We have just returned and survived a 2000 mile road trip to the south west of France with a 5 year old and a 9 year old. In fact more than survive, we thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of our touring holiday.
Having found a campsite near Torreilles, close to the Spanish border, I started to look at the logistics of getting there and the nearest airports etc. We have over the last 9 years visited numerous European campsites and have either hired a car or used public transport once there, but we have always flown to the nearest airport. Flying always seemed to me to be the easiest and quickest option when travelling with kids.
I have spoken to friends who have driven to France (and survived with kids) , and whilst it never really appealed to me one comment always stuck with me.. “the kids love the ferry its part of their holiday”. And on the back of that comment the decision to drive was made.
Firstly from a parents viewpoint everything about the ferry was easy. On advice from DFDS we went for the Newhaven to Dieppe crossing, which left Newhaven at 4pm arriving at 9.00 pm(Local time ) in Dieppe.
We left ourselves plenty of time to get to Newhaven and arrived 2 hours before sailing as advised. Once there you sit in the car ,queue and wait. We certainly weren’t the first in the queue however the majority of cars seemed to arrive an hour or so before departure.
There seems to be no apparent advantage to getting there earlier . It doesn’t afford you best place, or first off position. Not sure being last one on the ferry would guarantee you being first off either …. I am sure the seasoned ferry travellers can time it to perfection to ensure minimum waiting time but as first time ferry users, we were happy to be there in plenty of time!
There isn’t much to do at the ferry port. A waiting area and toilets . Most people sit in the car or stretch legs and wander up and down the harbour weather permitting.
Driving on and off the ferry and parking was well organised and straight forward. Once parked up we made our way up onto the decks, making the rookie mistake of leaving everything in the car. Once the ferry leaves you can’t go back onto the parking deck, so take cardigans, I pads, books etc up onto deck with you when you leave the car.
We found a seat at the bow end of the ferry. A wide open space and staircase with a bar on the top floor serving snacks and drinks and a small duty free shop on the ground floor. Most families headed to these seats and the open staircase meant you could sit on the top level and still see the small kids play area on the ground floor. There wasn’t much to do in the kids area, but the kids enjoyed the freedom of sitting in the soft play area watching the film or pottering by the arcades games.
Our children were told they could play in the kids area or come upstairs to us, and were to go no further. They were happy with this, and so were we. As children do, they all congregated in the play area and made friends happy to play together and entertain themselves.
The 4 hour crossing passed quietly, happily and without incident! We shopped a little in the duty free, then made our way down to the cafeteria. The food was good, basic but good. The kids had spaghetti bolognaise, a drink and yoghurt as part of children’s meal deal. My husband and I had curry and rice and fish and chips. Plates were emptied and total cost around £30, not too expensive either for a family of four.
Most families tended to be towards the bow of the ship, as I have said, the open space was ideal for the kids and the views were of course spectacular with full height windows.. There were however quieter areas, with reclining lounger seats and cabins available for those that needed some rest.
Arriving at Dieppe the exit was easy and straight forward, again the staff are very well organised and direct you off the ferry with ease. Given the time we arrived at Dieppe (9.00pm) we needed to stay somewhere local overnight before heading off again in the morning. Word of warning Dieppe hotels book up quickly. I tried to book one a week before we left. Dieppe was all fully booked. We did find a lovely hotel in Rouen ( about an hours drive from Dieppe) which was easy to get to and had underground car parking and 24 hour reception.
Fast forward 9 days and we returned to Dieppe for our return journey home. No problems at all on the French side either. The service at passport control and getting on and off the ferry was friendly,straight forward and easy. We took the same position in the bar area, the kids went and played and this time we remembered our books and I pads! Perfect. Oh and there is free wi fi on board.
My advice for anyone thinking of driving to France. Do it. Stock up well with food and drink, make sure you can charge I pads and portable dvds in the car, be prepared for endless rounds of eye spy then enjoy the ferry crossing!
I can honestly say that travelling down to the south of france and enjoying the sights as we went, making short stop overs and the ferry journey all added to a wonderful holiday experience and allowed us to see so much more of this lovely country.
As my 9 year daughter declared” It’s better than flying!!”, and I tend to agree. Bring on our next touring holiday!
NB: Liz and her family received a complimentary ferry crossing in exchange for this review.
For those interested we stayed at the following locations as we travelled through France:
Hotel Mercure Rouen Champ de Mar ( One night-circa £150 for family room)
Eurocamp Le Chateauu des Marais, Chambord (Safari Tent £20 for one night)
Al Fresco Camping La Palmerarie Torreilles ( Puccini Riveria 2 Bedroom £167 for 7 nights)
Eurocamp International Maisons-Laffitte Paris (£120 for two nights)