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Ferry options? Day or night? Thoughts and info, please


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Dear all

Can I beg some brain-picking, please.

Having been sitting happily in France enjoying retirement for most of the past four years [excluding last year when I was very poorly most of the time]… I've now decided it was time to give the grey cells and airing. So I'm working on a mini-guide website to weekending / short breaking in Normandy.

All contributions – ideas, suggestions, recommendations, questions or whatever – very welcome.

For the benefit of newcomers, I'm doing a Getting Here page, with a rundown of the various options [am / pm / overnight and cabin / seat etc]. 

First thing I need your help is with driving times to Portsmouth. We like the morning sailing, and usually overnight nearby [Ibis / Travelodge etc]. But realistically  – as opposed to Google Maps timings – how accessible is the AM departure to people who don't live locally?

For footies, the snag with the afternoon sailing is that there's no bus connection – so either stay in Ouistreham or fork out ±€50 for a cab. Thoughts.

Overnight - how many people prefer a cabin, despite the shortness of the crossing / early wake-up and cost. Is a day cabin worth having – maybe for those who've had or are facing a long drive?

Also if anyone has stayed in one of the luxury chateaux / country house hotels, recommendations welcome. Likewise for seasides.

If you don't want to post here, PM and we can follow up by email.

TIA

Ken

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We like the morning sailing from Portsmouth - Caen as we can then get some shopping done and usually arrive at the French hovel in daylight. We live near Didcot so it's a quick blast down the A34 / M3 to get to Portsmouth, but it does mean an early rise, so we do prefer a day cabin to have a nap ... in these COVID times it is probably going to be worth having a day cabin anyway. We don't do overnights unless absolutely necessary.

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Frankly...all the three sailings  to Caen have drawbacks from my point of view.

I live a good three hours from Portsmouth so have never considered the morning boat. The afternoon sailing lands me at Ouistreham at 2130 and I don’t know a hotel there which appeals.  And the overnight boat goes far too fast and puts me ashore when I am half awake.

Sailings to St Malo and Roscoff suit me better.

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Posted (edited)
48 minutes ago, wortley said:

Frankly...all the three sailings  to Caen have drawbacks from my point of view.

Totally agree.

First one is too early, especially with the extra 45 mins added to checkin

Afternoon one gets in a bit late for comfort, however does have the 'free' day cabin and I often get this one as I only have 25 min to travel after Ouistreham

Evening one gets in too early & I am shattered for the entire day - in the past I went overnight to Le Havre as it got in at a civilised time.

The return trips have similar disadvantages, I try and get the 14:00 Wednesday crossing these days as the timing is more civilised.

ps the best crossing for timing is the Tunnel.

Edited by David Williams
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Coming from Cheshire,we always preferred the afternoon sailing to Cherbourg on NEx which was of course seasonal and now looks to have gone for good.Arrive 7ish,throw the bags on the bed at Mercure Centre Port and out for a great dinner at Le Vauban or Cafe de Paris.A perfect start to a holiday.

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Given no other time pressures, we prefer the afternoon one both ways. The morning one means a very early start and I never get a decent sleep on the overnighter. No sooner have you settled in and dropped off than it's the dreaded wake up music.

Providing the A34 is not doing its impression of a car park, it is about a 2 hour drive for us and for the outward journey that usually means the road is a bit less busy, and of course the afternoon sailing is often the cheapest of the three. A meal onboard, restaurant or self serve depending on our mood and the menu offerings. Once off the boat, a night at one of the nearby hotels. Our current favourite is the Best Western just on the outskirts of town. A good location for getting away early the next morning, clean rooms that are not that different from the ship's cabins but perfectly fine for one night, and a decent breakfast. However, we are influenced by having some BW reward points that help pay for the accommodation.

