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.
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, has confirmed that 39 million people travelled by ferry last year – the same as in 2016.
To celebrate National Ferry Fortnight, which runs from 14-28 April 2018, Discover Ferries takes a look at some of the experiences available on ferries. Many holidaymakers will be surprised by the range of things you can do on a ferry.
From silver service à 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, 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: there are specialist kennels on board for pets, and the chance of spotting whales and dolphins during the crossing. Kids will love the freedom of the open decks too– what an exciting way to kick off the holiday!
To find out more about travelling via ferry, visit www.discoverferries.co.uk
Brittany Ferries (www.brittany-ferries.co.uk or 0330 159 7000)
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 12 sailings a day in each direction, 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. Brittany Ferries can arrange holiday accommodation in France and Spain for passengers too, with a wide range of money-saving hotel, cottage, and camping packages.
CalMac Ferries (www.calmac.co.uk or 0800 066 5000)
The largest ferry operator in the UK, Caledonian MacBrayne (also known as CalMac) has 32 ships in the fleet and operates year round with an average of 358 sailings a day. Routes range from short five minute crossings to leisurely five and a half hour sailings, across 200 miles of Scotland’s wild, beautiful and incredible west coast.
From the Clyde and Kintyre destinations of Arran and Campbeltown in the south to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides in the north, CalMac’s network includes over 50 destination combinations to 24 islands as well as mainland peninsulas. Fares start from under £5 return for foot passengers and from under £20 for a car and driver return.
CalMac works closely with island operators, attraction and activity providers to offer great value day trip and short break experiences as part of their Go Days Out programme. Running from April to October, Go Days Out include wildlife experiences, entry to castles and stately homes, guided walks, Segway tours, distillery tours, relaxing sail and dine cruises and off the beaten track adventures. Travellers leaving their car behind can try one of their combined rail and sail tickets to selected destinations.
CalMac’s Ferries’ larger ships have full catering services including retail areas, cafés and bars, so travellers can enjoy great freshly prepared local produce including child friendly menus and regular specials. The first ferry operator to be awarded Taste our Best accreditation for the quality and provenance of on board options, CalMac has also achieved Healthy Living Awards, a national NHS backed scheme, for all 10 of their Mariner’s Cafés on board their major vessels, demonstrating their commitment to healthier options. Their freshly cooked dishes feature route specific produce with high quality ingredients. Dishes include Barra-landed haddock, salmon from the Argyll Smokery and the Scottish Salmon Company, burgers made with Scotch Beef and their famous CalMac’n’ Cheese made with delicious Mull of Kintyre Cheddar. Options also include delicious baked treats plus a range of healthy choices and vegetarian options.
DFDS (www.dfds.co.uk or 0871 574 7235)
DFDS operates up to 54 daily sailings between Dover and France, with sailings from Dover to both Calais and Dunkirk. In addition to introducing two new ships on its Dover to Calais service last year, DFDS has invested significantly in refurbishing Calais Seaways, which is now back in service as the third ship on the route.
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 and 30 September.
All DFDS ferries have a dedicated children’s area to help entertain the little ones, an on board 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 two restaurants serving delicious fresh food. The North Sea Bistro provides a premium dining experience in intimate surroundings. Expertly-trained chefs use the finest ingredients to create unique meat, fish and vegetarian dishes served with specially selected seasonal vegetables. Serving a delicious selection of dishes from across the globe every evening, the all-you-can-eat Explorers Kitchen buffet restaurant is the most popular and diverse eatery on board. A tasty buffet breakfast is also served here.
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 March to September passengers on King Seaways can also participate in hosted deck watches with trained ORCA wildlife officers, spotting whales, dolphins and other varieties of marine life that inhabits the North Sea.
Irish Ferries (www.irishferries.com or 08717 300 400)
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.
At over 50,000 tonnes, Ulysses is currently 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 travellers want to stretch their legs, they can 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 Wi-Fi.
The Dublin Swift is the only true fast-craft on the Irish Sea, zipping between Holyhead and Dublin in as little as 1 hour 49 minutes: this sleek catamaran is propelled by 60 tonnes of sea water per second pumped through its water jets.
Epsilon serves both the Holyhead to Dublin route and sails from Dublin to France twice a week.
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.
Irish Ferries’ new £128 million cruise ferry W.B. Yeats will start sailing between Holyhead and Dublin from mid-September 2018 (and before that sails from Ireland to France all summer). Fabulous facilities on the new ship will include a Club Class lounge with direct passenger access from the car decks, à la carte and self-service restaurants, a cinema, a shopping mall, a choice of bars and lounges and an outside promenade deck. There will also be 441 cabins, including luxury suites with their own private balconies.
Isle of Man Steam Packet Company (www.steam-packet.com or 08722 992 992)
Travellers can sail with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company to the Isle of Man to explore the charming island all year round.
With a choice of comfortable seating available in a range of spacious lounges, guests can relax in style as soon as they step on board. For additional comfort, service and convenience reserve a seat in the Niarbyl Lounge or Premium Lounge.
With a selection of hot and cold meals and snacks available at Coast to Coast Café, travellers can refuel on board. Or, they can head to Ocean Avenue where they will find magazines, newspapers, toys, books and gifts, plus some great offers on popular perfumes and cosmetics.
When travelling on Ben-my-Chree there’s the option to book a four-berth en-suite cabin. With privacy and complimentary tea and coffee making facilities, simply kick back, watch TV and get some rest before the onward journey. Or, if passengers are travelling on fast craft Manannan, they enjoy a film in one of the two cinema lounges; there’s something to keep the whole family entertained.
