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'Curiosity' led me to sample Brittany Ferries new économie service to le Havre, sailing onboard their latest acquisition, Etretat. Having been initially critical of the new concept I was keen to keep an open mind and see just what the new service would offer, particularly compared to her previous life as Norman Voyager. 25th March 2014 On arriving at Portsmouth International Port I saw that there was one car lane open for the new service in the usual BF car lanes, with the electronic display indicating 'économie Le Havre'. On subsequent visits to the port there are now dedicated 'écononmie' check-in lanes occupying the formerly empty booths beside Condor Ferries. The passenger terminal was very quiet, where I checked in. The only indication of the service differing from the norm was the boarding card which had the 'économie' logo on it. I was advised that boarding would commence at 11:00, with an announcement being made shortly afterwards. Once through security the low foot passenger numbers (approx 4) meant we were driven onboard in a BF van rather than the bus, which had the added advantage that we were taken straight up to deck 5. Now, the ramp up to deck 5 can only be described as a ski slope - and a real sense of achievement for the driver when you reach the top! Once onboard you immediately arrive the 'information hall' which is a bright open area compromising the information desk, access to a small video lounge and the small 'Waves Shop'. Crew members were on hand here to welcome us onboard. Walking on you pass the ships main stairwell, leading up to the cabins, and also doors giving access to the outside decks. Forward of here is the main passenger accommodation with the 'Seaside Lounge', 'le Bar', 'Horizon Lounge', a small children’s play area and then finally the 'Pit Stop Self Service Restaurant'. Aside from a few new chairs in the bar (taken from the Pont-Aven) the ship remains identical in terms of layout, decor and facilities as she was when sailing as 'Norman Voyager'. The majority of signage (aside from facilities names) has been replaced with BF écomomie - complete with the ribbon and bow motif currently being used throughout the fleet. Deck 6 comprises the cabins (excluding two disabled cabins on deck 5). From the outside deck on the stern of deck 7 (accessible via the 'doggy exercise deck' on the port side of deck 6) I watched loading take place, with approx 10 cars climbing the ramp onto deck 5. Departure was prompt, and without any fuss we set sail for Le Havre. Shortly after leaving the berth we were welcomed onboard 'Brittany Ferries Economie' - with no reference to the ship's name, nor the fact it was the first voyage. Our Captain for the day was Cmdt Raimbeaux (Rambo). Intermittent rain showers were avoided by heading to the enclosed outside decks on the sides of deck 5, although access to these is rather odd as the doors have emergency exit 'push bars' on them so it's not immediately apparent you can pass through. Sadly there were no well-wishers on the Round Tower! Once clear of the Channel we passed the inbound Normandie - and took a rather a large roll in the process! Lunchtime beckoned. The selection on offer was generally good. A small selection of what you'd find on the 'traditional' ferries, with a small desserts fridge and a selection of starters before the hot offering. I did feel that the hot dishes were a little poor, the quality not the selection. I opted for the Salmon but it had been sitting there for some time. The servery is also 'canteen style' with steel lids so you can't see what the food actually looks like - even the chef had difficulty locating some of the options! A selection of drinks is then followed by the cashiers desk. OK, its an économie service so I can't complain, but small improvements here could go along way - that said the food was of a far higher standard than in the LD/DFDS days! The tables are split into two zones (one formerly being primarily for drivers) and there is a large TV screen in both which were showing French and English news channels. Some tables overlook the bow which is always a bonus. As there were only a handful of passengers onboard everyone quickly settled into their routine of reading, watching their iPads etc or camping out in the reclining seat lounges. After lunch I didn't see anyone venture to the bar for a drink nor look around the shop. Everyone seemsd to know what to expect onboard and had accordingly come equipped! There is free wi-fi available onboard and 'On-Waves' provide mobile phone coverage too. The shop has a very basic offering (being smaller than that on the Normandie Express), whilst newspapers were available at the information desk. I did overhear one passenger chatting to a crew member, clearly a regular on the ship, and was comparing it to its former life, and generally praising the ship. He did make a point on departure of complimenting the fact shore cleaners came onboard on arrival in Le Havre! Incidentally a team of cleaners apparently spent two weeks deep cleaning the ship following its handover to BF. Soon enough Le Havre came into view, and with the pilot embarked, and the Seven Sisters sailing past, we made our approach to the berth, just as the heavens decided to open! We arrived on time, but due to her design, it took some time for the cars to be disembarked and approx 30mins for us foot passengers. This time we disembarked via deck 3, accessible by a long corridor and lift at the rear of deck 5. It's then a walk off the stern door to a waiting shuttle bus which then takes you, wait for it, all of 30m, to a stairwell to access the terminal via a overhead walkway. This procedure is nothing new, as since P&O departed no ferry serving the port has fitted the foot passenger gangway arrangement - nevertheless almost 10 years later a better solution has yet to be found! The passenger terminal in Le Havre, like Portsmouth, doesn't show any evidence of the économie brand (not even the boarding cards). Boarding for the return leg was advertised as starting at 21:00 but in the end it was closer to 21:30 before the gates were opened. One negative here. The two BF staff in the terminal were clearly enthusiastic and friendly, however their constant flirting with each other was rather unprofessional, with the foot passengers appearing to be an inconvenience on their night out! Once through passport control it was the usual process in reverse for getting onboard, being greeted by the purser on the car deck directing us to the lift or stairwell. Something which wasn't advised of at check-in, nor mentioned with-in the ship's guide, is the Etretat's