tips for taking the ferry to France

The ferry never changes.

The familiar smell of exhausts as engines are switched off and families squeeze between rows of roof-box-topped cars to reach the entry doors.
The staff with genuine smiles waiting to greet us and help tiny children clamber up the steep steps.
The sense of relief when we emerge on the fifth floor and spill out into the spacious foyer, armed with cabin keys and a giddy sense that the holiday has started.

For the last four years, we’ve taken the same ferry from Rosslare to France, and some journeys have been far more successful than others.

This isn’t down to the ferry – indeed the Oscar Wilde doesn’t change one little bit year to year, and thank goodness – I think we’d faint if everything wasn’t exactly as we’d left it the previous year. Imagine if the soft-play area became a library! Or the restaurant became a KFC!

But no, it never changes – it is we who change. Or at least the number of and ages of our children change, and that can have a big impact on the journey.

2012 was our first time travelling with three kids, and it was unexpectedly easy – the baby was only six months old, so feeding on the go, being carried everywhere in my trusty Ergo, not yet on solids, not yet able to climb down stairs on his own and split his lip, as he did a year later.

So yes, travelling by ferry with small kids can be challenging but with a bit of preparation and some planning it can be great – it really does become part of the holiday.

Here are my tips, gleaned from our eight trips on the ferry:

1. Cabin without a window

It costs a little more to get a cabin with a window, and it is lovely to be able to look out at the sea, but if you don’t want to pay the extra, one major advantage of a windowless room is how late the kids sleep the next morning – it feels like the middle of the night at 9am so even the earliest of early-birds do a little better than usual.

2. Water and snacks

We bring a bottle of water for the cabin and also snacks for the kids – food on board can be a little expensive. I went to the restaurant to buy some crackers for Sam on our last trip, to find that a pack of two Jacobs cream crackers was €1.15. That’s 75 cents a cracker. So maybe bring your own crackers. But to be fair, there’s plenty of choice on board if you don’t mind paying, and it’s also absolutely fine to bring your own food.

snack, ferry tips - office mum

3. Dinner in the family restaurant

Like the snacks, dinner can be pricey, even in the not-so-posh restaurant. The eatery on the Oscar Wilde that most parents are familiar with is The Left Bank – it’s a self-service affair, ideal for families with small kids.

It’s not the kind of place that makes you feel uncomfortable if your child knocks over a chair or throws pasta on the floor or climbs up on the counter or plays a game of hide-and-seek under other guests’ tables (I can’t tell you how I know all of this…)

I would recommend asking for what you want even if that means looking for smaller portions or going off-menu. The children’s meals are large, so if your kids are small, just get one between two.

We grown-ups had pitta bread filled with chicken and salad the last time – they were €10.35 each and the kids shared two bowls of pasta between three. You could have your substantial meal earlier in the day before boarding (try Café Lily attached to Supervalue just before you reach the port in Rosslare – friendliest staff ever, who also don’t seem to mind the hide-and-seek games).

4. Disco kids

Check the times for the kids’ entertainment and do go along – on the Oscar Wilde, there’s a treasure hunt, a magician and a kid’s disco during Summer months. We had to fib about the whereabouts of the magician on our outgoing trip a few weeks ago (“I think he’s on holidays himself!”) after we arrived far too late to catch the show. Kids love the entertainment and hey, anything that tires them out is a good thing when everyone will be sleeping in such close quarters.

5. Staying up late (five get over-excited … )

After one disastrous trip where I let the girls drink a load of sugary drinks then tried to put them to bed at 8 o’clock, we now let them stay out late playing in the various kid-zones, after the kid’s entertainment has finished.

Once we’re sure they’re absolutely shattered, we whisk them down to the cabin and tell them they are allowed to read their books as late as they want as a special treat but they’re not allowed to talk, as we need the baby to go to sleep.

On our recent trip, the two girls played a silent game of Rock Paper Scissors across the room while I was getting the baby to sleep, and bless them, they did it without making a sound. They then fell fast asleep for ten hours straight – this never happens at home. I might start bringing them out to amusement arcades and discos every night.

6. Treat yourself to some wine

We usually get some quarter bottles of wine and glasses from the bar so that we can have a sneaky tipple in the cabin after the kids drop off to sleep. Well they say the holiday starts once you get on board.

And with small travelling companions, this glass of wine in a darkened cabin really is the extent of your night-life. So sip slowly, enjoy, and don’t topple off the ladder getting up to that top bunk.

wine, ferry to France tips - office mum

All in all, it’s a super way to travel – bring what you like, eat, sleep and play as you wish, buy some duty free, watch a movie in the cinema, or go to the evening entertainment in the bar.

Or even go to the posh restaurant with the table-clothes and the menus – just make sure to come back and tell me what it’s like…

Extra note:

Lots of people have asked me if you can bring your own food on board: you can definitely bring food that you can eat in the common areas or your cabin. The bars have signs saying only food and drink bought on the premises can be consumed there. I haven’t seen a similar sign in the above-mentioned canteen-style restaurant, and we have in the past brought our own cereal for the kids, and bought breakfast for ourselves. This year, I brought my own Marks and Spencer salad and had it in the restaurant while the rest of the family had the food we bought there, and nobody paid any attention. We had paid €28 for a bowl of pasta, a small salad and one portion of lasagne. So, you know, bearing in mind it’s very average food and a self-service restaurant, I felt we’d paid our dues….

What I’m saying is, I’m not sure you’re allowed but I don’t think you get thrown off the boat for it 🙂


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30 thoughts on “tips for taking the ferry to France”

    1. I’ve heard the Cork boat is fab – we were thinking of trying it next year. You will have a great time – the kids will love it!

