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  1. 2 night minicruise to St Malo on the Pont completed using the BFE offer. Our drive down to Portsmouth from North Yorks was smooth and no real traffic issues meant we arrived about 18.15. A wait for 45 mins or so to board and we were up to deck 4. Parked, dropped bags in cabin and headed to to Le flora for the buffet and a main course of lamb on bulgar wheat, my wife had the duck and both of us were very happy with our meals. Excellent service from the waiter. We were positioned by a window on the port side, and so got a glimpse of the aircraft carriers, the inbound Normandie and the loitering BDS as we headed out from Pompey. A stroll around the boat and deck suggested it was pretty quiet, we nosed around the shop for a bit before retiring to the cabin with a bottle of red to watch a film on the ipad. Woken in the small hours to find the ship moving a little bit, due to swell rather than wind. Arrived in st Malo about 7.45, got off quite quickly and were off to Leclerc for a coffee and croissant and to consume Christmas shopping. We spent a while up there before heading back and parking near the city walls at Esplanade Bourse. Whilst Leclerc had been manic, the old town was relatively quiet. We nosed around the christmas market and ice rink near the tourist office, before having a stroll around the old town for a couple of hours. With a couple of hours left before early boarding began we realised we'd forgotten some essentials so drove up to Carrefour and the shopping centre there, got what we needed (a very full car now) and headed back to the port. Onto Pont deck 4 again about 18.30. This time we were in for a treat. I had messaged BF to see if there were an upgrades available. Long story short, I've been seriously ill this year and booked the trip to say thanks to my wife for holding everything together. BF were good enough to extend that thanks by upgrading us to a commodore! She was delighted. As was I! We had some fizz sitting on the balcony as we left, headed to the self service this time (neither of us were hungry enough for le flora) and had a lovely beef stew. A stop off to buy more wine in the shop and deliver it to the car, and we went back to the cabin to watch a DVD from reception. Coffees from the commodore lounge, but they evidently didn't work as we both fell asleep quite quickly. I woke around 1 ish when we were passing Jersey, again the boat was moving a bit but it was quite a short wave period driving it, very little wind. Woke up properly at 0630 this morning and enjoyed the sun rise from our balcony (8413) and then made the most of it by having our breakfast on the balcony, although it's December it was relatively warm and there was no wind on that side of the ship. Off the ship by 0915 and straight through passport control and onto the motorway and home. Really enjoyed our trip. My wife now says that Pont Aven is her favourite, usurping Bretagne and the Pride of Rotterdam. All the bf staff were very smiley and helpful. Thanks to Colin and Ed for the monitoring of the strikes, luckily we weren't affected. In terms of a Christmas destination st Malo was quieter than I had thought it would be, there wasn't a tremendous amount going on in the old town, although it did look like it might come more alive in the evening. We got everything we wanted though, and above all the crossings were superb, food excellent and service ditto. The Commodore cabin was fantastic, I didn't think I'd appreciate the balcony, we've had a deluxe before, but i really liked it. The only thing that let's them down for us was the bathrooms. In comparison to the new club cabins on the Pride of Hull/Rotterdam which we used in October, the Commodore cabin itself is bigger, equally comfortable but on P & O there are separate toilet and showers, with the shower unit being a double side by side unit and properly tiled, double.sinks too. I believe some have bathtubs instead of showers. When she eventually gets a cabin refresh they could do to look at that in my opinion. It's not dreadful but felt no better than the standard cabin we had on the way out. Was very impressed with the speed of clearing passport control and has made me think that we shall use Portsmouth not Plymouth when we venture to southern Brittany again in 2021. Thanks BF and BFE for a great minicruise.
  2. Annoyingly later then the 14:15 her AIS showed, so a bit dark and noisy...
  3. '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.
  4. 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!
