When Ir­ish seas are smil­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - JANE NI­CHOLLS

The late-af­ter­noon sun seems to be draw­ing a path across a sil­very, still Ir­ish Sea as Ulysses, colos­sus of the Ir­ish Fer­ries fleet, glides to­wards Dublin. Friends have rat­tled me with tales of roil­ing cross­ings, but our jour­ney from Holy­head, the short­est dis­tance be­tween Bri­tain and Ire­land, is as smooth as Blar­ney Stone-kiss­ing ban­ter.

If you list to­wards the nos­tal­gic, a ferry cross­ing to Ire­land is an easy, pretty and in­cred­i­bly thrifty way to get from Lon­don to Dublin.

But to be­gin at the be­gin­ning (and I in­voke Dy­lan Thomas here be­cause we have been zoom­ing at about 200km/h through the Welsh coun­try­side), be­fore the ship there was a train — a Vir­gin Trains Su­per Voy­ager from Lon­don’s Eus­ton sta­tion. This tilt train rock­ets you into the English coun­try­side, which turns Welsh be­fore you can say Tom Jones, and soon you’re hurtling past sta­tions with tongue-twist­ing, vowel-bury­ing signs.

For about three hours and 40 min­utes, en­joy the view through Buck­ing­hamshire, in and out of the trainspot­ters’ de­light of Crewe, and along the north coast of Wales to Holy­head. Alight and take a short stroll to the Ir­ish Fer­ries check-in, where your bag­gage is bliss­fully spir­ited away and a bus that’s seen bet­ter days trans­ports you into the bow­els of the ferry, along­side jam-packed lines of freight lor­ries and cars. Ulysses stands 12 decks high, with more than 4km of lane space for 1342 cars and 240 trucks, and the swift load­ing of the ve­hi­cles and up to 2000 pas­sen­gers and crew is a sym­phony of pre­cise lo­gis­tics.

Ulysses the su­per-ship — it was the world’s largest car ferry when chris­tened in 2001 — has more than a few nods to Ulysses the su­per-novel and its author James Joyce, who peers over the re­cep­tion area from a gi­ant carved mu­ral. A series of clock-faces are sign­posts for a Joycean walk­ing odyssey around the ship.

Decks 9-11 are for pas­sen­gers and for an ex­tra fee, you can book into a cabin if you need a nap, but there’s plenty to keep you awake in the three hours and change it takes to get to Ire­land.

Choose from Ir­ish pub Leopold Bloom’s, a bistro, cafe, duty-free shop­ping ar­cade, a two-screen cinema or a quiet lounge with re­clin­ing chairs en­cir­cling the light well of an atrium dome.

Be­neath the gi­ant sham­rock-green fun­nel up top, there’s a wide ex­ter­nal prom­e­nade deck, where it feels as if you might be whipped over­board like a clover leaf, even on our silky cross­ing.

Even if you have kids in tow, con­sider pay­ing the €18 ($25.50) apiece to up­grade to Club Class for a ma­jes­tic view from the only public place on the ship that looks out over the bow. As well as the prime van­tage point, there’s a se­lec­tion of com­pli­men­tary drinks, snacks and horsd’oeu­vres, in­clud­ing mounds of smoked sal­mon and pin­wheel sal­mon sand­wiches. (Wine is of­fered gratis, but beer isn’t. I’m guess­ing that’s be­cause, judg­ing by the brews be­ing sunk down­stairs, some pas­sen­gers would swiftly get the most out of the cover charge and im­peril the peace­ful, clubby at­mos­phere.)

As we near Dublin, the sea is still smooth, but the sun has re­treated into Ir­ish-grey clouds, and be­hind the hills on the hori­zon there is the steady slate of rain sheet­ing down. But it seems more ro­man­tic than mis­er­able. To be sure, this is a glo­ri­ous way to ar­rive in Ire­land.

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