My family has been dreaming about a trip on the Spirit for a couple of years, so when the opportunity arose to travel to Launceston for a long weekend, we didn't hesitate. (Click here for the 10 best things to do in Launceston with kids!)
We travel on a night sailing from Melbourne to Devonport before spending two nights in Launceston then travelling home to Melbourne from Devonport during the day.
The two experiences are quite different.
Sailing at night brings a real sense of adventure. We arrive at Station Pier about two hours ahead of our scheduled departure, to allow plenty of time to get onto the ship, explore and have dinner before setting off.
Boarding the ship with a vehicle is very straightforward. The staff are efficient and friendly, and it doesn't take long at all. Note there is a quarantine check – Tasmania has strict quarantine laws to prevent bugs and diseases making their way to the state, so don't bring any fresh fruit or vegetables with you.
There are five decks for cars, so don't forget to take a card to remind you where you parked when you get to the lifts.
We descend into the ship's below decks then make our way to our porthole cabin.
Our cabin is cosy and bright, and the kids are excited by the bunks and checking out the view.
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We eat a delicious buffet dinner at the Tasmanian Market Kitchen while the ship is still stationary. Lightning, 9, loves choosing his own food, while El Guapo, 5, is most excited about dessert.
The ship departs on time at 7.30pm and we are on our way!
We head to Deck 9 for the best view of the Melbourne skyline – it's best to get up there within about 15 minutes of the ship departing. Take the stairs at the rear of Deck 7 to get up there.
When the kids get tired, we head back to our cabin and prepare for bed.
Lightning and I fall asleep relatively easily but El Guapo and my husband find it a tougher proposition. Neither of them are seasick, but they seem to notice the movement more than my older son and I.
The water is calmer and flatter while the ship is still in Port Phillip Bay; once she's in Bass Strait there's a definite change. In the bay, it feels like the Spirit is cutting through the water, while in the Bass Strait there's more of a sense of moving across the waves, which means a little more up and down motion.
I definitely recommend aiming to get kids (and possibly adults) settled in bed in the first couple of hours of sailing to make it easier to get to sleep. My husband also finds it easier to sleep when he has a couple of pillows to elevate his head so that he’s a little more vertical.
None of us require seasickness tablets, but then again none of us usually suffer from car sickness or motion sickness. If you are worried about being seasick then I suggest taking the medication while the water is still calm (ie while the Spirit is still in Port Phillip Bay) before the sickness might actually hit!
Soon enough we are all asleep. In the morning, we wake around 5.45am to a gentle announcement that the ship will be arriving in Devonport soon, with disembarkation to begin at 6.30am.
We had planned to have breakfast before getting off, but getting four people dressed and packed in a cabin was never going to be a quick process! We decide to eat in Devonport after disembarking instead.
Getting off the ship is as smooth as getting on. Passengers are called to their vehicles deck by deck to minimise waiting around.
We're soon on our way to Launceston (after a guilty fast food breakfast!) for a couple of days of fun, including the chairlift at Cataract Gorge and several visits to the amazing Riverbend Park.
Our return trip on Spirit of Tasmania from Devonport to Melbourne starts early, as it's about an hour's drive from Launceston to Devonport. We wait a bit longer to get onto the ship on the return leg, as we haven't arrived as early, but it still only takes about 25 minutes to park our car – this time we are on the sky deck.
We hadn't originally planned to book a cabin for our day sailing, but we are glad we have our own space once we're on board. Even though the ship is relatively quiet for our trip, it's nice to be able to retreat somewhere with walls and a closed door to rest and freshen up. This respite would be even more welcome when the ship is busy.
To pass the time we have tickets to the cinema. Movies for younger kids are typically scheduled for the first session of the sailing, so grab your tickets and a choc top at The Pantry on Deck 7 once you've boarded, then head to the cinema to ensure you don't miss out. You can check out the program in advance – tickets are $10 for adults and $5 for kids, which is cheaper than an ordinary cinema!
