Still dark outside and a little bleary eyed, my husband and I found ourselves sitting in the warmth of our car at Poole Harbour waiting for the early morning Condor Ferries service to Jersey. Our wide-eyed toddler, still snug in her fleecy pajamas, chanted from her back seat ‘going on a ferry boat’ over and over again, her excited face glued to the window for a first glimpse of that magical vessel.
Wind back the clock twenty odd years and I was that wide-eyed little girl on that early morning adventure, waiting with barely contained glee at the prospect of starting our family holiday with a ride on a ferry boat. Since then travel has changed – we can now reach our destinations faster, cheaper and more often than ever before. None of this however changes or compares to the romance and excitement of a journey at sea. I have never forgotten my fond childhood memories of early morning embarkations and watching the dancing waves for hours from out on deck. Sharing my daughter’s first seafaring start to a holiday adventure made for a very special moment.
Of course travel by sea is not all daydreams and romance. A ferry boat voyage is also an incredibly practical way to travel with children, particularly the younger, wrigglier ones! For a start, you can take your car with you, avoiding car hire costs and the hassle and worry of transporting or hiring a suitable car seat. This also means that bad packers like me can just heap every item that might possibly be needed on both journey and holiday into the boot of the car and if that’s not enough, you can even take a roof rack too (n.b. you need to notify Condor Ferries first).
Driving to the port, even though cars need to be there an hour before departure to check in, means napping babies and toddlers can stay snoozing undisturbed until the car is safely installed in the car deck. Chances are though, if like us you have made the mistake of telling your excitable charge the travel plan, they will have long since waved goodbye to any ideas of sleep!
Our particular journey with Condor Ferries started with a minimal wait at port (about ten minutes in total) and a speedy embarkation, including some skillful reversing from me. Ok – so maybe it involved a couple of marshals telling me exactly where and how to park, but still… We unpacked far more than was necessary for our journey from the car and headed upstairs.
Once aboard we set to exploring. Travelling in style thanks to the lovely people at Condor Ferries, we quickly found the Club Class lounge and our own designated table. We were impressed with the comfy leather reclining chairs, complimentary hot drinks and cakes, table service, under-table plug points and the selection of newspapers and magazines to while away our journey. Unfortunately Roo had other ideas and after a quick pajama change we were all out on deck to watch our ferry depart – only to discover that it had noiselessly and calmly left some time ago with a large stretch of sea in between us and the distant glinting shore to prove it!
Undeterred, Roo’s next stop was the kids entertainment room. Decked out in bright colours and nautical themed decoration, the room offers a good floor space for little ones to play as well as welcome cushioned benches for parents to watch their charges from. There is a window for tot-height sea viewing and a tv which shows a selection of kids tv and films. Our outward trip was fairly quiet but the return afternoon ferry trip saw Roo making several new toddler friends in the playroom which meant Mummy and Daddy got a bit of a break!
Between the playroom and frequent visits up on deck, watching the cars embark at Guernsey and waving to passing boats, Condor Ferries kept Roo entertained the entire journey and despite her 4am start, she failed to sleep one wink on the boat. The same went for the way back. Far from being a nightmare, this actually meant we had a sleepy, fed and well-exercised toddler for our onward car journey at the other end – perfect!
We took turns to supervise Roo which also meant one of us got to relax in the peace and comfort of the Club Class lounge on downtime. If she had been a little bit older I suspect she would have made full use of our table in Club Class too which provided an ideal surface for playing cards, colouring or other activities but who needs cards when you have waves to look at and new friends to meet?!
Despite our early start, a full breakfast selection was available on board including a traditional cooked breakfast, croissant and cereal. For our lunchtime return trip Roo enjoyed a tuna sandwich and I even snuck in a steaming hot, fresh steak and ale pie with mash and peas before our evening drive home. With a canteen and coffee bar to choose from, the choice was good and food was all of a good standard and tasted fresh – much better than infamous airline offerings! Prices range from about £3.50 for breakfast to £7.50 for a main meal, with sandwiches and toasties coming in somewhere in between- not unreasonable.
