My short boating holiday in Ireland gave me valuable insights into Shannon cruises. I’ve got tips on how to choose an itinerary, where to book and what to expect if you rent a boat on the Shannon.
I have spent many weekends exploring Ireland over the years and I’ve always looked with envy at families on Shannon cruises. I’ve cruised on ships all over the world, and usually enjoy a boat trip when I holiday abroad, so I figured it was about time I tried one of the top things to do in Ireland – rent a boat on the Shannon.
Choosing the right Shannon cruises
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Emerald Star pride themselves on being the market leader for boating holidays in Ireland, and they have been operating on the River Shannon for nearly 50 years. They are the name I always associate with Shannon cruises and I knew I would be in safe hands.
Emerald Star are owned by Le Boat, who have the world’s largest fleet of self-drive boats to hire, however, Le Boat is still known as Emerald Star name in Ireland.
After we checked-in at Le Boat in Carrick on Shannon we were immediately brought to our boat and given a complete tour by our friendly host John. Nothing was left to chance, he went through everything on board and gave us top tips for navigating the River Shannon.
John brought us on a quick test drive including showing us how to navigate under bridges and park the boat. The service we received was excellent and we felt completely at ease setting off to cruise the Shannon.
I was delighted with our boat, Caprice 4, she was a beauty, and so well equipped. As well as two ensuite bedrooms at the front of the boat, there was a spacious saloon at the back with Satellite TV (I’m still amazed that we had Sky News on a moving boat!) and a large seating area – which could also sleep another two guests if necessary.
We were able to steer from inside the boat and on the top deck, where there was another seating area as well as ample space to sunbathe, should the weather Gods be good to us.
There was heating on board, a galley kitchen with cooker and hob, fridge and microwave, and thankfully, plenty of hot water for showers and a stereo for sounds.
When docked in large ports you can access ‘Shore Power’ if you want to use a hairdryer, but while cruising there is ample power on board to charge phones etc.
How to choose a River Shannon cruise itinerary
While choosing the right boat provider was an easy decision for me, deciding on which route to take was a different story. I booked a three-day cruise rental from Carrick on Shannon and naively thought I would be able to pop into The Glasson Lakehouse for lunch.
While the two might be an hour’s drive from each other, the journey takes eight hours by boat! Once we realised that our boat only went 5 – 10km per hour, and that it can take up to an hour to pass through the locks, we knew we had to change our itinerary plans.
Life moves a lot slower when cruising the river Shannon, which is not such a bad thing! See more on Shannon cruise journey times here.
Luckily, we received an email from Le Boat before our trip, outlining popular itineraries, cruise times, and what to expect on our 3 day cruise on the Shannon.
The email provided links to safety videos and advised what to bring, where to park at Carrick on Shannon, as well as a form to add passport details for a seamless check-in process.
After our quick sailing lesson with John, he recommended we make our way to Lough Key Forest Park. This is an ideal destination for a cruise on the Shannon with kids.
There is a marina there with plenty of outdoor and indoor activities for families. We visited here recently so decided not to visit this time, but I would highly recommend Lough Key Forest Park – you can read about our trip and activities available here:
Our 3 Day Cruise on the Shannon
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Storm Betty had other plans for us so we had to delay our Shannon cruise hire by a day – this meant we only had two nights on the Shannon instead of the usual three.
We decided to take the short one hour spin to Leitrim town on our first day to further familiarise ourselves with the boat. We parked easily and popped into Carthy’s Bar at Lock 17 for a pint and a game of pool.
We returned to Carrick that evening, just in time to watch Ireland beat Tonga in their warm up match for the Rugby World Cup, and enjoy tasty burgers and steaks at Buffalo Boy Steakhouse.
Top Tip: Carrick on Shannon is a busy town with a lively atmosphere, especially at weekends, so my advice is to pre-book restaurants. The Oarsman and The Red Bank came highly recommended but were booked out during our visit.
I suggest booking restaurants in other popular towns on the River Shannon too, especially during peak season.
The weather improved the following day so we set off early with a plan to stay in the town of Dromod for the night. If we had another night we probably would have made it as far as Tarmonbarry, but we didn’t want to be under time pressure to make it further along the Shannon in such a short space of time.