  5. Bretagne has been a familiar sight in Portsmouth for over 25 years, and this weekend she is celebrating her 30th birthday. She was the first fully commissioned cruise-ship for Brittany Ferries and a great achievement for a company that was relatively new. Since being launched from the Chantiers de L’Atlantique in St Nazaire, she has become a moving tribute to the hard work and determination of the Breton farming cooperative that started the company, bearing the same name as the region in which the company began and their headquarters still remain. Bretagne is one-of-a-kind, thanks to the work of a Scotsman named Alexander Goudie. Described as a floating art gallery, three hundred original pieces of art are displayed on-board in honour of Brittany. Ceramics, drawings and paintings were all passionately designed around a region he adored. Regular travellers on the Bretagne are well-versed on how to make the most of the crossing, beginning with a drink in the piano bar, followed by a meal in Les Abers restaurant, lovingly described as the place to eat on the English Channel. Happy and full, passengers retire to a comfortable cabin for a good night’s sleep ready for their arrival in St Malo. So, please join us to raise a glass to Bretagne, for she is a jolly good ferry which nobody can deny!
  6. In June 2001 Brittany Ferries announced that they had placed an order with the Van der Giessen shipyard in Rotterdam for the construction of a new 36,000 GT super ferry to operate on the Portsmouth - Caen route from 2003. This new ferry would become the largest ferry in the fleet and would operate alongside the Normandie, which was introduced in 1992, increasing capacity on the route by almost 60%. Upon its introduction the Duc de Normandie would be transferred to the Plymouth - Roscoff route and the faithful Quiberon disposed of. This would address the imbalance on the Caen route which had existed. The order was officially placed and signed on the 6th September 2000, and construction began on the 22nd February 2001 with the cutting of the first sheet. The name for this new ferry was announced in June, to be called 'Mont St Michel'. This name was chosen for a shortlist which included Honfleur among others. The keel was laid during a ceremony at the yard on the 7th June 2001 - Yard Number 985 had begun to take shape. Van der Giessen The Van der Giessen shipyard was chosen by Brittany Ferries in late 2001 to construct their latest cruise ferry. Previous ferries built by the Dutch yard had been nowhere near as large or on as grand a scale but Van der Giessen rose to the challenge, and to show the world it was capable of building such a vessel. Ferries constructed included the Commodore Clipper, Ben-my-Chree and the Blue Star ferry twins. Van der Giessen-de Noord has a worldwide reputation as a leading designer and constructor of vessels. Van der Giessen-de Noord made a name for itself in the area of safety and comfort. In passenger ships this is displayed by, amongst other things, high hydrostatic stability, low sound and vibration levels and extensive safety provisions. In 1997 Van der Giessen became part of the IHC Calandl Group. Sadly it was announced in August 2004 that Van der Giessen was to close as IHC exited the shipbuilding sector. The yard was to close on completion of their final vessel in early 2004. In a statement IHC stated "It has become increasingly clear that the yard cannot survive in the current very weak market place, due to the uncompetitive price levels at which it is obliged to operate". The Mont St Michel was delivered to Brittany Ferries some six months behind schedule and it is speculated that the compensation paid was in excess of £25 million, which was one on the major factors in the decision to close they yard. The Launch On the Morning of the 16th March 2002 the Mont St Michel made her appearance to the world to much celebration. She was launched stern first down the slipway leaving the undercover construction yard and into the yard basin. She was immediately towed to the fitting out berth where internal components were installed apace. The launch went to schedule, on time and according to her build schedule. Interior Design The internal design of the Mont St Michel were themed on 'The Arts of the region of Normandie'. The public spaces were designed by AIA, which was also responsible for the interior designs of the Barfleur, Bretagne, Normandie and the Val de Loire. The theme for the Salon du The was 'The Art of Cinema' and based upon the film festivals at Deauville, Cabourg and Honfleur - covering the role Normandy played in the French Cinema. 