Irish Continental Group has signed an agreement for a new, €144 million cruise ferry to operate between Ireland, the UK and France.
The 50,000-tonne ship, to be built by German company Flensburger Schiffbau-Gesselschaft & Co., will accommodate 1,885 passengers and crew.
"The construction of a cruise ferry of this size will offer a premium experience for all our customers," said IGC's chief executive, Eamonn Rothwell.
Passenger facilities spread over four decks are set to include bars, restaurants (both á la carte and self-service options), cinemas, shops, onboard facilities for pets and dedicated lounge areas for Club Class passengers and freight drivers.
435 cabins will include suites with their own private external balconies (a first for the fleet), along with deluxe and standard class accommodation.
A dedicated car deck will have capacity for 300 cars, and the ship will also have a capacity for 2,800 lane metres of freight (165 freight vehicles).
By contrast, Irish Ferries' Ulysses, which launched in 2000, weighs a similar 50.1k gross tonnes, but carries up to 2,000 passengers, 1,342 cars and 240 trucks.
Ulysses (above) is built for short crossings, however. It has just 248 passenger berths, including two-bed window suites - none equipped with passenger balconies.
The new ferry will be designed "to best meet the operational seasonality of our business," ICG said, and is likely to be introduced on routes served by the chartered ship MV Epsilon (currently year round services between Dublin and Holyhead midweek, and between Ireland and France on weekends).
In essence, the ship will bring continental standards to shorter crossings, as well as bumping up capacity alongside the 1,440-passenger Oscar Wilde on French routes.
The cruise ferry will also adhere to 'Ice Class' specification, meaning it has a strengthened hull capable of navigating icy seas, which the company says will allow for a wide geographic area of operation.
The ship is scheduled for delivery in May 2018.
“Today’s announcement by Irish Ferries is a real vote of confidence in Irish tourism and good news for future visitors," said Niall Gibbons, CEO of Tourism Ireland.
“As an island, the importance of convenient, direct access cannot be overstated – it is absolutely critical to achieving growth in inbound tourism."
Ireland clocked record overseas visitor numbers in 2015.