I’d been up since 6am, sat on a bus for an hour, a train for another four and killed time walking around a place that may be the least desirable town in the UK. And I still had four hours to go before reaching my destination in Ireland. As far as “travel” days go when I’m on the road, this had all the makings of being a shocker and four days later I would be doing it in reverse. By the time the Stena Adventurer pulled out of Holyhead port, I had expected to be exhausted and fighting the urge to curl up under a seat somewhere.
Barely an hour later I had my feet up, a glass of wine in front of me and was enjoying an entree of chocolate cake while browsing the lunch menu. I was relaxed, refreshed and ready to sail.
As a non-EU passport holder, I have come to dread any and all international check in procedures. I also hate stuffing every last item into the one backpack to satisfy the carry on requirements. So I was more than impressed when I made it from check in to ferry in about 30 minutes, especially since I was carrying my backpack, handbag and a bottle of water I had before I went through check in (gasp). Yes, plane travel has made me that cynical. I could have checked my luggage for free, but I didn’t have much.
While ferries are often seen as the transport method of choice for those with cars, every trip I’ve made with Stena Line has been as a foot passenger. When I travelled from Stranraer in Scotland to Belfast in 2011, I chose the ferry over flying because I wanted to make the trip an experience. While every flight I’ve ever taken is pretty much a blur, I clearly remember sitting by the window on the ferry and writing emails to back home. In what was a whirlwind trip, those few hours were a rare opportunity to relax.
My trip for Stena Gathering was even better, starting with a gorgeous train trip through sunny Wales to Holyhead. Once on board the ferry we had a smooth trip to Dublin with views of sparkling ocean and blue skies, which we also got to enjoy from the bridge – a little treat for the Stena Gathering bloggers.
Our other treat was access to Stena Plus – an exclusive lounge area available to Premium fare travellers and passengers who decide to upgrade. Guests have access to complimentary drinks and snack, a gourmet menu, luxury seating and the best views on the ship. I had a glass of wine in front of me before the ferry left Holyhead port and enjoyed a chicken burger and Eton Mess for lunch.
Our return trip left Dublin at 7.50am so this time he had breakfast on board. There was a selection of cereals, fruit, juice, tea and coffee and I also ordered french toast. Every meal was excellent and definitely better than anything I’ve eaten on a plane.
If I had to describe the Stena Adventurer in a word it would be “spacious”. I’m a big fan of trains because I like to be able to walk around if I get a bit stir-crazy, but there’s even more space to explore on the ferry. The ship never felt crowded, despite the number of people about. Passengers spread out around the various seating and dining areas, which include a coffeehouse, grill, cinema and children’s play area. All passengers have access to free wifi, which our group of bloggers put to the test.
There are cabins, which surprised me as the journey isn’t much longer than three hours. Apparently they are often used by truck drivers who make the most of any chance for a rest or those who early or late crossings who want to catch some shut eye while they can.
While the easy check in, generous luggage allowance and onboard facilities make travelling by ferry an attractive option, the location of the terminals probably keeps it off the radar of a lot of travellers. When I travelled from Stranraer I had friends to drive me to the port – although I later found out there are good public transport connections to Glasgow and Edinburgh. For the Stena Gathering journey I caught the train from The Lake District as part of Stena Line’s Rail and Sail package, which includes discounted train tickets. The package is good value and all things considered, it’s a very competitive option to flying. Ferry-only fares are slightly cheaper if bought in advance (under £30), but they don’t rise by much if you book later. The cost of the rail tickets vary depending on where you’re travelling from, but the most expensive zones (including London and Scotland) are about $40.
The Holyhead train station connects to the ferry terminal and coaches run from Dublin port into the city centre and vice versa. Most of the trains are timed to connect well with the ferry departure and arrival times. After a quick security check on arrival back in the UK, we didn’t have to wait long for our train.
While the buses that transport foot passengers on and off the ferry were full, the majority of people had their own vehicle. Stena Line’s current Car-caction promotion offers special fares for vehicles and drivers.