If there was ever a more apt time to use the quote ‘the journey is the destination‘, then cruising the Shannon is it. Cruising your own boat is such an exhilarating experience. The fact that Caprice probably cost €250,000 to buy new might have had something to do with it, especially when we were crouching down to fit through one of the narrow bridges!
No licence or experience is required for Shannon cruises, but our boat was surprisingly easy to drive and we had no problems navigating our way along Ireland’s longest river.
Every boat has a laminated map of the River Shannon with markers clearly outlined, which you can see easily on the river. This is a nice way to get kids involved too – Alex watched out for markers and told us when to turn.
We felt a sense of pride waving to fellow boaters when they passed by. It didn’t take long to get the hang of it, and after a few hours we felt like pros!
The whole experience was so relaxing and peaceful. I loved the variety of deep open lakes and narrow tributaries as well the gorgeous Jamestown Canal, and all surrounded by Ireland’s lush green landscape.
I always enjoy holidaying in Ireland but this hit differently – it had all the feels of an overseas adventure, yet I was only two hours from home.
We stopped at Grange for lunch, in a little pub called The Silver Eel – don’t you love how you find places that you never even knew existed? We were able to park our boat right outside the door and enjoyed tasty light bites on the terrace.
Two hours later we arrived in Dromod. This is a gorgeous little fishing village in Leitrim that I rightly guessed won numerous tidy towns awards! Clearly it was a top Shannon cruise stop as the harbour was lined with cruisers, and we were lucky to get a spot to dock our boat.
All of the fellow cruisers we met along the way were extremely helpful, especially in Dromod and at the locks, there were no shortage of people to help us.
I booked the highly recommended Cox’s Steakhouse for dinner, and it didn’t disappoint. There was a great holiday atmosphere, the staff were extremely friendly and the food was delicious. The main dining room is a little dated so when booking I would reserve seating in the bar instead.
It was such a treat to be able to enjoy a meal and bottle of wine and stroll back to our cruiser afterwards – this is part and parcel of what a boating holiday in Ireland is all about.
Top Tip: There is no shore power in Dromod so don’t plan on using a hair dryer there!
We left at 8am the following morning to make it back to Carrick on Shannon for our 12pm late check-out – which we had pre-booked. There was a beautiful sunrise, the kids were sound asleep, and there were very few cruisers on the water.
There was no wind either, and it felt so peaceful, with only the morning chorus to cheer us on. It was the perfect ending to our little adventure and I knew immediately that I wanted a Shannon cruise to be annual trip. I’ll make sure to book for longer next time.
Top Tip for cruising the Shannon:
I can’t stress enough how important it is to plan short distances on your first cruise on the Shannon. Although passing through the locks on the River Shannon was easier than we expected, they can take a long time.
We spent an hour at Albert Lock in both directions and if you happen to arrive near lunch time (when they close), you could be there for over two hours.
The locks close at various times during the year and earlier on a Sunday – opening times are all listed in the guide book on board. Locks are all manned on the River Shannon, so if you miss the deadline you won’t be able to make it through. Incidentally most locks are automated on the Erne Waterways.
How to book Shannon cruises
Le Boat / Emerald Star offer three and seven day cruises on the River Shannon with prices starting from €319 for three nights and €719 for seven nights in September on Lake Star, a two-bedroom boat that can sleep up to six. There is also a 25% saving on 2024 departures.
Extra costs to be aware of on Shannon cruises
A Security Deposit of €2500 is payable on arrival at the base and is refunded in full when the boat is returned undamaged. A non-refundable waiver of €34 per day is available and the refundable security deposit is reduced to €350 if the waiver is paid.
A fuel deposit is payable on arrival at the base and is refunded before the fuel cost is paid – €150 for short breaks, €250 for 7 nights or €350 for 14 nights. The fuel cost depends on how much you travel, the cost for our boat, Caprice was €17.12 per engine hour.
I hope my post on Shannon cruises will inspire you to book a boating holiday in Ireland soon. While every effort is made to ensure accuracy, prices, services and facilities are subject to change. We were guests of Emerald Star, Le Boat.