unique cabin entry system. The cabin numbering is somewhat bizarre but even stranger is that there are combination locks on the doors - similar to that found in a Forumula 1 hotel. The code to this isn't listed on your boarding card so you must go to the information desk to obtain the magic code. Code in hand it was straight up to deck 6 to bed, after a rather long day! The cabin's are larger than that found on the rest of the fleet and are simple but clean and functional. The bedding is brand new, and now feature the usual BF duvet (compared to her LD/DFDS days). The bathroom was sufficient, but felt rather tatty with holes in the walls where items had been removed and featured an old style fixed shower head. On the return journey I went to bed as soon as I got onboard and thanks to the usual 08:00 arrival time enjoyed a full nights sleep. A negative comment however, is that the lyno flooring within the cabin and outside corridor means that noise carries very easily and I was woken a couple of times as people went past. The sailing back was smooth, being woken an hour before arrival advertising breakfast was being served in the Self Service. This was repeated half and hour before arrival, but there wasn't the usual request to vacate your cabin, so another plus here. The Bretagne berthed ahead of us on No 2 berth, whilst we were on No 3 berth. The Normandie was preparing to set sail to Caen with what appeared to be a full load onboard. There was some friendly jeering between the two crews as we made our way alongside! As in Le Havre disembarkation did take some time, it being half an hour before we were invited to make our way to deck 3 to get onto the shuttle to the terminal. With the Bretagne still unloading the queue for immigration did take some time but soon enough we were through - completing the 'adventure'. So, what did I think? Well to be frank it does what it says on the tin. It's an économie service and BF clearly go to great lengths during the booking process to highlight this fact (you must tick to acknowledge that it's a basic service) so Brittany Ferries usual clientele will be unlikely to be shocked or complain. Essentially its the same service that DFDS are offering to Le Havre and LD to Santander so it will be very interesting to see how they compete against each other. I know some on here have suggested that the Barfleur or even Armorique should also now be branded under the économie banner. This is a crazy suggestion, as both ships are FAR superior to the offering onboard Etretat. If you want to get to France or Spain on a budget, without trekking to Dover, then this certainly is a great option. With BF's route network, and the ability to easily reserve your crossing with a small deposit and make booking ammendments it also wins over DFDS/LD.
11 May 2015 The Baie de Seine entered service, in a freight only mode, with an overnight sailing from Cherbourg to Portsmouth on the 7th May. She then sailed to Bilbao and back ahead of her first passenger carrying crossing to Le Havre on Monday 11th May. The first sailing was to be a busy one, thanks to the transfer of Caen passengers due to industrial action. Once through check-in we were directed straight through security and onto the lanes beside berth 2, on which the Baie de Seine was moored, and after a short wait were directed onboard. Her vast stern door reveals her cavernous garage, and fixed internal ramp to the upper deck. We were then positioned on the mezzanine deck - where car’s were parked in a similar manner to that of the Bretagne’s deck 5. This is where the majority of passenger vehicles were positioned in here DFDS’ days, but on this sailing the majority of the upper deck was dedicated to passenger vehicles. Cabins are located on decks 6 – 10, and are considerably larger than those found on other members of the fleet. They had fresh new bed linen and towels, and there was a hairdryer located in the bathroom. More than adequate for an overnight sailing to Le Havre (or Bilbao). At the forward end of deck 7 is the Café. This is a nice cosy area overlooking the bow, and offered an alternative lounge to the bar. The Café was unfortuantely closed for the overnight sailing, so the majority of passengers favoured the bar located one deck above on deck 8. Opposite the Café is the Shop and Peitit Marche. The space has been divided into two (from her DFDS days), but the shop still stocks a good range of products and is certainly much larger than that found onboard the Etretat. The Petit Marche offered a slection of pre-packaged meals (as found on the Normandie Express and Cap Finistere), along with drinks and snacks. There is also small children’s play area located on the port side. Up on deck 8 is the information deck, in front of which is a small seating area. Forward of here you find the ‘la Forumle’ self service restaurant, which is divided in two with a walkway in between. A selection of hot dishes were available, along with a cold buffet option. Further forward is ‘le Bar’ which again overlooks the bow and was where the majority of passengers had settled. Going up, on deck 10 you can find the Economie Plus cabins and Reading Lounge. This area is furnished to a high standard, reflecting its former life as a Commodore Class area. The cabins are very spacious, and offer a tv in addition to tea and coffee making facilities. The reading lounge is an impressive space and offers panoramic views over the stern of the ship. It’s certainly not the something you would expect to find on an ‘economie’ service. There is a coffee vending machine here for refreshments. Baie de Seine offers lots of outside deck space, and it was from this overlooking the stern that we observed the loading operation in full swing, along with a nice glass of red! The departure was delayed due to the volume of traffic on this first sailing, but the arrival into Le Havre was ontime. It was a smooth crossing, with only minimal announcements made over the PA system, and the beds were very comfortable (and wider than the norm too). Disembarkation took a little time, particuarly as were on the mezzaine deck, but it was French passport control that were causing the cars to back up through the port. The Baie de Seine has certainly risen the bar for the economie brand, and would be by far my preferred choice over the Etretat. Whilst offering a high standard, the ship does still fit into the economie brand in comparison to the Caen service, with the former ‘full frills’ DFDS service having been removed. The Baie de Seine offers an attractive overnight option for sailing to France, and with her 08:00 or 08:30 arrival time, also allows a longer lay in at the other side!
