Island hop from home to holiday

Date Posted: 16/09/2010

Ahoy GTOs! Prepare to step aboard and take to the seas with our guide to ferry and fixed link services.

Just a puddle away

With a growing number of ‘staycationers’ leaving their passport at home, there is no better place to begin than with a visit to one of the British islands dotted off the mainland. Starting on the south coast, Red Funnel Ferries, original ferry operator to the Isle of Wight, runs regular vehicle and passenger services from Southampton across the Solent to the ‘Garden Isle’. Access to the destination, a favourite for walking groups, is now even easier as Red Funnel has launched smartphone technology. GTOs can receive timetable information, service updates and live vessel positioning on the move, to ensure their trip itinerary will run to schedule.

Isle of Wight holidaymakers are now being issued with a passport in a new initiative launched by Wightlink ferry services. Handed out to all Wightlink customers travelling from Portsmouth Harbour, Gunwharf and Lymington, it features a range of exclusive discounts and special offers including incentives to visit top attractions. These will be distributed at the three mainland ferry terminals by anyone purchasing a Wightlink ferry ticket.

Condor Ferries operates regular services between March and October, from Poole and Weymouth over to the Channel Islands. You can combine some time relaxing on the beaches of Dorset before exploring the sights and sounds of our French-accented cousins in Jersey and Guernsey. Take advantage of the duty-free savings onboard where you can save up to 40 per cent off high street prices. This excursion can form a day trip or longer holiday, and parties of 20 or more can access group discounts plus free coach-driver places with Condor Ferries.

The Isle of Man is considered one of the best kept secrets in the British Isles - a destination particularly well-suited to groups of motor racing fans, keen walkers and wildlife enthusiasts. Located in the heart of the Irish sea, the island is easily reached from the north-west of England, via ferries hosted by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company. Parties have the option of a fast-craft service from Liverpool, taking two hours and 30 minutes, or the conventional ferry crossing from Heysham, Lancashire, at three hours and 30 minutes.

Whether it is for a short trip or longer break, the Manx experience can be as active or relaxing as desired; and because the ferry offers the freedom of travelling by coach, foot, car, motorbike or bicycle, a large variety of groups can be catered for. Incentives are available to parties of 20 or more adults travelling together by coach.

From bonny Scotland, your group can experience the delights of Orkney and Shetland with NorthLink Ferries. Departing from the Scottish mainland ports of Aberdeen and Scrabster, group packages can be arranged to include an itinerary and tour guide, ensuring you get the most out of your trip. Memorable island sites include the perfectly preserved 5,000-year-old stone-age village of Skara Brae, the Italian Chapel and the not-to-be-missed Shetland ponies. All of NorthLink’s passenger ferries include restaurants, comfortable lounges, cinemas showing the latest releases, and well-appointed cabins with full en-suite facilities for overnight accommodation.

Sail the Irish sea

Heading west across the Irish sea, your group can visit our Celtic neighbour from various Scottish, English and Welsh ports. Stena Line runs services from Stranraer, western Scotland over to Belfast, Northern Ireland, which has in recent years emerged from conflict into a vibrant and popular tourist destination. An alternative ferry route is from Fleetwood, Lancashire, sailing into Larne, another Northern Irish town, ideally located for groups to explore the Antrim Coast.

From Holyhead, north-west Wales, groups can hop on a Stena Line boat headed for either Dublin Port or Dún Laoghaire. The latter is an up-and-coming harbour town, just seven miles from Dublin city centre - well-positioned to begin or end your group’s itinerary around Ireland. If it’s more convenient for your group to depart from south-west Wales, then the Fishguard to Rosslare crossing is for you. Begin your holiday by taking in the Pembrokeshire scenery before hitting the Irish shore.

Another carrier to the Emerald Isle is Irish Ferries. The company boasts a modern fleet which offers groups a very refined crossing to Ireland. Facilities on-board Ulysses include a brasserie, cafe, bar, cinema, family entertainment centre, shopping arcade, balcony lounge and promenade deck. Dublin, recently awarded the title ‘City of Literature’ by UNESCO, in recognition of its rich literary history and vibrant contemporary scene, can be reached via ferry from Holyhead, north Wales. The Dublin Swift fast ferry makes the crossing in just one hour, 49 minutes, whilst what is reportedly the world’s largest car ferry, Ulysses, makes the crossing in three hours, 15 minutes.

