Travel Extra writer Shauna McCrudden recently went on a Brittany Ferries trip to the beautiful Bilbao in Spain to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Brittany Ferries. Find out how she got on, on her first ferry trip
Let me state what will become obvious later on in this article when I marvel at the smallest of details: I have never sailed on a ferry ship before. The closest I’ve been to a boat is those small tourist vessels sailing up and down rivers to check out the sites. I (like most people I presume) think of an aeroplane first when planning trips.
But when I had the opportunity to sail by ferry, namely Brittany Ferries’ new vessel, the Salamanca, travelling from Rosslare Harbour to Bilbao in Spain, I jumped at the chance! Not only would I get to sail away on a new adventure, but I would also get to visit the beautiful Spanish city of Bilbao and explore Basque Country. Sign me up!
One of the things that surprised me first, was that there are no limits to how much baggage you can bring along on a ferry – unlike a plane! There are no luggage weight or liquid restrictions on a ferry, so you don’t have to worry about those 100ml restrictions on your perfume or favourite moisturiser. And if you can’t decide between two dresses, why not bring both?
And it’s not just clothes and lotions you can pack up – you can even bring along your beloved pet, so you don’t have to worry about leaving them at home. There are two ways that your pet can travel on board the Salamanca – either in a pet-friendly cabin or, if it’s a dog, it may stay in a kennel. I could have been tempted to bring my little dogs with me. However, there is an extra cost for this luxury, but it’s nice to know it’s a possibility! Brittany Ferries carries around 100,000 four-legged friends per year!
You can also bring your car or RV and drive right off the ship when you arrive, so there’s no waiting around to explore the sunny destination. This could be the best choice for families, so there are no worries about how to haul young kids around a brand-new location. Anything to make life easier – and you definitely can’t get that on a plane!
In fact, it’s also a far greener way to travel. The new state-of-the-art ship is the first LNG-powered ferry to serve Ireland and promises lower emissions. Frederic Dumoulin, Chief Commercial Office for Brittany Ferries, said, “Salamanca is spacious, comfortable, and powered by cleaner fuel and the latest software technology – delivering a more efficient and smoother voyage for passengers. However, it is the passenger experience on board where she really excels. Passengers will feel as though they have been transported to a Spanish city from the moment they step on board.”
Style and comfort
The check-in process was incredibly smooth as all it took was a passport and a ticket and there was very little fuss compared to the long lines with security for a plane. A hop and a skip to the ship and that’s when I was awed. It all starts with the name: Salamanca. It’s a moniker that evokes centuries of history, art, and knowledge. A historic centre in Spain, the city bears the title UNESCO World Heritage Site and hosts one of the oldest universities in Europe.
Stepping on board, I found an interior inspired by the charms of this Spanish city. From artworks to catering, there are echoes of Salamanca throughout. The ship boasts a curated collection of over 200 artworks by local Spanish artists. From the bespoke carpet design to the choice of upholstery, fabric colours and artworks on every deck, I felt like I was in Spain already.
And because the trip would take 28-30 hours, it was essentially a mini holiday by itself. This is why there are plenty of experiences on board to keep everyone entertained. Our tour around the decks showed spacious passenger areas. There’s the Plaza Mayor Bar which hosts a big screen for sports events and music, perfect while you relax with a glass of wine or a Spanish beer.
The ship also has a duty-free-style shop with major brands of alcohol, tobacco, wine, champagne, delicatessen, confectionery, perfumes, cosmetics and accessories, along with several lounges. Not to mention, the kids’ fun zone to keep the little ones entertained. There’s also a huge outside terrace on deck 10 – but as our trip was a little bumpy and windy, we didn’t get to explore the artworks, view of the sea, and children’s play areas there. But in better weather, deck 10 would be the place to be!