Isles of Scilly Travel (www.islesofscilly-travel.co.uk or 01736 334220)
Scillonian III passenger ferry serves the Isles of Scilly, which is just 28 miles off the Cornish coast and offers five inhabited islands surrounded by azure waters, white beaches and a wonderful climate where sub-tropical plants thrive. St Mary’s, Tresco, St Martin’s, Bryher and St Agnes are all waiting to be explored.
The crossing from Penzance to St. Mary’s takes around 2hrs and 45 minutes, and offers a unique perspective of some of Cornwall’s most iconic coastline. There are comfy, reclining seats as well as café bars, serving hot and cold drinks and snacks. Dogs are welcome in most areas of the ship.
MBNA Thames Clippers (www.mbnathamesclippers.com)
MBNA Thames Clippers are the fastest and most frequent fleet on the River Thames with departures from major London piers every 20 minutes. Their services stretch from Putney to Woolwich (Royal Arsenal), and they cater for all, from early morning commuters to families wanting a day out on the river.
Travelling on board MBNA Thames Clippers is a great way to get around London, whether you’re exploring the city for the day or needing to get from A to B in comfort. What’s more they are bike, pet and child friendly. MBNA Thames Clippers boats can hold up to 10 bicycles, and kid-friendly features include easy ramp access for buggies, baby change facilities and free activity packs – including one for spotting wildlife in the Thames! Wherever you choose to sit, in the climate-controlled cabin or on the outdoor back deck, you’ll get a great riverside view. Pick up a coffee and a snack or sit back and relax with a glass of wine or Champagne from the licensed bar. If you want to catch up on the latest news, Metro and City AM newspapers are available on board and Time Out can be picked up at select piers.
P&O Ferries (www.poferries.com or 01304 44 88 88)
P&O Ferries operates up to 46 daily sailings between Dover and Calais, so there’s plenty to choose from, day or night. Travelling with your vehicle truly unlocks the freedom to explore Europe, and P&O Ferries can accommodate just about anything– from caravans and cars to motorhomes and motorbikes.
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.
Or why not sample their overnight sailings from Hull to Zeebrugge and Hull to Rotterdam, journeying across the North Sea while you rest your head in one of their comfortable cabins. On-board cinemas show the latest family-friendly releases, plus there is an all-you-can-eat buffet restaurant offering a wide range of flavours from around the world.
As well as a Liverpool to Dublin route, P&O Ferries run the shortest, most frequents sailings across the Irish Sea from Cairnryan to Larne (within two hours), offering the same level of luxury and entertainment for those sailing to explore the Emerald Isle.
Red Funnel (www.redfunnel.co.uk or 0844 844 9988)
Red Funnel is the Isle of Wight specialist, carrying 3.4m passengers a year on its award-winning services between Southampton and the Island.
Following a major £3m interior refit of Red Eagle, Red Funnel’s entire vehicle ferry fleet now offers a consistent, modern travel experience. With each ferry encompassing a main passenger deck with seating and food & drink outlets, a pet lounge and a sun deck plus the option of upgrading to the Signature Lounge; a brand new addition to Red Eagle following its introduction on Red Falcon and Red Osprey in 2017.
The Signature Lounge is a cross-Solent first, giving travellers the opportunity to enjoy an exclusive premium travel experience. Accessed by boarding card, the lounge is fully air-conditioned and offers panoramic views of the Solent for up to 40 guests. The lounge features a mix of contemporary seating styles and has a ‘nautical chic’ theme with subtle mood lighting to ensure the perfect start to a relaxing holiday or short-break. Connectivity is also taken care of with enhanced Wi-Fi, 240v sockets and USB charging points available. Guests who choose to upgrade will have access to a well-stocked library of magazines, newspapers, books and an inclusive range of premium tea and coffee, cold drinks and pastries. A fully stocked cash bar is also available as well as a dedicated food/bar service host. The Signature Lounge can be purchased in advance or on-board from £10 per person per crossing.
Meanwhile the designated indoor pet lounges allow travellers to bring their dogs up to the passenger area, meaning canine friends can travel in comfort with bowls of water and complimentary dog biscuits also provided. Dogs travel with Red Funnel free of charge, perfect for ensuring the family pet enjoys a holiday as well. To find out more about visiting the Isle of Wight aka the Isle of Woof with Red Funnel, visit www.redfunnel.co.uk/en/isle-of-wight-guide/isle-of-woof/
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 including regular favourites such as fish & chips and Red Funnel’s famous breakfast, as well as seasonal specials.
When boarding and disembarking, passengers may even spot Jim ‘The Dancing Man’ O’Reilly, winner of VisitEngland’s 2018 Tourism Superstar award – watch out for his moves and give him a wave!
Stena Line (www.stenaline.co.uk or 0844 770 7070)
Stena Line operates two of the largest Superferries in the world on its Harwich to 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.
Once on board the luxurious Superferries, passengers will be able to enjoy hotel-like facilities, including Swedish-designed Dux beds as well as en-suite facilities and flat screen television in the cabins. 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 when the newly refurbed kids’ fun zones, Happy at Sea, is unveiled in time for those summer holidays
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 guests 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. Guests can 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.
Wightlink (www.wightlink.co.uk or 08722 992 992)
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. All our ferries have relaxing lounges indoors and outdoor seating – so you can enjoy the views as you cross the Solent. Passengers can enjoy snacks and hot drinks from the on-board and on-shore Wight Taste (selling products supplied or produced by local Isle of Wight companies) and Costa cafes. Wightlink’s ships are completely smoke-free and feature pet-friendly areas on board. You’ll also find regular live entertainment on board during the summer months.
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. Wightlink’s new flagship, Victoria of Wight (joining the fleet in late summer 2018) will have special facilities for families too.
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.