Jet Express - Port Clinton, Ohio to Put-in-Bay, Ohio

The Lake Erie summer travel season lasts only a few short weeks, so lake-goers should make the most of it. Traversing Lake Erie at high speed aboard the Jet Express is the best way to do that. The speedy Jet Express catamaran boats zoom across Lake Erie at 40 miles per hour, dock to dock, downtown to downtown. Thrill-seekers can ride the outside upper deck, and those wanting a more relaxing trip can ride in comfort with amenities on an enclosed lower deck.

The Jet Express cruises all over the Lake Erie Islands on the Ohio side throughout the peak season. A lot of folks begin planning their lake adventures weeks in advance and get tickets well ahead of their travel dates. The amenities that the Jet Express offers makes travel and parking logistics extremely easy, especially at their mainland docks in Port Clinton and Sandusky. This page focuses on the Port Clinton dock with a Put-in-Bay destination, but the Sandusky, Ohio, dock and Kelleys Island and Cedar Point destinations have similar amenities.  

The Port Clinton dock for the Put-in-Bay Boat Line Company, also known as the Jet Express, is clean and comfortable. The company started its Port Clinton to Put-in-Bay service in 1989, and has added boats and routes over the years. The PC dock is located at 3 Monroe Street (the Sandusky dock is at 101 West Shoreline Drive), and the paid short-term parking lot is located a few steps away at 49 Jackson Street. A couple of blocks to the west, off West Perry Street, is paid long-term parking at 110 Harrison Street. Both docks have short and long-term parking.

After picking up tickets to Put-in-Bay at the will-call window, which is in the waiting area, it was time to make use of the amenities at the Port Clinton dock. This dock was renovated last year, and is now called the Island Port. The Island Port bills itself as a full-service bar and grill. The bar was open for beverages of all sorts at 10 am, though the kitchen was closed. The dock is located on the Portage River, and there is a Wendy’s, Subway, and Marco’s Pizza within a ten-minute walk east at the Jefferson Street, West State Route 163 intersection.

The restrooms here at the Island Port are modern and spacious and there is an ATM on the main floor close to the bar. There is a stand here well-stocked with maps for a variety of excursions, plus posters on the walls listing the live summer entertainment. This photo was taken from the outdoors balcony. The loudspeakers in the waiting area and the bar are announcing the ship’s arrival and it’s time to go. Passengers will begin boarding in five minutes, and the boat will depart at 10:15.

The Jet Express II, the second of four boats, pulled into the dock at exactly 10 am. This boat was built in 1992 in Somerset, Massachusetts, at a cost of $3.2 million. The Jet departed the Port Clinton dock precisely at 10:15 am, and the passengers quickly found their seats. In the center of this image is the ship’s bridge, where the crew pilots the vessel. This deck has the best of both worlds: the bow of the ship is quite sheltered from the elements, whereas the aft of this ship is open to the lake and sky. Passengers can bring a bicycle for a small fee, and leashed or crated pets are welcome aboard.

The topmost deck of the Jet Express II looks back toward the Port Clinton shore. The twin water jets on this boat, visible from the stern, pump a thousand gallons of water per second. This ship also has Furuno radar for safety. (If the boat does not run, ticket prices are refunded.) The gusty winds up here are formidable! Passengers need to be careful when using the stairwell to the upper deck. The view is the most amazing part about this trip: Lighthouse Point, the cliffs of South Bass Island, the houseboat, Gibraltar Island, the State Park, and Perry’s Monument.

At 10:45 am on June 22, 2021, Perry’s Monument came into view on the port side of the Jet Express. Oliver Hazard Perry’s famous slogan, “Don’t Give Up the Ship,” is emblazoned onto many South Bass Island shop windows. This famous saying commemorates his victory against a British fleet on September 10, 1813. Perry’s ships gained the advantage of the capricious Lake Erie winds and were able to come around to within range of the British ships. Two British capital ships collided, and the American ship Niagara broke through the British line, with Perry aboard.

Passengers debark quickly from the Jet Express, heading toward downtown Put-in-Bay. Many will head toward the Boardwalk for lobster bisque soup and French fries. Some passengers have opted to rent golf carts, which is one of the primary modes of transport on South Bass Island. There is a golf-cart rental stand on the way into town, and a rental can be included in the boat ticket price. DeRivera Park is also close by, which is a fun and leafy public space with historic monuments and nice amenities. Summer is in full season here, and today is a beautiful day.

Frosty Bar and Frosty Pizza is a family-friendly destination in the heart of downtown Put-in-Bay, located right outside DeRivera Park at 252 Delaware Avenue. Big Man’s Burrito Stand is located here, behind Frosty’s, and there is also a breezy patio and bar called The Backyard. Frosty’s has breakfast on weekdays from 8 am till 11 am, and on weekends breakfast starts at 7 am. The coffee here is good. The delicious pizza, salads, and sandwiches are available from 11 am until 10 pm. Food on South Bass Island is a little pricier than on the mainland.

The best thing about Frosty’s is that it is open all day, everyday, in peak season, often with live music. The season began in April and goes through October. (Not all restaurants on South Bass Island are open all week even during the summer.) Pictured here is the Frosty’s Family Meal, for $36.99 plus tax and tip. This meal deal includes a 12-inch generously-cheesed thin-crust pizza with one topping, a family-sized salad, breadsticks, and four sodas. Our waitress substituted coffee upon request. There is no tax on take-out food in Ohio, only on beverages like beer and soda.

