I’ve been hankering for a while to try out the Condor Liberation and see for myself ‘what all the fuss was about’.
The opportunity finally presented itself earlier this month and I duly booked a day trip to Guernsey departing Poole at 08.30 on Thursday 15th of June. As in all my travels I try to book the best class possible however the additional cost of Ocean Club both ways was a bit prohibitive – so I settled for Ocean Traveller outbound and Club on the return as this would give me a better overall perspective of the craft.
Knowing that Condor Liberation has a questionable time keeping reputation I booked a hotel in Bournemouth ‘just to be on the safe side’ although my scheduled 18.40 arrival shouldn’t present a problem for me to get back to my flat in Gosport (turned out to be a good choice!).
Time to turn my attention to getting there and this would require another overnight stay in the area. I was quite shocked by the prices being returned by both comparison sites and hotel’s own web sites – so it was time to think out of the box. I knew that Barfleur operated a couple of night sailing between Cherbourg and Poole and was doing so the evening before my trip. If she arrived on time at 07.00 it would give me enough time to get through the arrivals process before check-in and doing it all again in reverse! The 24 hour Brittany Ferries offer allowed me to travel from Portsmouth (on Normandie Express) and back (with a cabin on Barfleur) for just over £ 60 – a bargain – providing a much more interesting and enjoyable experience compared to a stuffy room on the South Cost.
Wednesday morning dawned bright and fair with BBC’s weather lady Carole assuring me it would remain so for the next 72 hours. Travel to Portsmouth International Port was a mixture of First Hampshire services, aided by the Spirit of Gosport across the soggy bit, which also gave me my first experience of the new Hard Interchange building. The screens detailing departure information were also displaying the horrors of the tower block fire in London……L
The terminal building was quiet when I arrived there, so I was immediately checked in for the 09.00 Normandie Express (NEX) departure. The café provided a decent pot of tea for me to enjoy out on the terrace while watching all the goings on. Apparently Wednesday is one of the busiest mornings in the port and this was certainly reflected by Normandie Express, Normandie and Commodore Clipper all present on my arrival, with Bretagne and Cap Finisterre arriving in due course. Foot passenger embarkation was duly called and a handful of us filed through security to the waiting bus.
Once on board it was clear that this was a busy sailing (vehicle wise) with several classic and expensive cars heading to the Le Mans 24 hour race. A coach reversed on, followed by some larger motor homes, then boarding was complete allowing the two decks hands to complete the first part of their daily workout by vigorously securing the stern ramp. An on time departure was followed by a slow cruise past the RN Dockyard and onwards to France!
As mentioned, the car deck seemed pretty full so I was expecting the passenger cabin to be also. I was pleasantly surprised, therefore, to find that there were a lot of free seats to be found in the amidships and after cabins. Settling down in one of these, I waited for the queue at the café to dissipate before having breakfast. A new innovation on board the craft this year is a cooked breakfast, costing £ 4, consisting of continental style sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs and crushed potatoes. Despite the slightly green tinge to the potatoes they, and the rest of the meal, were quite tasty. This was fed back to the steward who had served me as he had asked for my honest opinion.
The journey passed without incident and, upon arrival in Cherbourg, several of the crew were taking pictures of the expensive cargo they had carried across the Channel. A specific announcement was made for foot passengers to proceed to the car deck and coach passengers to remain in the cabin – which was largely ignored! Transit to, and through, the terminal was swift. Then it was off to enjoy the delights of Cherbourg on a very hot summer afternoon.
My first port of call was my favourite bar ‘Le Skipper’ for a couple of pressions, book reading and people watching. Midway through my first drink there was a bit of a drama as an old lady didn’t see the step up into the bar and proceeded to fall into the chair opposite sending the table lamp, menu and my drink flying! Swift reactions saved most of my drink – and me from getting too wet – with the lady offering profuse apologies and bar staff swiftly on hand to mop up the spill. I was a bit shocked when I got the bill as it came to € 16 ….. what!!!!
I returned to the terminal in the early evening so that I could enjoy a bite to eat before boarding Barfleur for the evening departure to Poole. Stena Horizon was alongside and seemed to have a healthy load for her crossing to Rosslare. There were only four of us footies so formalities were quick and we were soon on board. I left my backpack in my cabin (8300) while I repaired to the bar for my customary departure drink – enjoying it out on deck as we set sail on a balmy summers evening.
The wake up music filtered into my dreams ending a fitful night’s sleep. Breakfast was okay – however I felt I was being rushed by the crew. My plate was removed immediately after I had taken my last bite, coffee cup likewise, and while it may have been ultra efficient service, it slightly came across that I was in their way. We arrived on time and I was soon through the arrivals terminal and into the check in area to begin the next part of the adventure.
