P&O Ferries Day Trip to Calais with Club Lounge and Priority Boarding
Reviewed by Patricia Shaw
Saturday 14 December early in the morning, although a little later than planned, we set off from Bedfordshire for a day trip to France. We were fortunate to have a very clear run to Dover and arrived in just over 2 hours. The sun was bright as it rose and we were glad to know where we were going as it was nigh on impossible to read the road signs as we headed east along the A2. Ignoring the directions on our phone which wanted to send us through the town, we followed the signposts to the port. It was easy to find and where we needed to go was clearly signed within the port.
Check in closes 30 minutes before boarding, but you have to get through passport control before you get to check-in. There was a bit of a queue which meant that we didn’t quite make it in time for the priority boarding; however we were fortunately still able to catch the 10:15 ferry.
We didn’t get chance to use the facilities at the port as no sooner had we reached our lane a member of staff came round with a leaflet reminding us of the regulations for driving in France and told us we would be boarding shortly.
Once on board “The Pride of Burgundy” we found our way around fairly easily. There was already a long queue for the restaurant and we were glad not to have to join it. Walking through the family lounge we found the Club Lounge. Our two were the only children in Club Lounge and I was wary of the looks we got from fellow passengers as we entered. Having been warned that we would take them out if they didn’t behave they rose to the occasion. I do wonder what would have happened if they had disturbed the other passengers? On entering we were asked for our ticket, as the club lounge is by ticket only, before being offered a glass of champagne. My husband had his usual tea and the children both had hot chocolate. There were a number of people using the club lounge and two members of staff looked after everybody throughout the journey. The food menu was limited but for breakfast there was the choice of a breakfast basket which consisted of a croissant, a pain au chocolat and a slice of brioche served with butter and a small jar of jam (£4.50) or scrambled egg and salmon (£8.50). The children (aged 5 and 9) shared the breakfast basket. I chose waffles from the light bites section which came with just the right amount of syrup drizzled over them and a delightful bowl of fruit: raspberries, blackberries, redcurrants, strawberries and blueberries (£4.50).
The crossing was extremely smooth and the time flew by. After finishing our breakfast we just had time to visit the shop and have a quick step out on deck before the announcement asking us to return to our vehicles ready for disembarkation in Calais. There was not much information available for things to do in Calais, but plenty of leaflets on British tourist destinations close to Dover.
The staff on board were all very helpful, especially in the shop where they were ready to advise on the different fragrances and offers available.
Shopping in Calais has something for everyone from the out of town wine and beer warehouses (many of which allow you to pre-order, saving time when you get there), and super/hypermarkets to the shopping centre and high-street shops in the town centre. There are plenty of restaurants to suit all pockets and tastes and a free bus shuttle service within the main town.
We made our way from the terminal, straight out onto the motorway and took the first exit. Remembering to look left and drive on the right we went round the roundabout we took the last exit before the motorway back towards Calais and headed for ZI Marcel Doret and the many wine and beer outlets. We went to Lidl first as this was recommended to us for good value quality wines. Unlike in the UK you can use credit cards in Lidl in France.
Stocked up on wine, cheese and other goods we made our way back to Calais centre where we headed towards the beach for lunch. Parking at the seafront was easy and free. We had taken sandwiches with us so as not to waste time and sat on the benches to eat them whilst watching people on the beach and the ferries come and go. A short walk on the beach gave the children time to burn off some energy before we hit the shops.
We drove to the Boulevard de la Résistance where we found another free parking spot and we set off on foot towards the centre of town. In the Place d’Armes there was a Christmas display advertised as “Calais in Wonderland”. The square had been transformed into a mini wonderland with decorated Christmas trees and large wire framed figures of characters and objects from the well-known story of “Alice in Wonderland”. There was a small rollercoaster costing €2 per child and stalls selling vin chaud (mulled wine), crêpes (pancakes), gauffres (waffles), croustillons (a sort of hot crispy doughnut) and marrons (chestnuts) amongst other things. We had a quick wander round looking at the historic buildings by the square before window-shopping as we headed up the road towards the town hall. We stopped off at the playground as the children were getting fed up with the shops before continuing to the centre. Parking in the centre is readily available however the ones we saw were limited to 2 hours and cost €1 per hour. We were disappointed not to find a real French Christmas market in Calais; we would have had to drive to nearby Dunkerque or Boulogne and did not feel we had the time to get there and back in time for our ferry home.
