October 25, 2016
Journey: Dover-Calais-Dover • Carrier: DFDS
First Impressions: The perpetual roadworks at Dover make the last 10 minutes getting to the port stressful. But it is a short crossing of one-and-a-half hours for nervous sailors, and the Premium Lounge and Priority Boarding options get your trip off to a good start.
Pre-departure: I arrived an hour early for the 10.40am sailing, and had plenty of time to go through the ticket and passport checks, before going to the head of the Priority Boarding queue. Within 15 minutes we were rolling onto the ferry. The advantage of this (unlike on an aircraft) is that you are first off the other side.
Pre-departure in Calais: The security checks were more stringent, with the car boot being checked twice and our passports inspected three times. We were told that the ferry was going to be 20 minutes late, but it made up the time on the crossing.
The Hospitality – Dover-Calais: The Calais Seaways, which was shabby and in need of a makeover. We were the only guests in the Premium Lounge. I had a glass of Prosecco, looked at the complimentary pastries and went to find some proper food. The self-service restaurant was only offering a selection of English breakfast items or a steak with chips and salad. The steak was actually rather good, cooked to order, and served in a friendly manner. My companions went to the Café Bar and said that the baguettes there were disappointing. The Freight Drivers’ Lounge and Restaurant was busy, and I suspect the food there was better. An unexpected bonus onboard was a complimentary copy of the DFDS-branded Beano.
The Hospitality – Calais-Dover: It was a different experience on the way back on the recently refurbished Côte des Dunes ferry. The Premium lounge had leather sofas and good views. There was an espresso machine, Twinings tea, White’s lemonade, Elm Spring water, Pepsi Max and Café Bronte biscuits. There was new Porcellite crockery and Olympia coffee mugs. The complimentary Prosecco was Villa Sandi. Apart from a good selection of newspapers, there was also complimentary wifi throughout the ship. There was TV in the lounge, but also in the communal areas, with a well-equipped Games Arcade for big kids and a play area for small ones.
The Experience: The outward trip was sub-standard, but the return was fine. On a trip to France, I’d expect complimentary Champagne in the Lounge rather than Prosecco, and a much better choice of food in the restaurant.
The Verdict: Of the three ships on this route, two have just been refurbished. Make sure that you are on one of these, and not the Calais Seaways. It’s only one-and-a-half hours, but if you’ve paid for Priority Boarding and the Premium Lounge, you expect a good standard of accommodation.
Carrier: Brittany Ferries
September 12, 2016
Journey: Portsmouth-Cherbourg-Poole • Carrier: Brittany Ferries
FIRST IMPRESSIONS With all the problems at Calais, and as were driving to Brittany, it made sense to take a longer crossing, placing us closer to the area. It was a great choice. The journey out was less than three hours on a fast jet propelled mini ferry. The return sector was taken at a leisurely four and a half hours where we took a cabin for a little rest.
PRE-DEPARTURE: We turned up at Portsmouth port at 7 for a, 8am departure. No queues and an easy glide through customs and passport control. French immigration is cleared in the UK. Not long after clearing, we were directed aboard. Security is enhanced and one bag was taken out for an xray search.
PRE-DEPARTURE IN CHERBOURG:This was also relatively easy with little queuing although the port facilities for waiting cars is woeful compared to the UK.
THE HOSPITALITY: Portsmouth–Cherbourg. Aboard a fast propelled ferry called Brittany Express this is quite a noisy craft but fast! Not packed and the seating is comfortable. There is a bar area at the front ship and a small self-service snack restaurant in the aft area. Duty free shopping in the middle.
Cherbourg–Poole. This trip was aboard Brittany Ferry’s Balfour, a large ferry and for an extra £25 you get a cabin which was well worth it. On busy crossings this makes an ideal place to get some real rest away from kids and wandering passengers. Our crossing was out of season and the ferry was probably two thirds full with mostly couples and some commercial drivers. Cabins are small and designed for four people but ideal for just two. With four it would be a real squeeze. Ample seating areas sprinkled around the ship and outside space for those hardy enough to experience the sea air. There is one main restaurant aboard, sadly only self-service. It would have been nice to have a sit-down dining experience with waiter service. The food is reasonably priced and of reasonable quality. I took a braised lamb with vegetables and mashed potato. It was hot and generous but not exactly haute cuisine. Our other choice was a vegetarian buckwheat gallette with asparagus and cream mushroom filling. This wasn’t at all bad and at around £7, pretty good value.
THE EXPERIENCE: Given what goes on at Calais, this was an easy and stress-free channel crossing. Portsmouth, Cherbourg and Poole are all less busy and less frenetic than Dover and Brittany Ferries sell a reasonable product.
THE VERDICT: If you’re in a real hurry, then the Eurotunnel is the way, but if you have the time, and you don’t want the stress, then this is the route to take. It costs not much more than Dover-Calais and there’s no risk you’ll have to prise the immigrants off the roofrack.