Condor announced foot passenger boarding at 07.30, so it was off through security and onto an ex London Transport bendy bus for the short drive to my latest new vessel – Condor Liberation. I had been allocated seat 223 which is in the mini Ocean Traveller cabin situated on the starboard side between Ocean Plus and Ocean Club. This seemed okay and I would return here later on. In the meantime it was an initial exploration of the vessel (not all that impressed) then onwards to the viewing area on the deck above.
The Captain gave the usual departure announcement (weather conditions, travel time etc) and asked that passengers on the outside decks return to the main cabin for the safety video – which I duly did although several others remained on deck. The ‘rap’ style video has been replaced with a more contemporary one, and then it was back outside to witness a beautiful morning transit of Poole Bay.
I had another wander around the vessel and still remained unimpressed. Compared to other fast craft I have travelled on (including Fred.Olsens’ trimaran in the Canary Islands) it seemed to be rather ‘confined’. Apart from the Ocean Plus area (which I only looked through the door at) I didn’t sense the feeling of openness normally associated with fast craft. The aforementioned mini cabin is a good idea as it was much quieter here than in the main cabin – maybe it was because there was only about 10 of us seated there – but I wouldn’t want to be in there if it was full.
I took a seat at the rear of the craft whilst having a cup of tea so I could people watch – on this occasion not such a good idea! There was a large party of elderly Northern English people doing the same day trip as myself as part of their coach tour holiday. The first problem was that they couldn’t find their seat numbers (indicated by large magenta signs on the arm rests!)…..then they weren’t all seated together…..then it was too cold….I finally moved after one lady descended heavily onto the seat in front of me almost spilling my tea.
I didn’t sample the catering on the outbound journey – but it looked to be of good quality and reasonably priced – unlike the £ 4.35 required for a pint of lager
True to the Captains’ word we arrived in St Peter Port on time. Condor Liberation was joined today by Condor Rapide and Marin Marie of Manche Iles Express. Sark Belle arrived shortly afterwards, while Herm Trident V sat waiting some new passengers. Disembarkation was fairly swift allowing me to spend an enjoyable afternoon in Guernsey’s capital.
Returning in good time for check in, I was met with a large queue and immediately thought the worst. Within a minute or so, there was an announcement for foot passengers to by-pass the queue and check in at the Condor desk (the group were being checked in at the Manche Iles desk and stretched back to the entrance). My boarding card indicated that I had been allocated seat 2019 in the Ocean Club lounge – the location of which I easily found thanks to the large seating plan displays available in the terminal. Boarding was the ‘long way round’ – i.e. along the jetty and down the link span rather than via the starboard side passenger access. Once on board the Captain delivered the bad news that the starboard engine has gone defective and the return journey would take four hours. The ‘Condor Curse’ had struck again!
Once safely departed I made my way to the Ocean Club lounge where I was met by a friendly stewardess who went on to explain that my allocated seat (part of table of four) had been given to a party of three and I could sit in any free seat. Her seating plan indicated that the inboard half of the lounge was unoccupied so I chose the nearest one. Big Mistake!. The family in the other table seat had a particularly vocal child so I relocated to a seat further back – a fact noticed by the steward who commented that it was a bit noisy at the front.
Menus were issued and drinks offered. I decided on a little power nap however and dozed fitfully for about an hour. Once awake the stewardess was quickly by my side asking if I was hungry. I was! The Ocean Club has its own menu and apparently it has just been revamped. One of the new dishes was ‘meatballs in a creamy pepper sauce accompanied by rice or chips’ which sounded interesting – so that was my order. This was quickly delivered (the Casquets Bistro is adjacent to the lounge) and was very good!. Portion size was perfect and I later discovered that this was the crew’s favourite meal J
Successfully fed and watered, I wandered along to the Adore duty free shop with the intention of purchasing a postcard of the craft. Unfortunately there isn’t one! I did notice that the Traveller cabin was considerably busier than the outbound trip so I sought the sanctuary of the Club lounge and a welcome G+T. Our journey time was creeping up ten minutes at every update from the Captain and we eventually arrived in Poole just shy of 20.00 instead of the scheduled 18.40 – just as well I had the foresight to book a hotel.
Once alongside disembarkation was painfully slow. It took about 25 mins to get off, then passengers – who obviously knew better than the bus driver and although told to wait – boarded the already full bus slightly delaying its departure L
A long walk followed – due to the swing bridge being under maintenance I had to go via the Twin Sails bridge - to get to Poole station where I found out that South West Trains were disrupted and a taxi ride to my Bournemouth hotel was required.
In summary it was an enjoyable two day trip. I’m not in to classic cars but seeing them on NEX was an unexpected treat. I haven’t spent a night at sea for a long time so that was a welcome return! The Condor trip was tainted by the delayed return and arrival experience – the Condor crew however are friendly, helpful and doing their best.