'The Art of Music' was the theme for the main bar, reflecting the variety of music which is found in Normandy - from Classical to Blues. The use of brass, for example, reflects the role of Jazz in Normandy's history. Stainless steel and wood was also used resulting in a relaxing contemporary atmosphere. The main restaurant reflects 'The Art of Literature' containing portraits of authors, bookcases and leather armchairs. Combined with the excellence of Brittany Ferries' chefs an authentic French relaxing atmosphere resulted. The 'Art of Painting' was chosen as the theme for the self service restaurant. The art of impressionism was born in Normandy, and as a result this is reflected here. Whilst easting French cuisine you are able to enjoy exhibits from notable Normandy artists. The passenger cabins were to be equipped with a new design of bunk bed which retracted into the ceiling when not in use giving maximum space in the cabin whilst the bunks are not require. Fitting Out As soon as the launch had been completed the fitting out of the Mont St Michel began. This was a mammoth task with all of the air conditioning systems, cabins, public spaces, safety equipment, machinery and electronics all having to be installed. Unfortunately fitting out did not go to schedule as problems were encountered with the air conditioning systems and delays with suppliers being experienced. As a result the service entry date began to slip back from July. Following many provisional entry dates the Mont did not depart the shipyard until 1700 on the 25th October, and even then she was still not complete. Another ferry under construction in the yard (for SNCM) was to be launched and the fitting out berth required. The Mont St Michel was relocated to the Verolme Botlek ship yard at Europort. Sea trials were planned for the 26th October but were postponed due to poor weather conditions and further fitting out delays. Sea Trials On Friday 8th November the Mont St Michel departed Holland for her sea trials. The poor weather conditions resulted in the Mont sailing off the south-east coast of England near Harwich in Essex. She reached her service speed of 21.4kts with no difficulty. She returned to Holland in the early hours of 11th November where fitting out continued. Wilma van Ryn, project manager said "We went over to the English coast because there was quieter weather there and the sea trails have gone very well. Machine-wise the ship is very good, and we maintained the speed we were aiming for. She will be a very nice ship when she is completed. She is quiet, noise and vibration are both low - so comfort should be high. The passengers should be very pleased." Following the success of her sea trials her insides continued to be finished, with carpentry being the major task. It was announced by the company that she was to be named in Caen by the French Prime Ministers wife on 9th December and enter passenger service on the 17th December. On the 26th November it was then announced that the naming ceremony had been cancelled and she would not enter service until the following week. Finally on the 11th November the Mont St Michel departed Rotterdam for the last time on her delivery voyage to Brittany Ferries at 1400. She immediately sailed to Caen where berthing trials took place on the morning of the Thursday 12th. The Normandie had been diverted, as planned, to Cherbourg, to accommodate this. On Friday 13th December At 0815 on the 13th December the Mont St Michel entered Portsmouth harbour for the first time. Despite poor weather conditions she was greeted by crowds lining the shore watching the new Brittany Ferries giant sail in whilst dressed overall. She entered the harbour after the Quiberon and Pride of Portsmouth had departed. Her tight time slot for trials was also restricted by the closing of the harbour from 1030 to allow the damaged HMS Manchester to be towed into port. Once in the habour she was greeted the harbour by the mighty Bretagne, who moved berth to allow her to carry out berthing trials. Following press and company events (which were poor in comparison to those in Caen) she set sail for Cherbourg at 1215. Again, in more favourable weather conditions, the shore was once again lined with crowds, eager to get a glimpse of their new Portsmouth family member. Sailing out into the mist she passed the inward bound Pride of Le Havre, which was also keen to view the new arrival. Finally fitting out and tests were completed in Cherbourg before she sailed to Caen on the evening of the 19th of December. Maiden Voyage The maiden voyage took place on the 20th December 2002 from Caen to Portsmouth. She departed on the 1630 departure (revised to 1545), slipping her moorings at 1615. Dressed overall for the occasion spirits onboard were high, not being dampened by the inclement weather conditions. Crowds lined the banks as the Mont St Michel blew her whistle as she headed out into the fog. There were no special passenger events onboard to mark the occasion but a large number of company representatives and members of the press were onboard including David Longden and Alex Gournevec, who all dined in 'les Romantiques' for dinner with the passengers. The maiden voyage of the Mont St Michel also heralded the end of an era for Brittany Ferries as the veteran ferry Quiberon stood down from service after over 20 years service to the company. The arrival into Portsmouth was not as grand an occasion as it might have been. Thick fog concealed the harbour and fog horns were in abundance! The outward bound Bretagne welcomed the Mont - one of the few ships able to see her arrival, apart from a lone person on the round tower, braving the elements. The Mont St Michel commenced regular departures from Portsmouth that evening with the 2230 departure. The Mont St Michel was officially named in Caen on the 20th January 2003 by the French Prime Ministers wife. The festivities complete, the Mont St Michel was able to begin to settle into her new role out of Portsmouth, and has proved to be a very popular ship with both the travelling public and freight operators alike.
