This summer I decided to renew my acquaintance with the ULYSSES. At 50,938 tonnes she is not only the largest car ferry in the world in terms of vehicle carrying capacity, but she is also the largest passenger ship ever to fly the Irish ensign, and she looks set to be the pride of the Irish merchant fleet for many years to come. She is a ship of stature and presence. Something even Stena's "new kid on the dock" STENA ADVENTURER cannot match, the ADVENTURER may be a bit longer than ULYSSES, but she isn't bigger.
To ship enthusiasts across the Atlantic in the USA, SS UNITED STATES is affectionately referred to as the "The Big U" surely on this side of the "pond" that title deserves to be bestowed on the ULYSSES?
My previous voyage on the Ulysses was back in 2001, the day of her maiden voyage. Despite good intentions it has taken over two years for me to get round to taking another trip. The decision was made easier by the recently revised Irish Ferries schedules which make for a more reasonable arrival time back in Holyhead, especially when one has a long drive home! That half hour can make quite a difference.
During the past seven years I have travelled with Irish Ferries on a number of occasions, sampling ISLE OF INNISFREE, ISLE OF INISHMORE, JONATHAN SWIFT and of course ULYSSES on her maiden voyage.
Some of the ISLE OF INNISFREE and ISLE OF INISHMORE trips being undertaken with groups of school children who I have taken on residential visits to Ireland. On all occasions I have found Irish Ferries to provide a service which operates with calm efficiency, rather like a well oiled clock. My experience on this occasion just served to reinforce this impression.
Whilst I enjoyed the occasion of the ULYSSES maiden voyage in 2001, it was obvious that as with most new things not everything was quite perfect. The customer service crew appeared rather unfamiliar with their surroundings only having a short time before transferred from the ISLE OF INISHMORE and there was significant delays when it came to getting refreshments. In a voyage report written at the time I commented on the lack of full restaurant facilities, except for commercial vehicle drivers, rather a disappointment after sampling the excellent Lady Gregory restaurant on the ISLE OF INNISFREE a couple of years previous.
Now two years into her career on the Holyhead - Dublin route this trip would present the opportunity to look on the ULYSSES in a fresh light.
I arrived at Holyhead in good time to ensure a space in the short stay car park near to the terminal. Whilst parking is a bit pricey at £5 for a day, it is no different to that charged for parking at Liverpool Sea Terminal, and besides it means a quick exit from the port on the return, rather than having to take the shuttle bus to the park and ride car park which wastes time.
I had presumed that there would be few foot passengers for the 15:00 ULYSSES sailing given that the JONATHAN SWIFT departs at 14:50.
Check in for both SWIFT and ULYSSES sailings opened around 14:00.
After passing through security passengers went into the waiting area to await the shuttle buses out to Salt Island.
ULYSSES passengers are usually conveyed to the departure lounge on Salt Island and then board on foot via the walkway and gangway. However, with repairs to the passenger gangway still not competed following ULYSSES altercation with the berth early in the year, shuttle buses were being used to take passengers directly onto the ship.
Since my last trip with Irish Ferries on the JONATHAN SWIFT in December I note that reusable boarding passes are now being used at Holyhead [though not yet at Dublin]. Light blue laminated passes for ULYSSES and light green ones for JONATHAN SWIFT. Certainly good idea which could be worth adopting by other operators.
There was a ten minute wait for the shuttle buses as they were busy bringing passengers to the terminal from JONATHAN SWIFT. The first bus took the majority of passengers off for the JONATHAN SWIFT's 14:50 sailing. My presumption of a low foot passenger turnout for the ULYSSES proved to be correct. A much smaller group remained to be conveyed out to ULYSSES.
To be honest, looking at the Irish Ferries departure schedule passengers departing from Holyhead must really have to be desperate to save an hour and, therefore, take a trip on the 15:50 JONATHAN SWIFT departure rather than the 15:00 ULYSSES sailing. Not that the JONATHAN SWIFT is a bad ship, its just that the ULYSSES is so much better and offers her passengers so much more.
But in this day and age, when many people are prepared to pay a bit more to get to their destinations a little quicker it isn't perhaps surprising that with two departures within ten minutes of one another JONATHAN SWIFT proves to be the more popular vessel for most foot passengers to travel on at this time of day.
