Having left our car parked in the hanger, we made our way down one flight of stairs and through a corridor to be greeted by a friendly welcome host. He quickly showed us to our sleeping quarters and when the kids flung open the door, we were all pleasantly surprised by how spacious our four-berth cabin was. This was the start our first-ever overnight channel crossing onboard Brittany Ferries and their ship Bretagne…
The children went wild when they saw the drop-down bunk beds and the rolling waves outside our porthole. “We even have a TV and a shower!” exclaimed Monkey, who was already clambering up onto the bed to claim his spot for the night.
Why we decided to sail from Portsmouth to Saint-Malo
We’ve taken the Eurotunnel on previous trips to France, but travelling from Calais towards the south means a seriously long car journey – and with a toddler that can be stressful. What appealed to us about sailing with Brittany Ferries was that as we were starting our French adventure in the region of Brittany, it made sense for us to cross the channel overnight and wake up refreshed in our destination. There was also the added excitement of sleeping onboard a ship, which the kids have never experienced before.
Boarding Brittany Ferries
Even though the tickets specify you need to check-in 45 minutes before departure, we didn’t want to take any chances and arrived an hour and a half ahead of time. And it seems several other passengers had the same idea, as we were still behind a number of vehicles waiting in line. The boarding procedure was extremely simple and straightforward – it was just a matter of handing over our documents, keeping hold of the cabin key cards, and hanging up a number to be displayed on the rearview mirror. Once we drove through passport control – the only thing we had to do was wind down all windows so our faces could be seen, we were ready to board Brittany Ferries. After being directed into the correct lane and parking bay, it was simply a case of switching off the engine, grabbing our bags and heading inside to find our cabin.
What’s onboard Bretagne?
Considering most of our time would be spent in bed, there is still plenty to explore onboard Brittany Ferries’ Bretagne including three dining options, an onboard shop selling gifts, food and alcohol, as well as live entertainment in the bar, a games arcade, cinema rooms showing movies throughout the evening. There are even reading and relaxing seating spaces, a very tiny soft play area which Peanut enjoyed and room to explore outside on the deck. There is even WI-Fi available on the eighth deck where you can find ample places to just sit, have a drink and relax.
Dining options on Brittany Ferries
Because it was dinner time, our first priority after checking out the cabin, was to head for our evening meal. By chance, we just happened to walk past Les Abers restaurant and spied the food stations groaning with all manner of delicious-looking food. However, it was the desserts that caught the eyes of us all! After being seated at a well-dressed table, the light and airy space felt elegant but not too formal – there was plenty of chitter-chatter and families seated with children.
As we were told of the kids’ meal options, it seemed as soon as we ordered their nuggets and chips, they had arrived for our hungry kids – kudos to the chefs, as they were freshly made to order and the chicken was excellent quality. We had the option of getting our starters, desserts and cheese from the buffet stations, however, also the choice of a made-to-order hot meal – of which I had the most delicious confit of lamb.
For £27 per person, I thought this was more on the pricey side but for the standard of food, I was happy to pay – from fresh salmon to king prawns, an endless array of salads, so many cheeses I was stuck for which one to go for first, and the desserts. From mille-feuille, cakes, tarts to mousses, it was a tad overwhelming and impossible not to try at least three… okay maybe four! I was even more impressed by the helpful staff when enquiring whether Peanut could eat any of the desserts with his food allergies, they offered him instead, his favourite, ice cream.
We all enjoyed our dinner, as the ferry gently made its way towards France – and washed down with a good bottle of wine, it really felt as if our family holiday had already begun.
Tip: If you’re sailing on the weekend, don’t forget like we did that most shops are shut on a Sunday in France! So stock up on items before you leave.
Our Brittany Ferries Cabin
I had anticipated that our fourth-berth Brittany Ferries cabin would be small, and although it was much bigger than envisaged, it had been a good move to pack lightly – just one rucksack for our stay, which fit comfortably in the compact storage area. It was clean and even had tea and coffee making facilities. The ensuite facilities are bijou, but with fresh towels and a hot shower, as well as a flushing toilet, there really is no need for much else when you are only there for one night.
Getting the bunks down was easy, and after the novelty had worn off and tiredness hit, we all settled down to sleep. Having only ever slept on one cruise ship some time ago, I had forgotten the strange feeling of falling asleep as you’re moving on water. The others it seemed, weren’t bothered one bit as I could hear their deep breaths and tiny snores within minutes. The mattress wasn’t too soft, but not used to sleeping in a single bed it did take me a while to drift off to the low thrum of the ferry’s engines.
Verdict of our trip from Portsmouth to St Malo
Waking up to the dulcet tones of classical music was rather amusing, but a gentle way to start our day. I did manage to get a decent night’s sleep after all… After quickly packing up our belongings, and grabbing a coffee and pastry from the café upstairs, it was time to get back into the car and make our way to our next stop.
Would I take an overnight crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo again? Yes, yes I would. Starting our French adventure early in the morning meant we had the whole day to explore Saint-Malo before heading to Vitré, in just a few hours. Instead of feeling overtired, we were all raring to go and excited about our trip. Because of the fun element of sleeping in the cabin, and travelling by boat, our holiday had actually begun as soon as we turned off the ignition and headed to the cabin. If you’re looking for an easy and enjoyable way to cross the channel without it eating into your holiday time, then Brittany Ferries is something you should definitely consider – and with routes across France and Northern Spain, it really is a no-brainer.
And Our return from St Malo to Portsmouth?
Sailing during the day offers a different experience in the sense that you have more time to make use of the facilities and enjoy the entertainment on offer. Having the cabin is still a great idea, purely because you have a private retreat to leave your belongings, rest and nap, as the communal areas are quite busy and crowded particularly during lunch.
It was being able to enjoy sitting in the sunshine out on deck which made all the difference during our daytime sailing trip. Meanwhile, instead of dining in Les Abers (see above) we decided to go to the self-service restaurant La Baule, where we discovered the cost was much more reasonable – with a family meal deal consisting of a two courses and two kids meals for £28 – and still the same quality of food but in a much livelier setting. We also had time to catch a movie at the cinema which was a great treat for Monkey and I. (You have to purchase your tickets beforehand at the ferry reception on the 6th deck).
We even had a chance to enjoy a drink and watch the live entertainment of Peter Pan – which the kids really enjoyed, and they even did some dancing around the stage afterwards. It was a pleasant return journey home, even though we were sad that our French holiday was ending, at least Brittany Ferries made the crossing home much more bearable – and for us, once disembarked at Portsmouth, it’s only an hour’s drive home. Which, when we’ve already driven hundreds and hundreds of miles in France, is a huge bonus!
*We travelled from Portsmouth to St Malo and back. On this route, fares start from £407 return for a family of four and a car, including an ensuite cabin on the outward overnight sailing. Brittany Ferries provided My Travel Monkey with a return fare but all food, drink and items purchased onboard were at our own cost. As always my opinions are my own.