  1. Great post A, it takes me back! We went every year as children from Ringaskiddy to Le Harve,as we got older driving further down through to the south. They were our best holidays! I’ve great memories of the ferry… parents maybe not so much!!x
    Triona McKee recently posted…Chickpea & Coriander StewMy Profile

  2. Super blog! We are first time travellers on the ferry to France and your information is very reassuring! I have a crazy question however I am going to ask it anyhow….have you heard of anyone who has managed to transport refrigerated food/frozen food successfully on a ferry trip to France?

    1. We brought chilled food in a cool bag with ice packs – it stayed chilled for 24 hours. But we didn’t bring anything that would potentially cause food poisoning, just stuff that tastes nicer chilled. So cheese and yogurts and drinks, but not cold meat for example.
      I think you could bring frozen food in a cool bag and allow it to defrost and use it on your journey once it’s fully defrosted, but I don’t think you could get it all the way over still frozen – hope that makes sense!

  3. Hi, just wondering if you can bring a buggy on the ship or just a baby carrier? Our son is 13 months old. Many thanks. Our first family trip is this Friday!

    1. Hi Emer,
      Thanks for getting in touch – you can definitely bring a buggy. We did so every year, and the decks are full of buggies. Very handy when the smallest people get tired at night.
      Enjoy your trip!

      1. Thanks Andrea. That’s great. Had visions of trying to drag a buggy and baby up a ladder :-))

  4. Hi Andrea
    Very helpful post! We are going to France in a month and just wondering if there is a micro onboard to warm up baby food? I have a year old and a 2.5 year old both sleeping in cot at home. Any recommendation what type of cabin to book. I am not sure my older boy could sleep on a big bed without falling off while sleeping. Many thanks

    1. Hi Anita,
      I have a friend who has twins and she booked a 3 star cabin (if I remember rightly, there are 3 star and 5 star, but no 4 star) and she was able to fit two travel cots in it. But I’d say speak to Irish Ferries about it rather than taking a chance. Another option is to book a 3star and bring an airbed for your 2.5 year old. We did that for my youngest last year – an inflatable sleeping bag that’s especially for kids (we got it in Mothercare a few years ago.) So you don’t have the worry of anyone falling out.

      Size wise, I think the 5 star is bigger so it’s easier to fit two cots, but you do pay a good bit more.

      There is a microwave in the main self-service restaurant (the Left Bank) where you can microwave baby food.

      Hope that helps and happy holidays!

  5. Hi

    We traveled to France with Irish ferries in June with our 3 children (6,5 and 3). We booked 4 star as it had a fridge which was handy for milk, yogurts etc. From a space point of view I don’t believe there is any difference between 3 and 4 star. Our 3 year slept on the floor. We put a chair against bed for our 5 year old just in case she fell out. Hope this helps, Louise

    1. Oh yes that’s right – it’s not that there isn’t a 4 star, it’s that it’s quite similar to the 3 star 9so my husband wouldn’t let us book it 🙂 )
      Great tip re. chair against the bed – thanks!

  6. Hi Andrea

    I found your website very useful last year when we travelled to France. This year we have a new dilemma. Our youngest is now 4 so do you know if there is any option for 2 adults with 3 young kids (7, 6 and 4) to stay in the 1 cabin? I am not at all eager for us to split up!!!

    Thanks a mill,

    1. Hi Louise,

      I’m not sure – I wonder if five star can fit five? We’ve only ever stayed in three star – we did split up two years ago and it was actually fine. I was in one cabin with the youngest, and my husband with the girls in another. On our return journey the five of us were in one cabin again, with the youngest in an airbed on the floor. Would one of your kids go in an airbed? Otherwise, maybe look into four star and five star?
      Happy holiday planning!

  7. Hi Andrea.

    Thanks for the reply. Unfortunately all the cabins max out in capacity at 4 persons once the youngest is over 3 years of age. The online systems doesn’t let you proceed with your booking which is unfortunate as my youngest is not bothered by sleeping on the floor.

    I might give them a call.

    Thanks anyhow,

  8. Hi Louise,

    I am currently looking at traveling with myself, husband and 4 kids (7, 5 and twin boys who will be 21mths and still in cots when we travel). I have done a lot of research in attempt for us all to sleep in same room. My dilemma has been needing 2 cots in one room which only Irish Ferries allow in their 3star and 4 star rooms. You may want to look at the Stena Line. We booked a 6 berth cabin on the Stena Horizon from Rosslare to Cherbourg. I am hoping the boys will settle in a bed for that night! I will secure them in with bags/ towels etc around them. Was only euro106 and I used my tesco vouchers which was a bonus. That may be a good one for you to look into. No other ferry has a 6 berth. Alternatively, they did say people book a 4 berth and bring something for someone to sleep on floor! Good luck!
    Hope that helps.

  9. Hi Aoife

    Thanks for the reply. I only discovered afterwards that Stena offer 6 berth however for our chosen dates they were booked up. We have gone for a 4 berth and a seat outside which I am confident will work out.
    Enjoy your trip.

    1. Hi, on the StenaLine website, the 6-berth cabin is ALWAYS booked out. it seems they either do not offer it anymore, or you can only book it directly over the phone or something.

  10. Just wanted to thank you for taking the time to write this post. I’m heading off with my husband and our 1 year old this summer and instead of trying to brave an airport and airplane we’ve decided the ferry is for us. Your post has really put my mind at ease and has me super excited for our first family holiday 🙂

    1. Aw that’s lovely to hear – thank you for taking the time to comment! We loved the ferry for so many years, and last year when we braved the airport for the first time, we had to gently explain to the kids that there’s no soft play area or restaurant on the plane 🙂
      Have a lovely holiday!

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