Postcard from… Brittany Ferries’ Portsmouth to Saint Malo night crossing

“Postcard from” is my occasional series of weekend non-recipe posts. This postcard comes from my recent experience travelling on the overnight ferry to France.

For peak holiday times, you have to book very early to get a cabin on the overnight crossing from Portsmouth to St Malo. It’s not cheap but when you consider how pricey a Dover Calais crossing can be during school holidays (£90 each way sometimes) and bear in mind the extra petrol costs, motorway tolls and an extra night staying in a hotel to break up your journey, actually the £200 extra you are likely to pay for the longer crossing becomes more tempting.

We’ve previously travelled on the overnight ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg. Big mistake. Driving down the Cherbourg peninsula is like going from Dover to Birmingham without motorways. It’s a long, dull drive. Plus you’ve only had four hours sleep on a six hour crossing (they wake you up at 5am British time, an hour before you get into port at 7am French time).
However the Portsmouth to St Malo crossing is around ten hours and arrives in port at 8am French time so you get more sleep and do less driving. It’s a win win situation, especially if you have a toddler who doesn’t like sitting in the back of a car for more than two hours at a time (less if hungry).
So with much excitement we boarded Brittany Ferries’ Bretagne en route to L’Ile de Re which would be four hours further drive from St Malo the next morning.
There are a few sights to see on the way out of Portsmouth…. HMS Victory got my dad rather excited.
The Spinnaker Tower and harbour side bars
I dislike planes and avoid flying. Truth is though, I’m not wild about ferries either. I guess I like my feet on the ground. Walking along decks like the one shown above and I have scenes from Titanic with Kate Winslet debating numbers of lifeboats running through my head.
“We don’t need a window” I told my husband.
“But Teddy could have looked out of it at the sea.”
“It’s cheaper to not have a window and we will be asleep when we’re in the cabin anyway.”
I hadn’t bargained for this. Rooms without views are not confined to the inner corridor of the upper decks where we’d stayed last time.  They put you down there. As in, under the cars down in the hull of the boat. I didn’t even know that was possible.  All cabins were sold out so we were down in third class.

The food lifted my spirits, I had one of these salads.

The desserts looked very tempting too.
My husband had fish and chips which admittedly looks like the meal from the Secret Nuclear Bunker post.
The photo of the chocolate-mousse-to-die-for is rubbish.  Imagine though if you will, that scene in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta tells Samuel L Jackson that “it’s the little things” that make Europe special i.e. the glass of cold beer in the cinema, mayonnaise on the fries etc.  Well the little thing that I thought made these chocolate mousses special was that they were served in china ramekins.  A totally unnecessary touch since they were in plastic pots as well but it’s these details that make eating on a French ferry company more special than the service station service you get from the British equivalents.
Off to bed.
“It’s rather nice” said my father, impressed it had a telly.
“It’s like a mausoleum, ” I replied.
The bathroom was predictably tiny but serviceable. It reminded me of the scene on the train in Sex and the City where Sarah Jessica Parker and Kim Cattrall are travelling with Amtrak to LA and have a toilet situated underneath their shower.
So down in the bowels of the ship how did I sleep? Not very well. How much this was to do with feeling like I was in K19: The Widowmaker and how much to do with fretting that Ted would roll out of bed I’m not sure.  It was extremely dark in there as well and there were loud noises. I was mentally calculating how far away we were from water and visualising the murkiness out there.
I wanted to go and pace the decks upstairs in my slippers, even if it meant dashing down a corridor that looked like another scene from Titanic, the one where Leonardo has been chained with handcuffs to a pipe and Kate dashes off to get help. But I couldn’t as my husband and father were on the top bunks and there was only I to stop Ted rolling out.
Which he did, with a loud thud, head first at 4.30am. None of us went back to sleep after that.
We will be travelling with Brittany Ferries again this summer, but not overnight. If I were travelling Portsmouth to St Malo again, I would make certain I had a room with a view as that was I could be sure it was above the waterline.


  1. Natalie says

    Ooooh. I felt slightly queasy just reading that. I am not a fan of ferries at all and like to spend the entire journey on deck avoiding sea-sickness. It's the tunnel and a long boring French drive for me every time. But I admire your courage (and your apt reference to K19…)

  2. Barbara Bakes says

    I enjoyed reading about your adventure. I love to travel. I've never had an overnight ferry ride. I hope it was worth it in the end.

  3. Kat says

    I really enjoyed your telling us all about your adventure. Thanks so much for stopping by my blog and have a great weekend.