Not having a base in France, we visit different areas. Our last night in France tends to be an hour to ninety minutes drive away from the port. That gives us plenty of time to visit Carrefour at Herouville for the essential shopping and if it is one of the later afternoon departures, time to wander round Ouistreham, perhaps a walk on the beach to watch the boat arrive.

That usually gets us home about midnight. 

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Posted (edited)

Loved my midnight sailings on Barf from Poole.  Have a good kip on board, then arrive in Cherbourg at around 07.00 French time.  Mosey on down to Maccy’s for grub then Pascal usually picks me up around 9.30 so we can beggar off to some bunkers and a bit  of exploration, then back in time to get the evening crossing back at 6.30.  Get back home to Poole, grab a cab then home to bath and bed.  Bliss.  The 08.30 sailings eat into the day a bit, so best to do them so get a 10.30 crossing back.  Former is preferable!!

Edited by Khaines
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One tip for making a short visit to France is that BF allows up to 29 hours on shore in France on a day ticket. This means if you take the 08.30 from Poole one day, which arrives at 14.00, you can come back on the 18.15 the next day, effectively giving a day and a half in France. We've done that a number of times, and also used NEx from Portsmouth in a similar way -- although that is no longer going to be possible of course.

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Driving times to Portsmouth falls into the 'how long is a piece of string' category as people come from all over the UK. They can use tools such as Google or the AA Route planner to work out how long it will take them.

So, it's more an issue of what time do you arrive in France and how long will it take you to get to your Normandy destination?

As others have said, the overnight to Caen can be a killer as you disembark at an unholy hour half awake probably having had little sleep - not a great way to start your break. In that sense it is best to take the morning crossing which arrives in time for you to drive to many of the best places in Normandy before it gets too late. Depending on how far you have to drive to reach Portsmouth it can be worth overnighting at a Travelodge or similar before the crossing.

On the return trip the opposite applies, what is the best time for you to arrive in the UK ready for the homeward drive? In our case, living in Surrey, the afternoon sailing from Caen will see us indoors around 10pm but it depends on how far you want to drive. If you are staying to the West of Caen then an evening departure from St Malo (if available) gets you into Portsmouth at a very civilised 8:15am or so, fully rested for a longer drive home.

As always, it is horses for courses really. Travellers visiting the East of Normandie might find the Tunnel or Newhaven Dieppe crossing more convenient, especially if they live towards the east of the South East UK or Essex etc.

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Posted (edited)
57 minutes ago, PeterR said:

One tip for making a short visit to France is that BF allows up to 29 hours on shore in France on a day ticket. This means if you take the 08.30 from Poole one day, which arrives at 14.00, you can come back on the 18.15 the next day, effectively giving a day and a half in France. We've done that a number of times, and also used NEx from Portsmouth in a similar way -- although that is no longer going to be possible of course.

I would do that one and have pondered it, was thinking of booking up either the Ambassador or Mercure hotel in Cherbourg as both are pretty central.  Was thinking of that for visiting Grandcampe Maisy, when we went to Pointe du Hoc, it took so long to drive there, we didn’t get as long as I’d have liked, need a good few hours there.

 

Edited by Khaines
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2 hours ago, cvabishop said:

As others have said, the overnight to Caen can be a killer as you disembark at an unholy hour half awake probably having had little sleep - not a great way to start your break. In that sense it is best to take the morning crossing which arrives in time for you to drive to many of the best places in Normandy before it gets too late. Depending on how far you have to drive to reach Portsmouth it can be worth overnighting at a Travelodge or similar before the crossing.

I must admit, when we did the overnights to Cherbourg about 15 years or so ago, we all felt pretty rotten on arrival and despite arriving at the campsite (Brittany) at check-in time and therefore with all of the afternoon already there on holiday, it was an early night for all and meant all that time 'saved' wasn't really used.

After a couple of unsuccessful overnights, we switched to the early start and drive to Portsmouth from Gloucestershire for the morning crossing. Sure, you're into France later but with a cabin you could catch up on missed sleep from the early start but still having had a good 6-7 hours in your own bed at home which is always going to be a winner.

