Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Review: Brittany Ferries Pont Aven

We made the journey from St Malo in France up to Portsmouth in the UK on Monday. We travelled aboard Brittany Ferries Pont Aven, which interestingly enough is the other vessel that does the Portsmouth - Spain route, which we did a few weeks ago, so it made an interesting comparison.

Our crossing took 8 hours - there is a 5 hour option, but it’s on a much smaller boat, and given how choppy the sea was I am eternally grateful that we were on large ferry. In fact, the Pont Aven is the largest on Brittany Ferries’ fleet and also their flagship vessel.

Our experience started well, given that we weren’t parking our car on level 1, right down in the absolute underbelly of the ship this time! And it felt considerably more roomy when we stepped out of our car. We were also greeted by an attendant who handed us a card which had been marked with our deck and stairwell to assist us when the time comes to return to our vehicle - very helpful. Their efficient loading paid off at the other end - we docked at 18.18 and were off the boat at 18.23, whereas on the Cap Finistere it took over an hour for us to get off.

As had been our original plan on the Cap Finistere crossing, before I stuffed it up, we booked the best cabin available, the Commodore Class cabin. Being a day crossing,  you’re not required to book a cabin, but as it’s quite a long time on the ferry we decided we would. They offer a reduced rate for cabins during the day, and it only cost us and extra 50GBP for this little haven of luxury, putting our total cost for the crossing at 200GBP. The cabin was lovely - on deck 8 (the top deck for accommodation) and is equipped with en suite shower, twin beds, plus a large sofa come third bed and a fourth pull down bunk if required. It had two wardrobes, a large area to rest your cases, a tv and dvd player, toiletries and a nice box of fruit and a few macaroons to accompany your hot and cold beverage selection  It also had a balcony, which we took great pleasure in waving a regal goodbye to St Malo port and the one lone onlooker standing at the entrance to the port from as we passed through. The cabin was very spacious and nicely finished, I’d put it on a par with a 4 star hotel room; I could happily spend a week in it, if it wasn‘t on a boat!.

Bed area in the Commodore cabin

On the balcony

The Commodore cabin also gives you access to the Commodore lounge, which is a nice enough area at the back of the boat with an adjoining small private deck area. It seemed nice enough, and although I can’t really see the point of it on the day when we were making the crossing, when the boat is so sparsely populated anyway, I’m sure it’s a welcome retreat, much like an airline lounge in a bustling airport, in high season.

The boat itself has a much nicer appearance than the Cap Finistere. It is more modern with a clean new feel to the public areas. There are a selection of bars and leisure areas offering a change of scenery. There are two cinemas onboard, although to our disappointment they weren’t showing any kids films as they would have been a good way to while away the hours. They do, however, have kids TV playing at a couple of places on the boat, as well as on the tv in the cabin and we were also provided with a list of DVDs that we could rent from the info desk.

The pools are located indoors, with a conservatory style glass roof , and set in a nice bar area, although for some reason it was closed- I don’t know why because it was warm indoors, perhaps due to the rough crossing.

The pool area

The childrens play area was also indoors on this vessel; in a much smaller area overall. There was a soft play/climbing area and an area with small kids tables and chairs (but nothing to do on them). There was also kids TV playing in the area. I was a little disappointed with the kids facilities on Brittany Ferries after our experience earlier in the year on Irish Ferries, where there was a large play area and a kids cinema which made the crossing go really quickly. Having said that, there were quite a few children on that crossing and very few on our trip on the Pont Aven, and when we crossed to Spain we’re fairly confident that the littlest hobo was the only kid onboard. '

As far as the food goes, we took breakfast on board with us as we’d made one last stop at a Boulangerie on our way to the ferry port. Breakfast is actually included in the Commodore cabin, although we didn’t have it. We ate lunch and dinner from the self service restaurant, and were pleasantly surprised. The food mas nicer than that which we had eaten on the Cap Finistere. There was a good selection of food available, although I was really disappointed that they didn’t offer either a kids menu, or kids portions of the adult menu,  especially as it wasn’t particularly cheap.

The littlest hobo and I whiled away an hour or two in the main bar in the afternoon; there was a live singer and we enjoyed sitting at the table with our magazines and a couple of toys listening to the music. It was a sizeable bar which was probably only about 10% full while we were in there. In fact, the whole boat was very sparsely populated and this added to the feeling of space that we got from the Pont Aven. The other benefit of booking a spacious cabin was that it made a great Christmas disco venue (just add iPad for the tunes), which kept a certain mini traveller amused for a good half hour - every second counts!

I’ve come to the conclusion that any ferry crossing around this area at this time of year is going to be a rock and roll experience. But at least on the Pont Aven it was minimised thanks to the size of the vessel. I much prefer the Pont Aven to the Cap Finisiere, partly because it’s a larger ferry so the waves are less uncomfortable, but also because it’s newer and better fitted out. The Commodore cabin was excellent value and worth every penny, and I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t take this option if it‘s available, even more so during the high season when the boat is full and the public areas teaming.

I’m surprised to admit that I’ve been gently persuaded on ferry travel. I really wasn’t convinced before - I hated the thought of it, but I can definitely see the benefits now. It cost us far less than our trip would have if we had flown and then hired a car, gave us the flexibility that having a car with you brings, and with little children it’s an obvious choice- hours strapped into a car seat (or plane seat0 or a few hours running around on a ferry - I know which one the littlest hobo would pick, every time. And happy kids leads to a much less stressful travel experience

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