I love travelling by ferry but that wasn’t always the case. For a long time I wasn’t comfortable with boats as a means of travel.
It started years ago when I braved the roughest ever Easter ferry trip across the North Sea from Harwich to Holland. I was one of the few passengers on board who wasn’t sick.
For many years I avoided ferries completely but I’ve tried to conquer my irrational fears. Today’s ferries are more stable than they used to be!
So I was looking forward to my ferry trip from Newcastle to Amsterdam on DFDS Seaways this spring.
Camper van travels
Taking the ferry is a great way of travelling abroad with a motor home or camper van so it’s an ideal choice for our family.
It’s not too expensive and there’s a quick turnaround at both ends, with an overnight in the middle.
Leave at 5 pm from North Shields and wake up early the next day in IJmuiden where you’re just minutes from your holiday destination.
A quick breakfast and you’re ready to disembark onto dry land and head out to the streets of Amsterdam.
We got a 20% spring discount deal on the ferry price so the whole trip came to just over £400 for two adults in a standard cabin plus the van. Not bad by budget travel standards.
So what’s the overall experience like and how does it compare to other ferry operators?
The cheapest cabins on the DFDS ferry are small but OK – after all, you don’t expect luxury at this affordable price. In any case, most of the trip will be spent on deck, in the bar or in bed asleep.
Those looking for superior accommodation can upgrade to a Commodore Cabin. There’s a hike in price but you get a bigger cabin with port holes.
This is a good option if you dislike bunk beds and want more space for lounging around.
My only criticism is that, like on most ships, the paper-thin walls mean that you’re dependent on your neighbours being well-behaved.
Wining and dining
Once upon a time, my sea sickness fears made me balk at eating a large dinner on the ship but now I’ve discovered this is one of the best experiences on board.
The DFDS ferry offers a wide range of eating choices from cafes and buffets to higher quality restaurants. On this trip we tried the Blue Riband restaurant on the outward trip and The Steakhouse on the return voyage.
I was impressed by the Blue Riband menu which features everything from ‘cockerel’ (chicken) and duck to steak and fish dishes. The food is decent quality although the wine is a tad pricey.
It’s better value to pre-book the three course menu which can be done in advance or at the check-in at the ferry terminal on departure.
The Steakhouse dinner on the return trip was also pretty good, with pleasant and attentive staff who made us feel at home.
My only criticism is that the ambience in the restaurant could be improved with more subtle lighting and better decor. It’s a small thing but it would help to lift the whole experience.
Although pleasantly surprised by the Steakhouse food, I felt that Brittany Ferries’ dining choice on its Plymouth-Santander trip is slightly superior.
Elsewhere on board, there are plenty of ‘value menus’ and family meals to cater for those saving their pennies or Euros.
Breakfast is available at a DIY buffet or cafe bar but get there early before supplies start running low. One request – as a lover of sweet pleasures, I’d urge DFDS to improve the range of pastries on board!
Drinking and dancing
Ferries have a reputation for their booze parties and stag & hen groups. This trip was no exception but their behaviour was pretty good and nobody made a big scene or fell overboard.
This isn’t designed to be a luxury cruise so don’t expect the Queen Mary but it’s very good value for money.
Entertainment is strictly mainstream. The social scene on board caters for a mass market but it’s always easy to find a quiet corner or enjoy the acoustic singer if bingo or bands aren’t your thing.
The on-board entertainment features a ‘club style’ band, a solo singer and an affable ‘master of ceremonies’.
Casino, cinema and bingo are amongst the other entertainment choices. I still wonder about the guilty pleasure of bingo – surely it has had its day? But DFDS knows its market so I can see why they’ve kept it in the mix.
Whilst the Sugar Beats pop band were a bit ‘cheesy’ for me, I enjoyed the solo troubadour who grabbed the attention of early evening dancers with a clever selection of cover songs. A kind of social club Jake Bugg!
Alternatively, you can always retreat to a quieter lounge, bar or restaurant.
Life on board
It’s not all singing, dancing and drinking on board. Earlier in the day there are kids’ entertainments which always amuse me providing I’m watching from a safe distance!
For those who like to be up early, there are Orca whale watching briefings on deck although my sole sightings were sea birds and hung-over ‘hens’ getting a fix of fresh air.
Back indoors, everyone loves shopping. There was a scrum to get into the shop when it opened its doors.
This is where DFDS Seaways scores highly over Brittany Ferries which has a very limited retail offer. There’s the usual mix of things you get in holiday travel shops – perfumes, booze, gifts and chocolates.
Over at the drinks shop the whisky tasting is a winning idea. Perhaps they could add wine tasting too?
There’s also the hilarious products which only see the light of day on holiday cruises and at airports. I’m talking giant Toblerones and enormous fluffy slippers!
There are decent clothes brands such as Superdry and Lacoste if you’re looking for holiday clothes with style. I would have liked more touristy T-shirts too – ‘I Love Amsterdam’ for the Brits and ‘Newcastle – Party City’ for our European neighbours.
