Going on holiday doesn’t have to mean stressful queues in airports and being squashed into a small seat for several hours. Increasingly travellers are rediscovering the freedom of travelling by ferry, or indeed trying ferry travel for the first time. This article looks at what’s on board ferries and finds that there’s lots to do!

For those with families and lots of baggage, those with pets, travellers who want to take their bike or perhaps gourmands looking to return home with a few cases of wine, ferry travel offers convenience and value for money and the range of facilities on board modern ships makes the journey both comfortable and entertaining. Discover Ferries, the body which promotes ferry travel from and around the UK has confirmed that 39 million people travelled by ferry last year – the same as in 2014 and two million more since 2012.

To celebrate National Ferry Fortnight which runs from 5 March 2016, Discover Ferries takes a look at what’s on board ferries and some of the experiences available when travelling by sea. Many holiday-makers will be surprised by the range of things you can do on a ferry.

From silver service A la carte restaurants often serving locally sourced food, to VIP lounges and bars, cinemas with a choice of films, kids zones and play areas, shopping malls and bright family lounges to sleeper loungers with reclining chairs. Some ferries and routes even have a swimming pool and a Jacuzzi and sauna! Tired travellers looking for a little luxury and privacy can book en-suite cabins and suites. Animal lovers will not be disappointed with the specialist kennels on board and will also love being on deck of the ferry with the chance to watch for whales or dolphins. Kids too will love the freedom of running on the deck for the first time – what an exciting way to kick off the holiday. What’s on board ferries can be pretty surprising!

Brittany Ferries

Brittany Ferries serves five destinations in France and two in Spain from three UK ports of departure: Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth. In the height of the summer season there are up to twelve sailings a day, including Normandie Express, a fast-ferry which runs Portsmouth to Cherbourg and takes just three hours to cross the Channel.

On board cruise-ferries to France or Spain, there’s plenty to keep everyone occupied (from adults to tots and teenagers). In addition to restaurants serving the highest quality cuisine prepared by exclusively-French chefs, the menu includes cinemas and live on-board entertainment. Most ships also feature a selection of boutique shops, as well as games rooms for teenagers.

Pont-Aven and sister cruise-ferry Cap Finistère sail directly to Santander and Bilbao in Spain and each hosts a swimming pool for passengers. A warm welcome from French crews comes as standard as does Wi-Fi aboard all ships. www.brittany-ferries.co.uk

CalMac Ferries

CalMac Ferries’ larger ships have full catering services so travellers can enjoy great freshly prepared local produce including special child menus or children’s packed lunches for those too excited to eat much. Fish and chips, steak pie, curries and the famous CalMac cooked breakfast are all on offer and there is something for every taste and every pocket.

CalMac’s ships boast a host of on-board facilities to make the journey as comfortable as possible. There are baby changing facilities, children’s activity packs, and some routes have dedicated children’s play areas or games tables. Larger ships have shops and retail areas stocked with toys, games, snacks and items to keep families and other travellers entertained. www.calmac.co.uk

DFDS

DFDS operates up to 54 daily sailings between Dover and France, with sailings from Dover to both Calais and Dunkirk. Increased capacity for 2016 is a result of the addition of two newly refurbished ships on the Dover to Calais route, Côte des Dunes and Côte des Flandres.

Additionally DFDS operates the four-hour crossing between Newhaven and Dieppe with two daily sailings to Normandy year-round. An additional sailing is added between 1 May to 30 September.

All DFDS ferries have a dedicated children’s area to help entertain the little ones, an onboard shop for passengers to pick up last minute travel essentials, as well as a bar and a variety of restaurants serving hot and cold food.

DFDS also runs a daily overnight cruise ferry service between Newcastle and Amsterdam. The two cruise ferries on this route, Princess Seaways and King Seaways, offer passengers a choice of three restaurants serving delicious fresh food. These restaurants are the 7Seas buffet restaurant, the Explorer Steakhouse and the exclusive Blue Riband à la carte restaurant. Passengers can also enjoy live entertainment every evening, spend time at the casino or catch one of the latest blockbusters at the cinema. During the crossing children can have fun at the Kidz Club playing in the ball pool or taking part in games organised by the children’s entertainer. From April-September passengers on King Seaways can also participate in hosted deck watches with a trained ORCA wildlife officer, spotting the marine life that inhabits the North Sea. www.dfdsseaways.co.uk

Irish Ferries

With four vessels sailing between Ireland and the UK, plus the Oscar Wilde from Ireland to France, Irish Ferries offers an unrivalled choice of crossings. Ulysses is, at over 50,000 tonnes, the largest ship on the Irish Sea and her 12 decks contain a multitude of facilities from Leopold Bloom’s Bar and other refreshment options to a cinema and a soft-play area for small children. When you want to stretch your legs, choose the Promenade Deck or follow the 12 ‘clocks’ of the James Joyce themed walking tour as Ulysses sails between Holyhead and Dublin. Like all the fleet, Ulysses has free ship-wide WiFi.

