The thought of travelling by ferry to Brittany, or anywhere, for that matter, originally had no appeal to me whatsoever. I had memories of a ferry ride years ago, where the boat listed from side to side, the food consisted of plastic boxed sandwiches and when I got home and went to bed, it felt as though the room was still lurching around.
I have now enjoyed quite a few more recent ferry journeys and what a pleasant contrast to my earlier experiences!
The ferry from Portsmouth to St.Malo in Brittany takes between 10 and 12 hours depending on whether you are coming or going to Brittany. The journey to Brittany is normally at night, leaving at around 8pm and arriving about 8am the next day. The journey back to England leaves at 10.30am and arrives back in Portsmouth at 6.30pm
Now these sailing times sound horrendous, but genuinely the journeys themselves are really pleasant, particularly if you view the sailings as an addition to your holiday, not just a lead-up.
Generally, when you get to Portsmouth ferry port, the booking-in is very straight forward and you then drive onto your a parking area on the ferry, where you are handed a card which reminds you where you are parked. It’s easy to forget where your car is on such a big boat.
Then taking anything you may need from your vehicle, such as an overnight bag if you have prebooked a cabin, or a book and something warm to wear just in case, you then proceed to the passenger areas of the ferry.
Brittany ferries have several eateries, including an a-la-carte restaurant, a self service restaurant and a snack bar. There are also bars and a cabaret entertainment area, where you can enjoy a selection of alcoholic drinks and cocktails and non-alcoholic beverages.
For relaxation there are plenty of comfy seats and free wi fi in parts of the ship.
The self service restaurant is more than adequate to enjoy inexpensive food and beverages. Just grab a tray and whizz around the various offerings; there are a variety of sandwiches, a decent selection of main meals, starters and desserts in the cold shelf and wines, teas and coffees near the till.
If you decide to use the a-la-carte restaurant, get there early. The dining experience on the ferry is wonderful and shouldn’t be rushed, so give yourself plenty of time to enjoy it. This is apart from the fact that if the boat is busy, there will be plenty of others heading for this restaurant. Very often, we see passengers who have delayed coming to the restaurant having to queue, so dump your bags in your cabin and get a table as a priority. You can then relax and settle down, and turn your attentions to fulfilling your thirst and hunger requirements.
Typically, after the selection of a bottle of wine or other beverage, you are then invited to select from the menu one of two choices. The first is a complete set menu with the usual starter, main and dessert, which means you can remain in your seat, or choose option two (my favourite) where the starter is a self service selection from the buffet of some wonderful offerings such as salmon, prawns, salad and accompanying dishes.
You then choose one of a selection of main course dishes which are brought to the table by the waiting staff, after which it’s back to the buffet area to help yourself to a vast selection of cheese and biscuits, and then it’s time to pile your plate high with the most exquisite array of desserts.
Coffee is then served, and you can then wander off to the cabaret area, where there is normally a musical duo or singer, before turning in and either relaxing in one of the reclining seats or going to your cabin.
The cabins, whilst small, are intelligently laid out, and depending on which style of cabin you booked, will offer tea and coffee facilities and a TV showing a selection of multinational channels.
The cabins either face out or in, the ones facing out have a window – sorry porthole, which are the more popular, and have a bathroom/toilet/shower arrangement, which actually works very well. There is coat hanging space, wi fi, and the beds are quite comfy.
You are woken up the next morning with some gentle music, and then it’s off to breakfast which can be taken in the a-la-carte restaurant, or the self service, after which it’s back to your vehicle feeling refreshed and ready for the onward journey into Brittany.
Compare this mode of transport with a plane journey, long queues, soulless airport facilities, expensive snacks, uncomfortable cramped plane seats, miserable weary faces… give me the ferry every time. The costs are comparable when you factor in airport parking, and the extra cost of the hire car in Brittany. Ok, so the journey by ferry takes longer, but you are sleeping through most of it.
The journey back from St.Malo to Portsmouth is normally during the daytime, and again is a pleasant experience, especially when the weather is good and you can relax in the sunshine whilst surrounded by the ocean, there are a couple of outdoor relaxation areas to be enjoyed, and if you are a smoker, these are the only places you can do so.
Bearing in mind that many people pay just to enjoy a cruise, if you have that same mindset, then the journey between England and Brittany is just a wonderful, pleasurable extension to your holiday.
The Club Voyage card saves 30% off the cost of your journey, plus a virtually free breakfast for you and your guest when you use one of their overnight cabins, and friends and family benefit too by saving 10% on their journey. If you take your car on the ferry on even just an occasional basis, you would be silly not to get one!