This updates a previous posting from 2009.
A few introductory observations:
1. There are five "ports of call" on Sardinia which have passenger car ferry service from the Italian mainland: Porto Torres (useful for Sassari and Alghero), Golfo Aranci, Olbia (these two useful for the Costa Smeralda and La Maddalena Archipelago), Arbatax and Cagliari.
2. The MOST BEAUTIFUL entry port is Cagliari (making a morning arrival exceedingly worthwhile).
3. There are both overnight and (during the tourist season) daylight crossings to Golfo Aranci and Olbia. There are only overnight crossings to Porto Torres, Cagliari and Arbatax. The CHEAPEST transportation is to take "deck passage" ("passaggio ponte") on one of the daylight crossings.
4. The FASTEST crossings are: Piombino/Olbia 4hrs. 30 mins. and Civitatacchia/Olbia (5 hrs.). These are both daylight crossings.
5. Schedules are extremely seasonal, and they peak during July and August, when there are as many as three or four ferries between Civitavecchia and Olbia. During the winter, schedules are significantly reduced, and some crossings are suspended. Daily crossings continue nevertheless on Tirrenia to Porto Torres, Olbia and Cagliari.
6. Solo travellers on overnight crossings wishing to save money should consider accepting an airline-type reclining seat instead of a cabin. The FIRST class recliners on the Tirrenia ships are supposed to be quite comfortable (second class recliners less so, resembling airline coach class). There is usually a steep supplement for the exclusive use of a cabin, although it is also usually possible to book a bunk in a quad cabin shared with strangers of the same gender. The ship operator websites have photos of the cabins and recliners offered. The cabins all have private facilities.
7. All ships have cafeteria and bar service, as well as at least one public lounge, often with satellite television reception. Most of the ships also have a formal restaurant with tablecloth service, a movie theatre, a shopping arcade, and other public facilities. Not all amenities and/or facilities are open during the winter months.
8. If you have limited time and/or don't like ferries, FLY to Sardinia from mainland Italy! In some cases, you'll find low-cost flights for less than or around the same fare as a recliner on the ferry. And the flight will take under 60 minutes! However, in some cases, you may save money by booking "deck passage" on a daylight ferry.
9. Remember that these are FERRY SHIPS and not cruise ships! Even though some of the larger vessels are "luxurious" ferries, they are ferries nonetheless. Don't expect a cruise ship!
10. Most of the ferries are quite large and seaworthy. The largest are the twin Grimaldi ferries between Civitavecchia and Porto Torres, which displace 53,000 tons and are 738 feet in length (larger than WWII battleships and many transatlantic ships of the 1950s). The Tirrenia ferries (seven of eight ships displace 36,000 tons or more and are 702 feet in length) carry up to 3000 passengers and 1000 automobiles.
11. Advance reservations for cabins on OVERNIGHT crossings are ESSENTIAL during the SUMMER, although almost never needed from mid-September through late May. During the winter, there are very few passengers on most of the ferries, which cater primarily to freight operators, big-rigs, and truck drivers.
12. Due to the financial crisis and lower passenger demand, the number of ferry crossings has declined significantly compared to two or three years ago. Only Tirrenia Lines operates year-round on all its routes, utilizing eight ships. GNV and Grimaldi have become seasonal operators, while Moby and Corsica Ferries are also primarily seasonal.
HERE ARE THE CROSSINGS:
1. TO CAGLIARI (Tirrenia only, overnight, all year-round)
From Civitavecchia: (13 hrs.): ONCE DAILY (twice weekly calling at Arbatax: 15 hrs)
From Napoli (13.5 hrs.): TWICE WEEKLY
From Palermo (11.5 hrs.): ONCE WEEKLY
From Trapani (9.5 hrs.): ONCE WEEKLY. Return crossing daylight only
2. TO OLBIA
From Civitavecchia (5 to 7.5 hrs.): ONE to FOUR DAILY on Tirrenia and Moby. Tirrenia operates year-round. Daylight crossings summer only.
From Livorno (6.5 to 9.5 hrs.): ONE to THREE DAILY on Moby, most of the year. Daylight crossings during spring and summer.
From Piombino (4.5 to 8.5 hrs.): UP TO ONCE DAILY on Moby, spring and summer only (daylight and overnight).
From Genova (10 to 12 hrs.): THREE WEEKLY (winter) to TWO DAILY (summer) on Tirrenia and Moby. Tirrenia operates year-round. There are a few daylight crossings in summer only.
3. TO GOLFO ARANCI
From Livorno (6.5 to 11 hrs.): ONE to TWO DAILY on Corsica Ferries most of the year. Daylight crossings in spring and summer.
4. TO PORTO TORRES
From Civitavecchia (7 hrs.): TWO to FIVE WEEKLY on Grimaldi Lines (spring to early autumn only). RETURN crossing is by daylight.
From Genova (10-11.5 hrs.): ONE to TWO DAILY on Tirrenia and Grandi Navi Veloci (SNAV ship). Tirrenia operates year-round.
5. TO ARBATAX
From Civitavecchia (10 hrs.): TWICE WEEKLY, year-round on Tirrenia
From Genova (18 hrs.): TWICE WEEKLY, year-round on Tirrenia
Here are the operators:
NOTE: The summer-only daylight fast ferry between Fiumicino and Arbatax, operated by Tirrenia, was discontinued several years ago.