I will be writing a full report on Irish Ferries’ French operations for FERRYcompass magazine. However, in the interim here is a brief overview of my experiences.
The Rosslare - Cherbourg/Roscoff routes have a great schedule departing Rosslare at 16:00 in the afternoon and arriving in France at 11:30 the following morning. Sailings ex France are at 18:00 ex Cherbourg and 19:00 ex Roscoff. The result is the civilised pattern of events I’ll outline below.
Following boarding at Rosslare we found our cabin (an upper deck (8) inside ensuite 2-berth cabin), we had an almost identical cabin on the way back. As with many ships built in the early 1980s the cabins are not particularly large but both of ours were clean and comfortable.
Throughout the ship were staff to assist passengers on boarding. At this point I must pay tribute to the NORMANDY’s crew. Without exception the crew are polite and friendly, they remember your previous round at the bar, they greet you when you pass them, they wish you a pleasant meal or thank you for your custom. Most of the crew come from the Baltic States such as Latvia or Lithuania but not just their English is perfect but so is their French and some could also be heard speaking Spanish, Italian and German to travellers from those countries. The appearance of the crew is also perfect – every one of them in a perfect uniform.
They are a real credit to the ship and it is obvious the senior officers on the ship (mainly British) are running an effective operation.
There are two main passenger decks - 7 and 8. On both decks are cabins forward, there are also cabins along the sides of the upper vehicle deck areas on decks 5 and 6 and on deck 2 and a reserved reclining seat lounge on deck 5.
Deck 8 port amidships is the waiter service Renoir restaurant and aft the large Boylan’s Brasserie self-service restaurant.
Deck 7 amidships has the Café Lafayette to port offering snacks and beverages – as far as I can make out it is open for virtually the whole crossing. Also in this area is a childrens' play area and amusement arcade. To port is the shop run by the Nuance group, a hair and beauty salon and also some arcade type seating. Aft of this is the reception area followed by the huge Molly Malone’s showbar with the famous tiered seating arrangement. This lounge impressed me as much as when I first saw it in a Sealink brochure when the ship was the ST NICHOLAS. There is a full scale stage at the aft uppermost level – on each side of the stage are quiet lounges seated by a glass wall and heavy curtains – to port is the Beckitt Reading Room and to starboard the Monet lounge. Despite their proximity to the bar they are an adult only oasis of calm with superb aft views. Port on Deck 6 is a “Teen zone” featuring some arcade games and also a cinema.
There are extensive outdoor areas on decks 9 and 10 (Tuskar Promenade) which prove very popular in better weather.
Throughout the ship was spotlessly clean and in the restaurants and bars tables were cleared quickly. For a ship of 24 years the outdoor areas were also very respectably kept with evidence of fresh painting. It is fair to say, however, that some areas of the ship could benefit from some refurbishment but few ferries couldn’t unless they are brand new of have had significant refurbishments in the last few years.
Enjoying a drink as Captain Paul Sellers took the ship out of Rosslare we prepared to relax and enjoy our crossing.
We had dinner in the Renoir Restaurant where a superb meal is served for €29.75. For starter we both had Terrine of Wild Boar whilst for mains I had Oven Baked Salmon and my travel companion Grilled Sirloin. For dessert I had Chocolate Corruption and my travel companion Black Forrest Gateaux. This was followed by coffee (included in price). The meal was easily up to the standard of any decent city centre restaurant but at that price much less expensive – faultless with excellent service and attention to detail (bread, proper napkins etc).
We spent most of the rest of the evening enjoying a traditional Irish two-piece act play in the bar and having a few drinks to get our holiday off to a great start. Weather conditions were good and a reasonable night’s sleep was possible.
We had breakfast in the Renoir Restaurant which was excellent value at €13.85 – included in this price is fruit juice, a selction of breads, a choice of cereals and a main course (either traditional Irish, a healthy option (fruit etc), grilled kippers or a cold meats selection) and tea or coffee.
We were kindly able to pay a visit to the bridge to meet Captain Paul Sellers and get some insight into the operation of the ship. The morning part of the sailing to France in good visibility is a treat with the Channel Islands visible.
We spent the next week in Normandy seeing places such as Bayeux, Caen, Coutances, St Lo, Arromanches and even venturing as far as Paris. We rented a fantastic old countryhouse www.caperdu.com.
Holiday over it was back aboard the NORMANDY for our return crossing and once again the ship and crew were of similar description.
We again had dinner in Renoirs – this time I had the Thai Fishcakes for starter and the Butter Chicken Fillet whilst my companion had the same choices as the outward trip. For dessert we had Black Forest Gateaux and Hot Apple Crumble. Again the food was excellent but with a very busy restaurant service was a bit slower, though I guess nobody was in a hurry.
As the evening progressed weather conditions worsened due to the tail-end of Hurricane Gordon and it got fairly lively at times. Indeed by the time I left the bar at around 23:00 the ship (with around 500 onboard) was virtually deserted. The motion of the ship was lively enough but I’ve experienced worse and I did manage to get some sleep. With quite a swell remaining we didn’t fancy too heavy a breakfast and settled for filled baguette from Boylan’s Brasserie which was perfectly adequate.
Thanks to Chief Engineer Bob Ives I was able to have an engine room visit – despite the age of the ship she is being very well maintained by her crew and they are very proud of their work.
Arrival at Rosslare was an hour behind schedule at 12:30 due to the severe weather the previous night.
The NORMANDY is well worth travelling on. She possibly isn’t the most luxurious of vessels by contemporary standards but the food onboard is excellent, as is her crew and the overall product very enjoyable.
At some stage in the not too distant future it seems reasonable to assume that Irish Ferries will replace the ship with something a little newer. Given that the route already offers an excellent product I think with a few more frills possible by more modern tonnage it really will be a product that others will find hard to match.