The shuttle bus delivered passengers to the aft end of deck 5. I quickly made my way up to the main deck 9, the main passenger deck. Having not eaten anything since breakfast I made my way to Boylan's Brasseries for a quick lunch.
Irish Ferries meals are usually tasty and this was no exception. The ability to have mashed potatoes rather than the ubiquitous chips is a welcome alternative to the "chips / fries" with everything philosophy of other operators.
Departure from Holyhead was slightly early at 14:56. ULYSSES moved smoothly out of the harbour, swung to port and set course to Dublin Bay.
Several miles to the north could be seen LINDAROSA operating her morning sailing from Birkenhead. Some distance behind was EUROPEAN ENVOY on her Mostyn - Dublin sailing.
I spent some time on the open "Sandycove Promenade Deck" on deck level 11. However, I was surprised to note that no seating has yet been provided in this area. Surely a few benches would be in order? Quite a few passengers choosing to sit on the deck. P&O's EUROPEAN AMBASSADOR is well equipped with outside seating, it would certainly be welcome on ULYSSES.
After a while I made my way to the "Martello Lounge". This is also arranged on deck level 11. However, as the extensive crew accommodation and their own private promenade deck area is located between it and the "Sandycove Promenade" is necessary to go down to pass under the crew area before ascending back to deck 11 to enter the "Martello Loung". A somewhat 'quirky' feature of the ULYSSES.
The "Martello Lounge" takes up much of the forward area of deck 11 along the front and starboard side. The port side of the forward deck area is occupied by the "Freight Drivers' Club and Restaurant", and forward of that the "Quays Restaurant".
I made my way to the "Martello Lounge". I noticed that the seats at the front of the lounge were nearly all vacant. Buying a drink I sat down to peruse the view forward.
Within minutes it became apparent why few people were sat near the forward facing windows. With the ship heading into the afternoon sun it was a veritable sun trap. The air conditioning appeared to be having little effect on the temperature in this area. After a while I moved back from the windows to cool off. The difference in temperature being quite remarkable. Just a few feet back the effect of the air conditioning which was on quite high could be felt.
The Wicklow Mountains were visible by 16:15. Kish light was passed at 17:15. To the north LINDAROSA remained ahead whilst EUROPEAN ENVOY had fallen behind. ULYSSES then placed herself in second place in the afternoon arrival convoy.
I paid a brief visit to "La Brioche Doree" for a coffee and a doughnut. Quite tasty, but I was a little surprised why my coffee was served in a disposable cup and the doughnut in a bag when everyone else appeared to be getting proper cups and plates. I actually had my jacket on with binoculars round my neck so the lady behind the counter must have presumed I wanted to take it outside?
Visible off the Baily but some distance away was the distinctive shape of the cable laying ship TYCOM RELIANCE.
At 17:30 we had passed the Baily. Looking up the channel JONATHAN SWIFT could be seen in the fairway.
As we approached Dublin Captain Joyce announced to passengers that we were approximately 15 minutes ahead of schedule.
JONATHAN SWIFT cleared Poolbeg at 17:38, ULYSSES and SWIFT passing at 17:42, whilst ULYSSES herself passed the distinctive "pepper pot" shaped Poolbeg Light at 17:47 and the quaint North Bank light at 17:52.
As ULYSSES sailed up the fairway towards the berth the familiar profile of a Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines ship was visible up river at the Alexandra Basin. This being the 1996 built GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS.
LINDAROSA which remained ahead moved astern on to berth at the Norse Merchant terminal with the help of Dublin Port tug DEILGINNIS - which still sports a bent mast acquired in a dispute with a tow last year!
Alongside LINDAROSA was SAGA MOON, discharging after arrival from Heysham.
ULYSSES was secure on the berth at 18:01 14 minutes ahead of schedule.
During the layover at Dublin I decided not to go for a quick run into town on the bus but attempt to get some decent photographs of the GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS - however, I discovered that the usual up river vantage point near the Port Control tower was off limits due to construction work.
I hurried back to the main terminal just in time to catch the GRANDEUR OF THE SEAS passing berth 49 outbound.
Boarding for the return sailing commenced around 20:10. I positioned myself once again by the large windows of the Martello Observation Lounge. With the sun sinking it was now much cooler.
Cable Ship TYCOM RELIANCE was coming alongside the South Wall and was paid a visit by on of the Dublin Port pilot launches after she had made fast.