After our movie, we grab some pizza for lunch at the Top Deck Lounge on Deck 10. It's next to the kids' play area, which means we can keep eating and relaxing while the kids burn some energy after the meal.
At the other end of Deck 10 there's a free gaming zone with X-Box consoles pre-loaded with kid-friendly games such as Pacman and Minecraft.
My husband and I take it in turns supervising the kids while giving each other a chance to relax in the cabin.
When the Tasmanian Market Kitchen opens for dinner at 5pm, we are ready and waiting as we plan to eat then shower the kids so that, when the Spirit arrives at Station Pier at 7.30pm, we can drive off and get them straight to bed.
The menu is almost identical as our outgoing journey – but be aware that it's not a buffet dinner on the day sailing. You get one main meal and a drink and you need to pay separately for dessert.
Disembarking is even faster on our day sailing as the ship is not very busy. We are on our way home within 15 minutes of being called to our car, and have the kids home in bed soon after. It's very straightforward.
FAQ on Travelling on the Spirit of Tasmania
How long does it take to get to Tasmania on Spirit of Tasmania?
How much does Spirit of Tasmania cost?
Like flying, there's a lot of seasonality in the Spirit's fares. There are also other factors that affect your ticket price, including whether you're bringing a vehicle, the length of the vehicle, and the type of accommodation you choose.
Keep an eye out for special discounts on selected sailings throughout the year, and Spirit of Tasmania have sales and promotions at different times.
Where does Spirit of Tasmania leave from in Tasmania?
The Spirit leaves from Devonport, which is about an hour's drive from Launceston or 2.5 hours from Hobart.
Is food included on Spirit of Tasmania?
Food is not included in your ticket price, but there is plenty of food on board!
You can eat at Tasmanian Market Kitchen, Deck 7, Top Deck Lounge and the Terrace Lounge Bar. Check out the onboard dining and bars here.
What's the best time of year to travel to Tasmania?
That depends on what kind of weather you like! Summer in Tasmania is probably the busiest time of year for tourism, followed by autumn and spring.
Winter in Tasmania gets a bad rap, but Hobart is in fact the third driest capital city in Australia. Festivals like Dark Mofo add a powerful lure to Tasmania's winter tourism schedule.
Is the Spirit of Tasmania crossing Bass Straight a rough trip? Am I likely to get sea sick?
There isn't a simple answer to this question, because how I define “rough” might be quite different to someone else.
What I can say is, the Spirit is a ship – it is absolutely beyond doubt that you will notice movement, regardless of the weather! And the weather may affect how obvious that movement is.
On our sailings, the ship's movement is noticeable without inducing sickness even in the more sensitive members of our family.
I did notice that the water is calmer while the Spirit is still in Port Phillip Bay. So if you're travelling to Tasmania on the night sailing, aim to get to sleep before the ship clears the heads.
If you're prone to travel sickness, you should make sure you have your regular medication with you (or you can purchase non-prescription medications at The Pantry onboard). I also suggest taking the medication while the water is still calm.
Do you recommend Day sailing vs Night sailing on Spirit of Tasmania?
I thoroughly enjoy both the night and the day sailing because they are so different.
The night sailing has the advantage of bringing you into Devonport ready to get on with the day while saving on accommodation costs, but the day sailing is possibly a tad more straightforward for families with primary school-aged children as there are plenty of activities to keep them occupied.
Can I take my pet on Spirit of Tasmania?
Dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, some birds, chickens and ducks are all able to travel on the Spirit. Biosecurity restrictions may apply to ferrets entering Tasmania.
Wildlife such as reptiles, frogs, other birds, water-based animals, spiders, pigeons, doves and rodents are not able to travel on board Spirit of Tasmania.
If travelling with a pet, it is a requirement your pet travels in a Spirit of Tasmania kennel. During sailing, access to the kennels is not permitted. Fresh water is supplied and regular checks are performed on pets throughout the sailing. Bedding is not provided.