x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Familes should be prepared to set sail

Boat or plane? Which is the best way for families to travel? I know our preference. If there's a choice, like pirates we'll take to the high seas rather than ascend to 10,000m.

Boat or plane? Which is the best way for families to travel? I know our preference. If there's a choice, like pirates we'll take to the high seas rather than ascend to 10,000m. I know other families think we've got water on the brain to prefer sailing slowly and sedately towards our destination. It takes so much longer to travel by ship, they say. Despite all the airport awkwardness, why not just hop on a flight and be there in an hour or two?

I then let the flighty family know that I've conducted proper experiments on a certain short route, putting the boat versus plane choice to the test. When we went to Ireland, we chose to take a car on the ferry rather than fly. It was a very long journey: it took us seven hours to drive from London to Holyhead to catch a ferry to Dublin City port. (Without kids, it would have taken five.) Then it was another six hours on the other side to reach our final destination. We could have flown there in under two hours.

But the voyage across the Irish Sea was one of the best bits of our break. For 110 minutes, we felt fully human. We ate a proper hot meal at a table. The eight-year-old twins took out their binoculars and searched for ships on the horizon. As night came and the moon danced on the crest of the waves, we learnt how to tell the difference between port and starboard by the red and green lights of the passing ships. Meanwhile, the lights that attracted my teenager were on the machines in the games arcade. There was even a cinema on board to amuse her. It's surprising how beneficial such a lull in a journey can be. There's no such brief relief when you fly short haul; it's all getting on and off and trying to keep the kids under control in a confined space.

There are plenty of other places, all over the world, where we've been faced with the choice of sailing or soaring. Within Europe, we've cruised to Copenhagen and ridden the waves to Bilbao. The Cook Strait ferry between New Zealand's North Island and South Island was a three-hour voyage for under 100km, but we spotted a single albatross swooping across the stern - something we could never have seen through a pressurised cabin window. And if we'd flown to Penang from the Malaysian mainland, the kids would have missed voyaging on one of Asia's most historic ferries, approaching George Town as an explorer might have done a century earlier.

Ferries aren't the same as ships. You aren't usually at sea long enough to hire your own cabin. But you are afloat long enough to make it a real voyage, and to make the kids feel as if they've been sailors for a day. So flight or ferry? If I have the time and choice, I'll always sail. Dea Birkett and family travelled to Ireland with Irish Ferries which sails four times per day. The journey costs from US$110 (Dh403) one way (www.irishferries.com)

Do you have family travel tips that you'd like to share? E-mail Dea at dbirkett@thenational.ae