DFDS ferry crossing so decided to take this route to France this summer. To say that the children were excited about the prospect of a ferry crossing is an understatement!
Our booking was made with ease and we were able to travel on our
preferred crossing which given that is was booked less than 3 weeks
before travel and during peak season was a relief. We arrived in Dover with
plenty of time to spare - in fact we saw the previous ferry pulling
away from port. The staff at check in were wonderful - there were 5 in
our party travelling to France but only 4 would be returning - the
booking system had not given me the option of changing the number of
passengers for the return part of the route, but this was altered at
check-in without a problem.
On the way out we travelled Dover to Calais and we returned Dunquerque to Dover (long story which I'll explain later). It has to be said that we had two quite different experiences with the actual ferry itself so I am going to tell you about BOTH experiences!
Boarding and disembarking
This was quick and easy on both crossings. Staff were obviously well trained and we were 'packed' onto the ferry. On the outward crossing we were first onto the ferry which may have been because we were so early, may have been because we had a premium ticket or may have been because we had 'press' on our confirmation documents! Having been on first, we were amongst the first to disembark and our entry into France was quick - we were one the road within 10-15 minutes of docking.
Dover-Calais - This is obviously a fairly old ship and was looking very tired indeed. To say that the crew lacked a smile is an understatement. I got the impression that many didn't really want to be there. Depite it being August, the boat was not particularly full so I can't blame the fact that they were rushed off their feet.
We ate lunch on the ferry and it was hard to pick what to eat from the self service cafe - not because of lack of choice or not being to our taste but due to how the food looked. I really should have taken a photo - the mushy peas had a crust on them where they had been kept warm, the chips were luke warm and everything generally look unappetizing. On a positive note, the yoghurt with granola and fruit compote was delicious. The food was poor value for money and I wish we had eaten before boarding the ferry.
The toilets were old and tired. They are in need of a re-vamp or at the very least a good clean. There were baby changing facilities but these were grubby. I would have definitely used my own changing mat had I had a baby to change there. The whole toilet area had a distinct smell about them - and it wasn't pleasant (even my 6 year old commented on it!).
On a more positive note there was a great little play area for the children. It was really designed for pre-school children but both my boys enjoyed it. Staff in the nearby were obviously vigilant as they asked a little boy to get down from the roof of the playhouse. In contrast to much of the boat, this area was clean and well equipped. The boys loved the area - and as it wasn't busy there was plenty of space for them to play whilst we could have a sit down with a cup of coffee.
Dunquerque - Dover - The crossing back was from a different port and on a different type of ship. This one was cleaner and less 'tired' than the outbound journey. Staff were far more pleasant. We had arrived for this crossing in plenty of time and had hoped to eat in the Ferry Port building - but the cafe was closed at lunchtime!
Again there was a soft play area onboard - which most parents had made a bee-line for. This crossing was far busier and the play area was heaving! The height restriction here was one metre making my 6 year old far too tall to go in (despite height restriction saying 1m and age 6 years). He was disappointed but to be honest it was so busy I'm not sure how much fun they would have had!
This is where DFDS excelled itself and I cannot praise them enough. On the return leg of our journey through France we had a poorly Sam - sickness bug. The thought of a ten hour car journey with this was not something I was looking forward to. However, we were making excellent time and were due to arrive at the ferry port in plenty of time to catch the crossing before the one we were booked onto. I telephoned them and explained, and they were happy to move our crossing to 6pm rather than 8pm....and then we hit a traffic jam to match all traffic jams. 2 1/2 hours of mostly stationary traffic. The most annoying part was when we found out the reason for the jam - to get through the peage (toll booth) on the motorway. I phoned DFDS and explained our predicament and was met with symapthy and understanding. We were going to miss the 6pm ferry and most likely the 8pm ferry we were initially booked onto (and was now full!). We decided to move our crossing to the following day as travelling so late with a poorly son was not something I particularly wanted to do. Our tickets were 'flexi' tickets (premium tickets) so we had the option of travelling up to 72 hours before or after our booked crossing. Unfortunately this is a peak weekend for ferry crossings and nothing was available (during sociable hours) the next day from Calais. We were offered a 4pm crossing from Dunquerque which was perfect (and a great excuse for another impromptu night in France). The lady I spoke to was immensely polite and went out of her way to solve our situation. This makes a refreshing change and I have to say makes this review more positive than it may have been!
A ferry crossing is generally a cheaper option than using the tunnel and so for many families this can be a deal-breaker. My limited experiences of crossing the channel with DFDS have been pretty varied - staff can really 'make or break' an experience and the Dover-Calais crossing lacked what I would expect from staff in the service industry BUT on the return leg of the journey this was much improved. The customer service I received over the phone was second-to-none and really 'saved' this review and my opinion of DFDS.
Disclaimer - I was given return ferry tickets free of charge in order to review the service. All thoughts and opinions are my own and are not influenced in any way.