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Ferry to France -tips?

(20 Posts)
kerchow Thu 25-Jun-15 08:04:36

We're travelling by ferry from Portsmouth to Caen next month with our two DSs aged 9 & 6. It's our first time travelling by car on a ferry & to be honest we're a bit clueless (& I'm a bit nervous!) about how it works so wondered if anyone has any tips to make it go easier? Also the crossing is 6 hours & the outbound journey is overnight so would it be sensible to book a cabin or will we be alright in reserved seats?

Heels99 Thu 25-Jun-15 08:47:07

Book a cabin then you can all get some sleep, it's not easy sleeping in a chair on a lounge with hundreds of other people and you don't want to arrive tired and grumpy or too tired to drive safely.

Take travel sickness tablets before you leave.

Food on board is usually very good

Make use of the entertainment eg cinema or disco for kids

Don't forget those things you need to put in your car headlights when driving in France

mrsronswanson Sat 27-Jun-15 06:20:29

I would book a cabin if you can. We did the 6 hour day time crossing last year. On the way to France the sea was very calm, but on the way back was much choppier and the the only thing that made me feel better was lying down completely. There is quite a bit of entertainment to fill the time - normally I really enjoy the ferry crossing.

Jenijena Sat 27-Jun-15 06:42:37

I've done that route quite a few times. Would much rather go by ferry than plane on holiday!

The Portsmouth Caen route overnight doesn't give you a huge amount of time to sleep. Definitely book a cabin to give you all some time to sleep and a bit of privacy. They'll do travel costs for under 1s.

Worth getting the children changed into their pyjamas whilst waiting in the ferry queue.

They will park you very close up to other cars on board, you will not have much space to root around your car to find anything or even open the door properly to get out. Get a grab bag(s) with things you want for overnight. They'll give you a little card to say where you're parked.

IMHO even for the daytime journey its worth paying the not very much to get a cabin (they're much more overnight). It gives you a base to dump stuff. Fine to take food on board; but the food on board is reasonable and tasty (it satisfies the French ;))

Portsmouth harbour has lots of things to see and it's well worth getting on deck as you sail back in.

Do you have a long drive either side? Although we live close by, we tend to have a pre sailing meal at gunwharf quays and watch our ferry sail in to 'start' our holiday... Close to Caen are a lot of the D Day beaches and memorials, and you can stretch your legs and have some fresh air if you've had a long drive the other side.

Jenijena Sat 27-Jun-15 06:47:17

In terms of the mechanics, it really couldn't be easier. Follow the signs to Portsmouth, take the ferry terminal exit off the m275, and get in the right lane signalled by the overhead gantries as you enter the port. I think once you've booked in, There's usually two queuing areas, one before and after security. Don't get frustrated that 'they're getting on before us' in the queue - that way insanity and a grumpy dh lies - and drive on the other side of the road when you get there.

Also check the current French requirements for first aid kit, breathalyser, and hi via jackets in your car...

UnspecialSnowflake Sat 27-Jun-15 06:53:22

If it's very choppy steer clear of the cinema. Small, dark, enclosed room plus choppy sea, plus children equals much vomiting <voice of bitter experience>.

ExitStageLeft Sat 27-Jun-15 07:02:16

On the roundabout as you come off the M275 to the ferry port there is a pub on the left that sells cheap food and has a children's play area if you fancy a meal before you board, might be worth tiring the kids out before boarding?

SleepIsOverrated Sat 27-Jun-15 07:15:33

Book a cabin.
Pack an overnight bag with toothbrushes comfort toys and clean knickers - you won't have access to the car once you are on board.
Change kids into pjs when you are queuing - or travel in them anyway.
Expect not to get a huge amount of sleep, but bear in mind if you're one of the lucky ones you'll get loaded quite a bit before you end up leaving, so might squeeze more time.
If you don't have a cabin, try to reserve some seats. And if you can't do that, stake a claim early and don't leave your spot unaccompanied.
Don't let your children run around shouting all night long and try to make sure whichever of you will be driving in the morning gets a few hours kip at least.
Cabin great though - even 5 hours in it will make for a happier next morning. Plus, sleeping in cabin = exciting, so no need to spend lots on cinema, midnight meals, fripperies from duty free (save it for on the way home).
Have some wet wipes and bottled water handy in case of sickness.
Oh. Warm clothes and waterproofs - you might need fresh air and it'll be cold and windy.
Follow the directions of the car parking people on the boat; they'll pack you all in tighter than you'd think possible. And have everything you need to hand as they will want you out of the car and upstairs ASAP to make space for the next row of cars coming in.
If you happen to be towards the front of a row of cars, get back to yours as soon as they tell you to return. There's nothing like the seething hatred of twenty cars stuck behind you because you couldn't use the loo twenty minutes earlier.

EmilyAlice Sat 27-Jun-15 07:15:51

I live near Caen and use the ferry a lot. I would agree with advice to book a cabin, have the children in their pyjamas, go straight to the cabin and grab as much sleep as you can.
I would advise SatNav for the first bit of the journey after you come off. The Caen peripherique (ring) road can be a bit challenging (we once had to stay up until the small hours waiting for friends who had gone charging off to Cherbourg on the wrong road). There are plenty of small cafés in Ouistreham to grab a coffee before you set off. The breakfast on the boat is good too.

littlesupersparks Sat 27-Jun-15 07:20:36

My dad always swore by getting to sleep before the ferry left te harbour to combat his sickness.

