I just thought I would update this page following my trip back to the UK last weekend and start off by saying that the BF offer was excellent (a car and two passengers for 129 € return - the basic price to which you could add cabins or extra passengers) and was for once cheaper than DFDS via Dieppe.
Cabin-girl and I had decided to spilt the two Cabin-kids up for the long Easter weekend due several weeks of them winding each-other up. I took the elder (8) to visit her grandparents and cousins etc in Hampshire/Surrey and my wife spent the weekend with her family in Laval with the younger (4).
On Thursday evening we drove up to Caen (stopping in Avranches to eat at McDonalds as a treat and because they have a Smurf film tie-in promotion running at the moment) and took our twin-room at the Formule 1 motel. I had been hesitant to book this given previous bad experiences but the welcome from the receptionist (at 10.30pm when I had expected the place to be unmanned) was excellent. He tried to sell us breakfast but did not insist once I explained we were catching the ferry and gave us a room at the back of the building at the far end of a corridor to be as quiet as possible. The room was clean and perfectly acceptable for 25€. The toilets were also fine with one per 8 rooms if my calculations are correct. We didn't use the showers having both done so before leaving home so I can't comment on them. The bed was quite comfortable and the hotel quiet until around 3am when the first person got up to use the toilet which then became a contagion and one by one everyone else in the corridor followed suit so it took half-an-hour for us to get back to sleep once the doors had stopped banging. For the price it would be unfair to complain and overall it was a good experience and might tempt me to try them again in the future.
We caught Normandie from Ouistreham in the dense fog which quickly burned off. We went to the Deauville restaurant for breakfast which was excellent and surprisingly cheap. When the time came to pay I was asked for only 12€ and not the 17€ I had imagined as for some reason they didn't charge me for my daughter's breakfast - perhaps believing she was 5 rather than 8. Normally this would have elicited howls of injustice but the free goody-bag soon compensated for that. The staff on board seemed perfectly friendly (despite recent reports to the contrary) and competent although perhaps a little distracted/bored at times. The one good point about the BF shop staff compared to those on shore is that they are not always checking their mobile phones when there are no customers at the tills and then hastily putting them away when one arrives. The on board entertainment for the kids was fine - ballon sculpting but my daughter missed out on taking one home - and the play area was clean and not too busy. The trip passed relatively quickly (breakfast, play, entertainment, shopping, DVD on computer, lunch, outside for arrival, relatively quick immigration checks - 20 minutes from ramp down to M27) and convinced me to reconsider the route for future holidays. I have not used the line for perhaps 6 years due to the age of my kids and would still avoid the afternoon/evening crossing as you can only fit in one meal and the overnighter as it's too short for a decent sleep but the morning departure time is fine.
Coming back on Monday evening we took Bretagne to St Malo. We were on deck 3 within 10 minutes of check-in, so very efficient but then had to wait another 20 for our cabin to be ready. Whether this is a ploy to sell more food on board I don't know but it worked. We had already had an early dinner so it was just cakes/tarts for dessert but they were as good as usual. We then went to the shop and watched a children's magician do some tricks - pretty poor performance and a very repetitive routine but there were only around 8 kids and a few adults in attendance so quite dispiriting for him. We then stayed on and watched the more adult magic and comedy show which was really good (Agi and George - if memory serves) and my daughter was much more impressed. We then showered and went to bed. We woke up before the music began and were among the first in Les Abers for breakfast (they charged me for my daughter this time around). Again it was very good and the view as the sun comes up over St Malo is always difficult to beat. We left the vessel on time and were the 11th car off which meant we passed through immigration in record time and were in Rennes by 9am.
So, all in all, a great trip and well worth it given the offer price. Ed