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Ferries to France in 2013

Thursday 04 April 2013

Despite the weather in the UK trying to tell us otherwise, the holiday season is just around the corner, so we do a round-up of the main ferry routes to France this year.

Ferry Operators

The industry has seen some rationalisation in recent years, and although there remain five companies and nine destinations for you to choose from, the choice is very limited on some routes.

The former LD routes are now operated by DFDS, who also bought out Norfolkline in 2010, and MyFerryLink is the former SeaFrance operator, now run as a worker's cooperative.

Those planning to travel across the Dover Straits are able to select from three different ferry companies – DFDS, P&O, and MyFerryLink – as well as the more expensive but quicker road/rail option of Eurotunnel.

There are also routes from Southern and South West England to ports in Brittany and Normandy operated by DFDS, Brittany Ferries, and Condor Ferries.

If you are heading for the Basque Country and the Pyrenees then Brittany Ferries sail to the Spanish port of Santander out of Plymouth or Portsmouth, and to Bilbao out of Portsmouth. On these routes you will spend around 24 hours on the ferry, with prices to match, but it is certainly the most relaxed way to reach these destinations.

A summary of the destinations to France operated by these companies is shown below.

Ferries to France

DunkirkCalaisDieppeLe HavreCaenCherbourgSt MaloRoscoff
Brittany Ferries---X

Which Destination?

Those looking to get across the Channel as cheaply as possible should clearly take one of the routes across the Dover Straits.

There are currently some very competitive offers around, but the quickest and most regular route is Dover-Calais.

DFDS and MyFerryLink appear to be slugging it out for the lowest price on this route, although you need to book well in advance and travel off-peak to get the best price.

Dover-Dunkirk only has one operator (DFDS with 12 crossings a day), and probably only makes sense for travelling to Belgium or Germany or if you are staying in Northern France.

Similarly, there is now only one operator for Newhaven-Dieppe (DFDS), but it is a route well worth considering, if only to enjoy this lovely town.

Since 2010 there has no longer been a sailing between Dover-Boulogne.

If you do not have easy access to Dover, or you want to make the journey part of the holiday, then a crossing from one of the ports on the South West coast of England to Brittany or Normandy would probably make better sense.

Le Havre has become a more competitive route, with Brittany Ferries also now offering sailings from Portsmouth against those of DFDS. The latter are cheaper, but Brittany Ferries do it in in a far shorter time.

Brittany Ferries take you further South into France, their on-board services are better, they offer greater reliability, and a good range of routes, with prices that reflect the quality of the service and the longer destinations. They operate out of Plymouth, Portsmouth and Poole.

It you cannot make up your mind, or travel arrangements favour it, then most companies offer single tickets, so you can go with one company, and return with another.

Regular travellers also can sign up to frequent travellers clubs operated by most of the companies, with savings on standard prices, including deals on a cheaper cabin price. In particular, if you travel regularly on their routes then it is well worth joining the Brittany Ferries Club Voyage and benefit from the discounts available to members.

Tickets in the summer for a family of four from Dover to Calais can be had for around £54, although prices will be several hundred pounds on one of the longer Brittany and Normandy routes.

You will find that there are often changes in the schedules and routes operated by these companies, so what may be in place one year cannot be guaranteed to be around the following year.

And, of course, the schedules change during different times of the year, with many services substantially reduced over winter.

You also need to decide whether or not you want to travel on one of the fast high speed crossings, or take a more leisurely journey on a ferry. For that you have to make the choice between the possible greater discomfort of high speed during inclement weather, and the higher costs associated with these craft.

Where to Book?

Whomever you decide to go with be careful about the websites you use to book your tickets. Some agents have websites with names very similar to the operator, so watch out for this trick.

That said, the booking agents can sometimes offer the best late deals, so they may be a better bet if you are travelling at the last minute.

Probably the best around is Direct Ferries who offer an excellent website with a direct comparison of all of the routes that are available. You can book a ticket on this site at no additional cost. The company also offer a very useful e-mail alert service with latest information on offers.

Bonnes vacances!

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