I live in Cork and travel to the UK three or four times a year. I have flown and I have used the ferry more times than I can count. I prefer the ferry because I retain more control than is possible by flying.
- Your sailing is less likely to be cancelled than a flight. Flights are disrupted by fog, or if there has been a delay on one of your aircraft’s flights earlier in the day
- There is no hanging around the terminal for two hours before your ferry
- Your cases will not be searched and you will not be frisked
- You can take your own car so you can take more bags, especially useful if you are taking children
- You have space to move around rather than being packed like sardines into seats that are too small even for the average person
- You don’t need to worry about weight allowances and can bring back an extra suitcase or three full of stuff if you want to
- Ferries are less likely to be cancelled on bank holidays such as around New Year
- The journey takes longer than a flight
- There is more driving involved at both ends of the journey
Even with a three hour drive in Ireland and a five hour drive in the UK, I still choose to take the ferry every time.
Flying and hiring a car at your destination works out at about the same cost as driving to the port and catching a ferry. Car hire always works out at more than you think by the time you have added on charges for a sat nav, child seats and to reduce the insurance excess to something that will not actually bankrupt you.
Driving works out at about 10c a mile, 8p a mile – assuming 45mpg. This gives you a quick method of calculating the cost of your road journey.
I avoid Dublin like the plague; I despise paying tolls and being directed only onto toll-motorways, which is what happens if you come into Dublin Port on the ferry. If your ship comes into Dun Laoghaire you need to be aware that it can take you one hour to get onto the Dublin orbital M50 motorway.
It can then take you two hours to get off the slip road because the traffic on the exit roundabout is so horrendous! (These figures are ones I have personally encountered.)
If you are familiar with Dublin and can avoid the M50 then sailings from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead are worth checking out. If your Irish journey is to or from the South of Ireland then Rosslare is the easiest drive on the Irish side
Holyhead is the easiest UK port to travel to for the North of England and Midlands because the journey is shorter and the roads are good. If your UK destination is in the South, then Pembroke Dock is the best port to use. Fishguard should be avoided unless your destination is in Wales because the roads across the middle of Wales are not the best.
Which Ferry Company?
The main part of your decision is the ferry ports you will use; this will limit your ferry line. If you want to use Pembroke Dock then you will need to book with Irish Ferries. If you want to use Dublin Port, Irish Ferries is, again, your only choice. Stena Line will be your only choice if you want to use Fishguard or Dun Laoghaire.
The ferries the two companies use are slightly different. Irish Ferries uses simple drive through ferries, whereas Stena Line has a more unusual side exit which means lots of shuffling about on the car decks.
Both ferry companies claim that free on-board wi-fi is available. It is, but outside Irish Ferries Club Class lounge it is so slow as to be useless. The Stena Plus lounge Internet access is virtually non-existent away from the computers that are set up for travellers to use. If you need Internet access on the ship then use Irish Ferries and upgrade to Club Class.
Are Ferry Upgrades Worth the Cost?
If you want sleep then get a cabin, you will get three hours sleep on a four hour crossing. Be aware that there is no wi-fi reception in most cabins, but you will be able to take a shower to freshen up.
Stena Line’s Stena Plus and Irish Ferries’ Club Class are worth considering as a cheaper alternative to a cabin if you are travelling alone; a cabin works out cheaper if you are travelling as a family.
Ferries are crowded around bank holidays and in school holidays. Check out UK bank holidays and Irish bank holidays before you decide your travel dates because the two countries do have different holiday dates in spring, August and at Halloween.
Outside the peak travel season it is not worth the upgrade on Stena Lines because the Club Class lounge is very small and it will be crowded even when the rest of the ferry is only one third full.
Phil Turner is an Englishman who moved to Cork in Ireland in 2003. He makes the trip across the Irish Sea three or four times a year to visit family in England and Wales