EmilyAlice Sat 27-Jun-15 07:38:45

I honestly wouldn't worry too much about seasickness. They are huge boats and very well stabilised. I have never been sick and have done the crossing in all weathers up to Force 11. Anything over Force 6, I take travel sickness pills and I always have a cabin so I can lie down. You would be unlucky to get very rough seas in summer, though obviously it can happen.

Sagethyme Sat 27-Jun-15 08:01:52

For the car french law requires:
High viz jacket
Breatherliser kit
First aid kit
(Next bit may have changed but we also take)
Insurance documents
GB sticker, and you lights may require 'anti-glare' stickers sorry cant remeber the name!

Travel bands can work and may be better for the drivers as travel sickness pill side effects can last 12 hrs and may impact on driving skills!

Driving onto the ferry is very easy.

Book a 4 birth cabin
Take overnight bag with essentials,
Up date you sat nav sytem with French maps or get an upto date map book and plan your route, (french signposting can be challenging! Although massively improved in recent years)

If lots of driving involved make sure children have music they can listen too, and consider car games.

Have a fab holiday!

TheSconeOfStone Sat 27-Jun-15 18:38:00

We did our first crossing last year with a 6 year a turned 4 while on holiday. Ours were both day crossing on the Plymouth-Roscoff route, we weren't ready to attempt night crossings as we have sleep issues (lack of) with the eldest.

It was dead easy and the time passed really quickly. We went to the cinema on the way over. There was a magician act there and back plus a small soft play area. It was well worth booking a cabin even for a day crossing. It's cheap on the day crossings and give you a base and somewhere to dump stuff. It was a little rough on the way back so DH crashed out and DD2 had a nap. I would say a cabin is essential for a night crossing. We managed without a couple of times pre children but it was no fun. The food on board isn't at all bad.

The ferry is easy with kids as they can wander around and you can take bits and pieces to make them comfortable and entertained. My DC loved the ferry, it was part of the holiday.

Take jumpers so you don't get chilly standing on deck getting some air.

574ejones Sun 28-Jun-15 12:37:55

We have done this ferry crossing for years. Be prepared to grab and go as soon as you park on the ferry. If you have a cabin - definitely a good idea if they are still available, you should be able to go there and settle down straight away. They are small but perfectly clean and functional. For adults, I would recommend ear plugs as the cabin walls can be quite thin.

Another thing to think about is taking some breakfast items with you, as it can get busy at breakfast, and you can eat it in the car while you are waiting to disembark.

You will get woken by a radio announcement in a cabin, so no worries about oversleeping either.

TheOneWiththeNicestSmile Sun 28-Jun-15 12:58:03

I doubt if you'll get a cabin this late & the reclining seats run out too so if you can get them, book NOW! The wake-up bongs are terribly early with French time being an hour ahead so get to sleep as soon as you can.

I don't know where you're headed from Caen but do use a road atlas as well - satnavs choose some illogical routes sometimes.

Also, if your satnav has speed camera alerts, turn them off - they're illegal in France.

Hi-vis vests have to be in the car with you, not in the boot.

Have a great time though smile We haven't been to France for years but have a short break booked in August & are really looking forward to it

Allalonenow Sun 28-Jun-15 13:17:14

Pack a small overnight bag with essentials for the cabin, and keep it handy in the car with you as there is little room for manoeuvre once you are on the ship.
When you get to your cabin deck in the lift from the car deck, take good note of which lift it is, that will help you find your correct car deck the next morning.
Take some bottled water with you to the cabin as the water on board is awful.
There is not much time next morning before disembarkation, so get ready promptly and follow instructions.

Before you leave home go to the Via Michelin website, that has instructions for routes, how to leave the ferry port, how much the paeage costs will be etc etc.

Be ready with a card or cash for the road tolls.

kerchow Wed 01-Jul-15 14:41:05

Thanks for your messages everyone. Lots of great tips - I hadn't even considered the seasickness! blush

It turns out we have left it too late & are unable to book a cabin for the overnight ferry so we're now looking to go in the morning. My two DSs are usually good travellers. They're used to long-ish train journeys & have done long haul flights with only minimal fuss & the on-board entertainment sounds right up their street so my next question is it how awful will the journey be without a cabin or reserved seats?!

TheOneWiththeNicestSmile Thu 02-Jul-15 00:08:04

You might still get a cabin on a day crossing (& they're v cheap daytime) but even if you can't, & the reserved seats have all gone too, there will be non-reserved seats.

Try to get on board early though to bag some, & then take it in turns to wander so you can keep your bags there & hang on to the seats.

iwantgin Fri 10-Jul-15 09:42:14

I like a cabin. Even for a crossing of about 4 hours. At least you have space to stretch out, use your own toilet. Have a sleep if you feel like it.

AFter a long drive it is nice to have some peace.

Day prices for cabins are significantly cheaper than night times. I think my last one was about £20. That was a 4 berth *(but only two of us in it)

iwantgin Fri 10-Jul-15 09:43:51

Try and take some supplies with you too.

I pack a cool bag - sandwiches/crisps/small bottles of water and cartons of juice (pre freeze the drinks to act as ice packs!)

There is stuff available on board, but it isn't always that nice.

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