The Siremar Lines overnight car ferry operates twice per week year-round between Milazzo, Vulcano, Lipari, Salina, Panarea, Stromboli, and Naples. During the winter months, it is the ONLY means of DIRECT transportation from/to Naples and the Aeolian Islands. The ferry departs Naples on Tuesday and Friday evenings. Return crossings to Naples are on Monday and Thursday afternoons.
RESERVATIONS: Cabin and reclining seat reservations are essential from late June through early September, when the Aeolian Islands get overcrowded with Italian vacationers, as well as around Easter. For most of the rest of the year, you don't need to reserve in advance. You can buy your ticket the day of departure. I highly recommed booking an outside cabin with private facilities. I have also used the reclining seats, which I find generally acceptable as a budgetary substitute to the cabins.
FARES: The cheapest fare (deck passage, no reserved seat or cabin) is currently 42.70 Euros from Naples to Lipari. A reclining seat costs 5.50 Euros more. A twin outside cabin with private facilities (double occupancy, otherwise there is an exclusivity supplement) is 21 Euros more than the cheapest fare.
DESCRIPTION OF FERRY: Siremar currently uses the "Laurana" ferry. Sometimes a different ferry is substituted. This ship is really, really beautiful to look at. Here are some photos of identical ships:
Here is my description of the ship and its facilities (I've taken it):
YEAR BUILT: 1989
CONDITION OF SHIP: Could be much better. Routine maintenance (painting, repairing broken public toilets and worn reclining seats/lounge chairs is woefully lacking). Formica floors in public areas are not adequately cleaned and polished, but the ship is otherwise swept clean, free of most litter.
SHIP DIMENSIONS: 122.9 metres in length; 19.41 metres in width (403 feet by 64 feet). Nine decks, including: deck 5 has the reception area and cabins; deck 6 has cabins aft and the cafeteria up front; deck 7 has the reclining seat salon aft and the bar lounge up front, as well as the full-length open-air panorama deck; deck 8 has the unused and roped-off swimming pool and open-air plastic benches aft; deck 9 has open-air plastic benches. Ship displaces 10,977 tons, travels at a very leasurely 17 knots, and accommodates 272 vehicles in a large garage.
ELEVATOR: a small elevator connects the garage with decks 5 and 6. This is extremely useful for bulky or heavy luggage
CABINS: 170 twin cabins, most with private facilities. Many cabins are communicating with an inside door which is opened only upon request for families who have booked side-by side cabins. Both exterior (one porthole) and interior (no porthole) cabins available. A few interior cabins have no private facilities, and cost a bit less. Exterior cabins measure approximately 10 feet in length by 5 feet in width. Upper and lower bunks measure 6 feet in length and 24 inches in width. The upper bunk is unfortunately sloped downward on the open side and has no railing, hence giving some travelers the sensation of potentially slipping off. Mattress is firm; pillow too thin. Clean sheets and wool blanket provided. Bathroom (3 feet by 3 feet) has an airline-type toilet, brand-new sink with soap and hand towel, and a marine shower. There is a desk and chair under the porthole. There is air conditioning and adequate electric lighting, including reading lights for both bunks. A card key opens the cabin door. Each bunk costs 21 Euros over the deck passage fare,
RECLINING SEATS: 200 in a single closed salon; 10 across and in pairs. Green padded fabric. Recline approx. 45 degrees. Adequate leg room (greater than economy class on airplanes), and footrests. Lights in salon are turned off during the night. Cost 5.50 Euros over the deck passage fare.
ADDITIONAL ACCOMMODATIONS: 112 seats on hard plastic benches in a small closed salon behind the reclining seat salon on deck 7. This salon is opened only during the peak summer season.
OPEN AIR ACCOMMODATIONS: 400 open-air seats on hard plastic benches on decks 8 and 9.
TOTAL PASSENGER LOAD: 772 in cabins and inside reclining seats, lounge chairs or plastic benches.
CAFETERIA: 50 tables with 200 seats on deck 6. Menu includes a small selection of primi piatti, secondi piatti, cold cuts, cheeses, fruit plate and bread. A generous portion of penne with tomato sauce costs 4 Euros. The cafeteria closes before and after dinner.
MAIN BAR: 24 tables with 96 lounge chairs on deck 7. Additionally, there are 24 sofa seats which are used as make-shift bunks by passengers who can't afford paying a 5.50 Euro supplement for a reclining seat. Television kept on throughout the night. Bar serves liquor, soft drinks, coffee and light snacks. Warm croissants served at breakfast. The main bar and cafeteria are connected by an internal staircase. The bar is not manned between midnight and approx. 5 or 6 a.m, but the lounge is kept open all night. Bar opens for one hour prior to early morning arrival.
MAIN PROMENADE DECK: On deck 7, it runs the full length of the ship, and affords fantastic views. Can be accessed for the entire duration of the crossing. There are numerous hard plastic benches for seating.
MORE OBSERVATIONS: During good weather, the crossing is super-smooth. Noise in cabins is low, with only some engine rumble. Cafeteria food is acceptable. Prices are comparable to those in a cafe on land. During very bad weather, some port calls can be cancelled (and islands passed over).
BEWARE: Always double-check schedules before departure. The transportation situation to the minor islands off of Sicily is in a state of uncertaintly because of the increasing budgetary pressures to reduced state subsidies to local operators. Without these subsidies, crossings would certainly be cut or even suspended. Earlier this year, it was believed that the Naples/Aeolian Islands crossings would be eliminated during the winter, but extremely strong public protests caused local authorities to postpone any such cuts.
NOTE: During the summer, there are also DAYLIGHT crossings to and from Naples on hydrofoils, which cut travel time in half (four hours to Stromboli; six hours to Lipari). However, hydrofoil fares are usually double those of the car ferry. You can also take the train to Milazzo and connect to a hydrofoil to the Islands.