You can trace the loss of popularity of ferries with the rise of low-cost carriers and the deregulation of the market back in 1997. Since then, most people travelling abroad and much of the growth has been in the aviation sector. In recent years however, air has begun to lose some of its attraction, largely because of non-economic reasons. These too, ironically, can also be traced back to the 90’s — specifically 1993 when the attach on the twin towers occurred in 9/11.
Since then, airport security has become a nightmare and, let’s be honest, a bit of a joke. Containers cannot hold liquids greater than 100 ml in volume as anything greater could conceivably be used to assemble a bomb onboard, yet multiple containers are allowed so where is the logic in that? Items as innocuous as nail clippers can be confiscated for fear they might be used as weapons but passengers are routinely provided with steel cutlery when meals are served on some airlines and you don’t even have to be travelling in business class!
Air travel in general has become a bit of a pain in the proverbial and whilst it undoubtedly represents value for money and is still the quickest way to get from A to B, an increasing number of travellers with time on their hands are beginning to rail against what they see as the deterioration of the traveller experience and are starting to travel again, the old-fashioned way — by car ferry — and yours truly is one of them!
Case in point: I have been invited by Royal Caribbean to join them for the relaunch of Independence of the Seas in Southampton this weekend after a multimillion-euro re-fit. Such ship launches are a regular feature of the travel industry and there have been at least four so far this year. Ordinarily, I would either fly directly to Southampton airport or fly into Heathrow or Gatwick and pickup one of the transfer coaches that the cruise lines always provide for such events or even hire a car and drive myself down the M3. For the first time ever, I’ve decided to take the ferry from Rosslare to Fishguard and make my leisurely way down to the south coast via Stratford-Upon-Avon, Bath and Christchurch in Dorset, arranging various meetings along the way with UK-based suppliers that we enjoy a relationship with.
The thoughts of not having to worry about how much (or how little) I can pack or how long I will have to spend queuing up at security is quite honestly a godsend. Who would have thought that such seemingly inconsequential things could make such a difference but trust me — they do. With the knowledge that neither space nor weight is an issue, I can now afford the luxury of bringing a couple of coats and jackets with me just in case the weather doesn’t behave itself. Best of all though is the coming back. If I happen to do a bit of shopping whilst away, I won’t have to worry about either the size, shape or weight of it as I can just put it into the back of the car. What joy!
I’m not a newbie when it comes to this ferry lark. I first brought the whole family over to France back in the early nineties when we spent three weeks in a mobile home in a Haven Holidays resort located in the village of Les Mathes, just 90 kilometres north of Bordeaux. Even though we travelled there in June and were relatively far south, it still rained for 17 of the 19 days we were based there and the primary reason, if I’m honest, why we didn’t repeat the experience in subsequent years. Since then, I’ve done my share of booze cruises and mini-weekend breaks across to either Cherbourg or Roscoff and have always enjoyed the experience. Indeed, so good is the food aboard the Oscar Wilde on the Rosslare-Roscoff run that if you choose to pay the extra for one of the luxury two-berth cabins, it’s almost like a 24-hour cruise experience.
I mustn’t be the only one who is discovering (or re-discovering) the attributes of ferry-based holidays as within the past few months, announcements from both Irish Ferries and Brittany Ferries have referred to the launch of a brand-new ship and a new direct route to Spain — the first ever!
The new W.B. Yeats is costing Irish Ferries €55M and will be the largest ferry operating in the Irish sea after it completes some summer sailings between Dublin and Cherbourg. Meanwhile, Brittany Ferries will be operating its own direct service between Cork and Santander, allowing Irish holidaymakers the opportunity to explore all Northern Spain, including the magnificent Rioja region.
It appears that the ferry business is flying after all.