Having only travelled on the Baie de Seine once before, on an overnight sailing, the winter schedule provided the ideal opportunity with her 1045 departure from Portsmouth on Tuesday. I had originally booked for the 7th March but bad weather resulted in this sailing being cancelled, so it was moved to the 21st instead. The weather felt like spring on arrival in Portsmouth, which made a change from the downpours of the previous days. It was a very lightly loaded sailing, with only 40 passengers onboard and a handful of freight - this being more of a passenger carrying ‘positioning trip’ to enable a crew change to take place in France. Despite it being quiet on our sailing Portsmouth port was bustling with passengers who were travelling out to Santander on the Pont-Aven, which was berthed beside us. Once through the security controls we were directed straight onboard, driving up the upper deck and was parked underneath the mezzanine decks, which were not in use. An extremely friendly crewmember then instructed us which was the closest door and to turn off the alarm etc. No handy card but much more interaction than on the other ships. We departed slightly ahead of schedule and began our voyage down the harbour, passing the recently named ‘Princes Royal Jetty’ where the dredgers were still busy preparing for the arrival of the new carriers. My favorite bar, the Still and West, has recently undergone a refurbishment and was sporting revised branding as we sailed past. Once out of the harbour most of the passengers who has been out on deck had headed inside as the wind picked up (as did the motion of the ship!). The majority settled in 'Le Bar', located at the front of the ship. The advert for the 'cocktail du jour' signaled that Prosecco has finally reached Brittany Ferries (or is that economie champagne?!). The bar does have a touch of the Val de Loire about it, thanks to the use of artwork from the former 'Rabelais bar'. 'Le Cafe' remained closed on our sailing, and as the windows had their storm shutters covering them the space was somewhat gloomy and not at all inviting. The Shop and Petit Marche remained open, but with very few visitors. The most popular spot, and rightly so, must be the Reading Lounge (formerly the Commodore Lounge). The space is decorated as a library with numerous pieces of nautical memorabilia scattered around, including a book about Esbjerg - in a nod to her past. Lunch was served in ‘La Formule’ from 1230 until 1430. There was an instruction poster displayed indicating how to order and pay for your food: - Please take a tray - Select your combination of starter, main course and dessert - Choose a drink - Find a table and enjoy your meal - Your waiter will bring the bill to you - Please pay at the tills as your leave There was a small selection of starters, in a buffet style layout and a few desserts on the port side along with the drinks cabinets. On the starboard side a very cheery chef advised what was available, which was at least 6 options, before settling with the lamb chops. Towards the end of the meal a waitress came over to tot up what we’d had and gave us a ticket to present at the till when leaving. The system actually worked quite well, as was reflective of the relaxed atmosphere of the ship. On a different note, there is new onboard branding for 2017 was present onboard, replacing the previous ‘ribbon’ design of which I was never the greatest fan! It’s a very clean minimalist look – photos attached – thumbs up from me! There was quite a heavy cross swell as we headed south causing the Baie de Seine to roll quite heavily at times, but those onboard remained in good spirits! The ships 'roadsweeper' was working hard on the outside vehicle deck, gaining quite an audience both by passengers and crew - perhaps the subtly placed Ferrari logo . As we approached Le Havre the sea conditions calmed and most appeared out on deck to photograph our arrival. The Aida Prima was alongside the adjacent cruise terminal - provoking a mixed reaction with her looks! Arrival was right on time, and with so little onboard, was swift. Cars were, however, being directed via the freight exit controls rather than the car booths which meant that the officials had to get out of their booths to reach down for the passports - I'm sure there was a reason why, but it did seem bizarre. Overall impressions? The Baie de Seine is a pleasant ship, and gets you from A to B with the minimum of fuss. Yes she does not have all the bells and whilstles of the full BF experience, but nonetheless offers a good service at a good price. Finally, a word of warning for any Three Mobile customers out there. Up until this year roaming did not work onboard the ships mobile network. This no longer appears to be the case, so remember to turn off data roaming when onboard - rather than learning the hard way!