Friday 22 March 2019

First Look: Inside the W.B. Yeats, Irish Ferries' €150m cruise ferry

After months of delays and controversy, Irish Ferries' W.B. Yeats has set sail. Here's what it's like inside...

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Free Wi-Fi, spacious suites, an 'Instagram wall' and enough literary quotes to fill a small volume... welcome aboard the new W.B. Yeats "cruise-ferry".

Irish Ferries' €150m flagship, finally sailing the seas after excruciating delays to its delivery last year, was on display in all its glory this week.

Lifestyle language is being dialled up to the limit on this launch, with holidaymakers promised "a whole new era of luxury sea travel" on a the 195m ship.

But do those claims check out?

And was it worth the wait for the 19,000 or so customers who had their holiday plans thrown into disarray by its late arrival?

Boarding the W.B. Yeats from Dublin Port's Terminal 1 this week, I was certainly struck by its scale and distinctive, stubby-looking prow.

Premium cabins: The Thoor Ballylee Suite
Premium cabins: The Thoor Ballylee Suite
A WB Yeats quote by reception
Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' deluxe cabins
Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' entry-level cabins
The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats arrives into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.
Irish Ferries' W.B. Yeats
Lady Gregory Restaurant
W.B. Yeats departing Flensburg
Boylan's Brasserie
The Innisfree Club Class Lounge
The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats arrives into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

The ship, with a capacity of up to 450 cars, 165 trucks and 1,800 passengers, dwarfed a comparatively meek-looking Epsilon docked alongside.

On board, you can't turn a corner without encountering a Yeats' quote ("And I shall have some peace there...") or literary references - from the Abbey and Peacock cinemas to the Hazel Wood "quiet" lounge, or Sally Gardens kids' room.

Cabins range from basic rooms with bunks decked in spanking white duvets to deluxe suites with King beds, couches, flat-screen TVs and sea views.

Three 'premium suites' overlook the bow of the ship and come stocked with towelling robes and Foxford cushions... though a dull, tile-effect carpet and lacklustre colourings I feel edge the spaces towards basic luxury rather than maritime chic.

A WB Yeats quote by reception
A WB Yeats quote by reception
Premium cabins: The Thoor Ballylee Suite
Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' entry-level cabins
Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' deluxe cabins
The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats arrives into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.
Irish Ferries' W.B. Yeats
Lady Gregory Restaurant
W.B. Yeats departing Flensburg
Boylan's Brasserie
The Innisfree Club Class Lounge
The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats arrives into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Living the suite life will cost you at least €699... albeit with breakfast and a cabin steward included among the premium perks.

In some ways, the W.B Yeats feels more like a cruise ship than a ferry - with spacious lounges (one with a flickering fake fireplace), a feature stairwell leading to its shop and a conscious effort to make more of the panoramic sea views.

In others, it still feels like a functional ferry - the 'Drumcliffe Promenade Deck', for instance, is a bare, unimaginative space around the funnel and, while rooms and lounges carry thoughtful natural tones and lighting, the connecting spaces and stairwells between them feel like an opportunity missed.

Could such spaces showcase contemporary Irish art?

Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' entry-level cabins
Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' entry-level cabins
Premium cabins: The Thoor Ballylee Suite
Irish Ferries' W.B Yeats leaves its German shipyard (inset, one of its premium suites)
Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' deluxe cabins
The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats arrives into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.
Irish Ferries' W.B. Yeats
A WB Yeats quote by reception
Lady Gregory Restaurant
W.B. Yeats departing Flensburg
Boylan's Brasserie
The Innisfree Club Class Lounge
The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats arrives into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

Sailings to France start on March 14 and will take around 18 hours, Irish Ferries says - departing at 16.00 and arriving in Cherbourg at 11.00 the following day.

By contrast, Brittany Ferries' recently refurbished Pont Aven, which also boasts a pool and spa treatment rooms, takes around 14 hours between Cork and Roscoff.

On the W.B.Yeats, dining options range from the buffet-style Boylan's Brasserie to higher-end affairs like the Lady Gregory restaurant.

There is no kids' play area, though the Sally Gardens does have big screens and is smartly located between the cinemas and Café Lafayette. You'll also find a large shop stocked with everything from perfumes to sweet treats and souveniers.

The new vessel is also being hailed for its steps towards sustainability, with energy-efficient LED lighting, recyclable straws and lids and engineering innovations such as a Ballast Water Treatment System all steps in the right direction.

The Innisfree Club Class Lounge
The Innisfree Club Class Lounge
Premium cabins: The Thoor Ballylee Suite
Irish Ferries' W.B Yeats leaves its German shipyard (inset, one of its premium suites)
Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' entry-level cabins
Inside one of the W.B. Yeats' deluxe cabins
The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats arrives into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.
Irish Ferries' W.B. Yeats
A WB Yeats quote by reception
Lady Gregory Restaurant
W.B. Yeats departing Flensburg
Boylan's Brasserie
The new Irish Ferries ship W.B.Yeats arrives into Dublin Port. Photo: Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland.

And the price of 18 hours on the ocean?

As we publish, basic sailings range from €146 each-way for two people with a car, with cabins from €74 (bunks with no window) to €379 for a deluxe. A family special also sees a car plus four people from €119pp each-way between March 16 and May 23.

All told, this is a state-of-the-art ferry that squeezes a cruise liner feel into the body of a workhorse that is, after all, designed to get freight, cars and holidaymakers from A to B rather than being the holiday itself. It's a leap forward from the Oscar Wilde.

As for whether it can win back customer trust, that remains to be seen.

Irish Ferries says customer feedback on the W.B. Yeats has been positive, but last year's cancellations, combined with its decision to pull French sailings from Rosslare this year, have done damage - as reflected by comments in our Reader Travel Awards.

Last month, the National Transport Authority ordered the company to pay compensation to passengers for disruption suffered last year.

Irish Ferries has said it is disappointed with the decision, arguing that the delays were due to "extraordinary circumstances" outside of the company's control.

"The NTA's interpretation of the EU regulation was a critical factor in regretfully concluding that we are unlikely to operate the Oscar Wilde out of France out of Rosslare in 2019," it has since told the Irish Independent.

The W.B Yeats in numbers

  • 1,800: passenger capacity
  • 195: length in metres
  • 3: kilometres of car space
  • 51,288: gross tonnage
  • 679: freshwater tanks capacity (tonnes)
  • 22.5: service speed (knots)
  • 7.8: weight of its two anchors (tonnes)

Read more:

Q&A: What are my rights if my ferry is cancelled or delayed?

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