  7. The Val de Loire joined the Brittany Ferries fleet in June 1993 as the companies flagship, sailing between Plymouth, Santander, Roscoff and Cork. Her operations remained largely unchanged until the arrival of the Pont-Aven in March 2004 which saw her transferred to Portsmouth where she operated daily sailings to St Malo and Cherbourg. It was announced on the 25th November 2005 that Brittany Ferries had sold the Val de Loire to North Sea operator DFDS Seaways for operation between Newcastle and Amsterdam, where she will be renamed 'King of Scandinavia'. After almost 13 years sterling service the Val de Loire left the Brittany Ferries family in 2006. In this special feature we take a look back at her career as we celebrate '13 years of the Val de Loire'. Introduction The Val de Loire was built as the Nils Holgersson in 1987 for TT-Line as hull number 1059. She was built at the Schichau Seebeckswerft AG, Bremerhaven Shipyard, Tyskland, at the time being one of the largest ferries in the world, along with her sister ship, the Peter Pan (now sailing as the Fjord Norway). She entered service on 26th June 1987 between Trelleborg - Travemünde. In 1992 she was chartered to Rederi Ab, Gotland and later sold to SweFerry Ab, Trellborg. Following the her sale to Brittany Ferries and completion of service for TT-Line she was renamed Val de Loire on the 14th January 1993 and set sail for the Ankommer INMA Shipyard, Italy where she underwent a complete refurbishment and re-build. As well as being a sister to the Fjord Norway the Val de Loire also has 3 near sister ships. TT Line leased the plans of these two vessels to Olau Line who themselves built two sister ships of only slightly differing specification. These ships were the Olau Britannica and the Olau Hollandica. Following the demise of Olau in 1994 P&O Ferries chartered these two ships and renamed them Pride of Portsmouth and Pride of Le Havre respectively. They operated between Portsmouth and Le Havre until the route was closed in September 2005. Additionally, Stena Line built a smaller version - the Konginin Beatrix, at the Van der Giessen shipyard in Holland. Battle of the Bay Following Brittany Ferries introduction of their new flagship, the Bretagne, on their Spanish and Irish routes, passenger traffic increased significantly. This new cruise ferry, the first to be constructed for both Brittany Ferries and the English Channel, had captured much interest from the public and media alike with her now trend setting luxury interior and amenities. The success the company was experiencing on the route did not go un noticed with its rivals. P&O Portsmouth had long been rumoured to be investigating the possibility of operating their own route to the Iberian Peninsular, but the lack of suitable tonnage was hindering their progress. P&O had previously operated a route to Northern Spain but it was closed in 1981, it wasn't until Brittany Ferries started their own service, the first to offer just one night at sea, was a UK-Spain passenger service found to be a success. In April 1992 P&O Portsmouth announced that it had secured the long term charter of Viking Line's Olympia from Irish Continental Group (Irish Ferries), who had purchased her outright. The new ship was to operate a twice weekly service between Portsmouth and Bilbao and be renamed Pride of Bilbao. This was to go head to head with Brittany's established Santander service, despite the longer sailing time of 36 hours compared to their own 24. Brittany Ferries looked to Germany's TT-Line which was looking to redeploy its own fleet more into the freight sector. In May 1992 it was announced that they had purchased the Nils Holgersson for $60 million for the Santander service. The new ship was to undergo a major £40million rebuild and refurbishment programme in Italy before emerging in June 1993 as the Val de Loire. The Italian Job The most noticeable change, apart from her new paint scheme, was the addition of a new bow and forward section. This addition made the ship look more pleasing to the eye, and also permitted the installation of an observation lounge and forward balcony on decks 7 and 8. This work did, however, result in a decrease in the ships sea keeping capabilities, making her 'ride' the waves more than before, despite a redesigned bow configuration. Commodore Class cabins were added on deck 10 ( a first for the company), and the majority of the aft passenger spaces on decks 7-9 were all completely transformed and given the full Brittany Ferries treatment. All of the public spaced were transformed, most notably on decks 9 and 7, and on deck 1 the leisure