The Dublin Swift is the only fast-craft on the Irish Sea, reducing the Holyhead-Dublin crossing time to as little as 1 hour 49 minutes: this sleek catamaran is propelled by 60 tonnes of sea water per second pumped through its four water jets. On the route from Pembroke in Wales to Rosslare in Ireland, Isle of Inishmore sails twice in each direction each day and, like Ulysses and the Dublin Swift, features superb Club Class facilities well worth the £16 per person each way supplement. The benefits are priority boarding, comfy seating, complimentary snacks, tea/coffee and soft drinks, plus wines for those not driving, as well as newspapers and a wide horizon to enjoy through picture windows. Club Class travellers also enjoy a discount in on-board shops. www.irishferries.com

Isle of Man Steam Packet Company

Year-round sailings to the Isle of Man with the Steam Packet Company give you the freedom to explore this unique destination in the middle of the Irish Sea. The Isle of Man’s modern vessels have a selection of comfortable lounges to choose from. Reserve your seat in advance and join us in the Niarbyl Lounge or, for a higher level of comfort, convenience and service, the Premium Lounge. For extra privacy, you can book a cabin on Ben-my-Chree, which will also give you the chance to catch 40 winks and arrive refreshed and relaxed. On board dining facilities, such as the Coast-to-Coast café, offer a variety of hot and cold meals and a selection of sandwiches and snacks, while the Ocean Avenue shop is the place to head for magazines, newspapers, gifts, sweets and even famous-name perfumes at up to 50% discount on RRP. www.steam-packet.com

Isles of Scilly Steamship Group

Just 28 miles off the Cornish coast are the Isles of Scilly, 5 inhabited islands surrounded by azure waters, white beaches and a wonderful climate where sub-tropical plants thrive. The inhabited islands are waiting to be explored – St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin’s, Bryher and St Agnes. And here’s the secret it all begins when we welcome you on board where travellers can also browse the new shop offering high quality produce. www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk

P&O Ferries

P&O Ferries operates the two largest Superferries ever built for the Dover – Calais route: the Spirit of Britain and Spirit of France. Each cost £157 million and can accommodate up to 2,000 passengers, setting new standards for ferry travel. Tourist vehicles use a separate deck, away from heavy goods lorries, and spacious lifts link into the bright and airy passenger areas.

Starbucks features on board the fleet of P&O Ferries, along with dining options spanning the range from light snacks, self-service and waiter service restaurants. For a special treat passengers can upgrade to the luxurious club lounge with its own private outside deck. In the summer months professional entertainers run the Junior Crew Club to keep children occupied with activities such as model making and face painting, and tales of adventures of the high seas by Club Mascot Pirate Pete. And on the longer services, such as Hull – Zeebrugge and Hull – Rottderdam, on board cinemas show the latest family-friendly releases. www.poferries.com

Red Funnel

Red Funnel Isle of Wight Ferries unveiled the newly refurbished Red Falcon vehicle and passenger ferry in 2014, and revealed its second refurbished ferry the Red Osprey last spring, following another £2 million plus investment. This means that passengers can now enjoy the wide variety of features specifically designed to keep families happy during their journey to the Isle of Wight, on even more Red Funnel crossings.

Like the Red Falcon, the Red Osprey features a new sun deck and promenade walk with pushchair access, perfect for enjoying locally-made ice creams while watching the yachts and ships pass by; passengers can relax in one of the new passenger lounges, which will offer additional toilet and baby changing facilities; and stop by the new children’s play space, designed to keep little ones happy.

For a drink or a bite to eat, the Steam café bar offers delicious freshly made food, and ReFuel café restaurant serves up hot and cold dishes prepared using local ingredients. There will also be the chance to plan the family stay on the Island and purchase tickets to attractions at the on board Information Bureau. With Red Funnel’s deposit scheme allowing families to book their summer holiday for just a £25 deposit, savings of up to a 1/3 on tickets to some of the Island’s best attractions when booked with Red Funnel ferry crossings, and a wide variety of accommodation options available to book directly on the Red Funnel website, there’s never been a better time to pack up the car, take the kids, and explore the Isle of Wight. www.redfunnel.co.uk

Stena Line

Stena Line operates the two of the largest Superferries in the world on its Harwich – Hook of Holland route: the Stena Hollandica and the Stena Britannica. A mighty 240 metres in length, each Superferry can accommodate up to 1,200 passengers.

A far cry from ferries of old, Stena Line’s Superferries are kitted out like hotels with 11 decks incorporating two restaurants and bars, quiet lounge areas, duty free shopping, a casino and a sun deck, perfect for catching some rays on warm summer days. Families are well catered for, with a children’s play room, basketball court and even an on-board cinema. Children will be kept entertained in the kids’ fun zones and teen town and, during the school holidays, Curious George pops on-board to meet the young passengers along with on-board entertainers.

Stena Line’s ships are spacious and contemporary with a range of areas to suit all tastes. Passengers can relax and enjoy the journey in one of the free movie lounges or use their tablet, computer or phone to take advantage of the free Wi-Fi without ever having to turn them off!

If they fancy a little privacy and want to arrive feeling relaxed and refreshed Stena Line’s Irish Sea passengers can upgrade to a choice of en-suite cabins, private lounges and suites. The Superfast ferries on the Belfast to Cairnryan route are the only ferries on the Irish Sea to offer a pure Nordic Spa experience complete with Jacuzzi and saunas and a range of invigorating massages. Why not treat the whole family to the Stena Plus lounge and travel in the lap of luxury with even greater comfort where complimentary snacks, beverages, magazines and newspapers plus an exclusive restaurant menu are available. www.stenaline.co.uk

Wightlink

The Isle of Wight is the place to be and Wightlink is the way to get there. With the choice of three convenient routes from Lymington and Portsmouth, Wightlink has the Island covered from Yarmouth in the West to Ryde and Fishbourne in the East. And, with crossings from only 22 minutes by catamaran and from 40 minutes by ferry, holiday makers will be on the Island in no time at all.

Wightlink’s on-board facilities make the journey comfortable for all ages. Following a major refurbishment last year, the family-friendly St Clare has a toddler play area and DVD bean bag area to keep the younger seafarers occupied and adults can relax in the comfortable seating areas. Passengers can also purchase snacks and coffee from the on-board Greggs and Costa while taking in the views of the Solent. With plenty of things to see, do and enjoy on the Isle of Wight all year round, for first time visitors and for old friends, there is no better way to start a break than on a Wightlink Ferry. www.wightlink.co.uk