Island Packers harbor cruises begin June 24

Island Packers catamaran cruising Ventura Harbor. (Photo by Linda Peters)

Island Packers has developed a new reason for ocean lovers to visit the Ventura Harbor this summer. The passenger boat operator will begin offering early evening cruises through the Ventura Harbor and Ventura Keys on select Saturdays from late June through early October.

“We used to do a two-hour dinner cruise,” recalled Cherryl Connally, Island Packers co-owner. “But it was a lot of work.”

She admitted that the dinner cruises were quite popular, with locals and tourists alike. But the amount of time (and number of employees) required for the experience — which included setup, catering, dining service during the cruise and cleanup afterwards — was considerable.

All operations, including dinner cruises, ceased during the pandemic. Later, the boat concessionaire was able to resume trips to the Channel Islands. During that time, Island Packers became more popular than ever, and Connally said that she’s seen a significant uptick in business the last few years. Good news for the company, but that also made it harder for her to dedicate resources to revive the dinner cruise program. “I don’t have the staff to do them,” Connally explained.

She thinks the evening harbor cruises will prove to be an appealing alternative. Modeled after the very popular Holiday Lights Cruises offered in December, these summer and fall excursions will take place aboard a 64-foot catamaran and last just one hour, 6-7 p.m. The duration and timing of the trips will provide guests with a fun but low-key activity suitable for winding down following an afternoon of fun, or perhaps for kicking off Saturday night festivities.

“What’s nice is that you can come early [to Ventura Harbor Village] to have dinner, or have dinner afterwards,” Connally said.

Passengers will be able to take in the beauty of Ventura Harbor and the impressive architecture of the houses that line the canals of the Ventura Keys. In addition, there should be ample opportunity to see wildlife such as seabirds, pelicans, harbor seals and sea lions. Pre-sunset lighting should make for spectacular photography.

Meals will not be served onboard, but the snack bar will be open, with hot and cold beverages, chips and other nibbles available for purchase. In the mood for happy hour? Beer and wine will be sold as well. (Sorry — no outside alcohol will be permitted.)

The experience is suitable for people of all ages, and intentionally casual, making it ideal for families. Tickets range from $12 to $18 — comparable to the cost of a movie ticket.

The first cruise takes place on June 24, with seven more to follow. The last is scheduled for Oct. 7. Only eight are on the calendar right now, as Island Packers gauges the demand and feasibility of its latest offering. But Connally has high hopes for the evening cruises, and is optimistic that, resources and staff permitting, more could potentially be added in the future.

“I think it will be popular,” she said. “I think it will be a successful event. It’s just a good way of getting out to the harbor.”

Evening harbor cruises take place 6-7 p.m. on June 24, July 8 and 22, Aug. 12 and 26, Sept. 9 and 23 and Oct. 7. Island Packers, 1691 Spinnaker Dr., #105B, Ventura Harbor, 805-642-1393,