Having seen P & O’s press release offering a short season of special offer fares for foot passengers on the Dublin - Cherbourg service, we were determined to try it out.
After a bit of research, we found that the best way for us to get to and from Dublin was by Euromanx, on their Beech 1900 aircraft from Ronaldsway (18 seats – 17 passengers plus one stewardess!). This was our first experience of the company, and we would recommend them for a cheerful, friendly and efficient operation.
We had a morning to take in the delights of Dublin before heading for P & O’s terminal. Check in was in the passenger lounge, and we were transferred from there by mini-bus over the stern ramp to deck 3 of European Ambassador, by the passenger lift. We obtained our cabin key from reception on deck 4, then took our luggage to the cabin on deck 5 before exploring the ship.
The ship has cabins on decks 4 and 5, however all of the main passenger lounges are on deck 4, forward of the information desk. To the port side of the information desk is a small room of gaming machines. Heading forward, there is a shop, which sells a wide variety of products, including clothing with the ship’s name embroidered on it.
Carrying on forward, on the starboard side, there is a children’s playroom, fitted with all of the usual equipment to help keep smaller people amused. Just ahead of this, in the centre of the ship, is a video lounge. Further forward, on the starboard side, is the "Club lounge" – fitted with reclining seats. We next come to the cafeteria, which is in the central core of the ship, with tables on both sides of the companionway. This is mirrored on the port side of the ship with a similar cafeteria for lorry drivers. Aft of the lorry drivers’ lounge, on the port side, are the crew and officers’ messes.
Heading forward again, we arrive at the main lounge and bar area. The port side is designated as seating for lorry drivers, and has its own wide flat screen for television/video broadcasts. The remaining area is for car drivers/ ordinary passengers, with the centre area being for smokers, and the starboard side non-smokers. The wide screen television in this area could be viewed from almost all seats, and was showing BBC 24 war coverage for much of the time, although we were able to watch both the Grand National and the Boat Race during our trip! There is good forward and side visibility from this area, which is immediately under the bridge.
There are outside deck areas that can be accessed from the bar/cafeteria areas, and from deck 5. Heading up brings you to a large open area on bridge deck forward of the funnel, which has 3 bench seats on it. There is a bulkhead half way along this deck which restricts access to the forward section to crew only, although there are a couple of sheltered windows with forward visibility.
Our scheduled 13.30 departure broke away from the dock berth at 13.37, under the command of Captain Alan Leech, and we headed out into Dublin Bay with light winds and under a sunny sky. The turn took us south along the coast to Wicklow Head. Stena Europe crossed ahead of us on her Fishguard – Rosslare passage at 16.45.
The evening meal service (both evening meal and breakfast are included in the fare) began at 17.30. A variety of food was available, including a carvery roast. As we relaxed into the evening, we concluded that it had been too long a day to wait up to look for lights on Land’s End, and so we retired to our cabin!
We were aroused by an alarm clock in an adjacent cabin in time to note Cap de la Hague at 05.55 (French Time). We were knocked up at 06.30, and the wake up call was followed about 15 minutes later by the loudspeaker broadcast of Enya, singing "Sail Away". Breakfast started from 07.00. We noted the arrival of the Cherbourg pilot boat while we were enjoying breakfast, and he was on board at about 07.29. We then held off the West entrance briefly to allow Pride of Cherbourg out on her 07.15 sailing to Portsmouth before entering the outer harbour ourselves, and proceeding bows on to No 4 berth where our scheduled 08.30 arrival was all secure at 08.10.
Once the freight was discharged, a bus came on board to take the 20 foot passengers off (the previous week’s sailing had taken 4). Our surplus luggage had been locked away in the games room, as cabins were to be emptied, despite the fact that we were to occupy the same one on our return journey.
We decided to walk into town along the old road, inland, and parallel to the new dock road. As we walked inland, we heard our first cuckoo of spring, followed by a ship’s 3 whistles, which we pondered about while we continued our walk into and around town. Along the old road, we noted that there were a few open food shops, including a small supermarket, but in the town centre there was very little life, this being a Sunday morning.
We walked back to the old Transatlantic terminal, (we still think of it as the Mona’s Queen Terminal !!) now a museum, and noted that our ship had moved, and was now bows out on Number 3 berth, giving us an opportunity for some photographs – we would have been able to have many more photos had we known in advance that she was to move around. (That cuckoo must have been talking to us!!!).
As we made our way back to the new ferry terminal, we noted the existence of a "duty paid" emporium within the dock precincts – worth a look if only we had taken a car with us. After time for refreshment at the terminal bar, we were bussed back on board.
While we were in the terminal, European Diplomat had arrived on No 3 berth from Rosslare, and Barfleur had arrived on No 2 from Poole. Our 15.00 departure was at 15.04, ahead of the European Diplomat, which should have been away at 14.30, but which was still loading traffic.
On the return journey, we asked if we could be put in touch with one of the officers, for a short chat about the service in general. We were delighted when the captain made himself available to us for a few minutes. He was very positive about the service and its future, and hopeful that the passenger only side of the business may be extended. The move between berths at Cherbourg was a pre-planned one. We had loaded in Dublin with a view to quick discharge from two levels, which needed the double deck berth. Loading was not so time sensitive, and could be done readily from No 4 berth, which also meant that the ship could be turned for a quick get-away. European Diplomat needed to be berthed on No 3 berth, as this is able to take the weight of the new Dublin tramcars that are being shipped via Rosslare currently.
European Ambassador has proved to be an excellent ship. She left Cherbourg on 3 engines, and was to reduce to 2 overnight. She has so much reserve power that she can always keep to her schedules on this run.
We spoke later to the stewardess serving at the bar, Hayley from Wavertree, who spent a season on SuperSeacat 3 two years ago. She was also very positive about the P & O service, although she was still interested to know how the Steam Packet was doing, and which of her former colleagues was still on board SSC2! We were really impressed that everyone on board, from Master down, clearly had an immense pride in their vessel. The senior officers are British (Captain Leech coming from the Wirral, but now living in Scotland), as are the CSO and bureau/shop/bar staff. The remaining crew are predominantly Spanish, but communicate well in English (and can cope with an Irish accent !!). Planning for the future, the European Ambassador’s crew includes an officer cadet.
After an uneventful night, we were woken at 06.30. At breakfast, all the foot passengers were greeting each other as though we had known each other for a long time. As we entered Dublin Bay, we saw the first swallow of spring flying by. There were a number of ships already berthed in Dublin – Ulysses at berth 49, preceded by Lindarosa and Merchant Bravery, and followed by Stena Forwarder, looking strange with her dark blue funnel. The P & O berths were well occupied, with European Envoy in the dock berth, and NORBANK on the upstream Liffey berth. We berthed on No 6 (the downstream Liffey berth) – scheduled 08.30, and all secure at 08.29.
After again waiting for the freight discharge, we were taken off in the mini-bus, a few at a time, and dropped at the dock entrance. One family group, with a tight train connection to make, were taken to Heuston station. Others either had their cars parked in the staff car park, or were expecting taxis. We set off again on foot, as we decided that there was a photo or two to be had from the other side of the bridge – we had all morning again before we needed to make our way to the airport.
Conclusions: We had a thoroughly enjoyable round trip, and recommend both the ship and the route to fellow enthusiasts. This route appears to have settled down well in it’s first year, and the extended season is an indication of P & O’s confidence in it. The on board suggestion is that the European Ambassador is also settling down well on the Dublin – Mostyn service, but what that route really needs is to provide a balanced service, with 2 ships of the calibre of the European Ambassador – she definitely needs a sister.
Jenny and John Williamson