Reviewed by Helen Jiggins
We headed out from South Oxfordshire with three very excited little people in the car heading initially for Bristol to stay overnight with my brother. The following morning we had a leisurely journey through South Wales to reach the Fishguard ferry for the 2pm sailing. It was February and despite atrocious storms the week before, the weather was good to us. We arrived in plenty of time and were able to partake of the port café facilities, which bright, open and friendly. The screens warned the sea might be moderate to rough, but in the event, the crossing went relatively smoothly. Before we left on our epic trip, I tried to demonstrate the principles of a roll-on, roll-off ferry to the children with the aid of a toy car and a rubber duck, I’m not sure how much they understood or exactly what they expected when we got to the port, but they were very excited by the idea.
The ship was very clean (including the toilets) and well-lit throughout. On board we found the children’s area, based on the character Curious George, had soft play equipment, touch-screen computers with numerous games designed for younger children (ours’ are 7 years and 3.5 year old twins) with a variety of games and there was also a seating area showing up-to-date children’s films. Not all the computer screens worked and the soft play equipment was well worn, but our children thoroughly enjoyed themselves in this area for most of the three and a half hour crossing.
One major draw, helped by a daylight crossing, was the large windows with deep window ledges (great for sitting on to get a good view of the swells) through which we were able to watch the land receding, the sea and the ship’s wake without having to brave the deck with small children. We did go up on deck (a must on any ferry crossing) and walked around the large accessible areas over two levels. The huge and numerous lifeboats fascinated the 7 year old and the 3.5 year olds spent a good five minutes trying to spot sea monsters in the ship’s wake, sadly (or perhaps not!) without success. There was even a health walk with sign posts to encourage passengers to get an on-board constitutional. We didn’t stay too long outside, as it was still wintertime and although dry, it was cold and windy. Moreover, the view of the sea was just as good inside where it was considerably warmer! Dolphins were spotted, to huge excitement, from one of these large windows and my 3.5 year old daughter, fascinated with the sea especially when the land could no longer be seen, asked where all the grass had gone, which was a tricky question to answer to her satisfaction.
On board there were plenty of other areas to explore, including Teen Town, which consisted of many (£1-a-game) arcade games and free-to-use computers connected to the internet (although they were quite slow). There was free Wifi internet throughout the ship, so I found it easier to connect by mobile phone. There was also The Lounge, which had airline-style reclining seats and played films on a large screen, seemed to be a popular choice for passengers. Other facilities included a Barista Coffee House, a Metropolitan (M) Bar and Stena Shopping, all of which were bright and airy and pleasant to sit/shop in. The premium Stena Plus Lounge can be accessed for an additional fee – either beforehand or once on board – consisted of a large comfortable room with table service, but although we were told we could have a look around and even stay, we decided it looked like a quiet, peaceful area and because of our three very excited children it was probably not the right place for us.
Our 7-year old was the first to spot a lighthouse through the mist as we came into Rosslare and the ship docked on time and we were let off the ferry very promptly and were able to get underway for our three night stay at Granddad’s house in County Cork.
We had a wonderful stay in Ireland. It was an important break for us, especially for me, as I hadn’t been to my father’s house since before the twins were born. We went on long walks with my father’s dogs, had to stop at every playground we saw and went castle-hunting in the countryside. The weather, despite the time of year, was good to us and it was a magical time.
We came home on the 9pm sailing from Rosslare. I put all three children in onsies, in the expectation (hope) that they might sleep aboard the ferry. We had no such luck! As soon as we boarded they rushed to Curious George’s play area and ran around until we docked just after midnight. The ferry wasn’t very full and was certainly big enough for our loud, excited children to be loud, excited children and allow other passengers to get some peace elsewhere! Cabins were also available, but we decided early-on not to ask for one as the children showed no sign of being sleepy in their excitement at being back on board. My husband and I resorted to sipping lattes from the Barista Coffee House (£2.95 regular size, which was a little steep) in cleverly-designed “bumpy” cups and watched them having fun.
We were impressed with the staff, who were very friendly and helpful throughout. They even offered to charge my mobile phone at reception (although there are some plugs dotted about apparently) and they were also lovely to the children letting them choose the film from a selection of DVDs. It was dark, so we didn’t venture out on deck, but the sea could still be seen through the windows from the play area lit up by the ship’s lights. The water was quite calm on the return journey and we got into Fishguard on schedule.
We docked in Fishguard just after midnight with three tired, but happy children and were grateful that we had booked into a hotel in Fishguard town. The hotel was under a mile away from the port and was easy to find on the High Street. We stayed overnight at The Cartref Hotel (see review here), which was a great way to have an “extra day” in Ireland and get a good night’s sleep before the final leg of the journey home.
We thoroughly enjoyed going by ferry to Ireland. It was very much a part of the overall experience of the holiday. Going with Stena Line was easy, friendly and very enjoyable all round. In some ways it began and ended the holiday on a high note and I know the children considered it a definite highlight of the trip. It is something we will certainly do again.
For more information or to book a crossing visit www.stenaline.co.uk.