Reviewed by Katie Allen
Despite living in Portsmouth and the surrounding area for over 25 years I’ve only visited the Isle of Wight a handful of times. A couple of festival trips centred around Newport, one day trip when I was a student and a winter weekend in Ryde a few years ago. I was looking forward to going again and exploring more of what the island has to offer with a weekend in a different part.
We booked the Portsmouth to Fishbourne car ferry leaving at 7:30pm on Friday coming back 2:30pm Sunday. I booked a hotel in Shanklin separately although was subsequently told we could have got a deal and booked the ferry with the hotel. I’ll remember this for future trips.
My husband ended up finishing work earlier than planned and the expected Friday evening Portsmouth traffic didn’t hold us up as much as a thought which meant we arrived at the ferry terminal at 6pm rather than, the recommended, 7pm for the 7:30pm crossing.
We checked in at the, drive-thru, terminal gate showing my booking confirmation email and its QR code. The helpful Wightlink employee said it wasn’t a problem to be early and pointed us towards the ramp taking us to the upper tier and the queue for the 7pm Ferry (there wasn’t a 6:30pm crossing).
We had bought a car picnic which we ate whilst waiting in the queue however I did note that a number of our queue colleagues used the waiting area which, according to the website, has comfortable seating areas, toilets with baby changing facilities, disabled toilets and either a Costa or Costa Express.
When the “Victoria of Wight” ferry arrived, it swiftly disembarked its load and it was time for us to drive on. We were loaded, using a ramp, to the upper car deck. Once parked up we only had to go up one floor to the passenger deck. We opted to go up another floor and as we were one of the first onboard took our seats in the panoramic viewing area. Unfortunately, the café areas were closed on this floor but I noticed others had drinks and snacks purchased from the lower level.
After a quick trip outside to wave goodbye to Portsmouth and Southsea (the ferry does give the best view of the city, especially on a sunny day) my 6-year-old daughter found the kids soft play area. This is a great facility meaning the children are entertained safely for the 40 minutes crossing. We also noticed a movie/tv area, but nothing was playing on it on this occasion.
Soon, the announcement came, across the tannoy, that we should make our way back to the car. We persuaded our reluctant daughter to put her shoes back on and headed down the 2 levels to the car deck. Not long after we were buckled up, we docked, the ramp descended, and we were on our way.
Our hotel was in Shanklin which we found using our Sat Nav but the road signs across the island make finding your way quite easy.
After our lovely weekend exploring Shanklin and the island itself including the Garlic Farm and Distillery it was time to head back home.
We decided to get an earlier crossing back and given how accommodating Wightlink were before didn’t think it would be a problem. We arrived at the Fishbourne terminal at around 12:30pm but unfortunately the Wightlink employee who met us had obviously missed his customer service training. Before we could even show our ticket, he barked “2.30” at us and pointed us to a queue to sit in. We now weren’t sure if we were getting on the next ferry or waiting for our original one.
After a quick comfort break in the, being refurbished, waiting area, we watched the ferry come in and disembark its load. Then the queues of cars and vans next to us were being ushered on. We joined one of the queues and managed to get on the front of the lower car deck of “St Clare”.
This has very similar facilities to “Victoria of Wight” with another play area, cinema room (showing the Greatest Showman) and café (this time open).
Despite our small annoyance with the Fishbourne Check-In I would recommend the Wightlink Isle of Wight Ferries. Their website is easy to use to book your crossing and finding out information about the facilities and the island itself. The process of checking in and embarking and disembarking is surprisingly slick meaning it was a no stress start to our weekend away.
For more information or to make a booking visit www.wightlink.co.uk.