With my children now at an age where they can travel a little bit further, a holiday to France seems to tick all the boxes. I love the idea of them (and us) being exposed to another culture, the flexibility of having the car, and being within easy reach of the UK. It’s a pretty straightforward journey. There are a whole host of options in terms of how to get there, but I have reviewed the most cost-effective ferries to get you to France from Dover to Calais, detailing the cheapest options and how you can upgrade your level of luxury on your crossing with P&O vs. DFDS vs. Eurotunnel.
What are the Best Travel Options?
If you want to travel by ferry from England to France, the Dover Calais route is perfect. Currently operated by DFDS and P&O, there are plenty of sailings per day on the Dover Calais route to choose from: DFDS runs up to 30 times per day with a sailing duration of around 1 hour 30 minutes whilst the P&O Ferries service runs up to 23 times per day with a similar sailing duration.
DFDS is Europe’s Leading Ferry Operator from 2012 to 2019 & the World’s Leading Ferry Operator from 2011 to 2018! The DFDS Dover to Calais ferry route is super convenient as they have added a couple of new ships, which means that there is a vast array of travel times available.
With no baggage restrictions on both DFDS and P&O Ferries, you can quite literally pack as much as you can fit into your vehicle, and obviously, traveling by car makes everything much more comfortable and less stressful. On board the ferry, you are free to stretch your legs and have a snack and drink to re-charge before the next leg of the journey. Once in Calais, you simply disembark, and then you are free to explore France and beyond at your own pace.
Eurotunnel le shuttle is also known as the ‘Channel Tunnel’. It is a 31-mile rail tunnel linking Folkestone in Kent with Coquelles, Pas-de-Calais, near Calais, beneath the English Channel at the Strait of Dover. It is a slightly different experience, allowing passengers to access France and beyond with their vehicle without traveling by ferry – also fantastic for passengers with pets as it means you don’t have to abandon them on the crossing. The main benefit of taking the Eurotunnel is that it takes a mere 35 minutes to arrive in Calais, so it is quicker than the ferries. The crossing operates up to 49 times each day, so again there are plenty of options in terms of when to travel. I have to say that it is quite an experience and the children were so excited to be traveling under the sea!
Which is the most cost-effective – Ferry vs. Eurotunnel from Dover to Calais?
To be completely honest, the ferry crossings with DFDS and P&O are more or less identical. Prices start from £49 GBP with DFDS for a car and up to nine passengers, each way. The Eurotunnel starts at £85 GBP per car each way, so it comes in a bit more expensive, but you will be getting to France quicker. Ferry prices are usually cheaper unless you can book well in advance for the Eurostar and travel at off-peak times, usually between 10:00 pm – 6:00 am. The very best prices I could find for the Eurostar car trains started at £49 GBP single or £44 GBP overnight return, but these are short-term travel fares which would suit if traveling only for a day or two.
DFDS Ferry & Lounge Review
Taking the DFDS ferry from Dover to Calais is so straightforward. Having already printed our booking confirmation, upon arrival, we literally followed the ferry signs, showed our passports, went through the security check, and then we were allocated a lane. We had booked the priority boarding, which was well worth the small extra charge as it meant that we could get on and off the ship quickly. Our crossing was over before we knew it, and disembarkation was equally stress-free.
The ferry was on time, smooth, and comfortable. The boat itself was clean and tidy, with plenty of comfy seats to rest in. We loved being able to access the decks for sightseeing during the crossing, and there were bars, restaurants, and shops on board to explore. We particularly enjoyed the nice coffee bar, which served various cakes and warm and cold drinks, but there were plenty of places to eat on board, including The 7 Seas Restaurant, which served a range of meals for adults and children. There was also a new restaurant, the Horizon café, offering things like pizza, pasta, and salad which was great for a family such as ourselves.
The ship also boasts an exclusive Premium Lounge that offers a VIP experience with complimentary drinks, fruit, and snacks. This is paid for in advance but is excellent value for money and a more peaceful alternative if you wish to find a quiet corner to take a quick nap!
P&O Ferry & Lounge Review
The P&O ferry from Dover to Calais is again a very simple way to cross the Channel. Check-in is easy, but as with DFDS, you need to check-in an hour before the ferry leaves, so it is advisable to take a book or something for the children to do whilst you wait as there isn’t much to do at the port.
On-board there are plenty of seating areas, places to get food and drinks, video games, and a shop. Upstairs there is also a food court and bar so really anything you could want or need is there and we had nothing to complain about. The service we received was excellent, and we all really enjoyed a hearty breakfast.
You also have the option of upgrading to the Club Lounge when you book the ferry, or you can upgrade on the ship if there is availability. It is an exclusive lounge with uninterrupted sea views and the perfect place to relax and enjoy time away from what can sometimes be a crowded ship. Here you can enjoy a complimentary glass of champagne, a soft or hot drink, or take advantage of the waiter service and have a light bite from the Club Lounge menu.
