Car wheels clunk up metal ramps. In the hold, stewards gesture, directing drivers closer to the car in front. We get out of our car and walk up the steep, enclosed staircase to the passenger deck. When we heave open the heavy door to the ferry’s outside, the salty air is fresh. Seagulls caw above us as we take our last look at the English shore before sailing over to France.
Our family is very familiar with the ritual of boarding a cross channel ferry. I’ve posted before about our trip with Brittany Ferries, and how it was a relaxing way to begin our journey to Normandy, France. There were so many nice moments from the crossing. A stroll on deck with my son (who loved the helipad – as you can see in the picture above). My daughter’s beaming face, as she watched the mime artist fall off his stool. Twice. Our enormous breakfast, which combined the best of British with the best of French: a full English, followed by pains au chocolats. And our quick snooze before a refreshing shower, in the cabin’s bathroom.
What I hadn’t really considered before this trip, was how distinct a character each Brittany Ferries cross channel ferry has. On our return journey, we took the Mont St Michel. Decorated with jazz instruments, and with 1950s tunes piped through the cabin radio, she had a unique retro vibe. At sixteen years old, Mont St Michel was a decade younger than her sister, the Normandie, who we travelled on for the outward leg of our journey. Both ferries have the same passenger capacity, but Mont St Michel is bigger. She certainly felt less crowded than the Normandie, although that may have partly been because we were returning at a less busy time. I suspect Mont St Michel may have been designed, a decade later, with more modern passengers in mind. More space for lounging and dining, and a large ‘games planet’ on the top deck, for teenagers to decamp.
But sailing on the Normandie turned out to be a trip into happy memories for me and D. When I took my daughter up to Deck 9, where the children’s entertainment centred around the stage, I recognised the small children’s soft play area. It was from the very first overseas trip D and I took after having children. The first ferry journey for our son. His first ever croissant, and the first time we took him out on deck, to watch the waves and look out for seagulls.
The rest of our outbound journey was full of reminiscing. We talked about the food market, in the little Normandy village where we’d stayed that time. How we bought so much cheese we nearly made ourselves ill trying to finish it on the last day of the holiday. We remembered snoozing in the Normandie’s reserved seating area. We had to take our son out every time he cried (which was often), so he wouldn’t wake up the other passengers. We chuckled over the size of our son’s first croissant – bigger than his head – and how he’d wanted even more when he finished. The boy’s always been a big eater.
The Portsmouth-Caen crossing is Brittany Ferries’ most popular, and it needs a ferry that keeps up with the times. It was with a pang of sadness that I heard the Normandie will be replaced by a new ship, the Honfleur, in 2019. It does make sense. Back in 2010 I’d been impressed by how comfortable and family-friendly the Normandie was. Although she wore her age well, the differences now between her and the more modern Mont St Michel were noticeable. The Normandie is twenty-six years old, and to keep up with a new market that expects stylish, comfortable surroundings and bags of space in the entertainment areas, Brittany Ferries clearly needed to upgrade their fleet.
Ferries can’t keep going forever. At some point, passengers and crew need to say goodbye to old friends that have carried them across to adventures in new lands. Our trip on the Normandie surprised me by how sentimental I could feel. Not just about past family holidays, but the transport we’d taken to get there.
Although we enjoy travelling to new places, the Portsmouth-Caen route is one I know we’ll be taking again. For our family, it’s a reminder of happy times together. And a promise of joyful times ahead, in France.
Do you have a journey that brings back happy memories, which you like to repeat?
We were guests of Brittany Ferries on board the Normandie, and Mont St Michel.
Pin for later: