After comparing the available ferry companies, we opted to travel with DFDS due to their reasonable pricing and availability for the particular times that we wanted to travel. The last time I travelled on a ferry to France was with school nearly twenty years ago, so I couldn't really remember much about it and it was the first time we would be driving abroad to a holiday destination. DFDS currently offer two routes from Dover to France. The first is Dover to Calais, with the second route being Dover to Dunkirk. The Calais journey was better for us, as it meant a shorter drive time once in France, to get to our destination.
I found their website to be very clear and I had a look firstly, at what kind of facilities were available onboard. The crossing only takes approximately 90 minutes, but that short time can feel like hours if there isn't much for the kids to do and they get bored. The website provided information on what facilities were available and I was pleased to see that there were a variety of dining options, places to relax, shopping and a games & play area.
I read that DFDS offered a dedicated play area called Pirates Island, which included soft play and toys. This sounded perfect for my son Riley and would provide him with a place to keep busy and entertained whilst travelling.
Once we had made our final choice on sailing date and times, we booked online and received our booking confirmation almost instantly via email. The email confirmed all our booking details, which I checked over carefully and it also provided some important information such as check in time. Usually you can check in up to 45 minutes before, but with it being the busy summer period, it was suggested that we arrived 90 minutes early. We didn't want to risk missing our journey, so made sure that we took this into consideration when planning our route from North Wales to Dover.
On our day of departure we set off early from North Wales at around 2am. Our sailing time was 09:10am and it is just under a 5 hour drive from our home. We made good time on our journey through the night due to there being very little traffic on the roads. Even with two rest breaks, we arrived in Dover for 7am and with us having time to spare, we decided to stop at a nearby Premier Inn for breakfast. I always find these really good value as kids eat free, so we can enjoy a full breakfast buffet with drinks for the 5 of us, for only £17.98.
Once we had finished our breakfast, we made our way to the port with plenty of time to spare. Despite being a bank holiday, we were suprised to find no queue and drove straight to the DFDS check in booth to hand over our passports. These were then scanned and we were provided with a hangar to display from our rear view mirror. We were told to follow the lane round and then join the queue in a particular lane number, where we could park up and then either stay in the car, or walk to the terminal for a drink.
We had brought drinks with us on our journey and with just having had breakfast, we decided not to visit the terminal area and instead remained by our vehicle. We waited there for just under an hour and applied our headlamp deflectors whilst stationary. These are a requirement for all British vehicles to have whilst driving in France so we decided it was the ideal time to apply them, before boarding the ferry.
Once it was time for us to board, the staff directed the lanes one by one onto the ferry. Staff onboard then showed us where to park and we then simply locked our car and made our way up the stairs onto the ferry, ready to explore.
We initially went straight to Pirate Island, where Riley enjoyed a good play before it got too busy. This was a nice area, but did soon become very busy and crowded, as to be expected on a busy bank holiday crossing. There was a television too which was showing a Scooby Doo movie, so Emma and Ben sat and watched this for a while. Once the ferry began to move, we decided to move to one of the outdoor decks so we could watch as we travelled through the water and wave goodbye to the White Cliffs. The weather was dry and quite warm so we stayed up here for just over 40 minutes, before heading back to explore the rest of the boat.
Our first stop was the shop, which was very well stocked and the prices actually seemed quite reasonable. I was expecting most things to be overpriced, but some things were actually quite low in cost, such as the perfume and alcohol. It was well stocked and in addition to the usual duty free items, there was a nice selection of gifts and toys available for children.
We decided to begin heading back to Pirate Island and stopped at the Games Arcade on the way. This was quite a large area, but didn't seem to have many machines. There was certainly room for more, and unfortunately three of the games that were available were out of order, which was slightly disappointing. The children did manage to enjoy one of the racing car machines though and this kept them more than happy. Once we reached the soft play area, Mr F and I enjoyed a coffee whilst sat by one of the large picture windows looking out over the water, whilst the children played again. We stayed here for the remainder of the journey and found it to be quite relaxing.
Once we reached the Port of Calais, we returned to our vehicle and waited to be allowed to disembark. I had expected to have to show our passports again on reaching France, but suprisingly we simply just drove straight off the ferry and onto the motorway. We were out of the port in a matter of minutes, making the journey very quick and easy.
Overall we found it to be a good experience. The ferry was very clean and modern and there was enough to do to fill the 90 minute journey time. However, I think the Pirate Island could do with being slightly larger and that the games arcade area could also benefit from the introduction of more gaming machines. The food and drink we had onboard in both directions was hot and tasty and the service was great. We found there to be ample seating throughout the boat for all guests and the seats were comfortable and relaxing. The children enjoyed being able to sit out on deck whilst sailing and it was nice to be able to get outside and enjoy the fresh air during the journey. Both the embarkation and disembarkation process was quick and easy and this helped to make our travel stress free. We would definitely travel with DFDS again and hope to use them again in the future.
If you would like to learn more about the sailings that DFDS offer, then you can visit their website here: DFDS Seaways