One of our most popular pages is our guide to discount Isle of Wight ferry travel, but the guide is rather long now so I thought it was time for a roundup for first time holidaymakers to the Isle of Wight (I'll do a separate guide for resident Islanders another time).
The first thing to grasp is that the ferry companies (Wightlink and Red Funnel) operate their car ferries much like a budget airline or a hotel chain like Travelodge. That is, the prices go up as the ferry places fills up.
So, the earlier you book your Wightlink or Red Funnel ferry, the cheaper it will be. Similarly, if you can catch a ferry at an unpopular time then you will pay less. Saturday lunchtime in the school summer holidays is obviously more popular then 11pm on a Wednesday in January. Admittedly that’s not much help if your self catering changeover day is Saturday.
I haven’t quite worked out if Wightlink and Red Funnel release their new batches of ferry tickets routinely or not (train companies release tickets three months ahead). If anyone knows the answer, please get in touch.
The same pricing structure doesn’t really apply to Isle of Wight ferry foot passengers on Wightlink, Red Funnel and Hovertravel (Hovertravel only do foot passenger tickets). The prices fluctuate a bit based on time of day, but generally you can just turn up and pay the same in August as you will in January.
The next thing to consider is whether there are any offers or discounts on Isle of Wight ferries which you can exploit. My favourites are discount codes and promo vouchers which turn up fairly regularly (we keep these up to date on our ferries guide) and the Wightlink deal with Tesco Clubcard or for disabled blue badge holders.
There are other loopholes and deals added regularly to our ferries guide, such as Wightlink’s deal with Camping and Caravan Club Members, but I won't start listing them all here.
Another key point is that the car ferries charge per car rather than per person. It might not be practical to share transport with another family if you are staying for a week, but it is worth considering for a short break or if you are travelling for a festival (Isle of Wight Festival, Cowes Week, Bestival etc). If you are travelling alone and won't use the car much then it will be cheaper to come as a foot passenger.
If you are booking accommodation then there is sometimes a bundle deal to be had. For example, Park Resorts often give free off peak ferry travel to their four Isle of Wight caravan parks, whilst Warner Leisure Hotels and Blue Chip currently offer a discount. Some smaller independent hotels and guests houses also get special rates.
There are other tips, tricks and loopholes in our more comprehensive guide to discount Isle of Wight ferry travel.
Shocking news - I've changed my mind about Ryde.
I've always been a little bit rude about Ryde, in the British way of being rude about somewhere or someone without actually being too direct. If anyone told me they were planning a holiday to Ryde I would say something like "Oh wonderful, have you considered Shanklin?"
My polite prejudice was established over many years in which we rarely visited the town, instead heading over to the West Wight for beaches or Newport for shops. I never disliked it strongly, I just preferred other Isle of Wight towns.
Anyway, with a two year old to entertain we returned to Appley for the first time in a while. After passing the seafront bowling alley (which also has laser tag now) and ice rink we got to a new looking paddling pool. The various jets and sploshy things didn't seem to be working but our little one was delighted. Well, she mostly insisted that she watched me paddle from the side but one day she'll enjoy it and the other little splashers seemed to be having fun.
Further along was a decent playground right on the seafront with lots of new looking slides. The wind was so strong that I wondered if the hovercraft had parked up next to us, but it was obvious that it would be an idyllic spot for a play on a less windy day.
The beach itself was slightly more sheltered and the tide was so low that it looked as if you could walk to Gunwharf Quays, pick up some discount Levi's and then walk back to the beach. Best of all the beach was properly golden and soft - the kind of sand that you can sink your feet in to rather than the sort for building sand castles (you'd have to walk towards the sea a bit for that).
There was a lone kite flyer who had picked an excellent day and had a huge amount of space to lark around with hardly anyone else around, and not many dogs to yap around his feet, which kite flyers usually have to put up with.
We had planned to carry on to Puckpool Park, which has its own entertainments but we were running out of time. On a previous wintery visit the former Harcourt Sands site was looking pretty sorry for itself but hopefully that will see happier days soon.
The main downside with Appley is the recent introduction of parking charges to what was previously a free car park. On my first trip to Appley as a driver some time ago I remember searching around with bemusement for a parking meter, unable to accept that there wasn't a council nearby looking to squeeze a few pounds out of me.
Maybe it was the sunshine talking, but I concluded that Ryde wasn't all that bad after all. The town has loads of independent shops now, there is enough on the seafront for a full day with children of any age, plus it has the country's oldest pier, which makes the view a bit more interesting.
I'm sorry Ryde, let's be friends.
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