Reviewed by Rachel Cassey-Holland
On Monday 30 March my husband, three children and I set off for our holiday in Ireland. We usually travel with Irish Ferries so it was a great chance to make a good comparison between the two.
We live in Wiltshire and Stena operate their ferry service to Rosslare in Ireland from Fishguard in Wales. This is a bit of an extra drive than Pembroke, which needs to be taken into consideration, however the port was very easily accessible and everything was very clear to follow.
Unfortunately one of our children was ill on our day of departure so we had to make a few unscheduled stops. This meant that we arrived ten minutes before the ferry was due to depart. Upon our arrival the two ladies in the check in booth immediately called down to the boat to see if they could get us on, but unfortunately we were too late. This was totally our fault and, I must make it absolutely clear, the two ladies tried their level best and were very apologetic even though it was not their fault!
They asked me to come into the office once we had parked up and promptly arranged for us to get onto the next sailing and even ensured we had a bigger cabin with no extra charge as they could see our circumstances. As it was this was a total blessing as the journey was very rough. I was also given directions to a nearby hotel where we could stay until the 2.45am sailing. I was really impressed at how helpful the ladies were and very grateful.
Finally we got onto the next sailing. We were issued with our cardboard key cards at the port when we checked in, which was better than on Irish Ferries when you have to lug all your stuff and children to the desk to get a key. Unfortunately they didn’t work in the door so I still had to go to the desk and change it for a plastic card but this was done immediately and the man behind the desk was extremely friendly and helpful.
The weather that day was extremely stormy and the sea was very rough. As I went to the shop on the boat to get a comic for the children the man behind the till warned me it was going to be a rough journey and that we should really bed down for the night as soon as we could.
He was right. It was an extremely rough crossing and, unfortunately, two of my children were sick. Our arrival time was two hours late, however, as the captain had gone out of his way to avoid the roughest part, but any seasoned traveller on the ferry to Ireland and back knows that this is a very strong likelihood. As my children had been quite ill I had to inform a member of staff. I had done my best to clear up but obviously someone would need to take over from me. The young man who I told was absolutely lovely and charming about it – in fact he thanked me for the warning. He totally understood and made what was a slightly embarrassing and awkward situation totally fine and he didn’t bat an eyelid. I could not fault the professionalism of any of the staff at all and was so impressed by the customer service.
So we set off for our Irish holiday. We are lucky to have family in Cork, so this is where we stayed. The journey is approximately three hours from Rosslare and very easy. Unfortunately our children were ill for the proportion of the stay but we still managed to have a great time. When going to Ireland you do need to expect rain – this is the reason that the Emerald Isle is so named! We had a few days of rain and drizzle, but then the weather luckily broke and it was glorious.
To keep things simple we stayed fairly close to home. Whilst Ireland is a very small island, things are very spread out and there is such a lot to see and do! Cork is the culinary capital of Ireland and so we went into Cork City and took a lot of time to browse in the wonderful English Market. The fresh fish, meat and other delights are a joy to behold. Upstairs in the market is the wonderful Farm Gate cafe/restaurant. Their food is divine and well-priced. It’s a real gem and super popular so I really recommend getting there before the lunchtime rush. The seafood chowder is amazing.
We spent quite some time browsing around the shops in Cork. There’s such a wonderful eclectic mix of shops / restaurants and cafes and there is a really cool vibe in Cork that is hard to describe – you have to go there to experience it. The children also loved playing in Fitzgerald Park because it has quite recently been redesigned and made very child friendly / futuristic. And, of course, a visit to the iconic Brown Thomas was a must! We also noticed that Cork Opera House had a lot of brilliant performances scheduled and, whilst we didn’t have the chance to go, there is something for everyone and really worth a visit.
Away (but not too far away) from the city we explored Blarney Castle although none of us were brave enough to kiss the stone! Kinsale to the West of Cork was also fabulous and is a perfect destination for food lovers – as is Clonakilty, where we highly recommend the wonderful An Sugán. Again their seafood chowder is amazing, but their home made fish and chips will delight you too.
With the lovely weather a visit to the beach was a must. Our favourite haunt is a wonderful place called Whiting Bay – not in Cork but not too far away in neighbouring Waterford. The beach at Whiting Bay is a true gem. You rarely encounter many people and can find yourself virtually alone on a secluded part of the beach. Those who do visit go there for dog walking, fishing or even surfing. Or just to let their children run free without care. The tide can go very far out so it is very safe. Alternatively you can visit Inchydoney in West Cork, as we also did. This beach is much more popular but still lovely and, of course, is enhanced by the wonderful Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa Hotel.
Just before we came home I was lucky enough to attend an evening cookery demonstration by the wonderful Rachel Allen of Ballymaloe House and Cookery School in Shanagarry, East Cork. This took place in the Silver Springs Hotel in Cork City and was fantastic. Rachel is one of my all-time cooking heroes and the evening was fantastic. We were even able to taste her cooking (delicious)!
Sadly our trip to Ireland came to a very quick end and so we returned on Friday 10th April very begrudgingly! We caught the 9am sailing from Rosslare, which meant that we left home at 5am, but the journey was quick and easy. We soon boarded and went to our cabin. This time we only had a two berth cabin, but it was perfectly clean and functional. The sailing was totally smooth and so we went to the restaurant for a breakfast to keep us full for the most part of our journey. The food is standard – we each had a full breakfast – but to feed a family of 5 cost £25 on a special deal and the plates were full! All the staff were friendly again and we enjoyed our breakfast. Our boys went then to the children’s area and had fun playing on the soft play and taking part in the drawing activities. It was very child friendly and my boys were thrilled with their balloons given to them by Charlie the monkey.
The crossing home only took 3 and a half hours, so we were soon offloading in Fishguard and back on the road home.
All in all our experience with Stena was brilliant and I would highly recommend them. It certainly rivals that of Irish Ferries and I would definitely travel with them again. 5 stars to Stena Line and thank you for letting us review your great service. The only negative is that it’s all over and now it’s back to reality!
Crossings start from £79 (single car & driver). With a choice of 2 ferry crossings daily and no baggage charges.
For more information or to make a booking visit www.stenaline.co.uk.