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Travel in France

Ferries Set Sail for France

Tuesday 18 May 2010

With volcanic ash still causing a problem, ferry bookings to and from France look set rise this summer, so we review what is available.

There are six companies and nine destinations for you to choose from, although three companies only operate one route across the Channel.

Those planning to travel across the Dover Straits are able to select from four different companies – LD Lines, Norfolkline, P&O, and Seafrance – 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 LD Lines, Brittany Ferries, and Condor Ferries.

A summary of the destinations to France operated by these companies is shown below. Transmanche Ferries, who operate the Newhaven-Dieppe route, are a sister company of LD Lines, so have not been listed separately.

Ferries to France

Boulogne Dunkirk Calais Dieppe Le Havre Caen Cherbourg St Malo Roscoff
Brittany Ferries - - - - - X X X X
Condor - - - - - - X X -
Norfolkline - X - - - - - - -
P&O - - X - - - - - -
Sea France - - X - - - - - -
LD Lines X - - X X - - - -

Who To Go With?

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.

The Danish owned Norfolkline is generally reckoned to offer the best prices, although you need to book well in advance and travel off-peak to get the best prices. The no frills LD Lines has also been offering some outstanding deals.

SeaFrance is also currently offering midweek any duration fares online from just £29 return for a car and up to five passengers. This deal applies to travel from Dover on Sundays to Thursdays, and from Calais on Mondays to Fridays. If you are travelling on weekends, online fares for a car and up to five passengers start from just £25 each way for any duration and from £19 return for a day trip.

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

Brittany Ferries take you further South into France, their on-board services are better, they offer greater reliability, and a good range of routes. However, their prices reflect the quality of the service and the longer destinations.

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.

This month until 22nd May it is also 'National Ferry Fortnight', promoted by the Passenger Shipping Association, during which the companies are offering a large number of offers for travel now or later in the year.

Tickets in the summer for a family of four from Dover to Calais can be had for less than £100, although prices will be several hundred pounds on one of the longer Brittany and Normandy routes.

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.

Whomever you decide to go with be careful about the websites you use to book your tickets, as you will generally find that booking direct with the operator is cheaper. 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.

A good price comparison website is, but when you have found the best deal with them, you may then want to go to the company site to see if you can better it!

The main points of contact for the ferry companies are as follows:

Uncertain Future for Some Operators

The new kid on the block is Euroferries, which is proposing a fast ferry service between Ramsgate and Boulogne. However, theyhave been talking of starting a service for years, and yet a single craft has yet to set sail! That is why we have not included them in our table.

Those considering booking with the company need to be a little cautious.

The future of Seafrance also remains uncertain following major industrial disruption in recent months, and a parlous financial situation.

The company have sought bankruptcy protection in the French courts, and it remains to be seen if a recovery package can be worked out.

Seafrance is owned by SNCF who are bankrolling the operator, but they have clearly decided enough is enough.

To complicate matters, accountants have found evidence of major fraud within the company, as a result of which a criminal investigation has started. The investigation concerns on-board sales in their shops.

It may well be that the company will be bought out by one of its competitors, as both LD Lines and Brittany Ferries have previously shown interest.

More generally, 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.

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