Wednesday 5 November 2014

Sailing to Jersey with Condor Ferries

Last week my family we're lucky enough to take a fun family break to Jersey and what a great time we had. It was the first time the children had ever travelled on a ferry and the first time my husband and I had as adults. My last ferry ride was when I was about 19 years old and in fact I went to Jersey but it was on one of those overnight booze cruises that were popular with students about 20 years ago. The idea of lots of cheap alcohol was very enticing, I'm glad to say that phase has long passed!

This holiday was about forming memories to last a lifetime and having fun and relaxation together as a family and Jersey was the perfect place to do that. Small enough to travel its length and breadth in one day but built up enough that there is loads to keep you entertained.

Embarking on our journey
Our journey started on Tuesday when we drove 5 hours to Weymouth to stay at the Premier Inn to be ready for our early departure with Condor Ferries the next morning. We'd been advised to arrive at least 60 minutes before departure but not knowing our way round the local area we left the hotel at 7am and drove the 10 minutes to the ferry port, thus arriving 80 minutes before departure. I'm glad we got there at that time as we were greeted straight away and sent right through to load onto the ferry.

It was a dull morning and pouring with rain which seemed such a shame for our first ferry crossing but the Condor staff seemed oblivious to the weather and were still all smiles and very professional. Within 15 minutes we were shown into the ferry and boy was it cramped with cars on there. I have to admire the slick operation and the knowledge the staff had to be able to get us all on their safely. There was limited head room, turning room and general space to manoeuvre but by 7.50am we were already up in our seats all ready for the journey to start.

Club Class Lounge
We had been provided with Club Class seats by Condor and these normally cost an extra £23.50 per person on a UK - Channel Islands crossing. For this extra you get a very comfy and large reclining seat in a small lounge of about 40 people. It is closed off from the rest of the ferry so you feel comfy and enclosed. Two stewards were with us the whole time offering complimentary tea, coffee and soft drinks. There are also baskets of tasty Bronte biscuits and small muffin bars which you can help yourself to throughout the journey and I think each of my children had at least three. 

There is also table service in the Club Class lounge for the full restaurant menu, snacks and alcoholic beverages. I was pleased to see the prices were the same as if you had queued at the restaurant but of course you get to miss the queues, have your food delivered to you and they come on china plates. On the outward journey my family each had a full breakfast which was £5.70 for a small one or £8.95 for a large one including beverage and toast. My husband said the breakfast was really tasty and he would definitely have one again. On the way back the kids all had a meal and it was about £17 for the three of them to eat.

Also in Club Class each set of seats had a large table so I was able to play snakes and ladders with the kids and we could use our laptops and iPads thanks to the two power sockets on each table. On board some Condor ferries there is free wifi and this worked really well when we were docked but was more patchy when at sea and going faster on the Vitesse. Sadly our return journey was on the Rapide and we did not have any wifi at all.

The Club Class lounge is at the back of the ferry and this appeared to be were the ride was smoother, which was fortunate as I was suffering a bit with motion dizziness on the way to Jersey. I chatted to the stewardess about the smoothness of our ride and she advised me that it was smoother in the summer months (as long as the winds stay down) and that it can be more choppy this time of year and into winter. Thankfully all the rest of the family were fine and I was to on the return journey.

My only minor criticism of the Club Class lounge was that it was far hotter than the rest of the boat and when you feel a bit sea sick that is not what you need.

Other seats
Also at the back was a bigger lounge with leather look seats that reclined, these do not have any tables with them and are obviously for people who wish to have a sleep during the journey. They can be booked in advance for £8.50 each in addition to the standard fare.

The largest areas of the ferry are dedicated to the standard seating and whilst the seats do not recline, they looked comfy and had slimline tables in between the sets of 2,4,6 or 8 chairs on the Vitesse. On the Rapide many were like aeroplane seats with little tables that flipped down. It appeared that people got their early to bag their favourite seats, especially if they wanted a larger set of seats together. There was a lower and upper deck with seating inside. There was not any outside seating that I saw but you could get out on most sides of the ferry to watch the vessel launch or as we were sailing. I did notice a specific smoking area out on the upper deck.