centre was refurbished and two cinemas installed. As well as Commodore Cabins the Val de Loire brought a number of other 'firsts' to the company. An alternative restaurant, le Café du Port on deck 8 was a French bistro restaurant which produced some of the finest meals on the channel. An observation lounge was located at the forward end of deck 8 allowing panoramic views across the bow as well as providing navigational instrumentation and charts for passengers to view. A Commodore Class lounge was also created on deck 9 within the exclusive Commodore Class section of the ship. A swimming pool, sauna and gym were available for use on deck 1 and a tourist office was located on deck 9 beside two conference rooms. A hair & beauty salon was also provided, although this was removed in 2004 once she left the Spanish route. These facilities set the Val de Loire apart from both her own fleet mates but also that of her competitors. The 'theme' used throughout the vessel was that of 'Maritime Tradition'. Numerous detailed models of various ocean going liners were positioned throughout the vessel's interior, along with items including sextants, search lights, compasses and telescopes. The ships restaurant 'le temps de vivre' was decorated with watercolours of the Loire Valley creating a calming atmosphere, whilst the 'Cafe du Port' and the salon du the (le Grand Large) were lined with fishing imagery from Roscoff including some unique stained glass murals. Commodore cabins were named after different wines within the Loire Valley, complete with a complimentary bottle of the name sake's cabin inside for Spanish sailings. Brittany Ferries Flagship Once work had been completed in Italy she set sail for Santander where she carried out berthing trials before heading to Roscoff. A number of press events were also held prior to her entry into service, during heavy weather conditions ion the Bay of Biscay. The Val de Loire arrived in Plymouth for the first time on 4th June 1993, and began operations to Santander on 9th June 1993, following her first passenger sailing from Roscoff-Plymouth the previous weekend. Upon her arrival the Bretagne was transferred to to Portsmouth - St.Malo route. The operations of the Val de Loire remained similar since her arrival. She continued to operate between Plymouth, Santander, Roscoff & Cork, and between Portsmouth & Caen during the winter months until March 2004. She also spent periods sailings between Portsmouth and St.Malo (with a weekend sailing to Plymouth and Roscoff) before permanently moving to the route, having been displaced by the Pont-Aven in Plymouth. During the 2004 season she operated alongside the Bretagne alternating between Portsmouth, St Malo and Cherbourg services until operating solo to St Malo in 2005. The Val de Loire has also undertaken a number of popular Christmas and New Year cruises to Santander and Rouen. Service Review It has been pretty much smooth sailing for the Val over the years, but as with all ships, she has had her moments. Her appearance has remained largely unaltered, apart from the addition of a fast rescue boat on the starboard side in 2001, and the re-colouring of the company colours from orange to red in the late nineties. The Val had the tightest turnarounds of all the ferries operating on the channel, in peak season never stopping for more than two and a half hours. Her 2 crews, under Captain Barbancon and Captain Saludo, work on a week on, week off rotation pattern, most having been onboard since the very beginning in 1993. During the winter of 1998 the Val de Loire, whilst vacating the berth in Plymouth to allow the Quiberon in during severe gales, was blown off course whilst reversing off the berth and landed against the outer pier at Millbay docks. This caused structural damage above the waterline and following a preliminary inspection at the DML naval dockyard (having sailed up the River Tamar) she sailed, with temporary repairs, for Brest where she was fully repaired. She had no passengers or cars onboard during this incident, and remained out of service for just over a week. The Val de Loire became a TV star when Channel 5 filmed 'Ferry Tales' (a 'fly on the wall' series) onboard. An episode followed the Val de Loire on one of her winter sailings to Santander covering the exploits of some of her more 'interesting' passengers, offering an insight into the behind the scenes operations of a cruise ferry. In September 2000 the Val de Loire suffered severe problems with one of her propeller shafts overheating. When the problem was initially identified it was hoped that it could be repaired on