The restaurants downtown are of the "casual-eats" type, such as Frosty’s Bar. Venturing toward the southwestern tip of South Bass are other options, such as Joe’s Bar, a “five-star dive bar” restaurant, with a larger menu than Frosty’s, at 1400 Catawba Avenue. There also is the upscale Goat Soup & Whiskey, at 820 Catawba Avenue, with gourmet specialty salads and sandwiches for lunch. There is an extensive drink menu, featuring beers, mixed drinks, mules, and whiskey. The original GSW is in Dillon, Colorado, with a new location in the US Virgin Islands as of 2019.

This is the Black Angus hamburger at the Goat. “Where fine dining meets flip-flops,” is the slogan here. The Luncheon menu is served up until 5 pm, when the dinner menu is served. The dinner menu includes steaks and pasta dishes. This burger ($13) was well done in every possible way. The toppings, mushrooms and bleu cheese, were a dollar each. The kettle chips were amazing. Another delicious dish was a dinner-sized Caesar salad with gyro meat as a topping. After enjoying a meal here, a lot of guests head downstairs to the chocolate boutique.

South Bass Island has a lot to do: Perry’s Monument, nature trails, dining, lighthouse exploration, swimming, public parks, state parks, sightseeing, and the list goes on. After dinner, though, it’s time to return the golf cart and head back to the Jet Express dock for the trip back to Port Clinton. Jet Express tickets are timed, but if a passenger wanted a different time, that would be possible if there are extra seats at the desired time, even for a different day.

As of this writing, all of the Jet Express docks are open for the 2021 season: Port Clinton, Put-in-Bay, Kelleys Island, Sandusky, and Cedar Point. As of last July, only the Port Clinton and Put-in-Bay docks remained open for the latter half of the 2020 season. Water levels in Lake Erie had risen quite a bit, which made Ohio-mandated social distancing impossible at those docks. The Jet was operating at half capacity to help passengers maintain social distancing.

The last leg of the Put-in-Bay journey is the return trip to Port Clinton. This dock is located at 239 Bayview Avenue; looking at Google Maps, the ticket window and waiting area are on East Bayview Avenue. There are clean, modern restrooms at the Jet’s PIB dock with some vending, but no ATM machine. There are a few well-stocked newspaper stands for those who like to read to pass the time; only 25 cents on the honor system. Some of the restaurants near here have started closing for the evening. The island the far right of the photograph is Middle Bass Island.

This is the very last stop before boarding the Jet Express back to Port Clinton. Each passenger will need his or her own timed ticket, and each adult must hold his or her own timed ticket. This photo was taken just a few minutes after 7 o’clock, waiting for the 8 pm boat, and by 7:30 each seat here was filled. Everyone was in a good mood; most of the faces in this waiting area were a little sunburned from a day of adventure. Many passengers wore brand-new t-shirts or sweatshirts (it’s chilly here on the island, even in June) from Perry’s Monument or from Frosty’s Bar.

The Jet Express is great for shopping trips between Port Clinton and Put-in-Bay; there’s even an option to rent a golf cart. The Miller Boat Line, with its mainland dock in Catawba, offers car service, which is useful for longer stays on Put-in-Bay or for car-camping at the State Park. Miller Ferry’s South Bass dock is on the southeast tip of the island near Lighthouse Point and is called the Lime Kiln Dock. Miller Ferry also goes to Middle Bass Island and docks at the old Lonz Winery, on the Ferry Loading Ramp. Lonz Winery is on the southern tip of Middle Bass Island.

The Jet Express just docks right alongside the loading ramp and when given the go-ahead, passengers hand over their tickets and simply walk up the ramp and find a seat. The aft of the ship is visible in the left-hand side of this photograph and several bright-orange life rafts are shown protruding from the stern. Looking closely, the bright orange life vests are visible in the ceilings of the two decks. Passenger boarding is accomplished very quickly, as there are additional passengers waiting to be picked up in Port Clinton to come back to South Bass Island. Frosty’s Bar is open until 1 am.

The trip to South Bass Island’s Put-in-Bay is over for the day. Most of the passengers debarking in Port Clinton are heading back to their cars in the short-term lot. Some will stay for food and drink at the JetBar in the Island Port. A lot of the restaurants along West State Route 163 close at 8 or 9 pm, especially during the week. A quick internet search shows that Mr. Ed’s Bar & Pizza Brothers is the rare exception in that they are open until 11 pm. Bell Mell Tavern & Pizza, on East 3rd Street at Fulton, are open until 1 am.

What’s next on the itinerary? Time to go back to the hotel, but tomorrow will be another beautiful day on Lake Erie with highs in the mid-70’s. The Jet Express has posted its upcoming excursions. These excursions include a couple of sunset cruises in July, one featuring the fabulous Toft’s Ice Cream, and the other featuring Lobster Bisque from The Boardwalk and Upper Deck on Put-in-Bay. The Jet will also go to Pelee Island (Ontario, Canada) for a Winery Dinner in August and then on the last Sunday in September 2021 the Jet will have a Lighthouse and Islands tour.

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