“This is like a scene out of Disney’s Jungle Cruise!”
Captain Zac was right. As we gently cruised along a narrow stretch of inky water surrounded by lush vegetation that was so very very green it almost looked fake, it did feel like we were on a Disney ride. Or perhaps in a Disney film.
Instead we were on a self drive Le Boat holiday through Ireland and we were all grinning at each other and the scenery around us.
While I may have been on a few boats and ships over the years in the past they have always involved a professional captain and crew.
So what happens when a novice decides to go on a self drive boating holiday with a group of fellow beginners? I’m glad you asked.
Trying a Self Drive Boating Holiday for the First Time
I’d been staying in Berlin with my friends Zac and Thomas when we decided to do our first Le Boat adventure together, and we all headed to Tegel airport to start our adventure with two other lovely Germans, Carsten and Uwe.
After flying into Dublin and getting a bus transfer to Carrick on Shannon where we would be collecting our boat I’ll confess I had a moment of terror.
When I saw just how big our Vision 4 boat was and remembered I didn’t know how to drive a boat I went a bit cold. Before booking I’d read LeBoat’s New to Boating advice and it had said that it was easy, you didn’t need any experience and they’d show us how to drive the boat when we were there. But now that I’d gone from theory to getting on board I was a tad concerned.
“Um, does anyone actually know how to drive a boat?” I asked. I was pretty sure I had asked this before but fear was interfering with my memory recall.
When Zac reminded me that he knew his way around one I was greatly relieved and we all quickly decided he would be Captain Zac. But here’s the thing, as the week went on we all took turns at the wheel and all thoroughly enjoyed it.
While I still liked to hand over to Zac whenever we came into a lock or when we were mooring I liked steering us through the channels and across Lochs, both with the wheel and the little joystick that made it so easy to drive. And I’m sure that if I was a bit braver I would have been fine with the rest of it too, so don’t let a lack of experience scare you off the idea.
We were given a book of large maps showing the different sections along the Shannon that was nice and easy to follow along, as well as a guide to the towns and villages we’d see along the way so we could decide where we’d stop to see some sights, have a bite to eat and spend the night.
I quite liked the novelty of navigating, even if I do think it would be helpful if the words Loch and Lock didn’t sound the same, leading to some ‘We’re coming up to a lock. As in the one we go into, not go across’ moments.
Before we were set free on the Shannon we were given lessons and shown around the boat. We had a manual and were given a mobile phone with the base numbers locked in so that we could call with any questions. Which is nice when there’s a strange beeping sound and you don’t know if it’s serious or not (turns out it was not, it was just to let us know the bilge pump was working after we crossed some choppy water).
It may have all been very new to us but it was fun to figure things out as we went along. Within a few days it felt so natural to be living that boating life that we were already talking about where we’d do it again next year.
Life Onboard a LeBoat Boat
While Le Boat has a range of different sized boats for different sized groups, ours was a Vision 4 which can sleep up to eight adults and a couple children in the living area as well.
There are four rooms with two single beds and their own bathroom with toilet and shower, the living quarters downstairs and a large deck including a BBQ above with areas for both lounging and eating and drinking with a view.
We had a full sized fridge with a freezer compartment so powerful it turned vodka into slushy ice in the kitchen along with an oven and cooktop, coffee machine, kettle and toaster and all of the plates and cutlery we needed.
The showers had surprisingly great water pressure, even temperatures and were roomier than I’d expected after having some tiny shower moments on boats before. A plastic screen with press studs helped keep the rest of the bathroom dry as we were splashing about.
Towels, linen and blankets are provided, and the beds were so comfortable we all slept like logs. In fact when I woke up late the first morning and realized I’d slept for 11 hours I thought I was the last one up. Turns out everyone else was still in bed and that wasn’t the only time we enjoyed a mega sleep that week.
I’m not sure if it was the air vents or thin walls but one thing to keep in mind is sound does travel between the cabins so you may want to pack some earplugs and not discuss anything you wouldn’t want your neighbour possibly overhearing. And I wish I’d thought to pack slippers so that I could have cosy toes after taking my shoes off at the front door. The boat itself wasn’t cold inside but the floor could be sometimes so slippers would have been great to have handy.
While our suggested packing list included toilet paper and washing up liquid, after we bought some we discovered there was plenty of both already on board. It may have been left by the previous guests so one tip is check the cupboards and adjust your shopping list before you head to the store.
And speaking of shopping, we were very happy to discover that the lovely people at Kelly’s grocery stores deliver to your boats. And what a great idea that is too.