In terms of other facilities on board, most needs are catered for. There are two shops – one newsagent and a duty free shop (yes-travel to the Channel Islands does qualify for a duty free allowance – yippee)! If you forgot any necessary on-board entertainment you can buy all manner of playing cards, crayons, magic ink books or even toy Condor Ferries to keep little ones occupied as well as picking up travel guides for your onward destination. They even sell breathalyzers and other necessary road kit for driving on the continent. Bathroom facilities are good and well-maintained and there is a dedicated (and very roomy) baby changing facility on board.
There are plenty of options for on-board seating with Condor Ferries. Standard seating does the job and there is plenty of it on both the upper and lower levels. It is not reserved so if you have a favourite spot or are after a table then it pays to be at the ferry with plenty of time to help your chances of getting first pick. For a small extra fee it is possible to reserve reclining seating, allowing for a little more comfort for long journeys. Whilst booking ahead is advisable on busy services, you can always upgrade on the day if there is space. Finally, Club Class seating is also an option and nowhere near as expensive as you might think. For relaxed and luxurious comfort in a separate cabin, the reclining leather chairs of Condor Ferries ‘ Club Lounge are a must. It is also worth checking for special offers when booking – at our time of travel, toddlers were able to travel completely free!
My only grumble with the accommodation was that none of the seating had the ability to lift up the armrests between seats meaning that toddlers needing to put their heads down but too large to curl up on a single seat (like our nearly 2 year old) find it difficult to nap. I guess the stationary armrests does mean that adults can’t abuse the system by taking up too many seats and lying across them and at the end of the day, there is still more room than on a plane.
Of course, if sleep is a major issue then there is always the option of catching the Condor Ferries slow ferry service from Portsmouth. These take substantially longer but do offer cabin accommodation meaning you get your own full length bed to kip on.
For those, who like me, are pregnant at time of their ferry trip, rest assured that sea travel is still possible before 28 weeks. After that a Doctor’s note is required. Condor Ferries will not accept passengers who are over 34 weeks pregnant. One word of advice – in pregnancy you are more likely to feel travel sick, regardless of the transport type or if you are prone to travel sickness or not. To save yourself worry or a potentially uncomfortable trip I would highly recommend trying medication free Sea Bands (or similar brand). They work by wearing them on both wrists and using acupressure techniques to relieve symptoms and work best if worn a short while before starting your ferry trip. I have never really suffered from travel sickness other than on a Pendolino train during my previous pregnancy. After feeling a bit grotty on the way out though, I tried them for the return journey with such success that I felt completely normal and was able to hungrily wolf down a hearty hot dinner of pie and mash! I was interested to read that Sea Bands are also recommended as a relief for normal morning sickness too – you learn something new every day!
As land and our final port hove into view on the horizon at the journey’s end, it was with great reluctance that we tore ourselves away from our sun-drenched bench and maritime views up on-deck and headed downstairs to return to the car. Roo was pretty sad when it was finally time to get off the ferry. For her, the journey was just as good as a mini-holiday in itself and without knowing the adventures awaiting her on Jersey beyond, her ‘bye-bye boat’ and farewell wave were rather forlorn. What she didn’t know though was that at the end of the holiday another ferry boat would be waiting to transport her back over the waves to the mainland with another fun-packed journey.
Condor Ferries provide Fast Ferry services connecting Poole and Weymouth with Guernsey and Jersey in the Channel Islands. Ferry crossings take 3 hours to Guernsey and 4 1/2 hours to Jersey with travel times reduced by around half an hour when travelling from Weymouth. Condor Ferries also provide a conventional ferry service from Portsmouth with cabin accommodation, as well as ferry services to St. Malo in France from Poole and Weymouth.
At time of travel, a Superbreak Car ticket to Jersey cost £49.50pp each way and a Superbreak Foot ticket cost £27.50pp each way. Club Class seats cost £22.95 pp each way. Prices were for tickets booked online.
Readers should be aware that I received complimentary tickets for travel with Condor Ferries for the purpose of this review. All opinions that are stated within this review however are my own and reflect my personal experience travelling with Condor Ferries.