Tips to get the most from your Brittany Ferries Trip
Okay, so you are thinking of crossing the English Channel as part of your holiday. Well, we have now crossed the English Channel more than 20 times and have learnt a lot along the way. Keep reading for our tips on how to reduce stress and enjoy the views, the shopping and the fabulous food while on board.
Brittany Ferries cross the English Channel every day of the week, offering both day and night crossings. Departure and arrival ports differ with day or night crossings, so you have to find the crossing that suits your itinery the best. For the England to France journey, we depart from Portsmouth and arrive at Saint Malo. When travelling from France to England we depart from Caen and arrive at Portsmouth.
- Bookings: Book early! Especially for peak holiday times such as July, August and early September. European summer is a very busy time, particularly at the end of August when school holidays end and early September when the new school year starts. Many people use this service to commute to work for the week between England and France and visit family regularly so make sure you don’t miss out on getting tickets for the day you want and book early.
- Passports: Have passports in your hand luggage or in the car with you and not at the bottom of your suitcases in the car boot. You will have to present these to the officer at the first booth of Border Control. Believe me, you will be happy not to unpack your boot in the chilly air getting to your passports which have been placed in your bag, you guessed it … underneath everything else!
- Booking reference: Have your booking reference either pre-printed and handy with passports or have your confirmation email downloaded on your phone. Have your mobile handy (if you have downloaded it) so you can advise staff of your booking number. Remember you may not get mobile coverage whilst you queue at the ferry terminal to get through to Border Control so have email contents already downloaded and preferably also take a screen shot. Not having this information will definately hold up your movement in the queue and my goodness, the queue is enormous (purely because the ferry takes so many cars across with each journey) so you really don’t want to hold yourself up.
- Accommodation: There are different options to cater to all budgets and needs. You will see people sleeping on lounge chairs scattered throughout the ship with their belongings tucked under them, passengers heading to their pre-booked recliner chairs in the designated sleeping lounges, and passengers bustling to their cabins with luggage. To make the most of our sightseeing hours, especially in winter, we do night time crossings. We feel a cabin is essential for a night time crossing. We get a four berth cabin. This was easy when we first started crossing as the two littlest shared a bed. Now we buy a very cheap douner and rug and the shortest of the family sleeps on the floor. Last trip this was me!! In the mornings we find a random fellow passenger who is grateful for our gift of new douner and rug. This is a much more economical solution to a second cabin and it has worked so far. There are a number of reasons for this rationale. Kids get exhausted and travel better with a good nights sleep under their belt! Cabins have ensuites so everyone is showered, clean and ready for the next day of touring. This is particularly important when the crossing is part of our return home trip where we may not get near a shower again until after 34 hours of travelling time, unless our flights have enough transit time to visit the airline lounge and have showers. The rooms with a window are a wonderful luxury. Admittedly, often there is not much to see in the night hours but the outside rooms tend to be a bit bigger.
- Car Parking: Cars are parked very closely indeed in the garage decks; sometimes with only
50mm separating them. On packing our suitcases just prior to crossing we usually place everyone’s toiletries and the following day’s clothes in one carry on bag. This carry on bag (we choose Samsonite bags) is of course at the top of all other luggage in the boot, which makes exiting your car much easier when squished for space. Of course, this practice also minimises the stuff in your small cabin.
- Internet usage: If you need to catch up on emails, Facebook etc you must do this as soon as possible after you have boarded because the WiFi signal disappears once the ferry is about 30 minutes distance from the shore (on either side of the channel). The internet password is printed on your door key and free WiFi is accessible on Deck 8 in public areas nearest the cafe. Similarly, you will get signal again when about 30 minutes distance from returning to shore. We find this can be a challenge at night time when eating in the restaurant takes first priority with the hungry kids over sending a work email! Rumbling stomachs usually win hands down and then, by the time your’ve finished your meal, the signal is lost.
- Wake up Alarm: Rather than relying on your cabin’s intercom alarm system, set your own alarm. If you wake up when the intercom alarm and announcements start, you will not have enough time to shower, dress, have breakfast and, most importantly, enjoy the sunrise view of coming into port. It is well worth the effort of getting up earlier to catch the views of the water and harbour upon your arrival. Going outside on the outer decks and enjoying the first views of land and the morning sun is breathtaking.
- Duty free shopping is available on the ferry with a wide selection of wine, spirits, perfume, cosmetics and some small electronic devices. I find making my cosmetic purchases on the ferry trip (as opposed to airport shops) gives me time to remove the excess packaging and to pack my purchases away in my suitcase without the hassle of putting them through extra customs screening. As we all only ever travel with our overhead cabin sized Samsonite bags, every little bit extra makes a difference. I always throw away all packaging, labels, store bags etc. to save every bit of space in my bag.
- Les Abers Restaurant is a must for dinner if you want to experience an indulgent French buffet dining experience. Regular travellers make their way quickly to the restaurant upon boarding to enjoy the sumptuous buffet (forget the WiFi signal in the first 30 minutes if your take this dining option). I suggest no afternoon tea if you plan to enjoy this buffet dinner as the choice and abundance of food is worth making the most of.
- This is probably the most important tip. Make sure you note the deck level and door number closest to your parked car. It is very easy to get confused if you don’t return to your vehicle via the same door and you will never find your car if you don’t return to the correct deck. This can be a distressing experience with everyone bustling around as you worry about getting to your car before unloading begins. When the unloading from the garage decks starts, it is a fast process with the huge metal decks being lifted or lowered depending on which level you have been instructed to park on. Trust me on this one … really!
Please note my personal tips are particularly relevant for night time crossings however they are also helpful if you plan a day time crossing. Daytime crossings have movies to watch and dining options are slightly different. I really hope you enjoy your holiday and particularly your ferry crossing.
schedule and fare information: Brittany Ferries ferry routes
to join clubvoyage for discounted fares: Brittany Ferries Voyage Travel Club
information, advice and ideas Twitter: @BrittanyFerries
I’d love to know if our tips were helpful to you, or if you have any further suggestions you can add to ours… please let us know by leaving your comment below.
Thanks and happy travelling… Annette xx
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