Holiday Tips

Ferry in English Channel

If you are taking your car to the Continent, the shortest ferry crossing is usually the cheapest, but it is not necessarily the most economical. A longer ferry crossing can mean fewer miles to drive, which means less petrol and less stress. If you live in Wales or the West of England, say it would be silly to drive to Dover if your eventual destination is southern France.

You need to be a maths genius to work out exact costings – ferry prices differ according to the time of year, time of crossing and the car you are driving – and you may prefer to spend more time on the road and less on the water anyway. But you should definitely weigh up all the alternative routes before you book a ferry.

Night ferry crossings: If the ferry crossing you choose takes more than just a few hours, you should consider sailing at night – especially if you have a long drive before you get to the port. Booking a cabin will cost you extra, but you will get a night’s sleep, you will save on one night’s accommodation and you will arrive alert and ready for a full day’s driving.

Check-in time: Ferry sailings, just like planes, have a minimum check-in time for motorists. You should aim to arrive before that. In the busy season when the check-in time arrives, the companies start to load the cars on ‘stand-by’ tickets. If you arrive late, even if you have a confirmed booking, they can refuse to let you board and you will have to join the stand-by queue for the next crossing (and pray that some families booked on it fail to turn up in time).

Getting a seat: On a busy day on all but the shortest crossings, if you have not booked a cabin, you should nominate a ‘runner’ for the family. As soon as you have parked the car on board, the ‘runner’ should streak off to find seats for all of you and reserve them with bags and coats. The slower ones – usually mum and the toddlers, follow in their own time.

If you plan to eat, shop for duty-frees and change some money during the crossing, eat first. Most people shop first. There are always queues waiting for the duty-free and the bureau de change to open, but rarely queues towards the end of the sailing If you grab a table in a self-service café or a restaurant, you will have seats and a base for as long as you want to linger over your food. You can again send a ‘runner’ to check on the length of the shopping queues.

Hand luggage: You are not usually allowed back to your car once you have left it on the car deck. So lock it and take with you everything you will need for the crossing. Memorize the number of deck where your car is and exit number you use.