‘Don’t be ridiculous!’
That was my first reaction when Big Girl initially suggested we might spend the first night of our holiday in France on the overnight ferry.
‘Almost 12 hours on a boat to cross the English Channel? I could swim it quicker than that!’ I complained.
But the more I thought about it, the more the idea grew (not to mention the pressure from the rest of my travel-loving family who appeared to have suddenly discovered their sealegs).
And on a balmy evening in early August, I have to admit I was just as excited as the girls as we waved goodbye to the bright lights of Portsmouth and snuggled down in our bunks for the night.
Would I do it again? Absolutely! And here’s why:
1. We live in the West Midlands which places us as far from the coast as pretty much anyone in the UK. In the past we’ve booked an overnight stop in Plymouth, before heading out at the crack of dawn for the early ferry from Roscoff.
This time, however, there was no early get up (much to Mr B’s disappointment but certainly not mine!) and we pottered down to Portsmouth with so much time to spare that we even managed a leisurely stroll and an ice cream on the seafront.
We were among the first cars in the queue for the ferry and were on board in around an hour and a half for an 8.15pm sailing.
2. Once on board, there was no rush to see and do everything at once. In fact, after finding our cabin and off-loading our overnight bags, we made the most of the evening sun for a leisurely stroll around the deck of our ship, Brittany Ferries’ appropriately named Bretagne.
There were lots of excited families on the sun deck who had clearly had the same idea and as the ship pulled out of Portsmouth, we really did start to feel in a holiday mood.
Although the girls were disappointed there was no performance of an advertised panto on our crossing (panto? in August?), they did enjoy the live musical entertainment later in the evening.
3. We had a cabin! This, of course, was the BIG attraction of the overnight crossing for the girls, as it’s not something we would usually pay for on a shorter crossing.
I think the word is probably ‘bijou’! We couldn’t have swung much more than a cat in there, but it was nevertheless perfectly adequate for our 12-hour journey.
The girls thoroughly enjoyed setting up the bunk beds in our en-suite, four-berth cabin and deciding where to sleep (on the top bunks, of course!). The cabin window was definitely a bonus, even if this wasn’t a room with much of a view for most of our overnight trip.
As well as a clean and surprisingly comfortable bed for the night, our cabin also meant we didn’t have to carry our overnight clobber around the ship with us.
As luck would have it, I am the only member of our family who occasionally struggles with sea-sickness but thankfully it wasn’t a problem on this occasion. As my brain sleepily registered the gentle swaying of the ship, the last thing I remember is worrying that I wouldn’t be able to nod off…
4. The atmosphere was great. There was a real buzz of pre-holiday excitement, especially in La Baule self-service restaurant where many families, like us, had opted to enjoy their evening meal.
The children’s menu was good value with ideal portion sizes, even for two hungry pre-teen girls, and included a free drink, Brittany Ferries rucksack and some basic puzzle-style activities.
The adult portions were also very generous, and I couldn’t fault my chilli con carne or Mr B’s sauté de porc au caramel served with basmati rice. The opportunity to celebrate the start of our holiday with a glass of something sparkling was just too tempting. And it really did feel like the start of our holiday.
5. We had breakfast in France! Instead of arriving late in the day and worrying about negotiating unfamiliar roads and driving conditions, both Mr B and I felt well-rested and relaxed, and ready for the drive ahead.
But first things first. We docked just after 8am French time, and within an hour were ordering mouth-watering pastries and café au lait in a lovely little café just outside St Malo.
From there, it was only a relatively short journey to our campsite near Carnac in Southern Brittany.
6. Yes, I know I said five reasons but we also noticed that the Bretagne welcomes four-legged passengers. And as we’ve recently added an eight-week-old puppy to our family, I have a feeling we may be taking the slow boat to France once again..
For more details of the of the overnight ferry to France with Brittany Ferries and to check sailing times, which vary throughout the year, visit http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/ferry-routes/ferries-france/portsmouth-st-malo/crossings