Portsmonth to Santander: 24 hours on board with a one year old.
As we decided to leave the comfort of our warm home and move into a motorhome in probably one of the coldest months of the year (yes, genius idea I hear you say), we took the decision not to drive through France into Spain but to book the ferry/cruise from the UK directly to Northern Spain across the Bay of Biscay. The reason for this was that we wanted to avoid any snowstorm incidents, and freezing weather, of which France has suffered neither this month (Sods law!).
The other main reason to take this transport option was to save lots of travel for Ethan, a couple of thousand kilometres on the van and to get to the better weather, faster. Or so we thought! We’d planned to head South asap once we arrived, but it now seems Southern Spain and it’s promise of warm weather year round is having a weather phenomenon this year with freak snow storms and floods! Crazy. The north of Spain is where we would try to stay for a bit longer.
Booking the ferry was pain free. You have two choices to Spain from Portsmouth, an economy service or a cruise. The economy service is 30 hours long, with not much in the way of facilities. It has little in the way of luxuries. It was at the time of booking £100 cheaper than the cruise, however we thought that the extra 6 hours and the promise of a more luxurious ferry was worth it, especially with a one year old.
You have to book a cabin on board the ferry as it sails overnight. There are a few choices but ultimately you are deciding between a cabin with a window or without (outside of the ship or inside). The difference in price at the time was around £40 for these two options so we decided, even though the pictures made the room look like a prison cell, that we’d opt for the inside cabin with bunk beds.
We arrived in Portsmouth relatively early, totally surprised to be able to go straight into the queue and we checked in. The guy at the check out was very chirpy and we heard all about his previous job working at Disney and how his pregnant wife was about to give birth. We were excited at the time so we indulged him. Its always nice to speak to a good customer service person. Makes me smile. We were ushered straight into the queue to board the ferry and were on within the hour!
It was a lot bigger than we expected and much more of a cruise liner than a ferry. There were tens of lorries lined up to take their place, lots of motorhomes and cars too. Mainly motorhomes though, which was a good sign and we felt vindicated in our choice – if not semi overwhelmed with motorhome envy as some of them were lush! Terry proceeded to get our motorhome on board and we sorted out an overnight bag as you aren’t allowed back into your vehicle once its left port. Top tip, if you take this ferry and you’re on a budget, make sure you take enough food and toys to cover the trip. I really wish we had!
Our ticket stated the cabin number of 9233, but we were convinced it couldn’t mean there were 9 floors! As we were totally new to ‘cruising’, we were pretty naïve to it all and were surprised to see lifts, fancy music playing in the background, very well presented staff, shops, a few restaurants and 11 floors including a dog walking area and outside pool!
We made a beeline for the information desk to see if a cheeky request for a room upgrade to an outside cabin would be granted. It would, but at a cost of £45, so we opted to stay where we were allocated. After being pleasantly surprised by our room, its size and cleanliness, we proceeded to quickly set up our travel cot, ready for a tour of the ship! The second bunk was pull down and easy to move with a ladder to use, there were clean towels, soap and nice hot shower.
It was just about dinner time for Ethan and we’d passed a microwave on the way to our room in the main restaurant area, so headed back down to level 7. It was really impressive, all very well lit, a nice big bar area with professional staff and a few different eating areas with snacks in one area and a nice restaurant. The only thing that could be improved on is the veggie selection, which was almost zero, but we find this all over the world, so it wasn’t really surprising.
Whilst Ethan ate in a high chair supplied by a very helpful member of staff, the big tv screens had newly inaugurated President Trump’s ceremony with subtitles in the background. Our fellow passengers sat talking and laughing in the warm and relaxing room.
Having a young child pretty much means no music, late night bingo or time to enjoy the entertainment, which was a shame as Brittany Ferries seemed to lay it all on. They even had a 3D printer in the main reception area, printing their company mascot. We headed back to our room via the lounge area where we managed to kill 10 minutes entertaining Ethan with the piano.
