Newest Review: ... and had gone to plan maybe the ferry crossing from Dover to Dunkirk would have been completed with standard DFDS mediocrity but they di... more
Not ferry good
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Advantages: Cheap, good for larger groups, good for parties
Disadvantages: Long journeys, potential for bad crossings
DFDS Ferries who sail from Harwich and Newcastle upon Tyne to Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia, however, have not announced cuts to services; on a personal level, I have never known so many people taking advantage of the travel opportunities right on our doorstep here in the north east.
The experience I shall describe is based on a trip from Newcastle to Amsterdam – I have never traveled from Harwich - but I will try to outline the services as offered from both of the English ports and the non-English routes also offered by DFDS.
DFDS have been operating their passenger services for over 130 years – this is known as DFDS Seaways. They now offer a broad range of holidays and short breaks from the basic ferry crossing, with or without vehicle to full cruises in Scandinavia which can also be combined with activities like skiing and with extra nights in hotels with discounted rates for DFDS customers. You can even book a week long cruise around Scandinavia, stopping off here and there, combining it with nights in hotels.
In addition to the passenger services, the company also runs DFDS Tor Line – a freight service and DFDS Canal Tours which runs canal and harbour tours in Copenhagen.
To give a perspective about the size of the company, on their website DFDS describe themselves as ‘one of Scandinavia’s largest “hotel chains” with approx. 9000 “bed-nights” every night during the summer season and “parking facilities” for 2500 cars’ and claim to carry around 1.8 million passengers each year.
DFDS offer the following routes
North Shields – Ijmuiden (for Amsterdam)
North shields – Kristiansand – Gothenburg
Harwich – Cuxhaven (Germany)
Harwich – Esbjerg (Norway)
Copenhagen – Helsingborg – Oslo
DFDS provide a bus service from Newcastle city centre to the ferry port - the fare is a couple of pounds - you could do it more cheaply on the normal service bus and the buses used are double deckers with no proper luggage hold. This means that once the tiny luggage space is full everyone else has to sit with their bags on their knees. The service from Ijmuiden to Amsterdam, around 45 minutes, is done in a nice , air conditioned coach with a luggage hold. There is no charge for this journey.
There are so many different fare options and so many offers available for limited periods as well as seasonal variations in prices that it is difficult to give examples of the fares. However, £44.00 for a return fare from North Shields to Amsterdam is usual. Prices then increase and vary according to whether you are taking a car and on which class you opt for.
Booking can be done on-line, by telephone or through travel agents. We had won a competition for a pair of return crossings and were required to phone DFDS to arrange dates. The prize was what is known as a two night mini-cruise - you go one day , arrive the next morning, have the day to yourself in Amsterdam and return later that afternoon. We decided that this was too quick and said we wanted to book a night in Amsterdam which we would arrange ourselves but were told this was not allowed - the prize was to return that day. We said we would thnk about it. When we called back we spoke to someone else who said that we could spend the extra night in Amsterdam but would have to book a room through DFDS. To cut a long and tedious story short, we got our own way eventually and booked our room independently but we did feel that the service was poor - lack of consistency, flexibility and a low level of customer service.
The cheapest fares involve slumming it in what is described as a “reclining seat”; there are a couple of these lounges on the boat and, from what I’ve seen, it wouldn’t be my choice. They seem hardly to tilt back at all and I don’t think I’d get much sleep on the overnight crossing which applies to all routes. This may be an option for students or people traveling on a very limited budget but it is possible to travel very cheaply and have a cabin so its probably worth paying the extra for privacy and comfort.
The most basic cabin sleeps two in bunk beds and is basically the size of an large broom cupboard. We had one of these cabins (on the outside) for our outward journey. There was a tiny shower room with toilet and washbasin; you couldn’t turn round in the shower and there seemed no way to shower without drenching the floor – a perilous situation when there’s no mat on the floor. Other than the bunks there was about two feet of floor space and a tiny ledge with a mirror above it. Under the ledge was a folding table but there were no chairs to go with it. Between the shower room and the bunks was a narrow nook in which to hang clothes.
On our return leg we had a Commodore Cabin. This had two single beds a slightly larger shower room, you could perhaps swing an adult cat in this one. It was, though, much more comfortable with room to sit up rather than only recline. The shower room was a little nicer than in the smaller cabin but there was a dangerously high step into it. I can understand why this would be (drainage, etc) but when, feeling violently ill, I tried to get in, I found it difficult because of the fierce waves buffeting the ship; there could have been a horrible accident.
Again we had an outside cabin but given the weather conditions looking out of the window served only to make me feel more unwell. Even if it had been better conditions we would still have seen very little – Newcastle to Ijmuiden is not an especially scenic voyage! Still, if your idea of fun is to stare out at crashing black waves and watch as your window becomes steadily covered in salty scum, you’ll have the time of your life.
Larger cabins are available to suit most family groups, children under three years who do not require a separate berth go free.
