Sailing Santander to Portsmouth

I’ve always been a fan of ferry journeys. Some of my earliest memories are from the Sealink Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire crossing via which we made our yearly pilgrimages to Ireland from the UK. Running riot in the lounges with newly-made friends, walking our border collie on the blustery deck, laughing at the adults staggering around and turning green on the rougher sailings. Jolly adventures on the high seas.

Heading for adventure on the open seas

Funny how we sometimes unconsciously replicate our childhoods for our children. At just two and a half years old Jack is already a seasoned ferry traveller, having made a number of lengthy ferry crossings from both Gijon to Sant Nazaire and from Santander to Portsmouth.

Last week we did the 24 hour sailing from Santander to Portsmouth again, to visit Jack’s Granma who has been poorly. As she lives 10 minutes from Portsmouth ferry port it really was a no-brainer in terms of choice of transportation. Even leaving that particular convenience aside I must say that, especially travelling with children, the ferry option makes more and more sense to me these days.

The price may sometimes appear eye-wateringly high on first glance, or maybe that’s just me – I do wonder if my price perception might be stuck in the 90s. We booked last-minute (on the Friday for the Monday sailing) and so will have paid at the high end of pricing for this time of year – a little over £500 for the return sailing for 2 adults and an infant (classed as up to 4 years old), with a 2 berth cabin and car.

It’s a fair old wedge but so would have been the flights for the three of us and at least there are no airport parking costs or car hire and insurance plus car seat malarkey (hire or carriage) to add on. (Or train tickets – have you seen the cost of train tickets in the UK lately?!)

Price considerations aside, the comfort of travelling all the way from door to door in your own car is for me the biggest plus of ferry travel. As a parent, the ability to load up ALL the paraphernalia of a baby or toddler can make the difference between a relaxing holiday and a grim battle for survival. As an ex-pat not having to face a Sophie’s choice between taking home a packet of tea-bags or a jar of Marmite gives one an expansive peace of mind that is hard to express. As an indecisive packing-phobe the calming effect of being able to shove everything we might possibly need into our capacious estate car makes for a much more tranquil start to any holiday (read: less arguments and no rising hysteria.)

A porthole in the kids’ lounge – where I was stationed for most of the voyage

Actually, I say that’s the biggest plus but this time around perhaps the single best thing was the fact that Jack simply ADORED the journey and had the best time.

As usual, we spent pretty much every waking minute in or around the soft play area on deck 7 (the self-service restaurant and cafe is conveniently located nearby on the same level.) And as usual we quickly became acquainted with the other families with children that were also on the ferry.

There was Adam, who was a little older than Jack and thus inspired all kinds of hero worship. Three year old Pepe was less confident until he realized that Jack spoke Spanish too and then he threw himself into playing with gusto.

Pepe’s family were Andalucian but living in Dumfries. His mum couldn’t quite get her head around why we could possibly want to live in Spain but we shared a lot of common experience as families living in a foreign culture and we whiled away the time happily comparing notes on life abroad and language learning for kids. I didn’t envy them their drive either end of the ferry journey but they still rated it as more convenient than flying with two little ones.

An unexpected bonus – arriving into Portsmouth basking in a heatwave!

By the time we docked in Portsmouth Jack was fully tired out and instantly fell asleep on rejoining our car on the car deck. He’s still talking about the ship with the playground and the nice cakes and his friends Adam and Pepe now. And this afternoon we do it all again, on the return leg. We can’t wait!

Postscript: The return journey was equally succesful. Edging more into holiday season there were a) more children on the boat and b) a magician to entertain them, who was making balloon animals and pirate swords on request. Best of all (at least from an adult perspective) a pod of dolphins put on a wonderful leaping display along the bows of the ship as we approached Santander harbour. Magical!


  1. Great post. Children just adore ferry journeys don’t they? Last year we went to Norway, choosing the overnight option on both legs of the journey. It didn’t matter that on the outbound trip we didn’t have any windows, everyone (apart from me who had nightmares about coffins) slept like logs. On the way back we were kept awake by over excited Norwegians with access to cheap booze for the first time in months. Did my children appreciate Norway, country of amazing scenery and endless light evenings? Well yes, but they loved the ferry journey more! Hope you had a great trip and that Granma is better! Emma :)

    • Ha ha, it’s so true isn’t it? Still, as long as the little folk are happy the big folk occasionally get to do somethings that interest them too. ;) Norway sounds like a must visit. Was it midgy though? And thanks for your kind words – Granma is recovered from her illness, now she just needs to recover from having a rampaging toddler to stay for a week!

  2. I cringe at the price of this crossing, but in a way, when you take everything into consideration it is NOT that expensive especially if you have to hire a car in the UK. I love the food in the proper restaurnat it is delicious!

    This is certainly a good route when travelling with children. Unfortunately we are 12hrs drive from Santander so we need an overnight stop for safety and sanity.

  3. What a dreamy way to travel to see Grandma! I know my own two grandchildren would simply adore to travel on a car ferry like this! Thank you for sharing all of this wonderful detail. And the option you had of just stuffing the estate car full of everything you MIGHT need must have been a godsend!

  4. As an adult I still love ferries – I once spent most of a journey watching teenage ninja turtles in the children’s area. I didn’t have a child at the time but was travelling between hull and holland. Amasterdam is all I’m saying by way of explanation,

  5. Trish @ Mum's Gone To says:

    When our son was little we took the ferry from Poole to St Malo and, as you say, it was a great way to travel, though I think I found the whole ‘parking in the bowels of the ship’ thing a bit scary. Having your own car is a big bonus, which is why we’ve done a few trips to France via the tunnel too.


  1. […] a year and once again we chose the ferry to get us (and all of our many, many bags) here. As our family love affair with ferry travel continues, it seemed rather appropriate (although entirely coincidental) that we set sail from […]

  2. […] a year and once again we chose the ferry to get us (and all of our many, many bags) here. As our family love affair with ferry travel continues, it seemed rather appropriate (although entirely coincidental) that we set sail from […]

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