And then the fun began! In all honesty, it really wasn’t that choppy at all and we’d heard horrible stories of people having a nightmare crossing over the Bay of Biscay. Terry and Ethan slept like a baby in our room, all quiet and dark and warm as we could adjust the temperature. I, however, did not take to the crossing too well and the slightest listing of the ship resulted in me and travel sickness becoming enemies.
The next morning and we were glad that two out of three of us were feeling pretty well rested. After giving Ethan some breakfast, we went to the restaurant and saw a great spread on offer, some tasty looking breakfast, three options on a a set menu, but nonetheless, a good spread for up to £10.
We then spent the rest of the day keeping Ethan entertained in the Kids Corner, where the very helpful receptionist gave us three kids games to play and a choice of DVD to watch in a designated part of the ship duly signposted and vacated by all other adults. She was happy to help us decide what to borrow in exchange for our passport as security. Great option, as it kept Ethan interested for a few hours.
The weather then turned really nice, so whilst Terry took Ethan up to the outdoor playground, I caught up on some sleep. The kids playground wasn’t really much to write home about, two climbing/slide combination items and a spinning bowl. Not suitable at all for our one year old but he gave it a good go anyway, under Terry’s supervision. It did have bouncy, kid proof flooring though which was great. I think it would be better inside as had it not been a nice day, it would have been totally off limits. But I understand as the pool is also outside on deck 10, it makes sense to have the play area there too. Right next to the dog walking zone, which was great as Ethan loves dogs, so he got to say hello to a few, with their owners permission!
In the afternoon, we had a quick bite from the open air café on deck 10, some lovely French onion soup and French fries. Also a nice change from the restaurant and set menus downstairs.
The time came to depart and we were informed using the well used tannoy, to get ready to leave the ship and thanks for choosing Brittany Ferries. Throughout our journey they catered for French, Spanish and English passengers which was a nice touch.
Travel As They Grow Verdict: Food 6/10
There seemed to be a good selection of food ranging from chips to pastries, crisps and lots of different drinks. The ‘set menu’ was a little off putting as no veggie option and the prices were too high in general.
Travel As They Grow Verdict: Accommodation 8/10
Although not luxury, has everything you need with a good amount of space for a family of two with a young child and space to move around. The added touch of shower gel and towels was nice. It was not worth upgrading with the extra cost though, so we’re glad we stayed where we did. Also the inside cabins had more room than the outside cabins if you are considering using a travel cot. They do offer travel cots for an additional cost of £8.
Travel As They Grow Verdict: Cleanliness 9/10
Overall a very clean, well presented ship and transport option. In general seemed very well maintained, although I was worried at first about the blue ‘gaffa’ tape wrapped around my security bar on my top bunk!
Travel As They Grow Verdict: Staff 9/10
They were very professional and were helpful in pretty much all departments. The staff on the front desk were friendly in particular and the bar staff too. I think a few members of staff were just a little tired to give the full impeccable service.
Travel As They Grow Verdict: Entertainment 6/10
From our point of view, entertainment for children was ok, with the games and DVD options, but they were not really suitable for young children. We did not experience the magician, or the VR headset entertainment nor did we go to the bar in the evening which I’m sure were lovely. We were also informed by the customer service centre when booking that there was an indoor play area, which was also another reason why we purchased the cruise service. This wasn’t present on our ship so that was a little disappointing.
Travel As They Grow Verdict: Children’s Facilities 5/10
The outside children’s playground suits older children (3 plus) and was basically un-usable in any kind of cold, wet or windy weather. We were lucky to have a short, sunny spell, but it still wasn’t really any good. We did have the option of paying for a travel cot, but opted for our own. The children’s toys were also not suitable for our young baby, but would be for a child over 5. Also, as above we were promised more play resources on the cruise liner.
Travel As They Grow Verdict: Overall 8/10
In summary, if we were to sail with Brittany Ferries again, we would still opt for the shorter cruise ferry service. If you are sailing without children, want to save cash and don’t mind the extra hours on board, I’d opt for the economy service as the entertainment and shops weren’t really worth the extra money in January. Perhaps there is more on during the summer months so we cannot comment for that season. The staff were fantastic, rooms perfectly clean and plenty of food and drink on board. Overall a great crossing for us and our motorhome, Cici!