Return was always the afternoon crossing; again it leaves a 3ish hour drive on the other side back in the UK, and at the mercy of Portsmouth passport control as to what time you make your way North, but allowed for a civilised wake-up in France and home just before midnight, so not quite as unGodly hour as it could have been.

Of course, there was always the fastcraft option which we did a few times, but ultimately we ended up preferring the privacy of a cabin on a day crossing. 

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If its one thing I learnt over the years using the Plymouth-Roscoff route is that once I thought I have this travelling lark sussed things change again.
1. I used to think a cabin with a bunk was ok. Increasing age has told me to change that.
2.The overnight Ply-Ros takes ages. It wanders down along the Cornish coast for hours before setting off south. If you dont sleep well you feel awful in the morning for the drive south. Now changed to one a week day crossing arrive too late to drive or 6 a week overnight.
3. Return is planned as a pleasant short crossing  but arrives late evening and with a  drive north up the A38 with no street lighting Not pleasant in the rain I can tell you. If its the PA and its full and raining ,exiting Milbay is not one of lifes pleasures.
4. The early morning Ros departure looks ok but its a very early start for us. But we've been twice nearly caught out by very dense fog up in the hills of the Armorique national park. Even road works diversion in a forest at 4 in the morning.

So what I'm trying to say Ken is that there are so many variables apart from the question "Day or Night ferry?"

Except its a Club cabin every time on the Armorique for us.

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We have always found the St Malo overnights in each direction to be pretty much the ideal for our body clocks.

On the one occasion we travelled overnight Portsmouth to Caen with an onward drive to the Dordogne the disembarkation was so early that after an hour's driving I had to stop for a nap before it was safe for me to continue and I was a heck of a lot younger then! Never again.

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Quote

 

To throw even more into the pot....

We live in Fishguard, for us, there is not a lot to chose between Portsmouth and Plymouth, are about 4 hours away, the A350 rules Poole out. 

We are heading for Guemene Sur Scorff so Roscoff and St Malo are a couple of hours away. Caen is a drag Cherbourg a mega drag and Le Havre not even on the map.

In an ideal world we like overnight out of Portsmouth with an early evening sailing meal on the Bretagne and a civilised(ish) arrival in spectacular St Malo in the morning.

In reality overnight out of Plymouth is great if we arrive early, have a meal in town, get on the ship, straight to bed and zombie out of bed in the morning.

On the way back, Cherbourg and Caen are - out.

St Malo, get up there for a morning sailing, Ok we can stay with our mate in Dinan, which means arriving on the ferry with a decent hang over. Which would be followed by a lesson in tedium followed by a 4 hour drive.

Roscoff on the way home is better in all it's variants: 

09.30 arrive the night before, park the van in the terminal, night in town then wake just in time for the ferry, retire to the cabin a decent lunch then on. Good option

Afternoon sailing,  relaxed run up from the house, an easy crossing, then home by about midnight.

Or a late night sailing, night out in Roscoff, then straight to bed, off the ferry half awake, divert off the road at about 10.00 for an unhealthy breakfast then home for lunch.

Works for us...

Rhys

 

 

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, AdamW said:

I must admit, when we did the overnights to Cherbourg about 15 years or so ago, we all felt pretty rotten on arrival and despite arriving at the campsite (Brittany) at check-in time and therefore with all of the afternoon already there on holiday, it was an early night for all and meant all that time 'saved' wasn't really used.

After a couple of unsuccessful overnights, we switched to the early start and drive to Portsmouth from Gloucestershire for the morning crossing. Sure, you're into France later but with a cabin you could catch up on missed sleep from the early start but still having had a good 6-7 hours in your own bed at home which is always going to be a winner.