The beauty of the Eurotunnel is that the journey itself is brilliant and very quick. Having arrived a tad earlier than anticipated, we were asked if we would like to travel on an earlier train which was perfect for us. Check-in was efficient, and at security, there were no hold-ups at all. We loved arriving in France (a little bit earlier than planned!) and being able to just drive straight off the train and onto the dual carriageway in France. Voila!
The only thing I would say is that we felt a tiny bit restricted as other than using the toilet, we stayed in the car. Of course, you can get out and stretch your legs, but that’s about it. That said, it’s only for half an hour, so it’s not too bad really.
Best For Entertainment & Activities
There isn’t much to pick between the ferries as far as entertainment is concerned – the Eurotunnel obviously doesn’t offer entertainment or activities. DFDS has a number of bars and cafes with TV screens for the latest news and sports as well as family-friendly films, whilst for the children during the Summer, P&O have an onboard kids club aimed at 5 to 11-year-olds. This is available on selected daytime sailings and includes activities such as arts and crafts sessions, face painting, puzzles, and games. On P&O Pirate Pete is the ship’s mascot who can be seen making an appearance here and there, and there is a Pirates’ Island play area too. Passengers can also get online to pass the time, or failing that, there is a video arcade as well.
DFDS has ‘Pirate’s Island’, which is a soft play area located in the 7 Seas Restaurant, so it’s conveniently located where parents can keep an eye on their children. You can also download the ‘Jack’s Treasure Hunt’ app using their onboard Wi-Fi and let the children follow Jack the Pirate and his friends around the ship to find their treasure, search for posters, solve the clues and zap the codes to unlock the key to Jack’s treasure chest. This is certain to keep them entertained for a while!
Finally, if all else fails, you can head onto the deck for fresh air and ship spotting – something we love to do, especially as you near the coastline.
Best Options For Drinking & Dining
If you are in need of a hearty fry-up or traditional fish and chips, then the food court on P&O ferries is the place to go. If, on the other hand, you would prefer an a la carte experience, then the Brasserie is worth paying a visit where you can enjoy the comfort of fine dining and beautiful sea views. There are also more ‘on the go’ options, including fresh salads and sandwiches, as well as hot and cold drinks available, including Starbucks. If you have upgraded to the Club Lounge, you can enjoy a selection of light bites from the special Club Lounge menu whilst gazing at the uninterrupted sea views.
DFDS have a number of restaurants to sample, ranging from the Horizon Restaurant serving freshly made cooked to order food to the Lighthouse Cafe, which offers mainly sandwiches, bagels, and salads. The 7 Seas Restaurant we found suited our needs most as it offered hot and cold dishes at affordable prices, as well as a decent children’s menu. At the Horizon Restaurant, you can enjoy breakfast, lunch, and dinner whilst you sit back and take in the panoramic views.
The Eurotunnel has no food or refreshment provision onboard. However, there are vending machines alongside the lanes where you wait to board. Prior to boarding, though, there are a number of places at the terminal where you can grab something, including a Starbucks, Burger King, and a French-style bistro cafe. I would say that it is probably worth bringing your own food and drinks, which you can then consume at your leisure at some point on the journey over to Calais.
Which is best overall – DFDS vs. P&O vs. Eurotunnel?
Choosing the best crossing can be a bit mind-boggling. However, in my view, the ferries definitely are best, with DFDS having the overall edge. Here you can relax, go for a pleasant stroll around the ship, check out the shops, get some decent food, a hot drink and prepare for the next phase of the journey. Having driven a couple of hours to get to Dover, all we want to do is have a meal, a break, and get that feeling of actually going on holiday. The DFDS ferry does all of this and makes for what I think is a much more chilled-out experience, especially if taking advantage of the Premium Lounge and priority boarding. At nearly £50 GBP for a family of four each way, it is absolutely worth it if your holiday budget allows as the extras offered by the Premium Lounge, plus the peace and quiet and excellent service makes for a far better crossing.
On the other hand, speed of travel is the obvious advantage of using the Eurotunnel. There are also up to four departures per hour, and the motorway to motorway access makes it quicker and easier to continue your journey once you have arrived at your destination. Something also worth considering is that the service is unlikely to be disrupted by adverse weather conditions. For those that suffer from travel sickness, this won’t be a problem in the Channel Tunnel.
So in summary, yes there are some advantages of traveling via the Eurotunnel – the obvious one being that it is a bit quicker. However, in the grand scheme of things, for the sake of saving an hour traveling, the ferry is definitely the best option and a much more pleasurable and relaxing experience.
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