We first discovered this at Carrick on Shannon, the absolutely charming town with friendly people who can’t do enough for you. When one woman overheard us in Kelly’s debating how we should get to Tescos to buy a few extra things (oh, okay, drinks) that Kelly’s didn’t sell she insisted on driving us up there and back.
We then returned to Kelly’s with our extra bits, loaded them into their delivery vehicle with all of our Kelly’s groceries and then had them delivered to the boat.
Within a couple of hours of arriving we’d had our introductory boating lessons and done enough shopping to feed us for days. So we did the sensible thing and headed straight to the pub.
Exploring Ireland’s Countryside by Boat
Ah yes, Irish pubs. Over the week we cooked quite a few of our own meals on board but those Irish pubs are so good you’d be crazy not to tuck into some of their food along the way.
Two absolute standouts from the week were the Oarsman in Carrick On Shannon and Keenans at Tarmonbarry which both serve award winning pub food. Then there was the unexpectedly outstanding Thai meal when we happened across the little Thai restaurant Kin Khao in Athlone.
The biggest town between Carrick on Shannon and Portunma, Athlone is also home to the oldest pub in Europe according to the Guinness Book of Records. Sean’s Bar has been around since 900AD and has a beer named just that, which we popped in to try on the way back to the boat after our delicious Thai.
Over the week we had the chance to see the beautiful crosses at Clonmacnoise, the ancient monastery where people from all over Europe would come to be educated in the Middle Ages. Some of the High Kings of Ireland are buried in this old graveyard, and as I have always loved a Celtic cross this was a special stop for me.
Another highlight was Lough Key, which was technically a little bit north of where we were starting our south bound journey, but there was still plenty of time to head up for a visit before coming back down again.
At Lough Key there is a beautiful castle on an island in the middle of the loch, and you can spend the night moored with it in sight. A wonderfully dramatic backdrop to see last thing at night and wake up to.
Lough Key is also home to some very unusual trees, like nothing we’d ever seen before, and well worth wandering around and admiring. There’s also all sorts of outdoor exercise equipment dotted around the walk for those who would like to get the blood pumping.
As we explored the Irish countryside we kept being blown away by how beautiful it is, and how many shades of green you can have in one scene. The colours are so rich and vibrant with all of those greens against water that’s so dark and inky blue it’s almost black at times.
As we travelled along we passed white swans and their little cygnets the occasional horse and cow, and at one point we cruised alongside a golf course, so close that we could say hello and smile at the golfers out enjoying their day.
Throughout the week the weather kept us on our toes, switching from blue skies and hot sun on our skins to rain so cold it almost felt like sleet. I’d go from putting on 30+ sunscreen one moment to covering up with a jacket, scarf and beanie the next. So it’s best to be prepared for all conditions.
As well as meeting lovely locals it was fun to chat to fellow boating travellers along the way, and we soon discovered most of our fellow LeBoat-ers in Ireland were from Germany. Which made the English and German translations for things along the way make more sense.
That said Aussies like Zac and I are cottoning onto how much fun it is to see Ireland and other parts of Europe this way, and so the number of Australians is also increasing.
When the trip sadly had to come to an end we returned our boat to Portumna and made one last meal on board. As we had decided to pay for the cleaning fee rather than worry about making everything spick and span before we left it meant we could simply pack, straighten things up and enjoy our last hours on board.
While Carsten and Uwe had to return to Berlin, Zac, Thomas and I stayed on a few extra days to see more of Ireland by land, including the fascinating Birr Castle which was just a half hour’s drive away.
To make life nice and easy, Hertz can deliver rental cars to you at the boat depot, so there’s no need to try to get a taxi to the nearest pick up point. We were then able to drop the car off at Dublin airport before jetting out.
While prices vary as they rent boats by the boat rather than per person, by the time you divide it by the number of people on board it’s usually around $60-100 per night per person, which is nice and budget friendly when you consider your transport & accommodation for the week is all covered.
It’s also worth checking LeBoat’s Early Bird discount page if you’re dreaming of your own boating getaway and if you’d like to find out more things to do both on the Shannon and around Ireland, Tourism Ireland’s website has some great tips to inspire you.
As we farewelled our boat I said a little thank you to it for introducing me to a new way of travelling with friends, and remembered the words of a wise water rat who once told a mole that there is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.
Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of LeBoat but all opinions remain her own.
Or for a different kind of boating holiday, you may like to find out what it’s like to spend a week on a luxury hotel barge holiday in Burgundy.