  4. Morwenna Hill says

    Oh gosh your post brings back memories of the first weekend away that Nathan and I had when we were 17. We took the exact same journey with Brittany ferries, but their food looks much better now than it did 10 years ago! I seem to remember ham salad and chips being the only edible dishes available.
    I hope your next journey is above the waterline and you have a view too

  5. Deer Baby says

    That took me back too. We did a similar journey from Portsmouth to Santander a good few years ago and we've also done the St Malo route. It was cheap but we were in with all the lorry drivers who were in the bar knocking back whisky which was slightly worrying.

    The picture of your room brings it all back – Sonny was about 18months and by the time we had the travel cot up between the two beds, we were actually imprisoned. We couldn't move – it was a major upheaval just to go to the loo. I'm not keen on those ferries either – when they say the word 'muster' station I start worrying about the lifejackets. Still, like you say, it was relatively cheap. And there was a cinema!

    We go to Portsmouth all the time to see friends and go to Gunwharf and to get the ferry to the Isle of Wight so I know those views in your photos very well.

    Great post. Great photos.

  6. Ellie (Almost Bourdain) says

    Love ferry rides. I have been on one from Holland to the UK. Overnight and it was load of fun.

  7. Juliana says

    Wow, never had ferry ride, will soon have one in Greece :-)
    Thanks for sharing the pictures, they are awesome!

  8. Emma says

    Urrrgghhh I hate the ferry!! We did this jounrney once and the boat had a swimming pool….what I hadn't bargained for was that it was in the bowels of the ship and you could feel the vibration of the engines! I was convinced we were going to die!! Pictures are cool though :-)

  9. Helen (Fuss Free Flavours) says

    I once did the Solent to St Malo in about 14 hours on a 35 foot yacht. It was an absolute blast. The ferries and ships are terrifying when you are on a small sailing boat.

  10. feedingboys says

    Ferries are so heinous… i've not been on one for years, but like you are heading to France this summer. We're doing a daytime crossing and I'm hoping the boys will think it's magical being on a big ship in the sea. I however will hate every minute.

    I had a huge fear of ferries as a child after that awful disaster in Zebrugge the 80s. The news footage haunted me for years. A particularly hideous overnight journey from Harwich to Hamburg also chills my bones. My parents, brother and I were in one of the deep-down cabins like you had and we were all vomiting for the entire crossing and all I could hear were the cars and lorries clanking about as the boat rocked. I actually thought my life was over. Awful. Hateful.

    I now always spend the journey on the deck next to a lifeboat. I find the fumes of the boat combined with the perfumey smells of duty free make me feel instantly sick if I go inside.

    What a cheerful comment… sorry Sarah!!! Didn't quite realise my strength of feeling about ferries until now!

  11. RamblingTart says

    HOORAY! Another Sarah postcard! :-) I love these. :-) And I ADORE ferries!! Even the Greek one where I had to sleep on the floor and froze half to death all night. They're so magical and fun to me. :-)

  12. Sarah, Maison Cupcake says

    @rosa @anopenbook Thank you!
    @natalie Heh heh, I have an intense dislike of submarine films. It might have easily been Hunt for Red October.
    @barbara It was but I'm wary of doing it again!
    @kat Thanks!
    @morwenna The food was excellent, way better than P&O on Dover to Calais route
    @Deerbaby I might check out the Gunwharf next time if we are early enough
    @ellie I haven't been to Holland, hope to soon and visit my good friend !
    @juliana Thanks! I wish I'd taken more indoors though
    @Emma Yep that sounds familiar!
    @Helen I bet they are! Some idiots on jet skis came right up to our boat on the return journey near Isle of Wight, they could have been killed
    @feedingboys Er yes. I share the same memories having had to journey on a Townsend Thoreson ferry weeks after the Zebrugge disaster. I cannot bear them lurching side to side even just a bit. And the bowels of the boat are truly awful.
    @ramblingtart Great! Glad you like the postcards! Despite my misgivings about ferries, I prefer them to planes!

  13. Vonnie says

    Oh you poor thing! We didn't book a cabin for our ferry crossing a month or so ago because we really couldn't afford it but 10 hours of chasing the kids around the ferry and I REALLY wish I had!

  14. Jeanne @ CookSister! says

    Under the car deck?!?!? That's LEGAL?!? :o) I don't mind ferries, but that far down would have freaked me out totally….

  15. says

    I avoid planes too but am wondering if I would’ve gotten seasick on this one. The food does look pretty good for a ferry.