P&O Lines is bringing new superferries on-line to enhance the Dover-Calais commute. About half again as large as the current ships, the Spirit of Britain started running this month (the Spirit of France will join in September). Meanwhile, P&O is offering discount crossings (30 gbp each way for 2 people and a car) to introduce people to the new ship.
I bobbed back from Cambridge to Maastricht yesterday: a roll-y crossing on a wave-torn Channel, but a nice chance to explore the new ferry. (Usual disclaimers apply: I paid my own way and was not asked to write a review, these are my own opinions).
- A new boat is a nice boat. The floors, walls, paint, fixtures are immaculate. It smells fresh and clean and there isn’t a blemish anywhere. When I talked with some of the crewmembers, they really liked the new boar, and are taking a lot of visible care to keep things clean and polished.
- Family area. A large portion of the front seating is set aside as family space, with room to run and play, kid-friendly foods, and couches around tables. It looks great; I hope that the families enjoy it (and that they use it!)
- Food courts. The dining choices are significantly upgraded. There is a nice set of mini-services with Curry, British favorites, Soup ‘n Sandwiches, and Breakfast selections. Their ‘specials’ offer minor discounts (and in one misleading case, no discount at all) for adding items to your tray. The ‘fine dining’ brasserie is all wood and uniformed waiters in a setting that’s nicer than the Club Lounge.
- Really nice crew. Everyone is polite, eager to help, chatty, and happy.
- Free WiFi. Internet@sea, available throughout the ship, and *free* is wonderful. It’s a satellite connection and gets slow at mid-crossing, but for e-mail and web pages, it’s great. Video streaming and file transfers are much less likely to work, I didn’t try Skype.
- Windscreens on deck. The outdoor areas feature nice tables and wrap-around windscreens that will make crossing on windy days much more pleasant. They also have a bar on the terrace, and a separate smoker’s terrace, so that it feels like an extension of the interior areas rather than the metal-and-pipe-beneath-the-lifeboats version.
- Upstairs / downstairs. The ship is laid out in horseshoe corridor arrangements, which means that you can’t stroll around the border of the ship in a circle. I kept hitting dead-ends and getting to the right upper sections requires finding the right stairways – you can’t simply go up and around to get from the lounge to the food court.
- Club Lounge. 14 gbp per person for a bit of quiet, free soft drinks, and a newspaper. Nibbles for sale. Not worth it unless the Family Lounge takes over the rest of the ship.
- No color coding for the car deck. Okay, it’s sort of stupid, but without knowing I’m in the green zone, I’m as likely to go to the wrong end of the car deck as the right one. (Still, isn’t this the most gorgeous car deck you’ve ever seen?)
- Duty-Free. More accessible, but nothing special, either in size or content.
- Stabilizers. I was surprised how much the boat was rolling considering the moderate seas that we were encountering.
- Bus-station seating. The lounges along the side corridor have stools, tight armchairs, and square hummocks with central seatbacks like you find in airports and bus terminals. I’m not sure why these are offered, except that the little armrests prevent people from lying down and going to sleep on them.
On balance, though, the good far outweighs the bad and this will make the crossings lost more comfortable. Recommended, especially to try it at a discount while it’s still all nice and new.