When I was younger and holidaying with my parents we would travel by ferry all the time, as we would take long camping & motorhome trips in France and Spain, and the ferry provided a convenient way to get further South without requiring as much driving.
There were a couple of routes that I was always wanted to take, one of which I finally got around to experiencing last week; Portsmouth to Bilbao, which I can only conclude 6 year old me was so desperate to take purely for the fact it was longer than the general channel crossings and therefore I got to spend more time on board!
Brittany Ferries runs this route with the ship I opted to take (the Cap Finistère), twice a week, leaving Portsmouth on the Sunday and returning the following Thursday. Although I do enjoy flying, travelling by ferry felt like the holiday had already started the moment we got on board. There was no rushing round like there is at airports, just a smooth boarding onto the ship, which was so quick I was sat in the bar with a prosecco taking in the views within a matter of minutes.
I stayed in the Club Finistère two birth twin cabin, which had a huge window offering great views. It was tastefully decorated with little surprise touches including a box of macaroons, a fruit basket and luxury toiletries. The shower in the en suite was powerful and hot & there was plenty of space in the room, more than enough for a couple with lots of luggage to relax and enjoy themselves. The twin beds were comfortable and all linen & towels were provided, there was even a TV, although with so much to offer on board I didn’t have time to watch it.
The bar areas are generally quite popular, serving a range of beers, wines, cocktails & soft drinks at really reasonable prices. As well as the top deck cafe, there is also a large bar in the middle of the ship and the two story Planet’s Bar at one end with a lively atmosphere, helpfully showing the football during the World Cup. Outside the Planet’s Bar there was a list of entertainment for the crossing and almost every hour had something to offer. There was a pub quiz & bingo, both with great prizes, plus ‘Say What You See’, and a few other gameshow style events that entertained children and adults alike. The pub quiz was a fun affair, with teams competing with a little friendly competition throughout, and music rounds leading to amusingly bad sing-alongs.
There was a cinema, showing a range of current blockbuster films, and a lovely little pool on deck 10 complete with chairs to relax in and a hot tub. The pool is heated sea water and usually quite quiet meaning I was able to actually swim some lengths as well as relax when the sun popped out.
The staff on board were helpful and friendly from start to finish, even when after approximately 8 minutes on board I managed to lose both the keys to my room the staff were patient and helpful, replacing them and politely ignoring how soon I had lost them. The other staff on board were jolly throughout, smiling and informative and seemingly happy to be there, it’s such a nice environment though its easy to see why.
On the return journey from Bilbao the timing was great to go onto the top deck with the ORCA wildlife officers to try and spot some whales. The watch started at 430 and went on until 8 with the two officers on board becoming welcoming and informative. The ORCA officers now only operate on the Brittany Ferries ships, rather than their own vessels, as apparently in the route I was taking it’s actually possible to see a huge percentage of the world’s whale species.
There are a number of options for dining including the Petit Marche, serving sandwiches, cakes, drinks & other snacks and a pool-side cafe with tasty hot meals, wines and cakes. I chose to dine in Restaurant du Port, a classy à la carte restaurant with refined menus serving French cuisine and daily specials. The food was high quality and beautifully presented; including a rich beef bourguignon, pollock with mussels, a spectacular Grand Marnier souffle, and the head turning profiteroles, followed by a cheese board. The restaurant is clearly popular and it’s recommended that you book in advance if you have a specific time you’d like to dine. It’s up there with one of the nicest meals I’ve had this year, with dishes coming out of the kitchen looking so splendid that other diners crane their necks trying to see what it is.
If you’re all tired out from pool swimming, fine dining and whale watching then there is an onboard spa, a fairly new addition to the ships. It’s fairly small but offers a range of treatments from manicures and anti-aging masks to massages & facials. Obviously purely in the name of research I felt I needed to try out one of these treatments and opted for the back massage. The spa boasts a relaxing environment with skilled therapists and I came out feeling revitalised and ache free.
One of the most impressive things was purely how much space there was on board. Considering the large numbers of passengers the ship can take, there were no points where it felt crowded at all, and there are a great range of options when it comes to deciding where to relax. The Planet’s Bar has wall to ceiling windows stretching from end to the end, and the top decks cafe bar allows you to feel like you’re taking in the views from outside, without the wind.
It was a fantastic crossing, and a popular route with many returning customers, hopefully I’ll take another route soon.