Any long journey with a toddler in tow needs a bit of planning so you can all arrive in one piece at the other end. We’ve done two holidays now travelling by ferry to avoid really long car journeys or plane trips and can thoroughly recommend it. We live in Hull and so can take advantage of the overnight P&O ferry to Zeebrugge or Amsterdam that runs every day. It also means we can take the car across so have loads of room for all the things we want to take with us on holiday.
Here are a few tips and tricks we’ve discovered along the way to make the ferry journey that bit more relaxed and fun for everyone.
Travelling by overnight ferry
We love travelling overnight on a ferry as it means the bulk of the journey is done when you’re all (hopefully) asleep and you can arrive first thing in the morning at your destination. For our two holidays we’ve been to Germany and Belgium so one involved a bit of a car journey afterwards but nothing too strenuous so we could still arrive at lunchtime.
What to take onboard
Make sure you have all the things for your night on the ferry in one small bag. This means you don’t have to lug every suitcase up the stairs/ into the lift. When you realise you have to take a travel cot and the pushchair, even having just a small bag makes things hard to carry.
Plan your food
For an overnight ferry trip, you need to think about food for the evening and breakfast the next day. The P&O ferry from Hull has a great buffet style restaurant that we love to eat at. You can choose everything from cold meats and salads, to a roast dinner, to Indonesian curries, and there’s always a great selection of desserts. All you need to pay extra for is the alcohol but things like hot drinks and juice or water are provided as part of the buffet price.
Young children don’t need to pay either- when we last went with our daughter she was nearly three but we weren’t charged. A buffet is great for small kids as they really can choose what they want (if you’re willing to let them)! There are plain things like chicken nuggets, beans, and chips for kids who get a bit picky as well.
Here’s a short video from P&O showing their buffet restaurant onboard (it’s called ‘The Kitchen’).
The other dining option is a more ‘fine dining’ restaurant. A friend of ours went with her two boys and accidentally pre-booked this (you can book both options before sailing for a small discount) instead of the buffet restaurant. Apparently, the staff were all lovely towards her and the boys and they also had a children’s menu so she found it really welcoming- don’t be put off!
You can also decide to take your own food along with you if the food options don’t suit. There are a number of places that you can sit on the ship and have some sandwiches.
For breakfast, there is the option of the buffet again and you do get a discount if you pay for the dinner and breakfast buffet at the same time. We’re not big eaters in the morning so instead usually take some cereal or a breakfast bar type thing that can be eaten first thing.
Another option is the coffee place where you can buy pastries and hot snacks that would do for a quick breakfast. On both trips, they have kindly given our daughter a cup of milk for her breakfast for free.
Which room to go for?
When we used to use the ferry as a couple we usually just went for the cheapest room option- inside cabin that comes with bunk beds. Sometimes we used to push the boat out (pun intended) and go for an outside cabin so we could have a little porthole to look out of!
The first time we went over with our daughter we went for this type of room with 2 beds and a window- just enough space to squeeze in a travel cot (plenty of room for the travel changing mat though!). There are cots available for hire from the ship if you don’t want to take one but they are on a first come first served basis. The rooms are pretty small though so it best to arrange everything how you want it before putting your little one in the cot!
The second time we went over we went for luxury and got their Club room that had more space, a fridge with complimentary drinks (including alcohol) and a TV! This did cost a bit more but it also meant that we could make up a bed on the floor for our daughter (she’s a bit of a wriggler so would have fallen out of the bunk bed) and still have space for us to sleep on the beds either side. This worked really well for us and we all had a good nights sleep.
How to get your little one to sleep
We found the best way to get our daughter to sleep was in the pushchair. Once we’ve had our dinner we went back to the room to get her changed for bed and then would push her about a bit in the corridors or just go for a drink in the bar while leaving her in the buggy. This worked really well on both the journeys and meant we didn’t have to be tied to our little room from 7 pm onwards! We were able to watch stuff on our laptop (or the TV in the luxury room) and it felt fairly relaxing. I know not all kids are like that so thinking through how you can all get a decent nights sleep is a must.
Slightly annoying things about travelling on an overnight ferry
The rooms are tiny– I’ve already mentioned this but it needs repeating- take a good look at layouts and whether you can afford the larger room otherwise it will be a tight squeeze.
There are no baths. We don’t mind for one night just doing a wipe wash or risking the shower (our daughter is almost always terrified by the shower!) but it might not be for everyone.
Bad weather– if the sea is a bit choppy you need to consider travel sickness. This has never been a problem for us and we’ve used the ferries a lot but I have heard tales of bad crossings.
Constant engine noise– again not a problem for us and usually soothing for little ones but it does annoy my husband when it’s really loud!
The early morning tannoy! The tannoy announces that the breakfast buffet is open sometime between 6 and 7 am, but this is actually earlier than that due to the time difference so be prepared for a very early start!
Travelling by overnight ferry with toddlers- final thoughts
I love to travel by ferry as it means no aeroplanes and we can load the car up for a lovely holiday. Quite a lot of our holidays involve a bit of driving, seeing different places etc and the ferry is perfect for visiting Europe. I also find the journey feels like part of the holiday- once we’re all sat at the buffet my holiday has definitely begun!
Let me know in the comments if you’ve used the overnight ferries and any top tips you have for making the journey fun.