As my favourite author Robin Peacock says, “Try everything twice; the first time is never the best.” So after such a great experience on the Stena Line Ferry a few years ago I was excited to see if his curious quote applies to sea travel. Once again, I find myself spending my summer holiday in tropical Northern Ireland. It may not have the climate of Southern Spain, but the seaside town of Portrush on the north coast has captured my heart. Plus, the Guinness tastes amazing…
The last trip was with my wife and two young daughters. Our awesome foursome is attending this voyage as well, but there’s a difference. My youngest who was only months old on the preliminary expedition, has now reached the magic number of 3. And she is very excited. So I’m relieved to see that the ferry still has a soft play for our youngsters to burn off some pent-up energy after the 4-hour car journey from Edinburgh. It should have taken three hours, but nature tends to call our girls, uh, quite a lot. Thank goodness for contingency. The soft play has been upgraded since the last time as well, and our lassies quickly make friends with/terrorise the other children.
But soft play can only contain our daughters for so long. Soon they get hungry and, being typically unorganised, I haven’t made a packed lunch. As we walk past other families with their pre-prepared snacks, my feelings towards their coordinated culinary skills soon turns from envy to delight as I notice that the ferry’s Taste restaurant offers a special meal deal for a family of four, for just £23. Sold. As we’re floating along in the middle of the ocean, fish seems like the right choice for us all and we tuck in. Once finished, the girls have a new found energy and are instantly up and out of their seats to chase around the man-sized shark that is parading around the kid’s area (disclaimer: I assume it’s a man inside a shark costume…it’s very convincing.)
After a fair amount of tugging and pushing (not from the shark), it subtly points them over to the face-painting area which has been provided by Stena Line. The girls stay surprisingly still as they seem enchanted by the artists and their paint brushes and come away with pretty patterns all down their arms. I just hope they don’t ask for a real tattoo next.
And just like that it’s time to round up the troops, head down to our suitcase-laden car and wait for the drawbridge to be lowered. I can’t quite believe how quickly the time has passed…I can only be optimistic that it feels the same on the next leg of our journey.
If you’re going to Ireland, or anywhere in Britain, Holland or France, I can thoroughly recommend travelling Stena Line Ferries. Especially if you have excitable children.
Photographs by John Harfield