LOWER TOWNSHIP — The Jersey Shore says it's open for business. The Cape May-Lewes Ferry wants to help the effort by getting people here earlier.

The ferry service that connects New Jersey with Delaware sees its new schedule with earlier departures as helping the tourism industry in its time of need. A complete interior makeover of three of the five ferry vessels should also provide travelers more comfort as they get here.

In truth, the changes had nothing directly to do with Hurricane Sandy damaging coastal areas that rely on the tourist trade. The ferry service regularly surveys customers and makes changes based on what they say. In previous years, flat-screen televisions, air conditioning, WiFi connections and food service upgrades have been added after customer input. In this case what travelers wanted, earlier departures and more comfortable seating, could help the larger tourist industry.

Marketing Director Michael Porch said the first ferry will leave Lewes, Del., at 8 a.m., 75 minutes earlier than usual, and leave the North Cape May terminal at 6:30 a.m., one hour earlier. This gives day-tripping tourists more time on the other side before catching the last ferry home.

“I think it will help the tourist industry. We want to support local tourism and tell them the Jersey Shore is open for business,” Porch said.

Interior makeovers on the MV Cape Henlopen, MV New Jersey and MV Delaware were done during the off season at the North Cape May terminal by marine and ferry maintenance crews. The job included new flooring and carpeting as well as more seating so a greater number of people can sit down for the crossings. It is also more modern seating, with drink holders, tray tables and arm rests. Some even recline and seats are arranged in different numbers to accommodate various sizes of traveling groups. Porch said the surveys and customer comment cards identified the need for better seating, and early returns on the ferry’s website and Facebook page are positive.

“In inclement weather or if the boat is full, it allows passengers to sit down. It’s more of a modern look inside, and its easier to maintain. It retains the old world charm of traveling on a ferry but with modern amenities,” Porch said.

So far the feedback has mostly been from local customers who ride the ferries in the off season, but Director of Ferry Operations Heath Gehrke said the response has been good,

“The goal is to wow our customers. They asked for better seating, we listened, and we are pleased to provide it,” Gehrke said.

The earlier departures will be effective through Oct. 31, at which time, Gehrke said, there will be an evaluation of how well it worked.

“As long as our customers like it and use it, we plan to continue with the new early departures,” Gehrke said.

Two other initiatives have also been announced. One is to reward locals. The other is to boost ridership for the new early departures. The Local Loyalty Fares provides discounts of as much as 30 percent for residents of Cape May County, N.J., and Sussex County, Del., — the two counties where the ferry is based — during midweek departures from Tuesdays through Thursdays. The lower prices are only through May 16 and only for round-trip vehicle fares. Travelers must supply a photo identification with their address to show that where they live qualifies.

The second initiative is called Spring Sail, and it gives round-trip vehicle discounts for anybody taking the new early departures.

“We want to reward our loyal local customers, acquaint locals and visitors alike with our new early departures, and really kick-start our season,” Gehrke said.

Changes were not made to two of the ferry vessels. Porch noted the MV Twin Capes already has a modern interior and the MV Cape May is currently for sale.

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