Over the last few years, we've been wooed by the wide range of cheap flights available, and we've started to take air travel for granted. But sitting around in the airport lounge waiting to see whether your plane really is going to fly is hardly the most stress-free start to a holiday, so many travellers are rethinking their journeys. With the continent just a few hours away, the chance to forget about baggage weight limits and take your car makes the ferry a very appealing choice.
And while airlines have been focusing on no-frills offers to keep the prices down, many ferry companies have been increasing standards at ports and on-board to make travelling a more family-friendly experience. Your holiday can begin before you reach your destination, and it doesn't end when you check out of the hotel.
That's certainly the case with the new Hollandica superferry launched by Stena Line this week on the route across the North Sea from Harwich to the Hook of Holland.
The vessels – the sister ship Britannica is due to launch in the autumn – will each be capable of transporting 230 cars and 300 freight vehicles, and will have 1,376 beds on board. All 538 cabins have modern en suite bathrooms, and larger windows have been installed in both bathroom and main cabin areas to provide a feeling of space and light. Customers will be able to enjoy on-board services including buffet and a la carte restaurants, cinema, bar, lounge, children and teenager zones and internet corner.
For workaholics who don't want to disconnect completely there will be no cabin steward asking you to 'switch off your mobiles and ensure flight mode is enabled on electronic devices': free wi-fi is provided on board the environmentally-friendly ships and there's reliable mobile reception throughout the crossing as well as a news room, a media room offering newspapers and magazines, and satellite television in lounges and cabins.
Each year, over 45,000 travellers sail from Harwich to the Hook of Holland with Stena Ferries on a trip that takes about six and a half hours. There are both day and night crossings available, and one similarity to low-cost airlines is the price structure: as the cheaper fares sell out, the prices on popular crossings rise, so it pays to book early.
As well as acting as functional transportation, many ferry companies also offer mini cruises which combine one or two nights aboard with short visits to continental destinations. And a night on a well-designed ferry boat sure beats sleeping at the airport.