Hayley Spurway's children on ferry

Travelling with children – surviving ferries

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By Hayley Spurway
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Taking the ferry is one of the most exciting ways to travel with young children. Mum of two boys under four, Hayley Spurway shares some top tips for crossing the sea stress-free.

Parents, let’s face it, you might as well shelve expensive, long-haul adventures until your children can remember the experience and not spoil every idyllic moment with raging tantrums. Look closer to home for your travel experiences and you can swap the slog of flying with children for the relative ease of ferry travel: food and facilities on tap, space for restless little feet to roam, the convenience of taking your car on holiday, and no luggage restrictions – so you can pile in toddler paraphernalia galore. There’s no formula for stress-free travel with two rambunctious tots in tow, but heed a little well-earned advice to make ferry crossings as smooth as possible.

Book a cabin

Whether you travel by day or night, if the crossing is more than a couple of hours then a cabin is worth paying extra for. By all means explore the ferry, but having an enclosed space in which the children can play or nap while you put your feet up is invaluable. It also provides a safe place to leave your bags instead of lugging them around in the wake of wild toddlers, and somewhere for time out when your two-year-old is having a meltdown. Most cabins these days are en suite so, as well as the luxury of a private toilet (especially handy for potty-training kids), you’ve got the option of a shower and change of clothes before your onward journey.

Hayley Spurway's children on a ferry

Have grab bags ready

Queuing for the ferry can take ages, so if you’ve been car-bound for hours before arrival, its wise to let energetic tots run off some steam on terra firma before boarding. Once you’re waved onboard you have to abandon your vehicle pronto – usually forgetting essentials such as baby wipes and boarding passes in the flurry. So, while you’re dawdling portside, ensure bags are packed ready for boarding (and not unpacked by overexcited children seeking snacks and toys). Backpacks are better than shoulder bags so you’re hands-free; if there are two adults pack one with nappies, spare clothes etc, and another with food and drink. Each toddler can carry a small backpack (containing a toy and extra layer of clothing) – preferably one with a detachable leash that you can grab in crowded areas and on deck.

Find the family facilities

Once you’ve waved goodbye to land, explore the boat. We like to head up on deck to get good blast of briny air, count the lifeboats and find the helicopter landing pad. Inside, most modern ferries are crammed with family-friendly features, so you won’t need to bring a whole toy box with you (I give each child one new toy to take onboard). As well as a shop and snack bars you’ll find the likes of cinemas, kids’ TV lounges, soft play areas, games rooms and (on some crossings) even swimming pools. I don’t mind the kids taking some quiet time in front of a silly dancing-cat cartoon, especially if it means I get a moment to relax and gaze out to sea.

Hayley Spurway and childen on ferry

Bring your own food

Children’s meals are available onboard, but if you’re travelling on a budget, bring your own. With a cabin to stash a cooler bag in, it’s no hassle to bring child-friendly snacks, a family-size pasta salad or even a full continental spread complete with beer and wine. At the very least do bring your own water, as this is usually expensive onboard and often only available in small bottles. If you do opt to dine in the ferry foodie outlets, avoid peak times – queuing in the self-service restaurant is a nightmare with hungry, crazed children running riot at knee level where streams of people are carrying precariously balanced trays of food.

Be ready for travel sickness

However prepared you are, you can’t predict how well your children will behave, and neither can you predict how bumpy the ocean will make your crossing. So make sure you’ve got sick bags, spare clothes and children’s travel sickness remedies. And, while you’re chasing the wild things around the ferry, clock the whereabouts of first aid points, baby changing stations and sick bag dispensers. Just in case.

Hayley Spurway's children sleep on a ferry

 Have you taken children on a ferry? How did you find the experience?