Newest Review: ... end of October a few years ago that felt like it was going to tip over; in fact it was so scary, Red Funnel probably should never have r... more
It's All Wight With Red Funnel
Member Name: Hishyeness
Advantages: Reliable. Good customer service. Smooth sailing.
Disadvantages: Too expensive for regular use!
SAILING THE SOLENT
We recently travelled to the Isle of Wight for a three day family break and were offered the option of booking the ferry crossing with our hotel. Never one to shun the easy life, I took an executive decision and opted, there and then, to let the hotel take the strain. We were offered a return crossing from Southampton to East Cowes for £45 on Red Funnel Ferries. Shortly after we made our hotel booking, we received an e-mailed "e-ticket" direct from Red Funnel confirming our sailing times on both legs of the journey.
Given our hotel was in Shanklin, technically, as the crow flies, the Portsmouth to Fishbourne route via WightLink car ferry would have been shorter. However, there wasn't much in it - in terms of both distance and cost - and, in any event, I was already familiar with the Southampton seafront, having spent over a year working on secondment at the Ordnance Survey.
ARRIVAL & BOARDING
The routes in to Red Funnel's terminus at both ends of the journey are clearly signposted from all major routes. In any event, the e-mail we had received thoughtfully provided the SatNav postcodes for both terminals, so we let the TomTom guide us in. On arrival, you check-in via a toll booth type kiosk, present your e-ticket, confirm the number of passengers and then drive your car to the appropriate lane number.
Drivers are expected to report to their cars at least 30m before the scheduled sailing time, but in the meanwhile, you are free to get out and walk around. In Southampton, there is a coffee shop and waiting area next to the ticket office (East Cowes has a coffee shack, ticket office and little else - but there is a Somerfield around the corner). Given we had arrived 45 minutes before the sailing, we decamped to the Steam café for coffee and snacks.
With a plethora of brochures and magazines available on the sights and attractions on the Isle of Wight, there was plenty to keep us busy while we waited. Engrossed in the literature, we hadn't noticed the café had emptied and as such, had to make a mad dash for our car, which was sitting - lonely and forlorn - on the tarmac.
Fortunately, the bemused staff waited patiently for us to strap the kids in before waving us on to the lower deck. To be frank, it was a little odd not to have given customers in the café any kind of boarding call. I thought we'd simply missed it, but the staff on board the ferry confirmed that they don't do one.
The crossing takes about an hour and you have to vacate your car. You can't return to it during the voyage, so you have to be organised and take what you need for the journey. On the outbound journey, we were parked on the lowest deck. There is a lift, but we didn't know about it, so we ended up carrying the baby and helping our daughter up the three very step flights of stairs to the main deck.
There are two distinct areas on the main deck separated by the Cafeteria and the toilet block. One end has tables and benches for those buying food from the cafeteria, and the other end has a bar and coffee stand, with a number of booths and benches. I was delighted to discover that Red Funnel offer free WiFi during the crossing, and having recently acquired a nifty new netbook, I took full advantage of a solid and reliable connection on both legs of the journey.
Staff on board were courteous and helpful and the facilities are clean and well maintained. Prices for the coffee stand and the café were relatively expensive but hardly extortionate. For example, two sandwiches, a packet of crisps, a Pepsi Max, Strawberry Ribena and a bag of Mini-Cheddars cost us around £11, a medium Americano set me back £2.40 and a small pot of local IOW Minghella Rum & Raisin ice cream was £1.50.
Above the main passenger deck is an open air viewing deck that has plenty of seating and, although a touch windy, is very pleasant in good weather. This level also has a dedicated and covered pet area with water bowls set out for four-legged passengers. There are also a number of canopied and protected areas where passengers can take shelter from the wind.
The crossing was entirely uneventful. The weather was brilliant, giving us some great views across the Solent and the River Test on both legs of the journey. About ten minutes out from port, drivers are instructed to return the car decks and make ready to disembark. After the ferry docks, the staff direct traffic off the ferry. They were very well-versed in their job, which is more than I can say for the SatNav. As soon as I switched it on so we could resume our journey, it blithely informed me to "turn around when possible..."
Red Funnel operate three ferries across the Solent as well as a passenger only "Red Jet" service (which takes around 25 minutes to cross as opposed to the 55 minutes on the Ro-Ro ferries). They have been around for close on 150 years under various names. We boarded the MV Red Opsrey from Southampton and the MV Red Eagle from Cowes, and both had a remarkably similar layout.
Along with the MV Red Falcon, these three, fifteen year old Raptor class diesels average 15 knots and have a capacity of around 200 cars and 800 passengers per journey. Sailings from Southampton depart on the hour, every hour from April to October (and at 90 minute intervals at other times of year). Services from East Cowes leave on the half hour every hour.
Red Funnel do not publish a set tariff, but instead, operate a demand -based pricing system, so the earlier you book, the cheaper it will be. Details of prices and sailings can be found on www.redfunnel.co.uk. The price of the ferry is a common topic of discussion (we overheard grips and complaints about the expense on the ferry, on a queue at the Needles Park and in an Indian restaurant in Shanklin) and it is often said that it is the Solent crossing is - mile for mile - the most expensive ferry trip in Europe.
This is the second time I have used Red Funnel for return Solent crossings and both times the service has been smooth, reliable, punctual and hassle-free. The on-board facilities are clean and comfortable and Red Funnel seem to take good care of their customers. For example, when we decided at 3:30pm to shift our 4:30pm return to a few hours later so we could take advantage of the good weather and take the kids to the beach at Ryde, all it took was a simple phone call to change the time of our sailing. Simples.
Red Funnel Travel Centre
12 Bugle Street
Southampton SO14 2JY
0844 844 9988 (0800-1945 Mon-Fri & 0800-1745 Sat-Sun)
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: A reliable RoRo ferry service from Southampton to East Cowes, Isle of Wight
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