In fact, it’s the place to be if you want to find any whales on your trip. I got to chat with Kate Weston from ORCA, an organisation which studies whales and dolphins’ habitats to protect them. Brittany Ferries and ORCA have been working in partnership for over 20 years conducting surveys in the English Channel and the Bay of Biscay, and Brittany Ferries is one of the most important supporters of ORCA’s work. Kate talked about the different whales and dolphins we could spot in the Bay of Biscay, and I even spotted some dolphins when we were sailing! It made me feel like I was David Attenborough all of a sudden!
And the food on-board is still fresh in my memory at the two restaurants – Azul Restaurant and Taberna De Tapas. The Azul Restaurant was booked for us for our evening meal where I had the specials of the evening, a beef stew with pasta and a delicious Snickers cheesecake. The waiter service was impeccable, and you knew they were all professionals even as the boat rocked slightly under their feet.
And I can’t forget to mention the private C-Club lounge which I had access to for the whole trip back and forth. This is an exclusive and peaceful space, offering complimentary hot and cold drinks, a variety of snacks and different selections of hot and cold foods provided throughout the day. Open during the day, the lounge is free-of-charge for those with a cabin in Commodore class. However, a limited number of additional tickets are available when booked at the information desk – or in advance online.
Tip: There is Wi-Fi on-board which is paid for in hours used. Try not to use your own mobile data to surf the web as you will be in international waters for the majority of the trip, and you might have a big bill waiting for you! Try to download any media before you travel though, as the Wi-Fi might not be fast enough to download large files quickly.
Of course, I spent quite a lot of time in my cabin, and I was very impressed. In total, there are 343 cabins, all with en-suite bathrooms – and 37 cabins for lorry drivers. Some cabins have been adapted for passengers with reduced mobility and 22 are pet-friendly cabins, reserved for passengers travelling with their dogs or cats.
My cabin had a main bed (with a very comfortable mattress I must say!) and a folding bed for a possible second passenger which was already strapped to the wall and out of the way. The TV on the wall had free video-on-demand (VOD), the cabin had an en-suite bathroom with shower facilities, and a little window right in the centre so you can see the waves rock by.
And rock by they did! When I was speaking with Captain Christophe Bergeroux before the ship took off, he mentioned that the weather wouldn’t be the best as we set sail from Rosslare, or coming home from Bilbao! But he and the crew are incredibly experienced with sailing in any bad weather, so I had no worries at all. I’m not prone to travel sickness, but if you are, the staff on-board are very kind and experienced with adults and children alike, so you’ll always be in good hands.
When my mini ferry holiday from Rosslare ended, I was finally in Bilbao about to experience the majesty of the Basque Country (Euskadi).
So, keep an eye on the Travel Extra site for my review of this region which holds one of Europe’s oldest and strongest cultures.
Brittany Ferries have a spring offer (for travel up to 31st May) car + 2 for €350 (total price)
Some more Brittany Ferries fares:
- From €329 each way for a car+2, including 4-berth en-suite cabin
- From €417 each way for a car+2, including 2-berth en-suite Club cabin
- From €379 each way for a car+2, including 4-berth en-suite cabin and dog travelling in a kennel
- From €493 each way for a car+family of 4, including 4-berth en-suite cabin and dog travelling in a kennel
- From €430 each way for a car+2, with a dog, including a 4-berth en-suite pet-friendly cabin
- From €544 each way for a car+family of 4, with a dog, including a 4-berth en-suite pet-friendly cabin
- From €443 each way for a car+family of 4, including a-berth en-suite cabin
- From €379 each way for a motorhome+2, including 4-berth en-suite cabin
- From €493 each way for a motorhome+family of 4, including 4-berth en-suite cabin
- From €308 each way for a motorcycle+2, including 4-berth en-suite cabin
- From €111 each way for an ‘on-foot’ passenger with reclining seat
- From €332 each way for 2 ‘on-foot’ passengers sharing a 4-berth en-suite cabin
- From €487 each way for family of 4, ‘on-foot’ sharing a 4-berth en-suite cabin
Salamanca will sail from Rosslare to Bilbao twice weekly departing Wednesday and Friday mornings. To find out more and to book tickets, please visit www.brittany-ferries.ie or call (021) 427 7801
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