Last time I travelled on Brittany Ferries it was on one of their newest vessels and it was an Andy Murray match at Wimbledon on the onboard TV. This time I am travelling on Brittany Ferries vessel The Etretat and the French Open is on the TV with Djokovic as the featured player.
The Amorique is one of the cruise ferries that Brittany Ferries operate to France in the Western Channel. It is a well appointed luxury ferry (read the review) with a full range of facilities and a choice of eateries. The Etretat by contrast is an no frills vessel operated by Brittany Ferries as an “economie” service.
So how “no frills” is the Etretat? Is it like Ryanair or the slightly better Easyjet? Or is it in a class of its own?
I took the Portsmouth to Le Havre route which operates daily Thursday to Sunday (check). The Etretat also operates on the Portsmouth-Santander route on those days it is not sailing to Le Havre. The crossing takes five and a half hours and departs Portsmouth at 12:00 midday. The return is an overnight crossing and takes a little longer.
Check-in at Portsmouth was smooth with the usually friendly Brittany Ferries staff making me feel welcome before I had even boarded the ship. Almost immediately boarding commenced and I was fortunate to be in the line of small cars boarded first. I was surprised to be directed to an open deck as I have always travelled on the inside of ferries to France. This might be a bit of an issue in rough weather as salt water spray and vehicle bodywork do not mix well. This would mean a quick hose down at some point or a rain storm.
The ship from the exterior appears to have been in service for a few years probably as a freight ferry. Advertised as an economy service I was not expecting much once inside. In this respect I was to be proved wrong.
Instead of the utilitarian decor I had expected the interior was all glass, chrome, faux wood and a marble style floor. It was a modern maritime theme with curved lines and wave patterns on some of the glass panels. Seating was mostly faux leather whether it was chairs at tables, couches along the walls or lounge chairs.
Services on board are one area where the economy experience is most notable. It’s not the standard of service but the facilities. Indeed the standard of service by the staff is what you would expect from Brittany Ferries – excellent. There is a single self-service restaurant with a limited choice on the menu and a only one bar. Anymore than two people in the diminutive duty free/boutique shop and it is crowded. There is a small cinema and two lounges where for £5 you can use one of the reclining lounge seats. There is a seating area in front of the bar and another adjacent to the restaurant; both are basic table and chairs seating with couches along the walls.
Although it is small the self-service restaurant has a good, though limited selection of food and drink. The “economie” concept does not extend to the quality of the food which was great. For main course there was a choice of two fish dishes, a vegetarian option and three meat dishes. Snacks are available from the bar and from vending machines. The latter also dispensed hot or cold drinks.
Like the “no frills” airlines you can purchase extra comforts. Basic cabins (ensuite but not carpeted) for four people can be booked or purchased on board. Reclining seats in one of the two lounges are also available.
The “economie” experience was not immediately obvious even though I had travelled on the cruise ferries Brittany Ferries operate in the Western Channel. Those who prefer al la carte eateries, bars with a larger selection and even onboard entertainment will be disappointed.
I tried to find a bureau du change but did not come across one, just an ATM that had an error message on the screen.
The “economie” service is more than adequate. For the budget conscious or those who would like to spend their money on other elements of their holiday there are great savings to be made. The usually excellent Brittany Ferries service does not suffer. If you are content with less choice of shops, bars and restaurants then you will find the “economie” service more than adequate.
I had expected a maritime version of the budget airlines but it is far from that. Continuing with the aviation industry comparison the Brittany Ferries economie service is more like the difference between travelling economy class instead of business class.
However you look at it the service is pretty good for something labelled economy and is excellent value for money.
Link: Brittany Ferries