I’d argue for more basic toiletries (which everyone always forgets) and a better selection of books including travel guides to the boat’s holiday destinations.
A wider choice of higher quality gifts, not just affordable trinkets, would be helpful for those of us who forget to buy presents on the trip back home!
Cruising on deck
One of the great joys of a cruise is the nautical atmosphere. I love wandering around the outdoor decks, taking in the sea views and enjoying beers in the ‘al fresco’ Sky Bar.
Although there are no large outdoor pools, a bracing walk around the decks is fun especially on a glorious, sunny day.
There’s a certain romance about being on a boat cruising along and taking in the North Sea air like a salty sea dog.
My most memorable moments were the great views on arrival and departure at the ports. It made me feel like I was embarking on an adventure.
There’s also a lot of fun to be had from people watching when you’re relaxing in the bars.
The ship is well maintained, better than most ferries I’ve sailed on. It must be a tough call keeping everything shipshape. I was surprised that the boat’s carpets and communal spaces looked so good after the daily stampede!
Thrills at ‘no frills’ prices
A DFDS Seaways trip is relaxing and fun. It may be a ‘no-frills’ travel package, a bit like EasyJet, but the overall experience is more entertaining than being stuck on a plane.
The quality of food on board the ship is more varied and better quality than its airline equivalent.
Sometimes I yearned for a little more luxury on board but I know this is tricky when DFDS is trying to keep its prices down. And if you want a few more comforts, you can upgrade to a superior cabin.
The bottom line is you know what to expect on the ferry. It may be cheap and cheerful but it feels like a mini-adventure.
It’s not super-cheap at £400 for two but compared with the cost of a train journey from Newcastle to London it’s not bad for the price. It’s also cheaper than driving down to catch the ferry from Dover or Harwich from Newcastle.
EasyJet offers a two person flight deal for £182 to Amsterdam on a similar spring weekend but it requires additional hotel nights. The choice is yours but, for me, the ferry is definitely more relaxing.
As a customer, I’d also like to compliment the DFDS team on how they dealt with our ferry booking before we left.
When my online booking failed to show any availability for our camper van, I rang up their help line.
The woman on the other end of the phone was brilliant and managed to find a spare slot for our van which was just a few inches over the size available – which was why it had come up fully booked.
With her help, the holiday was saved. The human touch really helped make the journey a success.
Ready for action
The best part of the trip is the arrival at IJmuiden where the anticipation of the foreign holiday kicks in as you stand on deck cruising down the estuary.
Within a short time, you’re off the ferry in the camper van and on dry land. It’s easy and quick compared with air travel and the frustrating queues at Heathrow.
Within 40 minutes, we were at our Amsterdam City Camp site and ready for our sightseeing trip around the canals.
That’s the joy of the ferry. It’s a relaxing ride and an easy hop from home to holiday.
Despite my sea sickness fears, it was also a smooth cruise in both directions. One of the staff in the restaurant reassured me that it’s almost always smooth in the spring and summer.
The DFDS Seaways trip to Holland is also a great gateway for holidays in Germany, France and Belgium if you’re in a camper van.
After this trip, I’m a ferry fan and a convert. I’ll be back for more North Sea adventures!
Tammy’s top travel tips
The DFDS Seaways ferry runs from North Shields Royal Quays to IJmuiden in Holland. During the spring and summer the overnight ferry runs daily, leaving around 17:00 and arriving in Holland early the following morning.
Amsterdam is an easy 20 minute drive from the port of IJmuiden.
Look out for DFDS Seaways offers and discounts which can bring the price down substantially. Book your meals in advance to save on onboard prices. DFDS also offers special mini-cruise deals based around a day trip to Amsterdam.
There’s a choice of cabins to suit every budget. ‘Standard outside’ cabins have a sea view whilst the cheaper ‘standard cabins’ do not. All cabins have a WC and shower.
There are also cabins for disabled travellers which contain two berths and a bathroom designed for wheelchair access.
Commodore cabins are more spacious and luxurious whilst Commodore De Luxe class provides access to a private lounge.
Check out the Netherlands Tourism website for the bigger travel picture.
Camper vans and motor homes…
If you’re travelling by camper van or motor home, I can recommend the Amsterdam City Camp site. Located in a large compound, this is basically an overnight car park with good access to the city centre. It costs around 15 Euros per night (electricity is extra) and you can buy tickets from an automated machine.
A free ferry is an easy 10 minute walk away. The ferries run every 20 minutes to the dock behind Amsterdam Central Station from where you can pick up trams and buses or walk to sightseeing attractions.
The last ferries run till late at night so there’s no fear of being stranded. You also get to see different areas of the city from the water. You can take bikes on the ferry – but not cars or vans.
There are also traditional camp sites in outer Amsterdam close to some Metro stations including Gaaspar (15 minutes by Metro).
Do not attempt to take a motor home into Amsterdam’s historic city centre. It’s sheer madness!