Tuesday, 27 February 2018

French family holidays 2017 | All aboard the ferry to Brittany (and back)

Sandy beach | family holiday in france
(Our destination! But first, read how we got there...)
Anyone fancy flying with five kids? Us neither! Time to take to the waves…

Last summer, we took our massive brood to France via Brittany Ferries Plymouth-Roscoff sailing. Want to hear about our crazy adventures? Course you do. And I cannot let the opportunity sail by without publishing this extraordinary photograph of Mike aboard a ferry a million years ago, so read on for his review of our French family holiday.

Old family photograph

That photo up there is your author's last experience of a ferry. It's somewhere around 3am in the corner of a closed bar, my ability to sleep minus a pillow enabled by the possible partaking of many a cold drink. As you can see from the post-acid house bob, it's sometime in deepest 1990 and that, dear reader, is where me and ferries parted ways. Ferries are to planes what coaches are to trains - and we'd all much rather get the train, right?

Wrong. You'll see why we are ferry converts if you read the sister post to this, which explains our approach to last year's family holiday to France. TL;DR? We really wanted to go abroad, couldn't conscience taking five kids on a plane and didn't want to combust with stress before we even got to where we wanted to be (namely, a lovely Eurocamp on the south coast of Brittany)

And that's why an updated picture of me on a ferry 27 years later includes less hair (by choice not just the passing of time) but way, way more smiles. No longer the sole respite of the booze run and school trip, the Brittany Ferry we took - the ABSOLUTELY MASSIVE Pont-Aven, somehow able to contain 2,400 passengers and 650 cars - really was the floating hotel you read about.

Have a look at the film of our return trip:

The pros! We drove from Bristol to Plymouth - a little over two hours but way better than the equivalent to Gatwick or Heathrow, and minus the parking fees and the small matter of having to leave you car in Blighty. Best of all, a small queue for passport control aside, it's pretty much straight on the boat then up and out on deck.

Driving onto the Brittany Ferries crossing from Plymouth to Roscoff

All five kids were swiftly running around the helipad at the stern (See? We're naturals!), hyped up on sugary treats and happy to bump into school friend Idris. We waved goodbye to Blighty and then went exploring - a sadly-closed swimming pool, the swanky a la carte restaurant, a cocktail piano bar (get back, kids!), a two-storey lounge bar… To be honest, we didn't explore the boat much beyond bombing around the top deck as the Pont-Aven's real appeal for us were two of its 650 cabins. Yup, we would all be sleeping for most of the eight-hour overnight crossing!

Inside the four berth cabin on board the Pont-Aven, Brittany Ferries

The cabins were Outside 4 Berth Club cabins. Air conditioned, en suite shower, all the complimentary stuff you'd expect and - most excitingly - two pulldown bunks to make it a cozy and relaxing night crossing to France. The journey was smooth, both ingredients of our blended family choosing to divide and conquer with a parent in each cabin. The time difference meant an early 5.30am alarm - 'kindly' provided by the boat tannoy… - but the benefits outweighed the negatives as we hit the autoroute early (no waiting for strange hire cars in the bowels of a foreign airport) and ready to start our holiday. Just two and a bit hours later (via the gorgeous arty town of Pont-Aven, visited in honour of our ferry), we were one of the first cars at Eurocamp La Grande Métairie - and rather than spending the day getting over jet lag, we hit the pool and hard.

If the outbound journey made sense in getting the best possible start to our Brittany adventure, the return crossing had an equally alterior motive - make the most of the reduced six hour crossing time, get back home as late in the day as possible so we could drive the kids, already dressed in pyjamas and laden with carbs, back to Bristol and lump them straight into bed. That meant a full last day at Eurocamp (yup, we're those people who check out and then go back to use the pool) and an early evening crossing, this time on the shiny-new €80 million (!) Armorique, 'only' able to take 1,500 passengers and 470 cars.

On board the Pont-Aven, Brittany Ferries

We decided to take up Brittany Ferries' kind offer of a cabin – to be honest, I doubt we would normally do this if keeping to a budget but it made sense for designated driver Lottie to grab a few hours of relaxation whilst I took the kids exploring. Whilst Lottie dozed, we made the most of the facilities – spending the last of the Euros in the gift shop, laughing at Captain Underpants in one of the two (!) on-board cinemas and unsuccessfully trying to avoid the arcades.

On board the Armorique, Brittany Ferries

As Lottie says on the video (give it a watch - there are grown men dancing to Agadoo at a cabaret), we definitely are now that family - their kids rampaging through the decks and destroying all in their wake - but then so is everyone else. On a plane, that would be stressful in the extreme. On a ferry, the sheer space means that while you're in the same boat (literally) as everyone else, you have the freedom to enjoy being 'that family' rather than being embarrassed about it.

And what about the cons? Not many tbh. Food and drink can set you back a bit if you're a massive brood like us and our resident vegan went a bit too hungry, but sadly, that's true of anywhere in France. The biggest problem was that we were literally the last car off the boat. Not a disaster by any means but the extra hour and a half it added to the journey (especially when you have a further two hours drive ahead of you after you clear passport control)… Well, someone's got to cop it and it may as well be the people who are writing the sponsored post, right? Karma strikes!


Off to Europe this year? Prefer a car you know when you get there? Not a fan of flying? Give the ferry a chance - we'll see you on the helipad!

For further information on Brittany Ferries visit brittany-ferries.co.uk.

We were given return crossings for the purpose of this review and video, but all images and opinions are ours and ours alone. 
Thank you - as always - for supporting the posts that make this blog possible. 
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