Return was always the afternoon crossing; again it leaves a 3ish hour drive on the other side back in the UK, and at the mercy of Portsmouth passport control as to what time you make your way North, but allowed for a civilised wake-up in France and home just before midnight, so not quite as unGodly hour as it could have been.

Of course, there was always the fastcraft option which we did a few times, but ultimately we ended up preferring the privacy of a cabin on a day crossing. 

I found the early starts fine as I am up and out and about early at home anyway, I like to be out on deck with a coffee long before anyone else has stirred.  My bugbear is when did the overnights from Poole, it was getting ready to leave for the port when I would normally be getting ready for bed at home!  Usually wen straight to the cabin and be after an onboard coffee and poke round the shop.  Loved to see the sunrises outside in the morning, by the time we arrived in port was wide awake and bushy tailed.  

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I live about 15 miles south of Glasgow and we have holidayed in the Vendee since 2010 but before that we holidayed in Brittany and Normandy.  

As a child we holidayed in Brittany and the Vendee and we enjoyed the overnight crossings both ways between Portsmouth and St Malo, and although the road networks weren't what they are now, the drive from Scotland to Portsmouth was easily done after breakfast (lunch would have been sandwiches but I don't remember what we did for an evening meal). I don't remember either how we ate on the journey home but I remember driving on both sides of the Channel through small towns and villages.

The first time we took our eldest to France we were living just outside Glasgow city centre and it took us almost 14 hours to drive to Portsmouth. We were holidaying with my in-laws and a morning coffee stop to let the baby out the car seat cost us 5 hours; breakdowns and accidents saw us further and further behind the in-laws and after an explosive nappy and emergency change around Warwick we arrived at the Premier Inn at Port Solent just before the restaurant closed to hand the baby to grandparents with the instruction "baby needs a bath; we're off for a meal". That drive put us off driving to Portsmouth for an overnight ferry so the next year we did the drive over 2 days to relieve the stress, but we ended up in Portsmouth at lunchtime on day 2 with a ferry booked for 8am on day 3. The next few years we used Rosyth-Zeebrugge because a 45 minute drive followed by a 17 hour ferry crossing got us to Europe.

When we reverted to sailing from Portsmouth, we booked a Premier Inn at Port Solent and used the 08.15 Portsmouth-Caen crossing. In 2013 my car was broken into at the Premier Inn in Warwick on the way home (the photos and review are on Tripadvisor  https://www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Hotel_Review-g186400-d2509152-Reviews-or5-Premier_Inn_Warwick_hotel-Warwick_Warwickshire_England.html) so we became wary of where we parked the car overnight and we ended up biting the bullet and driving from Lanarkshire for the overnight crossing to Caen; we no longer breakfast at home (we throw the offspring in the back of the car with a cereal bar and a carton of fruit juice and we fill travel mugs with coffee) but instead breakfast is had in Carlisle or the Lake District (Tebay services does an amazing breakfast) and then we grab an evening meal around Portsmouth before travelling on the overnight Portsmouth-Caen. In 2018 we were in Portsmouth so early that we could have been on Bretagne; we went to the USA in 2019 but I had booked Bretagne for 2020...

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There is nothing worse than arriving way too early in the morning in a ferry crossing and I have never understood why operators Persue it. I am far more a fan of ijmuiden - Ams (arrival 09:30) or some of the Stockholm - Baltic sailings which arrive around 10:00 than some of the ones that arrive at 06:00 - 07:00 in the morning.

You always see people drive off who were in the bars till 2/3 am clearly drink driving and a blind eye is clearly turned. Any foot passengers are just knackered and not well rested. The early morning Caen arrival puts a lot of people off, including myself as discussed i the thread.  I avoid them at all costs!

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Hi, First contribution to this site! The question of which ferry and when is not an easy one to answer as to a great extent it depends, as others have said, on where you live. For me the easiest crossing is from Poole to Cherbourg, but as I have a motorhome it is easy for me to stop at any aire once I am in France.

