Saturday, November 12, 2011

Any port in a storm - 24 hours on the Cap Finistere ferry

Brittany Ferries Cap Finistere

When we first planned to head to Spain from the UK our trip was going to be 7-9 weeks long so it made sense to take the car. Being a bit cautious of sea-faring vessels, I initially assumed that we would take the short ferry crossing across the English channel to France and then drive, but after our 4 hour ferry crossing from Roslare to Pembroke in September I admitted that Mr Traveller might actually be on to a winning idea. Primarily, the Littlest Hobo would have the freedom to roam around and explore in a way that appeals to any toddler and makes far more sense than having them strapped in a seat for hours and hours on end. .

Cost wise, it was probably about even - to drive we would’ve had the shorter ferry crossing, fuel costs for 14 hours driving (not cheap with European prices) and probably two overnight stops with that length of journey, possibly three if the thought of 3 days of constant travel just seemed too ridiculous. Flying and then hiring a car would’ve taken us way out the ballpark. The ferry to Spain took 24 hours, and cost approx £400 give or take £50 depending on the date we crossed and the cabin we chose.

Our Outside 2/4 birth en-suite cabin

Now that P&O have discontinued this route, Brittany Ferries offer the only option from the UK to Spain - they run two ferries - Cap Finistere and Pont-Aven, and a couple of different routes. We opted for a Portsmouth to Bilbao crossing on the Cap Finistere, which is the smaller of the two ferries. Initially we booked a luxury cabin, the top one offered, which came with a double bed, a tv and a lot more space than any of the others, and planned for the Littlest Hobo to sleep on a fantastic kids air bed that friends lent us. After a bit of a stuff up on my behalf though, (and for those who know us, yes honestly, it was all my fault and nothing to do with Mr Traveller!), we ended up with a 4 birth outside cabin and a refund of £40! I was pleasantly surprised by the cabin, which was on the 8th deck, although there wasn’t a lot of floor space, there was enough room to move about, the beds were a decent size, and Mr Traveller only felt marginally claustrophobic up there on the top bunk. The Littlest Hobo’s bed side even fitted, which was a big plus once it got a bit choppy! The room was en suite, with a surprisingly good shower. The room was well lit, with two plug sockets and piped music available. There was a thermostat to adjust the temperature as you wished, and a large port hole with great black-out curtains.

Dinky-di shower

En-suite bathroom

I couldn’t find much about our ferry online, apart from what Brittany Ferries had on their own site, and a single review on trip advisor which was pretty negative, so I didn’t have high expectations. The food in particular had received bad press, and if our experience on Brittany Ferries was anything to go on, I wasn‘t expecting any sort of gastronomic sensation, I was just hoping it wouldn‘t lead to any gastroenteritis either! The first evening we ate at the Salad Bar which was up on the 10th (top) deck, as the main restaurant couldn’t serve food until 6.30, which proved to be too long a wait for the Littlest Hobo. It was actually surprisingly tasty, if simple, fare. For breakfast, the Littlest Hobo and I had a full cooked brekkie in the main restaurant which was great value given that under 5’s eat free, then took Mr Traveller some breakfast bits and pieces that we’d bought in the Bon Marche cafĂ© shop. All in all, I thought the food was okay, given we were, after all, on a ferry not a cruise.

The other thing I’d been unsure of was the children’s facilities on board - I knew there would be something but not sure what. We quickly discovered the children’s play area on the top deck, which claimed to be for supervised 5-12 year olds, but was perfectly suited to our two-and-a-bit year old and I can’t imagine any twelve year old comfortably using it. The area is covered, but it was a bit too chilly when we were leaving the UK to stay out there for any length of time, although it was great in the warm sunshine the next day. I had been hoping to see an indoor soft play area for small kids like we’d experienced with Irish Ferries, but there wasn’t one. As the Littlest Hobo appeared to be the only child on our crossing (really, I’m not exaggerating for dramatic effect, she really was the only one) she was able to choose which movies we watched in the children’s area, although a few adults gathered around to watch with us once Toy Story 3 was rolling. They also gave her a kids toy box with any food ordered, which contained plasticy, easy to break toys aimed at kids who were a few years older than the Littlest Hobo, but they kept her so happily amused that we barely broke into her backpack of toys that accompanies us on our travels.

Childrens play area on the top deck
Somebody was enjoying it

Mr Traveller has been known to get a bit queasy when out on anything more than a millpond, and the Littlest Hobo had projectile vomited on our last ferry journey (which we suspected to be for reasons other than the ferry, especially given she’d known ferries as a regular form of local public transport for the first 20 months of her life in Sydney, but weren’t sure), so I was curious to see how we would get on going  across the notorious Bay of Biscay, especially as we’d ended up travelling in mid November as opposed to our initially planned early October departure. When we first left Portsmouth all was well, and by the time we went to bed some 3 or 4 hours into the journey, things were getting a little bit rocky, and we’d identified that bending over forward was definitely best avoided, but we all went off to sleep without too much hassle. As far as I recall, the horrendous rocking started at around 11pm - 6 hours into our trip, and reached it’s peak around 2-3am when we were all awake and feeling the brunt of the extreme rocking and rolling. At that point I was thinking never again, but in hindsight now it seems less dramatic, although I am glad we’re driving up through France on our way back, and I won’t be rushing to suggest another 24 hour ferry in the near future. We got off the boat about 4 hours ago and I still feel like I’m bobbing about as I lie stretched out in my wisely booked room on my comfortable bed in Bilbao.

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