Captain Jack Sparrow may have been the one who first introduced us to the Black Pearl on the high seas, but Bill Fox has brought his own Black Pearl to the streets of Fenwick Island. The customized mini-school bus has been decked out to resemble the fictional pirate ship from the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, but there’s nothing treacherous about this ride. In fact, the twin goals of fun and safety were what brought the idea to fruition.
The Black Pearl serves as a designated-driver service, shuttling patrons to bars and restaurants throughout Fenwick Island and beyond, aiming to ensure patrons have an enjoyable and safe time. But, as Captain Bill noted, the Black Pearl is not a taxi or limo service. In fact, there are no fares or fees involved. The Black Pearl works strictly off of tips and donations.
“I’d been coming down to the beaches for a long time before I met my wife, Kerri, and moved here,” said Fox, “and I saw a need for this sort of transportation. She brought up the idea originally, and I ran with it. The rest is history in the making.”
With businesses reopening their doors and extending their hours for the summertime influx, more and more cars will be on the streets, making the evenings for those traveling along the roads, leaving restaurants and bars, more of a risk.
“In the summertime,” Fox noted, “you run the risk of DUIs in the area. This is a way we can keep people safe and having a good time in Fenwick Island.”
In a move that makes it unlike a taxi or limo service, the Black Pearl runs on donations and tips, alone, allowing Fox to operate without the required licensing and permits that services with a fare would typically require.
“There’s no limit to how much you tip,” Fox said with a laugh, “but people are often more generous as the evening goes on. Either way, what you’d pay in a donation or tip is going to be considerably less than what a DUI would cost you.”
Local restaurants, and even appreciative retailers, are offering donations to the Black Pearl for bringing more people into a region often over-looked.
“Fenwick Island is a great little area,” said Fox, “but most people coming down to the beaches are going to Bethany or Rehoboth, or they’re driving through Fenwick to get to Ocean City. I want to show them the great places that this little town has to offer, too.”
Operated on a first-come, first-served basis, groups of as many as 15 can reserve the bus for the afternoon or evening and get picked up, shuttled around Fenwick Island and neighboring locations and even get dropped back off at home.
“You never know what people have scheduled,” said Fox. “You just have to call to see if we’re busy that night.”
While he prefers to have at least eight riders, it’s not uncommon for several small parties to share the shuttle service together. If guests have a destination in mind, Fox can bring them there, or patrons could opt for a Fenwick Island bar crawl, which makes runs throughout the evening to as many as seven Fenwick Island area restaurants: the Fenwick Crab House, High Stakes, Hawaiian Crab, Smitty McGees, Mio Fratello’s, Slainte and Mermaid Cove. Fox has even designed a T-shirt for the Fenwick Island crawl.
While the exterior of the bus catches the eyes, the inside is rocking just as much, with nautical-themed decor along the walls, padded benches for a comfortable ride and floor boards restored and refinished from a former life as part of the Bethany Beach boardwalk.
Other local businesses have jumped on-board, as well, including a wine tour to Fenwick Wine Cellars and dining hotspots just outside of Fenwick Island. Whether family and friends want to celebrate a birthday, a bachelor or bachelorette party, or a graduation, or just need an excuse to get out of the house and do something fun, the Black Pearl can promise that, noted Fox, while keeping riders safe and out of trouble.
“Growing up,” he noted, “I would come down here with my family and stay at the campgrounds. Originally, I wanted to do this for those places that I had come to know, like Treasure Beach Camp Ground, Gull’s Way, Tuckahoe Acres, and Castaways in Ocean City. Then, I thought, why stop there?”
The service is not only a way to keep those enjoying their afternoon and evening safe, but it brings a benefit to local establishments, too.
“This is a way to bring business to the restaurants and bars in the area,” said Fox. “In one day, over the course of six and a half hours, I drove customers to restaurants throughout Fenwick Island, and, in all, they spent over $4,000 at the businesses here. The idea is to bring commerce to the Route 54 strip of Fenwick Island, and show people a great time, too. We want them safe coming into town and safe going out.”
The idea of the donation- and tip-driven shuttle service has been catching on. The newest addition to the Black Pearl is a sister bus, the Bloody Mary, painted bright red, offering the same services throughout Dewey Beach. Dewey’s Starboard, Bottle & Cork and the newly opened Old Bay Steakhouse in Rehoboth are already becoming popular hotspots for Bloody Mary’s riders north of Bethany Beach.
Fox has also been working with business owners and officials in the town of Milford who are looking to offer a designated-driver program fueled by tips and donations, too, in their downtown spot. Milford has become the first Delaware town to join Will Be Designated Driver, a national non-profit organization to assist impaired drivers, with roots already in Maryland, Virginia and Colorado.
For more information or to schedule a ride with the Black Pearl Designated Driver Service or the Bloody Mary, call (302) 569-2273, or find them on Facebook.