Seven ways to keep your kids happy on a ferry crossing


A ferry crossing can be a good option for beating the stress of long journeys with kids. You can leave most of your luggage in the car and walk around; as long as the journey’s not hit by stormy weather orĀ  seasickness, a ferry can be more relaxing than a car or plane. But like anything where young kids are concerned, it’s best to plan ahead.

Here are some tips for ways to keep children happy on board a ferry.

Books for little seafarers

Why not get the children into a sea-faring mood by bringing along some maritime-themed reads. Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs, by Gile Andreae and Russel Ayto, and The Night Pirates, by Peter Harris and Deborah Allwright, are always firm favourites with pre-schoolers. For slightly older children, there’s The Seal Children by Jackie Morris, which won the Tir Na N-Og award in 2005. And if you want to share one of your own childhood classics, why not revisit Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons, the ever-popular tale of adventure under sail.

Kids’ entertainment

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Almost all ferry crossings have some form of children’s entertainment, whether that’s just a small play area, or a whole programme of events. We recently crossed to Holland from Harwich in Essex, and the seven-hour journey included three children’s films (one for over-12s) and an hour’s worth of live entertainment including a puppet show, Punch and Judy and balloon-animal making. Different ferry companies have varying amounts of kids’ entertainment, so it’s worth doing a little bit of research.

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Seagull-spotting on deck

Being over water is a huge novelty for kids, and there’s plenty of scope for creative re-interpretations of travel games, including that old chestnut, I Spy. Spotted another ship on the horizon? 5 points. Buoy in the distance? 1 point. Seagull overhead? 20 points. Etc, etc. It’s worth investing in a pair of binoculars to make the play even more imaginative.


Basketball and bubbles

On our recent ferry trip to Holland, there was a basketball court on deck. Yes, really. It did happen to be a superferry though; if your vessel of choice doesn’t have the space on deck for a round of physical ball-play with the kids, you could try taking along some bubbles. For children of a certain age, these are always a hit: when the bubbles emerge at a birthday party, they’re like tiny spherical child-magnets, with the whole roomful of kids rushing over to pop the things. So a bit of bubble-blowing on deck, watching them burst over the waves, would be a fun way to spend half an hour or so.

Dine in the restaurant


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Ferry restaurants tend to be fairly relaxed, with plenty on offer for kids. For grown-up foodies looking forward to all that foreign cuisine, you’re guaranteed to be able to find something on the menu from your destination country. And although the croissants and baguette on your ferry may not quite be as delicious as the ones you’ll buy in your little French holiday village, they’re likely to give you a tantalising taste of the food treats to come.

Nautical apps

A ferry crossing’s a great opportunity to explore a new environment – who gets to be that close to the sea for so long? – but if your little ones have grown tired of seagull spotting and playing in the kids’ area, there’s always the good old tablet or iphone. You could research and download a few apps that have a maritime theme. Nosy Crow’s Franklin Frog, for instance, follows the life cycle of animals, including water-based animals like penguins and frogs; and Hopster’s catalogue includes learn-to-count games with penguins and other sea creatures.

Get a cabin and sleep

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Whether you’re crossing at night-time or in the day, if your travel budget allows it’s always a good option to book a cabin, for a place to crash. There’s no doubt about it: sleeping passes the time like nothing else. That’s if you can get the little darlings to forget all the excitement and keep their eyes closed, of course.

Do you have any tips for keeping children happy on a ferry crossing?

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  • susanna
    July 16, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Just pinned this! We love ferries, but sometimes the crossing can be long! I love the overnight trips – so exciting to wake up in another country.

    • Nell
      July 17, 2016 at 12:38 pm

      That was the best part for us! Yes, ferry crossings can be long, but I do like the fact that you can roam around.

  • We are travelling by ferry this summer for the first time Nell. Looking forward to it even more after reading your post!

    • Nell
      February 27, 2018 at 8:29 pm

      Bon voyage! x


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