Boats are fun – few children can resist the allure of taking to the ocean waves, whether it’s for a few hours or overnight en route to your destination, or even – in the case of ‘mini-cruises’ – as a holiday in its own right. And with on-board entertainment galore standard these days, you might even be able to put your feet up and read for a while, over a coffee or a glass or two of wine.
The only real downer to taking the ferry is the risk of seasickness/motion sickness, which is worse during rough weather. Fresh air can help, so bring clothes suitable for standing out on deck. It can also be useful to stare at the horizon for a while, to counteract the brain’s confusion at receiving conflicting messages. Most kids do grow out of motion sickness, but while they suffer from it avoid large meals before travelling and try to sit in the middle of the vessel where there’s the least movement, facing forwards.
Although they are distractions, it may help to avoid reading or watching films – encourage your child to try to sleep instead. Chemists sell anti-motion sickness tablets and special wristbands, or bring along some crystallized ginger to suck.
Ferries are often the most sensible (and environmentally friendly) option for families travelling to Ireland and Northern Ireland, France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands, as well as to countries that are easily accessed by car, including Italy and Germany. Ferries allow you to take your car to the Continent instead of hiring one, meaning you can simply load up your gear and go, rather than dragging your luggage around airports and train stations. On the other hand, going by ferry and car does tend to take much longer than flying. Ferries can also be expensive and crowded in peak periods (especially school-holiday and summer weekends), but again, you’ll save on other costs such flights and car-hire, and a hotel stop-over if you choose to you make an overnight crossing.
Ferries can also be a great laugh, with most cross-Channel and longer ferries offering a wealth of entertainment, including dedicated children’s play areas, cinemas and swimming pools (note that some amenities come at an extra charge). And kids just love the adventure of it all, especially sleeping aboard a ship sailing through the night (fork up for a cabin with a view if you can).
These days, you can even make the ferry ride into the holiday itself – hop aboard P&O Ferries’ Pride of Bilbao to Santander in Spain, for instance, for brilliant dolphin-and-whale spotting in the Bay of Biscay. Alternatively, DFDS Seaways offer mini cruise breaks with two nights aboard and one day exploring the Dutch capital of Amsterdam or visiting its zoo (sailing from Newcastle).
For more on family mini-cruises (and full cruises), visit our feature on Cruises with Kids.