharge during certain high-gas-price times.)
By Ferry -- For those arriving from Cape Breton Island or other points east, Northumberland Ferries Limited (tel. 888/249-7245; www.nfl-bay.com) provides seasonal service between Caribou, Nova Scotia (just north of Pictou) and Woods Island, PEI. Ferries with a 250-car capacity run from May to mid-December. During peak season (June to mid-Oct), ferries depart each port approximately every 90 minutes throughout the day, with the last ferry departing as late as 8pm or 9:30pm in mid-summer depending on which direction you are traveling. The crossing takes about 75 minutes.
No reservations are accepted, except for buses; thus, it's best to arrive at least an hour before departure to boost your odds of securing a berth on the next boat. Early-morning ferries tend to be less crowded. Fares are C$63 for a regular-size car (more for campers and RVs), plus C$16 per person (C$14 for seniors, free for kids under age 12). There's a small fuel surcharge, as well, and major credit cards are honored.
Note that this round-trip fare is only collected going off the island. If you take the ferry onto the island and drive off, you pay the cheaper bridge toll only; drive on and take the ferry off, and you pay the higher ferry toll only.
By Air -- The island's main airport, Charlottetown Airport (call sign YYG; www.flypei.com), is a few miles north of the city. In summer, you can get here easily from either the U.S. or Canada.
Air Canada (tel. 888/247-2262; www.aircanada.com) commuter flights from Halifax take just a half-hour, and the airline also flies daily to Toronto and Montréal. Calgary-based WestJet (tel. 888/937-8538; www.westjet.com) also connects Charlottetown with Toronto.
Delta (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com) runs direct weekend summertime service from Boston's Logan and New York's JFK airports. Northwest (tel. 800/447-4747; www.nwa.com) predated Delta, and has flown to the island from Detroit in summer for several years.
A taxi ride into Charlottetown from the airport costs a flat fee of C$12 for the first passenger, plus C$3 each for additional passengers; two strangers can even share a single cab into town for a city-mandated fare of C$9 each. (Cabs also run to other parts of the island, for higher flat fares.) There are also limousine firms and several chain auto-rental outfits in the terminal.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.