BRADENTON, Fla. — After months of anticipation, the Gulf Islands Ferry, which connects downtown Bradenton to Anna Maria Island, formally launches this weekend.

The ferry was initially scheduled to launch in early December, but was pushed to mid-January as the new service awaited Coast Guard approval.

What You Need To Know

  • First Gulf Islands Ferry ride set for Sunday, Jan. 14

  • Tickets are now on sale at Bradenton Gulf Islands

  • Ferry links Bradenton Riverwalk to Anna Maria City Pier

While the new scheduled start date for the service was listed as Jan. 12, less than stellar weather forecasted for Friday and Saturday is now pushing the inaugural ride to Sunday. Tickets are now available and the service is in operation, despite the weather delays.

To start, the ferry will take passengers from the day dock located by the River Dance apartments on the Bradenton Riverwalk to Anna Maria City Pier. In the next couple of weeks, the service will also include a stop at the Bridge Street pier in Bradenton Beach, according to Elliot Falcione with the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

John Horne, owner of Anna Maria Oyster Bar, located on the Bridge Street pier, said the ferry will now allow him to recruit new staff members from east Bradenton and Palmetto.

“Almost no one who works on the island lives on the island,” Horne said. “The island has changed drastically, so we’re recruiting from off the island for staff….everybody is.”

Horne says he’s working on an arrangement with the ferry operators that would allow his staff members to use the boats as a way to commute to work. He says the traffic on Manatee Avenue and Cortez Road as you approach the island can get so dense during peak season that he hopes the ferry will relieve some of that.

“Less cars on the island, less traffic on the island, more parking spaces for people that do drive out there,” he said.

Falcione estimates that talks about adding a ferry as a mode of transportation in Manatee County first started about 15 years ago. But it took years to get the cities and county all on the same page.

He’s hoping residents and visitors start using the ferry as a way to get around traffic and enjoy the river in the meantime.

“We’re all in, this isn’t a pilot program,” Falcione said. “If we get complacent or we get bureaucratic then we’ll face some challenges.”

Large bags and coolers are permitted on the ferry, but no bicycles are allowed.

Falcione says it cost approximately $1.2 million to get the ferry up and running. The bulk of that money, he said, is from tourism tax dollars and not coming from Manatee County’s Ad Valorem taxes.

Tickets for the ferry are now on sale and can be found at Bradenton Gulf Islands.