After a relaxing day in Calais it was time to return to the UK. Driving through the town the Christmas illuminations were a wonderful sight, certainly quite different from those I have seen in England. In addition to the familiar lights across the roads and hanging from the buildings, the large colourful figures which are found all over the town, including on the centre of some of the roundabouts, come to life as they are lit up.
Our return journey was on The Pride of Kent 18:50 crossing. The port in Calais is just as easy to find as it was in Dover. This time, despite the delay at passports while they checked every photo against each traveller, we were in time for priority boarding. Having lost the reference number, I was relieved that they did not need it due to the number plate recognition software; a simple confirmation of surname and number of passengers was enough to get our boarding card and tag for the rear-view mirror. Priority boarding meant there was no hanging about in the port: we drove to the front of our lane where a marshal approached us, asked us to put our hazard lights on and move into the queue. On board the ferry we were directed to drive to the front of the parking area on deck 5 ready for a speedy departure on arrival in Dover.
Club lounge on the Pride of Kent is more spacious and has a more luxurious feel to it with sofas and chaises longues in which to relax with a glass of champagne after a busy day. The return journey was a little rougher and as the club lounge is situated near the front of the ship it was more susceptible to its movement. We sampled more from the food menu choosing from the hot bites rather than the sandwiches on offer, we ordered the quiche and the pâté for the children and the field mushrooms and baked mini camembert for my husband and me. We are lucky that our children will eat most foods as the Club Lounge menu not being aimed at families does not really cater for younger tastes. The food was brought to our table by a very friendly steward it was very tasty and the portion sizes were decent for the price of £5.50 each. We enjoyed our meals although the children, being used to eating at the dinner table, had a little difficulty eating at the coffee table.
Club lounge was certainly a treat; the tranquil surroundings away from the hustle and bustle of a busy ferry, comfortable seating, free newspapers and magazines, spacious and pleasant toilet facilities, waiter service for the complimentary drinks throughout the crossing and decent crockery instead of the usual metal teapots and paper cups. If travelling alone or as a couple I would highly recommend Club lounge. Nonetheless If you want to spend time shopping, go out on deck and /or using the other facilities such as the slot machines, children’s play area, Brasserie restaurant, or have a main meal in the food court then Club Lounge is probably not worth getting at £12 per person when pre-booked (£14 if bought on board). If travelling with children, there are perhaps better options. Families would be advised to consider their options carefully bearing in mind the likelihood of their children behaving appropriately without any of the entertainment which is available elsewhere on the boat.
Both crossings were on time and the ships were clean with pleasant staff. All in all an enjoyable day was had by everyone and if you are looking for a different day out with the chance to stock up on alcohol then this might be the trip for you.
Was it good value for Money? Nowadays much of what you can buy on the French high street is available over the internet or in UK shops so value for money as a shopping trip depends on what you are wanting
Advice for your trip:
Remember to sort out Euros, travel insurance, passports, breakdown insurance, and car insurance (our policy covered us for up to 3 days in the EU at no extra cost)
It is advisable to work out where you want to go before you leave in order to make the most of your time there. Consider pre-ordering your wine and beer.
Allow a good half hour for passports and border controls to be certain of being able to check in on time.
On board the ship, if using cash you can pay in either euros or sterling although change is given in sterling. Credit and debit cards are also accepted.
Remember the regulations for driving in France if you don’t want to risk an on the spot fine:
When driving in Europe you are required to carry the following items:
First aid kit
Headlamp beam adaptors (for both day and night driving)
Two fluorescent vests accessible without leaving the car
Breathalysers (NF approved twin pack)
If considering using Club Lounge you can check out the menu here.
If the choice of ferry and facilities on board is important to you, you can check out the deck plans here.
Ferry crossing: 5 stars / Calais Christmas shopping: 3 stars
Overall Rating: 4/5
For more information or to book tickets visit www.poferries.com.