Assuming you  have your own transport I suggest anyone planning a trip across Le Manche needs to plan their journey to suit their destination be it Normandy or Brittany, plus the return is similarly planned to suit their home destination, or a suitable overnight stop in the UK ( or an overnight crossing, but in this case you need to allow for a night in an unfamiliar bed that might be surrounded by  unfamiliar noises and vibration!)

 The crossing from Poole is the shortest in the Western Channel, and is the one nearest my home on Portland so is the route I use. It leaves at a reasonably early hour and I normally partake of both breakfast and Lunch on the Ferry, which leave me free to drive for the afternoon. Once off the ferry there is the need to face driving in unfamiliar traffic on the 'wrong' side of the road, always a daunting task for occasional visitor across the Channel, and best not undertaken when tired or in darkness! If you are stopping at self catering in France you now have to add in the need for a shopping trip to get the essential milk, cheese etc. if not for that evening then for a late night cuppa! So for me the morning crossing works well, off the ferry and out of Cherbourg and along a good dual carriage-way to get clear of the Cotentin peninsula. Plenty of shopping opportunities on the way.

In the reverse direction I find the evening crossing most suitable as I am home before Midnight with Dinner on the ferry, plus there are alternative sailings overnight on some days. 

Must admit used to use Baie De Seine to Santander, but got fed up with the Bay of Biscay interrupting my sleep. Good sea vessel but frequently a lumpy crossing, now sadly gone but have used Barfleur for the past couple of years and driven all the way (taking it easy on the French roads).

So --- yer pays yer money and yer takes yer pick!!

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As this topic appears now to cover Brittany as well as Normandy, another tip if taking a day trip ie for 29 hourse onshore in France, is to look closely at the ferry timetables for ferries leaving earlier/later than usual. On one occasion, we managed to take the overnight boat to St Malo (including dinner on board of course) on day one, arriving in St Malo on the morning of day two, and then an afternoon crossing back to Plymouth on day three. All on a day trip! This isn't possible very often though.

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Posted (edited)

Out of interest but slightly off topic, hope that guy who runs the red and white van selling bacon butties and teas and coffees near Cherbourg’s terminal  is still there.  Liverpudlian guy, there with an Asian lady think she’s his wife.  Great couple, hope they survive all this, will definitely get my custom when we can finally get back. 

Edited by Khaines
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14 hours ago, jonno said:

Ken is working on a website mini - guide to Normandy. Maybe we need another thread for Brittany so the two could run hand in hand?

I think there is quite a bit of crossover when it comes to sailing times use of cabins etc.

Living in Cornwall we only ever use Plymouth Roscoff, so 99% of sailings are over night, which means you can have a couple of drinks and some sort of sleep/rest before driving in the morning.  Coming back has to be the Afternoon sailing except on Sundays, I like to have a drink or two when first aboard, which leaves a few hours to rest and eat before having to drive, we normally get a cabin meaning we can have a lie down and a shower if wanted and of course when the boss goes to the shop she has somewhere to put the bags.

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Posted (edited)

The other problem is thaat if you do not have a cabin to park your belongings you have to cart all the bags and coats etc every time you leave your seat to go to the shop or restaurant otherwise you may have to find a new place to lurk when you come back. If you leave your coats and bag to reserve your perch you may be accused of terrorism.

Edited by veryoldbear
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5 minutes ago, veryoldbear said:

The other problem is thaat if you do not have a cabin to park your belongings you have to cart all the bags and coats etc every time you leave your seat to go to the shop or restaurant otherwise you may have to find a new place to lurk when you come back. If you leave your coats and bag to reserve your perch you may be accused of terrorism.

I used to leave a note on the table saying I was in the self service queue with my description.  I took my handbag obviously, but left shopping and my coat at the table.  I found it very difficult to balance my evening meal on a tray AND carry shopping.  I never got cabins on the return crossing.  

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