There are some things that as a parent, I want to be able to give my children. Things that I experienced myself as a child, things that I want to emulate from my own parents. Holidays are one of those things.
When I was six years old we went on our first family holiday to France. That holiday was special in many ways and became the start of a long love affair with France. Over the years we went to France many times, spending up to five weeks there every summer. Our summer holidays form a huge part of my childhood and teenage memories. In fact, I’d go so far as to say the experiences I had on those holidays and the people I met made a huge impact on the type of adult I was to become.
Fast-forward fifteen years and I’ve just seen a family holiday to France from new eyes: the eyes of a parent. This holiday was something extra special. Not only was it the first trip we’ve made abroad as a family of four, but it was the first time we’ve all been to France together. Right from the start – when we carried the girls downstairs and bundled them in the car in their pyjamas in the dead of night – I was assaulted by nostalgia. I thought many times of my own parents and our family holidays of the past. It gave me a warm thrill to think of their excitement, mixed up with my own.
As a kid, we always travelled with Brittany Ferries. The crisp white ship and iconic blue and red logo is as familiar and comforting to me as a hot cup of tea. Approaching the port this time around I was excited, but also slightly nervous – the type of nerves that come with responsibility. What if I’d forgotten something? (Quick check for passports, tickets, etc etc – for the umpteenth time.) I needn’t have worried though; check-in was fast and simple. Within ten minutes, as the sun was coming up, we were waiting in a queue of cars to get on the boat. Frog was still in her pyjamas and dressing gown, brimming with chatter and questions (“Are we in France yet?” / “How long until we get there?” / “Is that our boat?”).
Once on board we parked up our car and entered the main section of the ferry. Our boarding cards doubled up as cabin keys, so we decided to find our cabin straight away before exploring the rest of the boat. The cabin was cosy, with a view of the sea, functional en-suite bathroom and comfortable beds. Frog immediately wanted to turn the sofas into bunk-beds, although (predictably) she turned down the offer of a nap even though she’d been awake, bristling with excitement since 3.30am that morning.
She remembered the last time we travelled on the ferry, when we went on the 24 hour ferry to Spain with Brittany Ferries. On that trip her dad had to stay in the UK for work, so we went with my parents. Her former experience apparently made her an expert, and she was like a charged up Duracell bunny, bouncing around the cabin demonstrating light switches, door locks, showing us all where everything was.
It was a beautiful day, with the water calm as a mill pond and nothing but endless blue sky and frothing gentle waves – the ideal weather to venture on deck and wave goodbye to England. There was a relaxed atmosphere, as people lounged in comfy deckchairs and drank take-away cups of tea and coffee from the cafe-bar inside. This really felt like the beginning of our holiday, rather than a simple means to an end of getting us to our vacation destination.
Travelling by ferry feels like such a family-friendly way to travel. Not only is it easy on board (no trying to keep adventurous toddlers in their seat or young children quiet in one place), but it’s easy before-hand too. We didn’t need to worry about luggage allowances or stress about fitting any baby paraphernalia into our suitcase – we simply packed up the car and drove on board. Simple.
And on board, although we had a cabin which the NLM and Frog (eventually) napped in part of the way, the atmosphere on deck was so laid back that Baby Girl happily breastfed and napped in a quiet corner while I watched the horizon.
Food on board was also great. We ate in the self-service restaurant which seemed like the more kid-friendly option. There’s an à la carte restaurant too, but with its white tablecloths and shiny wine glasses we decided to leave that one for a mum-and-dad-only break.
We filled up on cooked breakfasts and croissants in the morning and then, at lunchtime, scoffed guinea fowl fricassee with rice, fresh salads and creme brulee. There’s a kids’ menu option too, and Frog plumped for chicken nuggets with chips. In the restaurant there were plenty of high-chairs, along with a handy baby-change area.
Half-way through the six hour journey I took Baby Girl on a walk around the boat where I checked out the Duty Free shop, mooched around the upper deck and let her crawl around the kids’ area which is complete with soft-play zone and small tables and chairs for colouring.
And then, just like that, France was in sight.
We began the French leg of our journey refreshed, well fed and relaxed, with not a tantrum in sight. I call that a win.
Over the next week or so I’ll be sharing more photos and video from our French adventure. In the meantime, there are lots of photos and memories over on my Instagram and Facebook page. Sorry for the holiday spam!