I’ve always been a fan of ferry journeys. Some of my earliest memories are from the Sealink Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire crossing via which we made our yearly pilgrimages to Ireland from the UK. Running riot in the lounges with newly-made friends, walking our border collie on the blustery deck, laughing at the adults staggering around and turning green on the rougher sailings. Jolly adventures on the high seas.
Funny how we sometimes unconsciously replicate our childhoods for our children. At just two and a half years old Jack is already a seasoned ferry traveller, having made a number of lengthy ferry crossings from both Gijon to Sant Nazaire and from Santander to Portsmouth.
Last week we did the 24 hour sailing from Santander to Portsmouth again, to visit Jack’s Granma who has been poorly. As she lives 10 minutes from Portsmouth ferry port it really was a no-brainer in terms of choice of transportation. Even leaving that particular convenience aside I must say that, especially travelling with children, the ferry option makes more and more sense to me these days.
The price may sometimes appear eye-wateringly high on first glance, or maybe that’s just me - I do wonder if my price perception might be stuck in the 90s. We booked last-minute (on the Friday for the Monday sailing) and so will have paid at the high end of pricing for this time of year – a little over £500 for the return sailing for 2 adults and an infant (classed as up to 4 years old), with a 2 berth cabin and car.
It’s a fair old wedge but so would have been the flights for the three of us and at least there are no airport parking costs or car hire and insurance plus car seat malarkey (hire or carriage) to add on. (Or train tickets – have you seen the cost of train tickets in the UK lately?!)
Price considerations aside, the comfort of travelling all the way from door to door in your own car is for me the biggest plus of ferry travel. As a parent, the ability to load up ALL the paraphernalia of a baby or toddler can make the difference between a relaxing holiday and a grim battle for survival. As an ex-pat not having to face a Sophie’s choice between taking home a packet of tea-bags or a jar of Marmite gives one an expansive peace of mind that is hard to express. As an indecisive packing-phobe the calming effect of being able to shove everything we might possibly need into our capacious estate car makes for a much more tranquil start to any holiday (read: less arguments and no rising hysteria.)
Actually, I say that’s the biggest plus but this time around perhaps the single best thing was the fact that Jack simply ADORED the journey and had the best time.
As usual, we spent pretty much every waking minute in or around the soft play area on deck 7 (the self-service restaurant and cafe is conveniently located nearby on the same level.) And as usual we quickly became acquainted with the other families with children that were also on the ferry.
There was Adam, who was a little older than Jack and thus inspired all kinds of hero worship. Three year old Pepe was less confident until he realized that Jack spoke Spanish too and then he threw himself into playing with gusto.
Pepe’s family were Andalucian but living in Dumfries. His mum couldn’t quite get her head around why we could possibly want to live in Spain but we shared a lot of common experience as families living in a foreign culture and we whiled away the time happily comparing notes on life abroad and language learning for kids. I didn’t envy them their drive either end of the ferry journey but they still rated it as more convenient than flying with two little ones.
By the time we docked in Portsmouth Jack was fully tired out and instantly fell asleep on rejoining our car on the car deck. He’s still talking about the ship with the playground and the nice cakes and his friends Adam and Pepe now. And this afternoon we do it all again, on the return leg. We can’t wait!
Postscript: The return journey was equally succesful. Edging more into holiday season there were a) more children on the boat and b) a magician to entertain them, who was making balloon animals and pirate swords on request. Best of all (at least from an adult perspective) a pod of dolphins put on a wonderful leaping display along the bows of the ship as we approached Santander harbour. Magical!