Reviewed by Natalie Kitchen
On Tuesday 7th April, on a gloriously hot and sunny day, my husband and I were lucky enough to start our trip to the beautiful island of Guernsey on Condor Ferries new ship, Condor Liberation.
We travelled from their port in Poole on the south coast of Dorset. We only live an hour’s drive away in Hampshire but as we didn’t want to risk missing our ferry we set off two hours earlier than the minimum check in time to allow for any problems or traffic. We are glad we did as we got stuck in a lot of traffic on the way down. Poole is a popular seaside town so during hot weather and peak time like school holidays, it can get busy. It also didn’t help that they were cleaning up litter and cutting the grass on the central reservation of the main dual carriageway into Poole so they had coned off one lane of 3 long stretches on the road causing long tailbacks. Condor ask that you check in your vehicle no later than 60 minutes before departure so it’s best to leave sufficient time to get there in case there is traffic or roadwork problems. But there is a lovely harbour, Quay and beaches in Poole so if you get there really early you can spend some time exploring. The ferry port is very well signed from the main roads so it is easy to find your way there.
Once we had finally got there, we joined one of the numerous queues for check in. This was very quick and staff were very friendly. You hand in your booking confirmation and get a boarding card with your seat number on and a sign to hang on your rear view mirror with your destination on it. The same ferry travels to both Guernsey and Jersey. Then you are directed to a lane. After a short wait our lane was called forward. We drove through a hangar and our car was called over at random for a security check. We were asked the usual security questions like if we packed our own bags or if anyone had asked us to carry anything and the security lady asked to look through the car and boot. After checking that everything was ok we were directed to another lane to await boarding. Unfortunately there was a delay in boarding as they were waiting for extra staff to come over from Weymouth and they had got stuck in the same traffic we had getting into Poole, so we were 45 minutes late departing. The only disappointment was that there was no communication as to why we were still sat on the dock at the time that we should have been departing. There were staff stood around chatting who could have informed the passengers sat in their cars what was going on. We only found out about the delay when we were aboard and the captain mentioned it over the tannoy when he was welcoming everyone onboard. When our lane was called there were plenty of friendly staff to direct you in the right direction. It is very tight in the ferry but there are staff there who help signaling the cars into tight spaces.
All seats are pre-assigned which saves you walking around trying to find a seat. Condor Liberation has 3 classes of seating, Ocean Traveller, Ocean Plus and Ocean Club. We had seats in Ocean Plus which are situated in the Horizon lounge at the very front of the ship with lovely panoramic views. You either have seats around a table with power supplies for charging phones or tablets etc. or reclining seats with a fold out tray. To access the lounge there is a code that you get given at check in if you are an Ocean Plus passenger, and the lounge has its own bar. Seats in the Horizon lounge looked to have more leg room then those in Ocean Traveller and the panoramic views made it a lot lighter and a nicer place to enjoy the journey. The seating with tables were useful for those travelling with children so they can play with toys or tablets on them. If your budget stretches then I would definitely recommend upgrading.
The journey over to Guernsey was great. When we travelled, Condor Liberation had only been in service just over a week. It took just 3 hours to get over there and then a further 1 hour on from there if you were going to Jersey. The sea was nice and calm when we sailed and we hardly felt like we were moving, the ferry is that smooth. There is a restaurant on board, Casquettes, that serves a selection of hot meals and sandwiches and Paninis. There is also a duty free shop on board and each passenger has an allowance on what they can buy. There is a bar in the main lounge and the exclusive one in the Horizon bar. If you upgrade to Ocean Club there is seat steward service with an exclusive food menu and complimentary hot drinks. There is an outside area at the back of the ship with 2 levels to enjoy the view if it’s a nice day. If you are travelling with children, there is a children’s tv room. They play children’s movies and there are bean bags on the floor for the children to sit on to enjoy the film. It is very small though and on busy sailings in the school holidays it can get crowded. When we sailed there people stood at the sides of the little room as there was nowhere left to sit. The facilities on board were very clean and the staff were friendly. Prices were reasonable too. We took our lunch with us on the journey there but bought drinks from the bar at the Horizon lounge. Off loading once we got to Guernsey was quick and well organised. It drops you off in St Peter Port which is Guernsey’s capital so from there you can access the main road to your destination.
Unfortunately whilst we were in Guernsey, the ship had some problems and wasn’t running at full speed and it had to be repaired overnight. Because of this some services were cancelled or the times changed. We received a text message saying that our outward journey the next day was going to change from departing at 3.30pm and arriving at Poole at 6.30pm to departing at 1.45pm and arriving at 8pm. Then an hour later we got another text saying that we were leaving at 4pm and arriving at 8pm. We were confused by this so we checked the website and the mobile site said that we were leaving at 6pm and arriving at 8pm leading to more confusion. We tried to phone Condor and couldn’t get through to the port so we decided to go down to the office at St Peter Port to find out when we were sailing. It turns out that the first text I was sent was the revised Jersey crossing and the second text message had the correct revised timings for us from Guernsey. As the ship was running at reduced engine speed it was going to take 4 hours to get back to Poole rather than the 3 hours on the outward journey.
As with the journey there, loading on to the ship was quick with lots of friendly staff to help you to manoeuvre into the tight spaces. Very helpful when you are travelling in a classic sports car with poor visibility and no power steering as we were. It was a full crossing on the way back so it took a bit longer to load everyone on so we departed 15 minutes late. We decided to eat a meal onboard from the restaurant on the way back. The captain how come across the tannoy at the beginning of the journey to say everyone travelling from Guernsey to Poole was entitled to a complimentary sandwich from the restaurant (I think this might have been because of the problems with the ship and the inconvenience of timings changing and it taking an extra hour to get home, but we were not told why) but we decided to get a hot meal. We were surprised at how reasonably priced the menu was. Hot dog and fries would set you back just £4.99. There were also burgers, pie, curry, fish and chips etc. I decided to go for the chicken burger and fries. Unfortunately the burger was very dry and the chips were undercooked so I couldn’t finish my meal. My husband had the pulled pork and beef burger though and he enjoyed his other than the chips being undercooked. The crossing was a bit rougher on the way home but the ship managed well. We were pleasantly surprised that we were running at full power on the way home rather than the reduced power they said we would so we arrived back to Poole in just 3 hours. This was great for us as we were worried about the time we were going to get back to pick up our 3 young children from my parent’s house with the new later sailing times and the extra hour it was supposed to take.
Overall both our journeys with Condor were enjoyable. The staff are friendly, the new ship is smooth, bright, comfortable and clean with great facilities. However, it was let down by the quality of the food and poor communication both on the way there with not knowing why we were delayed and how long we would be delayed for, and for the confusion of the way back with the new crossing times. However, I could just have been unlucky with getting the two different text messages. We would use the service again though.
For more information, offers or to make a booking visit www.condorferries.co.uk.