The Cross Bay Ferry has returned to the Tampa Bay area and is making trips between Tampa and St. Petersburg every day, except Monday and Tuesday, through the end of April 2021.

The Cross Bay Ferry has returned to Tampa Bay. The Provincetown III, here from its seasonal Boston-to-Provincetown runs in Massachusetts, will continue service here until April 30, 2021.

Excited to hear about the ferry’s return, my husband and I, along with close friends in our COVID-19 bubble, recently took the ferry to St. Petersburg. We were happy that masks were required while on board. Two floors accommodate passengers. The upstairs section of the ferry is all outdoors (though partially covered). The day we took the journey, it was not crowded, so it was easy to social distance.

On the Tampa side, the ferry leaves just outside of the Tampa Convention Center on the Riverwalk. The trip across the bay takes just under an hour and is very relaxing.

It crosses the channel out of Tampa between Harbor and Davis Islands, so there are great views of the homes along the water that you can’t see from the interior. If you are lucky, you may also catch a glimpse of a dolphin. The ferry arrives in St. Petersburg across from North Straub Park.

Limited food and a full-service bar are available on board. There is no ferry service on Monday or Tuesday, and service is limited on Wednesday and Thursday. From Friday to Sunday, morning-through-evening departures will give you enough time to enjoy a leisurely visit on the other side of the bay.

The cost is $10 each way for adults and $8 for seniors 65-plus, military and college students. Children under 4 are free.

Once you arrive in St. Petersburg, there is plenty to do downtown. Over the years, we have watched this city morph into a vibrant community. The Pier, which was rebuilt after years of discussion on how it should look, recently opened in July. It is a short walk from where the ferry disembarks and you can’t miss it.

Encompassing 26 acres, there is a lot of space to maneuver and social distance, as is always a concern to us during the COVID-19 crisis. Masks are requested outdoors and required at indoor venues throughout the Pier.

You will notice immediately, even before you reach the Pier, a net sculpture called Bending Arc, which Tampa native Janet Echelman has created. Bending Arc measures at 76 ft. at its highest point and 428 ft. wide. It is perpetually in motion with the wind. To me, it was most impressive after dark.

At the entrance of the Pier, you can stop for a meal or drink while overlooking the marina. Fresco’s Waterfront Bistro’s wraparound deck offers great views for lunch, dinner or weekend brunch.

As you stroll onto the Pier, there are kiosks with vendors set up selling mostly touristy items. That area is shaded and possibly protected from inclement weather. Beyond that there was a great play area for youngsters and a beach where you can sit, relax and even swim; a great family destination.

It is right behind Spa Beach Bistro, an outdoor cafe serving limited items, including design-your-own pizza. Vendors were also selling cans of beer and hard seltzers. What impressed me most was how nice this area all ties together in its simplicity.

Another restaurant about midway on the Pier overlooking the bay is Doc Ford’s Rum Bay & Grille. This 10,000 sq. ft. restaurant/bar focuses its menu on Florida fare and flavors from throughout the Caribbean.

At the end of the Pier, the four-story structure houses a few restaurant choices. On the ground level is the Driftwood Cafe, a casual walkup spot offering ice cream and snacks. Enjoy a picnic here while overlooking the water.

We had dinner at Teak, a fine dining restaurant, which was a wonderful treat. There are a lot of great seafood choices as well as other options. I had the mahi fish and chips with seasoned fries, which was delicious.

It’s located on the fourth floor, and the views are fantastic. It will make you feel as if you are mini-vacationing on a cruise ship. On the rooftop, kick back and enjoy Pier Teaki’s classic tiki bar.

If walking is an issue, there is a free tram with four stops along the length of the Pier. There is so much more, but you will have to visit and see for yourself.

We enjoyed walking and taking in the whole ambiance of downtown St. Petersburg before settling back on the ferry for the return trip.

Visit https://stpetepier.org/ for more information.

For tickets and more information on departure times, visit www.thecrossbayferry.com.