On the Stena Line berth STENA TRANSPORTER could be seen readying for her 20:30 departure. I made my way back to the open deck to photograph her. Shortly afterwards container ship GRACECHURCH COMET arrived at the DFT Container Terminal.
ULYSSES departed just before her scheduled departure time of 21:05.
On the return sailing I had a meal in the "Quays Restaurant" on deck 11. When writing a report following the ULYSSES maiden voyage I commented on my disappointment of the lack of a full restaurant service on board ULYSSES for non freight customers which was something of a let down compared to the facilities available on ISLE OF INNISFREE and ISLE OF INISHMORE.
This deficiency has now been rectified and well rectified at that. The "Quays Restaurant" offers probably the finest on-board dining experience on the Irish Sea. Many passengers may think that the three course meals offered are not exactly cheap, but they are of excellent quality and served in a manner which one would expect in a good restaurant. Besides the restaurant offers excellent views, and what better than to have an evening meal and watch Dublin Bay slip as well as the occasional ship? I would certainly recommend that if you travel on ULYSSES you try the "Quay's Restaurant" it is such a welcome change to the usual self-service offering found on most Irish Sea passenger ships and brings back memories of a standard of service once common on ships and trains in these islands before convenience buffet bars and self service began to take over.
As we headed down the Fairway towards Poolbeg, SEACAT ISLE OF MAN passed in bound on her summer Saturday evening sailing from Liverpool. It was interesting to gaze down from the restaurant and realise just how diminutive SEACAT ISLE OF MAN appeared when viewed from such a height! ULYSSES had cleared Poolbeg at 21:17 and the Bailey at 21:29. Around this time JONATHAN SWIFT passed by inbound for Dublin.
Following the meal I proceeded to the excellent Grafton Shopping Arcade. This is undoubtedly the finest on board shop on the Irish Sea with a wide range or quality products at a range of prices for sale. Everything the traveller, holiday maker or day tripper could want, a good percentage of it Irish produce. It would be possible not to worry about buying holiday souvenirs and gifts when actually in Ireland and leave it until one was returning on the ULYSSES such is the range of items from clothing to confectionary, perfume to prints. Furthermore, whilst many operators have given up on stocking much in the way of wines and spirits following the demise of duty free, a good stock is maintained on board ULYSSES at attractive prices and with some good offers available on selected lines. Irish Ferries also stock a range of branded products which will no doubt be of interest to shipping enthusiasts.
However, I have one small moan in this area concerning souvenirs which I have levelled at other operators in the past. Irish Ferries do not offer any models of their ships. I am sure that some 1/1200 or similar small scale models mounted on a plinth and sold for under £20 would prove a hit with shipping enthusiasts and ship model collectors.
After the meal and visit to the shop on the return I was able to sample one of the ship's four suites. The James Joyce Suite is very well appointed for a ship operating on such a short route. It features two distinct areas.
A large bedroom area with double bed, bedside lamps and a window. Plus a shower / wc unit and an enormous wardrobe. This can be separated from the adjacent lounge area by a curtain. The lounge is provided with a large "L" shaped sofa, TV tea/coffee making facilities, fridge with mineral water and orange juice. A basked of fruit is provided on the coffee table.
The price charged for these deluxe suites is very attractive when compared to that charged for conventional cabins on the likes of the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company's BEN-MY-CHREE which operates a similar length of journey.
The return trip passed all too soon and ULYSSES was alongside at Holyhead once again shortly after midnight. We had apparently passed the slower STENA TRANSPORTER which could be seen arriving just off the inner breakwater.
There was a slight delay in disembarkation of foot passengers due to the inoperative gangway, as the vehicle decks had to be cleared before the shuttle buses could be brought on board. However, everyone was soon off the ship and back at the terminal which marked the end of a very enjoyable afternoon and evening on ULYSSES.
If you have yet to travel on ULYSSES, you should do so. At only £10 for a foot passenger day return it it is excellent value for money.
Irish Ferries obviously realise that once a day tripper is on board, there are many other opportunities for encouraging impulse spending and generating income, a fact which some operators often overlook.
The ULYSSES is a fine ship, which to some extent given her onboard facilities is wasted on such a short hop between Holyhead and Dublin and perhaps deserves a longer route to Ireland in which to stretch her legs or should I say screws!