Facilities on board
This ferry was much smaller than cross channel ones I had travelled on when I was younger but there was everything you needed - a bureau du change, mobile phone charging station, Costa coffee cafe, restaurant with cooked meals and snacks, a well stocked duty free shop and a smaller shop with drinks, confectionery, magazines and small children's toys. The kids were well impressed with the prices of the soft toys as they were cheaper due to the 5% tax in Jersey.

There was a children's area with padded seating and a small table in the middle. A film was played during the crossing and the girls were pleased to see it was Frozen on the way out and the Lego Movie on the way back. As this children's area was right by our lounge we were able to let the kids go there alone and they made friends and enjoyed being with other children for the crossing. JJ even managed to make a friend he wants to stay in contact with.

There were plenty of toilets on board and these were clean and well stocked throughout our four hour journeys. Not once did I have to queue in the ladies, even just before we disembarked.

Visiting the captain
We were very lucky that Condor had arranged for the children to visit the captain. At first we were advised this could not happen as the visibility was not good enough and he needed to concentrate his efforts on sailing and of course we were very glad to hear that keeping us all safe was his priority. However within a short time it became clearer and we were taken by the Guest Services Manager to the front of the ship.

Captain Mark was super friendly and really happy to answer the kids questions. He let them sit in all the key chairs and even plot the other boats that the radar was picking up. We learnt there was only one captain per ferry, 29 staff in total on that journey and life rafts for 900 people. I think my JJ could have stayed there the whole day and chatted if I had let him but to be honest my sea legs were not good at this point.

The journey
In total we were at sea for 4 hours from Weymouth to Jersey and then 4 hours 40 minutes from Jersey to Poole. Each way we stopped at Guernsey which is just about an hour trip from Jersey. This break was really welcome and it was good to get a look at this island and Dock here for half hour or so whilst the Guernsey passengers got on and off.

On the way home we arrived at the Jersey port and was very surprised to b greeted by name as we pulled up to the check-in.  This kind of great preemptive service is what made Condor Ferries a pleasure to travel with.

Leaving the ferry
The announcements were clear during our journey and a short time before we docked we were advised to go back to our cars. Of course since we had parked other cars had packed all around us and it was cocka full.  To be honest this was the worst part of our outward journey as our car was parked on a corner with another large car parked about two inches away from the drivers back side of the car and about one inch from our boot. As we had one child in the boot it was a pain that we could not open the boot to let her climb in. I also could not get to the drivers back door to move the seat and let her in that way. So she had to clamber over the seats and I had to get in the back seats to help her with her seat belt.

I also needed to hold my husbands car door as he got in to make sure he did not dent the car next to it. We were in the car for about 15 minutes before we got to drive off and it was stuffy and hot. Once the cars were moving again it was well orchestrated and the staff were good at directing the cars how to pull out. We moved off quickly and there were no delays and we were out of the dock within 10 minutes.

It was slightly better on the way back as we were parked on a straight bit but I had to wait for other cars to pull out before I cold get in as there just was not enough space between the vehicles. Again the staff were excellent and we were super impressed by their diligence, speed and expertise at helping the cars safely manoeuvre out.

Travelling by Condor Ferries to the Channel Islands is an easy way to get there. You have the convenience of being able to take your car and thus having access to travel across the island and when you have a family like mine it is also great to be able to load the car up for all weather eventualities - rain coat, winter coat, wellies etc etc.

The service we received in Club Class was excellent and made all the difference to our journey. If I needed to travel by ferry again I would not hesitate to use Condor Ferries.

Disclosure: We received our ferry crossing free of charge for the purpose of this review. I have not been instructed what to write and I remain honest. 
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