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The Stena Europe (or the “Superferry” as Stena call it) sails from Fishguard at 14:30 and at 02:45, probably the two least attractive times for most travellers compared with the fast ferry (the “Express”) but the fares reflect this as they are quite a lot cheaper. For example the fares for the Superferry are £69 as opposed to £99 for the fast ferry. In peak season this translates into a big saving for a return journey.
We were taking the 14:30 on the Stena Europe from Fishguard, which was a good time for us, because there was no rushing about to get down to Fishguard for the 11:30 Fast ferry, which means us getting there at least 1 hour before, so 10:30. For people driving from London, or further afield, reaching Fishguard by 10:30 on a Saturday morning is an ambitious task, which means leaving home by 5am at the latest. There are, usually, few obstacles in the way of traffic at that time, even in the holiday periods, but it’s still a push to get there by 10:30.
The Super ferry is for the steady driver, the experience on-board seems geared for travellers like have more time to spare, and there is plenty for them to do. First of all, there’s an enormous open bar area with a large TV screen, perfect for large groups of sports fans. Then you have a pretty big canteen area, which can feed an equally large group of people. There are large games rooms, and for the children, the ever-present Curious George, the on-board kids entertainment bear, and what a good job he does.
On the subject of children, the Stena Europe is huge fun for them, there are acres of space for them to explore safely, besides being a wholly new experience for most. On reflection, I would take a ferry to Ireland over the plane any day, just because of the fun the children seem to have on board.
The deck area is enormous, with a helicopter winch area creating an open space at the rear of the vessel for people to walk around and have a panoramic view of both sides, something you definitely cannot do on the fast ferry.
Something which is particularly worthy of note is the Stena Plus service, which is a lounge area accessible to those who have paid an extra £15 per head. It gives you free newspapers, tea, cakes, water, orange juice and fruits, with a waiter service for larger meals. The Stena Plus area offers you the chance to relax in complete comfort on large leather sofas, while watching Sky news on the large screen at either end. We would say it’s well worth the extra money, especially if you prefer the extra space to the sometimes more crowded areas of the fast service.
Advantages of taking the Stena Europe:
1. Sensible departure times for many travellers.
2. Large public areas with plenty of space to move around, inside and outside.
3. The Stena Plus is much better value for money on the Super Ferry.
4. The ride on the Super ferry is smooth even with a force 7/8 gale outside.
5. Less sea sickness.
6. It’s cheaper, about 30% cheaper as a rule.
7. Great views.
8. Great fun for kids.
Stena Plus new layout
The Stena Express is another vessel built by Incat of Tasmania, an 81 metre catamaran, which is capable of reaching speeds of 40 knots, but has a normal operating speed of 35 knots. This means that the Stena Express is almost twice as fast as the Stena Europe, and can cross the Irish Sea in just 2 hours port to port.
I was taking the Rosslare to Fishguard route at 08:00, which was a time that I really didn’t expect to be busy, but it really was. The speed of the service is clearly a big advantage for many and the ferry was packed to the rafters, with a couple of coaches and large foot passenger groups. The Stena Express has all that the Stena Europe has, just packed cleverly into a smaller space. Even Curious George is present; clearly sea sickness isn’t a problem for him, because on the fast ferry, it can be a issue for many. It can however, be overcome, by eating good quantities of food before departure and by sitting still. I personally have found that once you board with an empty stomach, start reading or watching the sea flow by, I’m in trouble, so I prepare well, and now rarely have a problem.
For those that like big machines, the diesel catamaran is a pleasure to watch in action, even with 3-4 metre waves, it can cut through the sea like a knife. The viewing platforms offer an impressive demonstration of the power of the craft as it moves along. There are five outside areas in total, allowing adequate space for those who want to stand outside.
Stena Plus on the fast ferry consists of a partitioned area at the top front of the passenger area. It offers all you get on the Stena Europe, apart from the space, and the chairs are much smaller. Given that the public areas get very busy, you are more or less guaranteed a nice place to sit, with a choice of leather swivel chairs or a leather bench seat along the side. You get the same free tea, coffee etc. And a waiter service for larger meals.
Advantages of the fast ferry:
2. It’s a really impressive machine.
3. If you have a long journey at the other end, the fast ferry’s travel times are much better.
4. Value for money. It’s twice as fast with a disproportionately, and many would say, smaller than expected increase in price, just 30%.
5. The fact that you can combine the two vessels on a round trip offers the best of both worlds.