Ferry Review – Belfast to Liverpool, Stena LineBack to Forum
My travels this week was a triangular itinerary which took me from Bath to Belfast to Wrexham and back to Bath. For the Belfast to Wrexham, I ended up taking the overnight ferry from Belfast to Liverpool and then catching the train to Wrexham. The ferry experience was interesting enough that I thought would be worth a review.
Stena Line are the only ferry company sailing between Belfast and Liverpool with two ferries each day departing at 1030 & 2230 and arriving at 1830 & 0630 respectively. The return ferries depart at the same times from Liverpool. The Belfast port is just north of the city centre and can be reached by bus. The ferry docks at the Birkenhead side of the Mersey so if you are intending to travel onwards to Liverpool, you need to walk to Birkenhead Hamilton Square station (15mins) or take the shuttle bus.
Since I had an all day meeting in Belfast on Tuesday, I could have taken the overnight ferry from Liverpool, had my meeting and then returned on the overnight ferry. As it was, I flew out Monday evening from Bristol with Easyjet, stayed overnight and then caught the 2230 ferry to Liverpool Tuesday evening.
I booked on the StenaLine website and your fare is made up of a number of components. My total fare was £85 broken down as follows :-
1. £30 for a flexible foot passenger fare.
2. £55 for a 4-berth cabin.
If you are travelling with a car then obviously that will be extra. It should be noted that the cabin fee appears to be fixed regardless of number of passengers so obviously 4 sharing £55 is very good value. In my case though, £55 was still good value given that hotels in Belfast or Liverpool would have cost at least that.
Another addition you can do is the Club Class premium. This entitles you to access a separate lounge on the ferry. From what I could see, it looked quite large and certainly I would book this for a daytime crossing and costs about £25 extra.
CHECK-IN AND BOARDING
Your ticket confirmation does not say when you will board. Instead it tells you the latest check in time is 1 hour before departure but what it doesn’t tell is that boarding does not commence until 1 hour before departure. I had arrived by taxi at 2015 and was hoping to board early. Check in and security was very swift and I was guided into a departure lounge. For foot passengers, boarding is by bus so you have to wait until this is ready. The lounge had a café and TV so it wasn’t too bad but an hour is about as much as you want there so there is little point checking in more than 2 hours beforehand.
Eventually the bus was called and we boarded. The bus is then driven to the ferry and reversed on board. This means once you get off the bus, you are right next to an elevator to take you up to the main deck.
Once on the main deck, I gradually made my way up to the main area. The ferry can carry 720 passengers so that gives you some idea of its size. I have to say, on board maps and signage was not good and it took me a while to figure out where everything was. As it was now 2145 and I wanted to be in bed by 2300, I didn’t bother to have a meal on board. However, I did visit the restaurant to get a cup of tea so I could see that the restaurant was open and serving a wide range of food and drink. Personally, I think stena line should allow earlier boarding as they may get more passengers dining in the evening as my impression of the food was that it was decent fare. As it was, I sat in the main seating area to drink my tea and make a phone call and then made my way to my cabin as we sailed.
Other facilities I could see on board but did not explore was a large amusement arcade and a duty free shop. Beyond that I didn’t take much notice of what else was there.
The cabin turned out to be just right for an overnight sail. When you enter, you will see two single beds either side of the cabin. Above each are two more beds which were folded away but can be folded down. In between the beds is a small desk with a 3pin socket, 2 USB sockets and a shaver socket. On each side of the desk are two holders for bottles, etc. There is also a chair and enough room on the desk to use a laptop. There is free wifi on board but you are disconnected every 45 minutes.
There is no wardrobe but there is an area where you can stack bags and hang up coats on hooks, etc. This area also has a TV. There is also an ensuite bathroom with shower, sink and toilet. it is small but the design is efficient and I had no problems using it. The one slight issue is the air-conditioning. There is a vent pumping air in but you can’t independently set the temperature. All you can do is open or close the vent.
Personally, I found the cabin more than comfortable enough and well thought out in its design and robustness. For more than 2 people, it will feel crowded but basically the cabin is only for sleeping rather than lounging about in. I found the bed to comfortable but my sleep was somewhat broken mainly because the cabin was somewhat warm.
I had set my alarm but in the end, there is no need for one as a ship wide announcement is made at 0530 to wake you up. More announcements were made every 15 minutes and they do hustle you! This is worth bearing in mind in terms of planning your sleep.
Breakfast is available in the restaurant but I just had a cup of tea as I wanted to have breakfast in Wrexham. Disembarking was the reverse of Belfast with a bus waiting outside the elevator door to take us to the terminal. A short walk through the terminal and I was outside and grabbed the only taxi waiting. I was surprised there weren’t more taxis so it might be worth bearing this in mind. As I said before, there is a shuttle bus to Birkenhead station but my journey to Wrexham started from Bidston station which was a 5 minute drive away.
I need to go to Belfast again in September and I will give this option serious consideration. Travelling overnight, one is getting a hotel room included in the travel so from a total cost perspective, it can definitely make sense.15 Feb 2019
A 4 berth cabin….sounds appalling to me! Snorers, coughers, phoners, smellies, talkers in the other three berths. Oh no! I don’t say it very often but it makes a 40 min flight on Ryanair the very attractive option. 😀16 Feb 2019
I have done quite a few ferry trips over the years, mostly between Ireland, France, Spain, UK, Netherlands. I am not keen on sharing a cabin with strangers for the obvious reasons stated above but have sometimes had a 2/4 berth to myself for a small supplement, or paid for a single. I did once have to share on a Portsmouth-Santander and I was probably lucky but my cabin mate was a thoroughly nice chap who was going down to Spain with a touring bike to ‘do’ the Picos de Europa, turned out he lived near, and knew, my brother in law, who is also a keen biker.
The Brittany Ferries services between the UK and Spain, about 24 hours, are almost like a mini-cruise and I always enjoy them. I’ve done Stena Line day services between Harwich and NL a few times, quite pleasant, and across the Irish sea. My favourite is Irish Ferries although their ferries can be a bit scruffy, but not as bad as the Condor jobs between the south coast and Channel Islands.
I find it a very civilised way of travelling and will invariably do a sea trip in preference to flying when possible.
As my son put it to me a couple of years ago when I did Barcelona – train – Santander – ferrry – Portsmouth – train – Liverpool – ferry – Dublin and spent 3 days and £400 getting from BCN – DUB ‘why the …. did you do that when you could flown in 2 hours and spent €60?’ Because I wanted to and because I had the time.16 Feb 2019
Fresh topic as we can sometime hear… I am not used to ferry, I have to say.
The longest distance I ever did was Ostend – Dover, way before the tunnel! But I always enjoyed night trains, that in a way offer a similar experience. But nowadays, they almost all disappeared.
Last time I tried to take one though, I ended up on a plane, given the price difference.
OK, I was not going to share a cabin. Still, when you live by a reasonably well served airport, flying is often the best way.
But I will one day ride https://www.belmond.com/trains/asia/eastern-and-oriental-express/!16 Feb 2019
Just to clarify, I had sole use of the cabin. I have to say that the booking process was not entirely clear if you had the cabin to yourself or whether you shared with others. But from what I can tell the cabins are not shared. If you a dummy booking with either 1 or 4 adults the cabin supplement is £55 regardless of numbers.
I am sure if cabins were shared with strangers it would have been made clear in the booking process.16 Feb 2019