site but it was soon realised that it was more serious than first thought, and as a result a sailing between Cork and Roscoff took some 30hrs and she was forced to sail to Brest for repairs that took over two weeks, having originally been estimated at only one weeks work at most. During this time the fleet undertook the largest shake up for over a decade. The Barfleur was initially transferred to cover for the Val de Loire at Roscoff but when her return was delayed the Bretagne came back to Plymouth. The Duc de Normandie covered for the Bretagne at St Malo and the Barfleur covered the Caen route in place of the Duc de Normandie. Services from Poole were suspended until her the Val de Loire returned. The Val de Loire made worldwide headlines on the 19th June 2001 when Spanish police uncovered a plot by the terror organization ETA to explode a bomb onboard in Santander in an attempt to sink her at the berth following evacuation of the passengers. Thankfully the suspects were arrested, and the Val de Loire sailed safely on. Security has been raised dramatically however both in Santander and Bilbao in light of the plot. In 2000 Geolink chose the Val de Loire as the first passenger ship to be fitted with a wireless mobile GSM network. No matter where you were, you can use your mobile phone onboard just as you would if you were on land. There is no longer any escape from a phone, something some consider to be a little excessive when on a 'holiday ferry' but never the less great modern feature in today's technological age. Such was the sucess of the trials this feature has now become common on most cruise ships and ferries. During 2003, her final year on the Santander service, the Val de Loire continued to hit the headlines, for different reasons. On the 8th May a young woman from Plymouth jumped overboard in the Bay of Biscay prompting a large search of the area, sadly proving unsuccessful. On the 17th September a 24 year old Vietnamese man jumped from the ship as it was arriving into Plymouth. He was recovered in minutes by a MOD launch, and following criminal damage and assault charges was retuned on the following ferry to Spain, along with several other men. During the summer of 2003 the Val undertook trials of a new radio link enabling the crew to access Brittany Ferries' reservation system whilst at sea. Upon the arrival of the Pont-Aven in March 2004 the Val de Loire bid farewell to Plymouth, following her final sailing to Santander on 21st March, transferring to her new Portsmouth base. Here she was to spend the year operating in tandem with the Bretagne on an enhanced St Malo service as well as on Brittany Ferries new Portsmouth to Cherbourg route which was opened in direct competition with that of P&O Ferries long established operation. Carryings on the new route were low, and combined with a lack of advertising and a regular sailing schedule the route looked set to close until it was announced that P&O Ferries were to axe their own route at the end of the year. During 2005 the Val de Loire operated alone to St Malo route, with occasional visits to Plymouth during the winter months. During her last few months of service the Val sailed initially between Portsmouth & Cherbourg, before switching to the Caen route to cover for refits. Her final sailing for the company was on the 20th February 2006 between Portsmouth & Cherbourg at 0745. Hall of Fame After almost 13 years service the Val de Loire left the Brittany Ferries fleet, joining the likes of the Amorique, Quiberon and Bretagne, as vessels to have sailed on the flagship Spanish services. The Val de Loire became the first super-ferry/cruise ferry to leave the fleet. She is also one of the companies most travelled ships, having operated on all but the Poole - Cherbourg route at some point during her career. The Val will be replaced on the St Malo route by the Bretagne which will be making a comeback to the route, which in turn is to be replaced by the chartered Pont L'Abbe which was later purchased outright by Brittany Ferries. This vessel was formerly the Duke of Scandinavia and is the vessel the Val de Loire replaced on the North Sea. The Future The Val de Loire is fondly missed, having become a favourite amongst Brittany Ferries passengers as well as a familiar and welcome sight at the ports she operated to over the years. She has given her owners sterling service over the past 13 years, and has generated much growth and income. Her new life as the King of Scandinavia wont see her go too far from home, and we wish her well with her new owners, DFDS Seaways. Merci Val de Loire, au revoir et bon voyage!
