Sunday, August 16, 2015

Travel : Sailing to France with Irish Ferries

Holidays abroad.  Usually a mad panic to cram everything you possess into a 10kg bag and a teeny tiny plastic bag that can barely accommodate two lipsticks and a mascara and long queues through security.  Not for us though.  We love bringing the car (also lovingly known as the Mobile Wine Machine), throwing all the stuff in the boot and heading for Rosslare.  Minimal queuing, a nice comfy bed and no baggage restrictions, what's not to love?

Passports at the ready

There's three ways to get directly to France from Ireland by boat : Brittany Ferries go weekly from Ringaskiddy to Roscoff on the Pont Aven, Stena Line (formerly Celtic Link) thrice weekly to Cherbourg on the Stena Horizon and Irish Ferries from Rosslare to both Roscoff & Cherbourg on the Oscar Wilde, and Dublin to Cherbourg on the Epsilon.  We've sailed with both Brittany Ferries and Irish Ferries - my preference would be Brittany Ferries as the cabins and food are both superb, but Rosslare is much closer to where we live and the frequency of sailings is much better.  Also, I save our Tesco Clubcard vouchers throughout the year & exchange them for Boost tokens.  Each €100 in Tesco vouchers gives us €400 in Irish Ferries vouchers, so if we're clever, the crossing can be paid in full by the tokens.

The Mobile Wine Machine packed & ready

This time we were sailing with Irish Ferries from Rosslare to Roscoff and driving down to Saint Jean de Monts in the Vendee for 12 nights in a very swish mobile home in Siblu's Le Bois Masson campsite (more on that later).  The car was loaded up with the essentials - clothes, pillows, kitchen kit, collapsible crates for transporting wine home in, breathalysers, warning triangle, high-vis vest & car insurance documents, bags of sweets for the drive and it was time to go.  To be honest, we should have left 30 minutes earlier because I was convinced the sailing was 4.30pm, not 4pm.  YIKES!  Luckily the N11 was relatively quiet and we made it to Rosslare just in time.  There was a pretty long queue for check-in but at least the boat will wait, unlike airplanes.  Just enough time to take the seasickness tablets before we boarded as I'd get seasick walking over a puddle.  

The interior of Cabin 8120

One Speedy Boarding pass later and we were parking the car, grabbing our overnight bags and heading to our cabin on Deck 8.  We always end up with 8120, a 5 star cabin with a supremely cosy double bed, sitting area and in-cabin wifi.  If you book a 5 star cabin, breakfast is included in Le Berneval estaurant the next morning.  There's also a little mini fridge with soft drinks, beer & wine so you can relax in the cabin and have a quiet drink. It's a shame that the TV in the bedroom area is fixed so you can't use it in the seating area for maximum enjoyment.  I saw that the beauty and hair salon was open, so I flew down to make an appointment for a mini mani later in the evening. Slots fill up phenomenally quickly so I'd recommend that you pay them a visit first before even going to your cabin to avoid disappointment.  

Steak Sandwich in Oscar's Piano Bar

Entertainment onboard is very family oriented, which is great if you're travelling with kids, but not so much if you're child-free.  It would be lovely if there was an adult-only lounge to relax in, like the Club Class lounges on other Irish Ferries ships.  We ended up at Oscar's Piano Bar which now serves bar food and it was pretty reasonable compared to other dining options onboard, but we heard from fellow passengers on the return that the standard had slipped significantly.  

Breakfast in Le Berneval

After a great night's sleep, we had breakfast at Le Berneval, starting with fresh fruit and then some really delicious Eggs Benedict - the eggs were perfectly cooked and the hollandaise sauce was lemony and zingy.  Unfortunately, the coffee was absolutely grim, thin and bitter, so I saved myself for a €1 coffee in a French service station which was a million times better.  Given the Costa Coffee presence onboard, you'd naturally expect better.  Buying a Speedy Embarcation pass meant that we were off the ship and on the road within 5 minutes of docking in Roscoff.

Premium Suite 8300

Our return journey was pretty similar but we decided to spoil ourselves and upgrade to a Premium Suite.  There's only three of these cabins, located on Deck 8 at the front of the ship and at first glance, they're very plush with a separate bedroom so perfect for families who want to let kids sleep in the bedroom and relax in the sitting area.  There's also a minibar and a Nespresso machine which was very welcome indeed.  A few little glitches though - the bathroom is exactly the same as every other cabin onboard, there's very few power sockets in the cabin, and I found old medicine bottles and syringes at the side of the bedside locker.  I don't think we'll bother spending the extra for this cabin on our next trip.

All in all, we find the crossing to France very comfortable by boat and the holiday really does begin for us the moment that we park the car.  Things have improved immeasurably since we first started getting the ferry to France with Irish Ferries, but there's still definitely room for improvement.


  1. Hi Aoife,
    Very interesting post, thinking of trying a trip to France next year. How does it work with the clubcard vouchers? I thought there was some kind of extra charge for using them to book and restrictions on which sailings you can take but would love to know more!
    thanks a million

    1. Hi Catherine,

      It's not that tricky. Firstly you need to convert your Clubcard vouchers to Irish Ferries tokens with Tesco. Only when you've received the tokens can you book the ferry. You can use the tokens in full or part payment and there's full details here

      Happy sailing & if you need any French advice, feel free to holler!