On a budget, in style

Family delights in train and boat travel from England to Dublin


The whine of "Are we there yet?" never passed the lips of our children during a full day of travel in December.

Wanting to experience a bit of the countryside, yet still escape the chilly winter temperatures, we made our destination a toasty train/ferry ride from London to Dublin. Best of all, tickets cost a mere 27 pounds per adult and 15 pounds per child.

Husband Bob, our three girls, ages 3 to 10, and I were on a 10-day trip from Naples, Italy, and had just spent several days in London. Our trip began at London’s Euston station, where we had a hot chocolate in the snazzy concourse as we waited for the train. The train left punctually and stops along the way were swift, with even short ones announced in advance by conductors.

Our children felt like the Jetsons when they pushed the oversize buttons at the end of the cars, the doors making a whooshing sound as they opened so we could pass through to the next car. We crept through the "Quiet Car," which prohibited the use of cell phones and asked passengers to keep their voices at a hush. We reached a snack bar that sold coffee, sweets, chips and sandwiches.

When the novelty of touring train cars wore off, we settled into our seats and watched grazing sheep, fallow fields and leafless oak tress through the window. Towns came and went with their clusters of red brick houses and A-line roofs.

The 3½-hour train ride passed almost too quickly.

By the time we reached Colwyn Bay station in Wales — we saw it was also called Bae Colwyn — placards were written in both English and Welsh. The houses along this track weren’t crunched together anymore, but instead their distinct stone and mortar structures dotted the base of the hills.

When we disembarked at Holyhead, signs directed us to the ferry gate. We checked our bags at the front entrance. Then a bus shuttled us to the dock, where we raced down several long ramps until we entered the ferry. The plush velvet seats, the two levels to explore, and even a liquor bar for adults that served, among other things, pints of Guinness, made us feel that we’d landed on a small cruise ship.

We ate fish and chips at the warm food buffet, then headed to the children’s play area, replete with video games and a jungle gym for the little ones. Within the hour of sailing along the Irish Sea, we opted for the cinema that offered movies for both adults and children. But watch out — everything on the ferry costs extra and the movies were no exception: 6.25 pounds for adults and 4.25 pounds for children.

The crossing left us enough time after the film to sit at the front of the ferry and relax by the bay windows. The kids fixed their attentions on the flat-screen TV showing a sitcom while my husband and I watched the tiny lights of the Dublin skyline dance closer and closer.

We arrived at the port well past dark, and we yawned a little. But we had just spent eight hours of travel in which the trip was as important as the final destination, traversing England, Wales, the Irish Sea and reaching the capital of a new country — all on a reasonable family budget.

Barbara Zaragoza is a military spouse stationed with her family in Naples, Italy. E-mail her at bzzaragoza@yahoo.com.


Know & go

SailRail is a partnership between U.K. train companies, ferry operators and Irish Rail. You can book tickets online at www.sailrail.co.uk/index.php or by calling (+44) (0)8450-755-755.

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