If the idea of plane travel fills you with dread, there are alternatives (depending on where you want to travel). My friend Justine was traveling from the UK to SW France for a family gathering and decided to use Brittany Ferries. She shares the review of her recent trip with husband and 7 mth old son in tow.
We sailed on the way from Portsmouth to Caen, and on the way back from Roscoff to Plymouth (we were heading to Devon after France).
The journey time from Portsmouth to Caen was 6 hours and 6 hours again from Roscoff to Plymouth (8 hours at night). We travelled during the day on both crossings. Although the boats were different on each journey they had the same facilities, just a different layout.
Check in was very straight forward. We drove to a cabin, showed our passports and tickets and drove on through – no security check, no opening bags, no testing milk, we weren’t even asked to open the boot (fortunate on the way back as numerous bottles of wine would have rolled out!). You are asked to check in a minimum of 40 minutes prior to sailing.
We waited for a short while parked up outside the boat and then drove on board after about 20 mins. People were waiting inside and outside their cars – changing nappies, stretching legs, eating breakfast. Literally every car around us was full of children, roof racks and bikes!
Leaving the Vehicle
You can’t return to the vehicle once the boat has set sail – which I was aware of after watching viewing a helpful travelling with children video on the Brittany Ferries website.
There is lift access up to the decks and you can take buggies with you. Unless you have a cabin there is no secure facilities to leave luggage so it’s best to take only as much as you are happy to carry.
On the way out we had a 4 man ensuite cabin and had ordered a travel cot which was a smart baby bjorn travel cot. The cot was left outside the cabin for us together with clean sheets.
The inside berth without windows was perfect for complete darkness for daytime naps for all three of us!
The ensuite is small as expected but had a functional shower, toilet and sink.
If you have a cabin I wouldn’t recommend taking a buggy onboard with you as there isn’t much space for it in the cabin.
On the way back we had booked reserved seating rather than a cabin. We didn’t actually sit in our reserved seating as non reserved parts of the boat were more spacious and suitable for a baby to play on the floor and us to stretch out. The boat seemed incredibly quiet on both journeys despite it being July school holidays.
On board restaurants
The boat had 3 restaurants – a self service restaurant, a cafe and a fine dining restaurant!
The food was incredibly good in the first two so I can only imagine it was even better in the fine dining restaurant (Brittany ferries is a French company!). The self service restaurant had an excellent selection of hot main courses, cold plated starters, sandwiches, snacks, a salad bar and a good selection of wine, beer as well as the usual soft and hot drinks. Vegetarians were well looked after too.
There is a reasonably priced children’s menu where you can select hot or cold options, a drink and dessert and it comes with an activity bag including crayons and boat / pirate trivia. There isn’t however any baby food for sale on board.
However there are microwaves by the restaurant where you can warm baby food and bottles and we sterilised bottles too in them (after washing them in the baby change room) ready for our long drive ahead once we arrived in France.
There are also numerous high chairs available at both the cafe and self service restaurant.
There are a couple of baby changing rooms on board the boat (which helpfully aren’t part of the ladies toilets). There are also shower facilities onboard, even if you haven’t booked a cabin.
Shops on board
There is a shop on board selling magazines, newspapers, postcards, children’s toys and books, and family holiday games (think travel size connect four, battleships, dominoes). The shop also sells chocolate, sweets, crisps etc.
There is also a relatively large duty free shop selling predominately alcohol, with a small range of make up, cosmetics and perfumes. The duty free shop also has the usual toblerones and milka chocolates for sale as well as a small clothes range, both adult and children- mainly nautical Breton stripe!
Entertainment on board
There was an area of the boat with a small stage and childrens entertainers. On the way out it was bilingual – one performance/ activity in French, the next in English. On the way back it was all in English- to be honest I’m not sure I heard a French voice on the boat apart from the staff. Entertainment included balloon modelling, magician, family quiz and a disco!
Soft play and cartoons
There was also a small soft play area on the boat and next to it was an area for kids to sit down and watch cartoons.
There are two small cinemas on the boat. Each showed two films during the crossing (4 films in total). At least 1 if not 2 of these were children’s films. You have to buy tickets for the cinema which are on sale at the information desk.
There is also a games arcade and free wifi to keep older children (& adults) entertained. The wifi was a little intermittent and only available in certain areas of the boat.
All of the above is set over 3 floors on the boat so as well as the above activities to keep you occupied with eating, walking around the boat and visiting the outside decks the time went pretty quickly.
We would definitely travel again on Brittany ferries. The journey felt like part of the holiday rather than just a means to an end of getting somewhere. The staff were very friendly, there was plenty of things to keep us entertained and the boat was very spacious and uncrowded despite it being summer holidays.