Though my experience is limited to the Dublin/Holyhead route operated by both Stenaline and Irish Ferries, I have been on the ferry LOADS of times. I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess of how much money I’ve spent going back and forth between Dublin and Bangor.
The best option
Irish Ferries Jonathon Swift hands down. It’s £5 more expensive each way but you only have to spend an hour and 50 minutes at sea. All of the other ferries (in both companies) take three and a half hours. A lifetime. If you’re a foot passenger it costs £36/€42 each way.
However, in Winter it’s often cancelled and they just shift you onto the longer ferry. You don’t get the extra couple of pounds you paid for the luxury of fast travel back either. Although, if you can’t make the long ferry they move you onto then you will be refunded in full. The best thing to do is check the sailing updates for the week before you book and then you’ll have a good idea if it’s going to run or not.
Also, I should mention that if you’re travelling from Ireland to the UK and plan on going further afield than North Wales, Irish Ferries have a Sail/Rail option where you can buy your ferry ticket and train ticket as one. It works out much cheaper so I would recommend it.
The second best option
The longer ferries are all very similar to be honest. Personally, I think the Stenaline Superfast X (on the left) is the best one. Don’t be fooled by the name though. It is in no way super fast. It still takes a solid three and a half hours (The Swift actually overtakes it at sea). There’s a free cinema, free hot drink refills, a children’s play area and a wide variety of food and seating areas. It’s also only two years old so it’s still pretty nice and new looking. The other ferries are good too but if I had to choose I’d definitely pick this one. Irish Ferries have a cinema with more current films but you do have to pay for it. Fares are pretty much the same across both companies for the longer duration ferries (roughly £30/£35).
Both companies have a loyalty scheme. However, the Irish Ferries scheme is only for motorists. With Stena Extra I’ve managed to get about 40 or 50 pounds back over two years with my points. You can collect points on fares, food, drinks and gifts you buy on ferry and they give a bonus at Christmas too.
Stenaline have had a massive one pound ferry sale around St Patrick’s Day the last two years. Each year I’ve bought about 20 journeys because it doesn’t matter if I don’t end up using them and you can book to travel as far ahead as December. So if you’re thinking about booking a trip and it’s convenient to wait then it’s definitely worth doing so. They only have a few one pound spots on each ferry though so make sure you do it quickly. I’d say over half my journeys have been on one pound fares.Signing up to the mailing lists is a good idea because both companies have 20% off sales every two minutes. Sometimes it says motorists only but if you go online you’ll usually find that foot passengers can avail too.
Foot passenger tips
- If you don’t have a car/lift, check train times before you book a trip from Holyhead. Trains don’t arrive early enough for some of the earlier ferries and even some of the later ones on Sundays.
- Add half an hour on to your arrival time. They unload all the cars before the passenger bus comes to bring you to the port which takes forever (except on the Swift coming into Dublin Port).
- Check in is strict – you do need to be there half an hour before. I’ve been less than five minutes late before and they wouldn’t let me on.
- If you’re a healthy or gluten/dairy free eater the food options are pretty dismal so bring some with you.
- There’s no advantage in booking a return ticket, it’s the same price for two singles.