This spring half-term, we crossed the British channel en route to Normandy, France. Our Brittany Ferries cross channel ferry trip was familiar. We’ve done at least ten of these crossings and it’s always been a relaxing, easy way to travel to northern France with kids.
Brittany Ferries sail from across the south coast of England, from Portsmouth in the east, to Plymouth in the west. Their lines take passengers to five ports in Brittany and Normandy, and even down to Santander or Bilbao in Spain. We travelled out from Portsmouth on board the Normandie, and back from Caen on Mont St Michel. Here’s what to expect from a crossing with Brittany Ferries.
Check-in at the ferry terminal
For a Brittany Ferries cross channel ferry, you need to arrive 45 minutes before your ferry’s due to leave. Unlike flying, we’ve rarely had to wait around for too long. If you can persuade your youngsters to look out of the window at the border police, passport control usually happens swiftly, while you’re still inside the car. The wait on the other side might just about give you enough time to nip to the loo in the basic harbourside facilities. When it’s your line’s turn to move, men and women in fluorescent jackets wave you on board the ferry.
Once you’ve parked, practically bumper-to-bumper with the other cars in the hold, you climb a narrow staircase up to the passenger decks. And then, you’re free to wander and explore the ferry.
Tip: don’t forget to make a note of where you’re parked. You’ll need to pick the right staircase for your floor and zone when you come back to your car.
Food and drink
Brittany Ferries’ food is a fusion of British and French, with a heavy emphasis on the French. On board both the Normandie and Mont St Michel we could choose between self-service or a la carte restaurants, or to grab a snack in the café. Breakfast was a feast: full English, with sausages, bacon, hash browns, beans and egg. Fresh fruit, heaped in bowls. Plus croissants or pains aux chocolats, of course. D decided to eat cheese for breakfast on the return crossing: goat’s cheese and blue, on bread smothered with delicious, salty beurre d’Isigny.
We didn’t eat at either of the a la carte restaurants, but they looked very civilized, especially Les Romantiques on Mont St Michel. It opened onto the ferry’s sun deck, and I saw waiters bringing cool glasses of rosé wine out to diners who’d chosen to start their meal out in the sunshine.
Prices were mid-range. For the four of us we paid just under 30 Euros for a very large breakfast, and around the same for lunch in the a la carte restaurant.
Children’s food on board a Brittany Ferries cross channel ferry
While D and I opted for salads at lunch – nicoise for me, and tofu for D – the children chose from the children’s menu. There was plenty of choice, with pasta, burgers, chicken nuggets, battered cod or fish goujons. The kids’ meals were good value, at £5.65 for a main course, drink and a ‘surprise bag’. These were filled with pencils, a little picture to colour in, jelly beans and a small game. Our two ended up with a noughts and crosses puzzle but there were a few different games, hence the ‘surprise’. Also a surprise was the apple compote inside the bag, in an Asterix carton. My son had been expecting apple juice. I wish I’d been quick enough to capture his disgusted face when he slurped up a mouthful of compote through the straw. I think French children are more used to eating compote as a dessert than mine!
Children’s entertainment on board the ferry
A full-on entertainment programme packed both our outbound and return crossings. Colouring competitions, circus skills sessions, a visit from Brittany Ferries mascot, Pierre the Bear… On Mont St Michel there was even an ex-CITV presenter, performing a show. I preferred the mime artist on the Normandie. Cue lots of falling over, and a skit involving an oversized Guardian newspaper, which just grew, and grew, and grew.
While some of the activities were a little young for our eight year-old son, at six our daughter gobbled them up with enthusiasm. Especially the interactive racing on Mont St Michel, where children watched horses race on an enormous screen, and placed bets through handsets.
Top tip: on busier crossings, head for the children’s entertainment space when you arrive, to bag a spot. The Normandie was packed when we crossed on the first day of the school holidays, and my daughter had to wade her way to the front to watch the mime artist.
What you can see and do on board the ferry
Some Brittany Ferries vessels come equipped with a swimmimg pool and a spa. On our shorter crossing, the cinemas on board Mont St Michel and Normandie showed current films, like Isle of Dogs, Early Man and Rampage. We spent a fair bit of time in the onboard shops, which sold a wide variety of French food, including some quirky little gift items, like these chocolate baguettes:
Brittany Ferries were supporting their Celtic cousins by selling a decent range of Scottish whisky, shortbread and tablet. If you wanted to stock up before a holiday, the wine selection was ample, with good-quality vintages well below their usual retail price. The shops sold natty sunhats and flip-flops, as well as some tasteful Breton fashion items.
For older children, both ferries offered games areas, and the wi-fi was free, although it was only available in some areas, and the signal wasn’t strong. After all, we were at sea. On deck, a ping-pong table was much in demand, and the sea itself offered plenty of entertainment. One child excitedly claimed she’d spotted a dolphin. I’m not 100% sure that was true, but we did see plenty of gulls, and the occasional sailing ship.
For more ideas on how to entertain the family on a ferry crossing, check out this post.
We’ve travelled on an overnight ferry before, and I’d always pay for a cabin with kids at night. But after trying it out a few times, I’m also now sold on the idea of taking a cabin for a daytime crossing. The Portsmouth-Caen route is six hours long. Although there was plenty to see and do on board, it was nice to be able to head back to our four-berth, pull down the bunks, and quietly relax. When we switched it on, Mont St Michel’s radio system even piped cool jazz into the cabin.
The children played on their devices or coloured, while D and I read our books. We even had a teensy nap at one point. We’d left our London home at 5.30am. For people using the public showers, Brittany Ferries offer a £3.50 shower kit, with a throwaway towel, soap and shower gel. But having our own private bathroom, with a fluffy white towels, made freshening up after the early start that little bit easier.
Brittany Ferries cabins are reasonably priced, starting at £26 for a four-berth with a bathroom. Ours was handy for all sorts of things – charging phones and devices, storing our bags, waving hello to France through the cabin window. We’re not prone to seasickness, but if you are, I imagine the private bathroom would make that less unpleasant.
You can see inside our cabin on board the Normandie in this short video:
Prices vary according to the season and route, so it would be best to check the Brittany Ferries website for price information. Do you have any other questions about travelling on a Brittany Ferries cross channel ferry with kids, which haven’t been answered here?
We sailed from Portsmouth-Caen and back again courtesy of Brittany Ferries.
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