  8. 20 December 2002 After waiting for nearly six months the maiden voyage of the Mont ST Michel was upon us. But we are getting ahead of ourselves, before the Mont could enter service there was one final formality to be carried out - the final sailing of the Quiberon. After a very early start, by my standards anyway, I arrived at Portsmouth ferry-port at 0715 ready for check in for the Quiberon - that is if my traveling companion Will had been on time! The only evidence in the terminal of their being a new ship was the model of the Mont behind the desk. Once boarding had started it became apparent that the Quiberon was on the wrong berth. She was on Number 1 due to hydraulic problems on her regular berth. Foot passengers were being boarded via the car decks. There were a fair number of cars traveling onboard, many of which had joined the queue for the Le Havre sailing! When walking up to the information desk it was noticed that the carpets had been removed from deck 5 and below. Once we had dropped our belongings in our de-Luxe cabin we set out on deck. The Commodore Clipper and Pride of Portsmouth were in the port too. Once loading had finished we set sail ahead of the Pride of Portsmouth, which seemed to have a very heavy freight load. On departure there were no announcements mentioning the fact that it was the Quiberon's final sailing, and none of the other ships in the harbour said their goodbyes. Very disappointing. However on rounding the Naval base the Bretagne was awaiting our departure. Her crew could be seen on the outside decks and in the windows waving their goodbyes to their old running mate. The Quiberon's crew responded accordingly with many a blast on the ships whistle, ensuring everyone knew she was going! The voyage was uneventful with no events or visible signs of her 'demise.' Only le Kiosque looked slightly under stocked and decks 5 and below had been roped off. After a light lunch in the self service restaurant (with a very limited choice) it was almost arrival time. It was then we realised we were running late and so began to become concerned as to if we were going to miss the Mont! As it turned out we were not the only passengers onboard solely for the final voyage and the maiden of the Mont. A group of about 8 fellow enthusiasts had turned out in force and were recording the arrival from above the bridge. Kindly we were invited to join them. From this vantage point we could clearly observe our arrival and the immense size of the Mont. As we arrived a 'ships whistle' competition began with both ships crews waving to one another. But something was missing! The starboard forward lifeboat was not on the Mont - why? We never found out! It is interesting that the official Mont photo (at sea) on the French site shows the totally enclosed boat in the center on the starboard side, as well as with the revised logo - very strange. Also strange, the Quiberon took on a pilot before arrival. After what seemed like an eternity the foot passenger ramp was installed and we bid the Quiberon a fond, if not rapid, farewell. Check in in Caen was smooth as they appeared to know of our whereabouts. A souvenir stall by French enthusiasts had been set up in the terminal, but unfortunately we were ushered through passport control before we got a good look. When on the bus to the Mont we could see that lifejackets were being stacked on the quayside from the Quiberon, and the newspapers were being rushed to the Mont! After a steep climb onto the Mont we boarded via deck 7. This is initially on an outside deck where a teak path had been laid between the footbridge and the automatic door leading to the information hall. A bright warm welcome was received as we were overwhelmed with what we saw. We maid our way, after being given directions in French (must have looked the part!) we went to Deck 9 where our Commodore Cabin was located. Before entering the cabin area on deck 9 (for all cabin types) you are issued with your key by a hostess. The keys onboard are the credit card style. We were warned that each cabin would only be issued one key and that when the cabin door closes it automatically shuts! The cabin corridor was beautiful. A navy blue carpet with words embroidered on it ran the length, navy cabin doors, and blue direction signs guided our way. Our steward opened our cabin for us. What a nice sight! A standard design of Commodore Cabin like those found on the Val and Bretagne but with a cherry wood. White bed sheets, white leather chairs, DVD player etc all made this cabin look the business! 