Two days before the maiden voyage of the Nova Star on Thursday, the ferry’s operator slashed fares 20 percent and waived the fare for children under age 18.

Officials with Nova Star Cruises Ltd. said they are discounting fares to encourage early bookings. While the reduced ticket prices will be good for the rest of the season, the trips must be booked by midnight on June 15.

The company is pleased with ticket sales and the level of inquires from the public, but it is far from reaching its goal of serving 100,000 passengers this year, company spokesman Dennis Bailey said Tuesday.

“We have a long way to go. No question about it,” Bailey said.

Bailey would not release information about how many people have booked tickets so far.

Nova Star Cruises wasn’t allowed to sell tickets or market the service until mid-March, after winning a key permit from a U.S. federal agency,

Some people in Maine and Nova Scotia have complained that the fares are too expensive. Without the discount, a couple traveling during the peak season with a car and a cabin would pay $1,115 for a round trip on the ferry, which takes 10 hours to sail from Portland to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia.

Bob Sime, who heads a Halfax consulting firm that helps travel companies market themselves, said it’s a smart move for a start-up company to offer an introductory price because it needs customers who will tell friends and relatives about the service. He said the price needs to be low enough so people believe they can’t afford to miss out on the deal.

“Price is what everybody is talking about today,” he said.

William Doucet, 77, of New York, who travels to Nova Scotia very summer to visit relatives, said he was surprised to learn that it costs $841 to travel on the ferry with a car and cabin for a round trip. That’s about the same as the cost of flying from New York to Halifax and riding a shuttle service for three hours to Cape Mary, where his relatives live. Still, he said, he will take the ferry so he can have his own car in Nova Scotia.

It’s worth it,” he said. “At least I can bring my car aboard.”

Bailey said that people who have criticized the company’s fares misunderstand the ferry’s business model. It’s not intended to provide basic transportation across the Gulf of Maine but rather allow people to travel in comfort on a $165 million vessel that is more like a cruise ship than a ferry.

“It’s not a taxi. It’s a vacation,” he said.

The 20 percent discount applies only to transit fares and won’t apply to the cost of cabins or fees for vehicles, pets and bicycles. In addition, the discount does not apply to the $49 it will cost to reserve a recliner seat during the peak season. The recliner seat is an option for people who don’t want a cabin during the overnight trip between Portland and Yarmouth.

Passengers who have already bought tickets will also get the discount. People who ordered tickets online received an email on Tuesday notifying them that a refund will be applied to their credit or debit cards.

On Thursday evening, the ferry will depart Portland on its maiden voyage to Yarmouth. The ferry is scheduled to offer daily round-trip service until Oct. 31.

Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at:

[email protected] 

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