Taking the ferry is increasing in popularity as the transportation of choice for many airline-weary travellers. With airport security rules and long queues making air travel less palatable than it used to be, many are seeking more relaxed ways to travel.
Ferries have improved over the years. They have restaurants, comfortable lounges, shops and entertainment for all ages from games rooms to cinemas and even spas, so you’ll never be bored. For those seeking extra comfort, there are options to book private cabins, especially useful on the longer overnight trips.
There are plenty of benefits to travelling by ferry. For one, you can take your own car, packed with all the things you need without having to worry about luggage weight or carryon luggage restrictions. With the introduction of the budget airlines, ferries have had to drop their prices to stay competitive and attract customers back, so it can also be a very economical option.
There’s a variety of routes available from all around the UK and Ireland. Canvas Holidays can arrange ferry travel from the UK or Ireland, including Landbridge crossings, to France, Spain & Holland. For more information on routes, take a look at the travel option pages on our website.
If you’ve never travelled by ferry before, don’t let the fear of the unknown put you off. We’ve pulled together our best insider ferry travel tips – from what to think about before you go to how to disembark as you set foot in Europe.
Consider before you travel
- Will you be taking a roof or rear rack on your car? Space is limited on ferries. You need to let us know if your car has a rear or roof racks when you book your holiday.
- Book early if you want a specific crossing. Some routes sell out quickly, especially during the school summer holidays.
- On the day of your trip, allow plenty of time to check in for your ferry crossing. Ferry companies recommend travellers arrive around 60 minutes before the departure time – this will be confirmed on your tickets.
- If you are taking an overnight ferry consider reserving a cabin (this is compulsory on some routes). Standard cabins include bunk-style beds with linen and towels, en-suite facilities and air-conditioning.
- Think about the distance that you will need to drive once you arrive in Europe. Campsites in Paris, the Loire, Brittany, the Vendée and Holland can all be reached in a day. If you are driving to the south of France, Spain or Italy, you will need to plan an overnight stop.
What to expect at the ferry terminal
- To check in, you will need your tickets and passports for each member of your party. You’ll be given a sticker to place on your car windscreen, boarding cards and keys for your cabin if you have booked one.
- You will then be directed to a numbered lane where you must park your vehicle until boarding time. Ask about boarding times so you know when you will need to drive your car onto the ferry. At most terminals, you can leave your car until just before your boarding time and walk into the terminal building, which will probably have a travel information counter, restrooms and a snack bar.
- Consider having some food and games in the car while you are waiting to board as the length of time you’ll have to wait can vary depending on the crossing.
- When it is time to board, get into your vehicle and prepare to drive onto the ship. Ferry terminal personnel will direct you to the proper deck and lane on the ship. They will ask you to park as close as possible to the car in front of you.
- As you exit your vehicle, think carefully about what you want to take with you to the passenger decks. Once the ship gets underway, you will not be allowed onto the parking decks. Pay attention to the deck and door number you leave through, as you’ll need to remember this to get back to your car.
- Firstly locate your cabin and leave your overnight bags there. It’s then time to explore! Boats can be confusing and it’s easy to get lost, so make sure children know their cabin number or a suitable meeting place.
- Get some fresh air. You’re allowed to walk on most decks – children especially will enjoy being out on deck as the ship departs and land gets further away.
- Most ships have a choice of restaurants and snack bars. Check if meals are available to pre-book, as it’s often much cheaper to do this. You may need to reserve a table in the restaurant, especially if the crossing is busy.
- Bed time is great fun on a ferry. You’ll usually be in bunk beds and being rocked to sleep by the waves is very therapeutic!
Travel tips for disembarkation
- Listen carefully for any announcements in the morning. You’ll usually hear an alarm call an hour or two before you are due to dock. Announcements may be inaudible in private cabins, so pay close attention to any chimes, bells or other signals.
- Allow plenty of time for getting up and packing. If you’ve booked breakfast, head to the restaurant in plenty of time, and listen for announcements regarding your car deck.
- Don’t try and return to your vehicle until your deck is called. Once on the vehicle deck, leave your engine turned off until you are called to pull forward and exit the ship.
- You’ll have to go through customs and passport control, so have your passports handy.
- Don’t forget to drive on the right!