If your group prefers a trip with a more relaxed pace, Isle of Inishmore operates two return crossings daily from Pembroke in south Wales to Rosslare in County Wexford. A journey time of three hours, 45 minutes will take you directly to the sunniest corner of Ireland. Irish Ferries provides coach drivers complimentary travel and food, plus special rates apply for groups of ten or more passengers.

Ride the Channel

From one Celtic land to another, France is an eternally popular holiday destination with the Brits due to its nearby location and mild climate. Calais lends itself as a tourist region, as well as a convenient gateway to the rest of the country and mainland Europe. SeaFrance is the only French operator on the Dover to Calais route, therefore offering groups an authentic experience before arriving in France.

A full range of group catering options are available to pre-book - anything from a three-course meal to a packed lunch for your group’s onward journey. For those parties looking to snap up a bargain, there are savings to be made in the onboard dutypaid shop. SeaFrance ferries stock an extensive wine cellar, plus a wide selection of beers and spirits, and a range of fragrances, gifts and confectionery.

P&O Ferries is another carrier on the Dover to Calais route. With a 90-minute journey time and numerous, round-the-clock sailings, your group can travel at leisure. Next year, the company will take delivery of two new ships for this service. At 49,000 gross tonnes, 213 metres in length and accommodating up to 195 tourist vehicles, the Spirit of Britain and Spirit of France will reportedly be the largest ferries ever to operate between the Channel ports. Book early and your group could be amongst the first to sample the facilities of the new sister vessels at P&O Ferries.

Sailing from Portsmouth, Poole and Plymouth direct to some of the most popular holiday regions in France, Brittany Ferries offers a choice of destinations as well as a comfortable and economic commute. With up to 100 sailings a week, groups can choose to cruise across by day, or sleep away the miles on an overnight crossing; whilst those on a tight schedule can take the high-speed service and arrive in France in as little as two hours, 15 minutes. Arrival ports include St Malo in Brittany and Caen and Cherbourg in Normandy. Brittany Ferries group benefits feature complimentary coach driver travel with a minimum of 23 adults, and special rates available to multiple vehicle groups.

Taking your coach to the continent offers real freedom to travel onwards with ease, and the Channel Tunnel provides this service as a fixed link. Eurotunnel, the Channel Tunnel’s managing company, operates the facility which links Folkstone, Kent, to Calais, France in a 35-minute journey.

More than just a fixed link to Paris, the Eurostar also visits Lille, Avignon and Disneyland Paris, from London St Pancras and Ashford, Kent. Those culture vulture groups looking for a city break now have an extra incentive to book up a long weekend to the French capital. A range of two-for-one entry tickets for Paris museums and galleries are now available to Eurostar customers. The offer is valid for up to five days after the traveller’s arrival at the destination, and only one person needs to have a Eurostar ticket to qualify. Attractions taking part include le musée du quai Branly, le Jeu de Paume, le Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, la Cité de la musique, and les Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais.

The North Sea and beyond

Ferry travel has cast its net that bit further in recent years, and new areas of western Europe have been made available on a direct journey by boat from the UK, with P&O Ferries offering a wide choice of routes and a frequent service to the Continent. Passenger routes incorporate Hull to Rotterdam, Holland, and Hull to Zeebrugge, Belgium, amongst others. All ships offer passenger comfort with a range of on-board facilities including restaurants and retail outlets.

With overnight P&O services departing every day, travelling from east Yorkshire to either destination is simple for groups. Catch 40 winks whilst the ferry covers the miles, and wake up feeling refreshed, ready to begin your itinerary.

DFDS Seaways also sails to Holland; however, boats depart from Newcastle’s ferry terminal, which may be more convenient for groups travelling from the north. DFDS Seaways also offers a direct service from Harwich, Essex to Esbjerg in Denmark. The m.s. Dana Sirena transports passengers to the harbour town, where visitors are drawn to the local seal safari.

Cruise overnight to Holland or Denmark with DFDS Seaways and take advantage of the onboard facilities including shops, a cinema or in-cabin movies, live entertainment, bars and restaurants. Drinks receptions, dinner packages and exclusive areas can also be arranged to make your trip extra special. There is a dedicated team to manage group bookings, and for coach groups of 20 plus, the driver’s travel and entry are complimentary.

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