The North Sea can be a cruel one and rough crossings are not uncommon. Unless you sail in spectacularly fine weather you are likely to experience some kind of bumps and a fair degree of listing to and fro. This, of course, will limit the availability of some of the boats amenities and, if like me you do not have a fine pair of sea legs, probably discourage you from using some of those which are open.
Our ship on the return leg had an indoor swimming pool but it wasn’t open for obvious safety reasons – surely only a masochist would want more water in such terrible weather anyway? The kids soft play area – a tiny ball pit and a miniscule climbing frame and only enough room for two kids at a time – would be a disappointment for any child and I would suspect many parents would not be happy to let their children use it; not only did it look unsafe and grubby but it was next to the downstairs sports bar and café which was quite smoky. Obviously the idea is that parents can relax and have a drink while the children play but it’s not very appealing.
There is a cinema on board all DFDS ships showing usually two films per sailing – one is usually a U certificate and therefore suitable for children, the later one usually a PG or higher. Anyone wanting to throw away larger amounts of money can do so in the games area where you can pour money into the slot machines or play driving or “shoot-em” up games.
The evening’s entertainment is centred around the main bar which is situated at the very front of the ship on board all vessels. At the far end is a tiny stage/dance floor are and the seats are arranged around this either in clusters around small tables or in undulating rows of comfortably upholstered seating with much lower tables. At the rear of the room is a bar which, frankly, looks too small against the size of the room and this is telling when you see the staff falling over each other as they race to serve the clamouring customers. And clamour they do! The whole scene is reminiscent of a big social club: the Lakeside without the Darts or the Phoenix Club without Brian Potter spring to mind. The décor is cheesy glitz – purple and silver streamers, tacky mirror balls – all very much dated and down at heel.
A few bar staff do come out to serve at table which would be more appreciated if it didn’t take them quite so long to return with your order. While drinks are not cheap they are certainly not excessive – after, make the drinks too expensive and people will bring their own on board or by them in the ship’s shop and drink in their cabins.
The entertainment starts before the ship has even left port. On the outward leg we were treated to the dleights os a three piece who played an eclectic mix of songs - but only instrumental versions - I suppose what you would describe as "popular classics" - Tom Jones, Abba, awful renditions of Motown numbers - while for no apparent reason wearing Ali Baba-esque outfits. To describe it as a cacophony would be crediting it with some degree of merit. The band played again later in the evening, just after the bingo!
If you prefer something more quiet there is a smaller bar (very small) with only background music piped in - hardly a bar, more like some seats by the side of the passenger walkway. . This are was very smoky and there was no non-smoking area.
There are a few places to eat on the ship. On one of the upper decks were two restaurants side by side. You need to book for one at reception - you can also do this before you embark with the booking agency, the other fills up soon after departure and you may find you have to wait for a table. The booking-only restaurant is more formal and serves a la carte meals of a reasonably high quality, the other is also a la carte and is mor like a pub-restaurant selection - steaks, fish and chips, lasagne, an Indian dish and others. We ate at the no-reservations restaurant and found it over-priced with slow and uninterested service. Here a starter and main course plus drinks will set you back about twenty pounds a head.
It is possible to bring your own food and eat in your cabin or in the lounge area or you can buy sandwiches in the downstairs sports bar. My partner did this on the return journey finding the choice poor and the actual food pretty bad - sweaty cheese in stale bread. I could not eat at all on this leg of the journey . The decks were deserted as passengers took to their beds - the ship should have been renamed the Marie Celeste. Luckily the crew are well-prepared for such conditions and a detour to the reception desk on the way to the cabin secured some sea-sickness tablets (a word of advice here, if you think there is even the remotest possibilty you will suffer from sea-sickness, take tablets at least an hour before departure, otherwise they will be of little benefit. My promptly re-surfaced as soon as I took them!)
DFDS, it cannot be denied, does offer a cheap way of crossing the North Sea. However, because this is a notoriously rough sea you are, especially during the winter, at the mercy of the weather. Our return crossing got to Newcastle so late that those people from the Netherlands on a minicruise had about two hours in England before they had to board again for the return crossing. While nothing can be done about this I can see it would be frustrating and disappointing.
Eating and drinking on board are not cheap and on balance you could probably fly to your destination for the combined price of the crossing and all the extras. The entertainment is not of a high enough quality to be able to say that you get something more on a ferry crossing that would make it more appealing than flying. While the cabins are clean and fairly comfortable they are not luxurious which leads me to sy that this is really a cheap and cheerful way to pass a weekend rather than a special treat.
I have decided that I do not have sea-legs and this means I would not be racing to sail with DFDS again, at least not in the winter months. The only thing that would induce me to sail again with DFDS would be a free trip. I certainly wouldn't pay for the experience. I have recommended DFDS as part of my rating but with certain caveats - this is not a special way of travelling, depending on fare paid the degree of comfort is variable and the reliability means that this is not for everyone. Think carefully if the prices entice you.....
Summary: Cheap crossing, expensive extras, not for those who get seasick
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