4 beds are located in the cabin, the two single, a convertible sofa and a fold down bunk from the deck head - an amazing new feature found throughout the vessel which saves so much space, yet is so simple. After dragging Will from our cabin we made our way to the outside decks. The lack of a single deck plan onboard did make this rather like a mystery tour. Their are multiple deck levels available to walk on, with a new blue non slip surface instead of painted steel. Very nice, but more drains would have been useful! Disappointingly there were two mounds of rubbish on the outside decks, and it became increasingly apparent that some small touches were still to be finished, including the removal of protective films on doors. Worryingly there were a couple of cans chemicals labeled 'highly toxic/corrosive' left out too! The ship was ready to sail after loading a few supplies from the Quiberon. A small crowd lined the beach, despite the rain, to wish us well. Also onboard were French TV crews and radio - myself and Will were interviewed! Just after 1510 (25mins late) we set sail into the increasingly dense fog. The ship maneuvered with ease off the berth and her power could be felt beneath. The Quiberon remained silent with only 5 crew members watching our departure. Once fully underway the flags were brought down and the rain drove us inside. The ship suffers almost zero vibration and engine noise - you really could not guess you were at sea. We thoroughly explored the vessel from top to bottom. A feature marketed was not onboard though, much to our disappointment. It appears second thoughts were had as the the viability of having an internet cafe onboard. An interesting new feature found throughout the ship is the use of plasma screen TV's, found an almost every corner displaying special offers and useful information. Something we failed to see onboard was a route progress board which would be welcome. A Brittany Ferries 'tradition' is also missing from the Mont - no neon! There is also a forward viewing area, similar to that on the Val de Loire, which can be accessed from deck 5, although it is not yet signposted and is behind fire and weather tight doors. Soon enough it was time for dinner and many Brittany Ferries dignitaries could be observed, including Captain Prigent, David Longden and Alex Gornevec! A very pleasant meal, (on unused crockery!) in the company of fellow enthusiast Alex and his father (who visit BFE!) it was almost time for arrival. It was thick fog and the whole of the harbour was full of horns. The outward bound Bretagne welcomed the Mont to the port - one of the few people who could see her arriving. So with the chants of "Aren't we big!" to onlookers on the round tower, the maiden voyage was all but over. A sad and happy day. The end of one era but just the dawn of a new standard of ferry travel. The Mont St Michel is a beautiful vessel and her crew and BF should be very proud. Very positive comments could be heard from the passengers, most of whom were onboard by chance. It was surprising I through than no announcements were made on either vessel as to the importance of their crossings.So, with Christmas rapidly approaching ask for a ticket on the Mont! I hope you have enjoyed this report. My thanks go to the crews of the Quiberon and Mont St Michel, Will for coming with me, and to Alex and his father for their company.
  9. Hi, This forum really helped me with choosing cabins for our Pont Aven, Portsmouth-Santander, trip this May. Thanks. I’ve never really booked a long time in advance before, does anyone have any experience on the cheapest time of year to buy tickets for the following Summer (July)? Looking for the same journey, for 2 cabins. Is it worth booking now, or are there certain times of the year/months before travel when they are definitely cheaper? Any wisdom gratefully received! Thanks
  10. Ferries leaving Portsmouth to have armed French military personnel and plain-clothed security onboard From today's Portsmouth News (03/07/17) http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/business/ferries-leaving-portsmouth-to-have-armed-french-military-personnel-and-plain-clothed-security-onboard-1-8036488
  11. 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!
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