Despite our rather dull weather it is now well and truly holiday season. Many have done the tried and tested package holiday of two weeks abroad somewhere sunny.
However nowadays the lead time at airports to check in for flights is often longer than the flight itself! Before all that you need to drive to the airport, find parking, get a bus to the terminal, two hours or more before your short flight to Majorca or wherever, suffer the tedium of security checks, hope your family get seats together, remember to carry no liquids, finally land at your destination and watch everyone else on the bus get off at their apartment as yours happens to be last on the drop off list! Then look forward to repeating the process on the return leg. Real holiday fun???
So with the joys of flying these days in my mind I decided to sample a more relaxed way to holiday. I took my car to France aboard the lovely Irish Ferries cruise ship the Oscar Wilde. What a revelation!
I have driven in many countries of the world but decided to approach this as though I were a newcomer. So just a basic map and no fancy Sat Nav.
First of all a few pointers. Driving in France is easy. The roads are excellent, the signposting is superb, if you get lost it will be your fault, follow and trust the sign directions and you would never need Sat Nav. Also obey the speed limits. There are plenty of cameras and the fines are on the spot in many cases!
Before you go there are a few simple preparations to make regarding your car to keep you legal.
I am not going to tell you to have the car serviced etc, but be sensible, check it over from tyres to lights before you go.
In France you must now, by law, carry your car’s original registration book, original certificate of insurance (not just the windscreen disc) and you must of course have a valid driving licence. In addition French law requires you to carry a reflective yellow jacket in case of a breakdown. Please note this must be available in the cabin of the car not stored in the boot. Furthermore from July 2012 you must carry an alcohol breathaliser kit to self test your alcohol limit if you are in doubt. The French level is very low at .50g now so be careful of “day after” driving! A warning triangle is mandatory and must be placed 30m behind your car in the event of a breakdown or accident and finally the European Good Samaritan law, which in effect states anyone must stop at an accident or incident to offer assistance if no other help is present, means you must also carry a First Aid Kit.
All of the above is easy to get on board the car. The simple breath test kit costs just €7.50. I bought all I needed including the stickers to block your lights from causing dazzel to others for €38.80! (The simple transparent stickers for your lights are very important as without them legally in France the car can be deemed “unfit” for the road and therefore could invalidate your car insurance).
So now you are all set to go! My route was the Irish Ferries sailing to Roscoff in France and to return via Cherbourg. In between for four short days I travelled the national tolled Autoroutes, major national roads and of course minor roads too.
My journey started in Rosslare with a quick and fuss free boarding of the Oscar Wilde in some brief June sunshine.
The Oscar Wilde is a fine vessel. For those who care she can carry 1,458 passengers, 580 cars, weighs in at some 31,914 tonnes and stands 11 decks high if you include the external upper sun deck.
The cabins range from two star two berth with no window right up to suites. My two star two berth proved perfect, neat simple and clean. It had a small sink, shower, and a TV.
Aboard the ship there is plenty to do to keep all entertained. There is a cinema, Oscar’s Piano bar, The Gaiety lounge for a quite drink, or live entertainment in the peak season, the excellent fine dining Berneval Restaurant which is white table cloths, candles and a full waiter service...you get the idea!
For others there is a Steakhouse or the cafeteria style Left Bank Brasserie.
With a children’s play area, a shop, beauty salon, and another small Cafe the Lafayette serving snacks and sandwiches you will never be bored or go hungry.
I found the standard of food on board to be good with the exception of the cooked breakfast in the Left Bank Brasserie which was rather poor.
Prices on board are fair too with a pint of Guinness costing €4.50 and a half bottle of a rather good Crozes Hermitage setting you back €8.50. A main course in the Steak House is around €18.00. Irish Ferries really do seem to put your comfort and care to the fore.
Free WiFi is available on deck 7 and is very handy.
The staff were fantastic, very friendly and helpful and the ship was kept spotlessly clean throughout the 18 hour voyage.
The other thing I noticed, unlike airlines who seem to want to make you feel grateful for being on their aircraft, Irish Ferries made their customers feel like very welcome guests.
On both my crossings the ship was not full, but I could imagine it to be a somewhat busy experience if it was, as even on the way out with lots of families with young children things could be noisy at times.
The disembarking is equally well managed by the crew with people directed to their car decks by staff even if you forget to check the handy sticker on your suitcase which tells you exactly where your car is parked on board.
Overall then what did I feel after my brief motoring trip to France?
As one passenger told me their holiday starts the minute they board the Oscar Wilde and does not end until they disembark in Rosslare.
Yes I really enjoyed it. The relaxed pace of the traveling, no fuss, the ability to carry everything you want without restrictions, and of course the fun of stocking up with some great value French wine for your return home.
The Irish Ferries experience was really very good indeed, and having tasted the whiff of adventure on this trip I am already planning a longer adventure for the next one.
Try it and you might never want to see an airport again!