Discover Ferries is delighted to have Tracey Kifford, one quarter of the family travel blog, PackThePJs as our Blogger of the Month. Her partners in crime are her ‘long-suffering’ husband Huw (her words, not mine), nearly-teen daughter Millie-Mae, and tank-mad son Toby. They started their blog in 2017 to catalogue their days out and travels; prior to then they had a blog called KidzCruises, specialising in the rise in popularity of family cruise holidays. They still write about cruises, but now cover other travel including camping, weekends away, city visits, long-haul destinations etc. They have two English springer spaniels called Izzy and Jack, who have Pet Passports and have travelled with them all over the UK and Europe. As frequent ferry travellers we asked Tracey to tell us about her experiences.
What do you like about travelling by ferry?
As we travel lots with our dogs, we undertake rather epic road trips! Where we can we also make full use of ferries, to provide us with driving short-cuts but also to give us a rest and an opportunity to walk around (and shop!)
We only travel on ferries that have separate facilities for dogs – either on-board kennels, pet-friendly areas, or pet-friendly cabins for longer journeys. We don’t like leaving the dogs in our car, which is a personal choice, but one we feel benefits Jack and Izzy. They are confined within a crate in the car and kennels are usually more generous in size – and we can leave a big bowl of water for them safe in the knowledge they are unlikely to tip it over! They genuinely like ferry kennels – we think it’s a highlight of their holidays!
Some recent trips we’ve taken include:
DFDS ferry from Kiel in Germany to Klaipeda in Lithuania: This was for a family wedding and it saved us so much driving (we basically missed out driving the whole of Poland). We had a family pet-friendly cabin for the overnight crossing, and the dogs could be walked on the top deck. We met a few pet owners on the journey, who always stopped to chat. The only problem we had was that the air con was set to hot and we couldn’t change it – it was during a heatwave (and ferry windows don’t open)!
Wightlink ferry from Lymington to Yarmouth in the Isle of Wight: This is such a wonderful dog-friendly way to reach the Isle of Wight. All but a tiny portion of the public areas on the ferry were dog-friendly – so we sat in the main lounge and the dogs looked out the windows while we drank a much-needed coffee! It is such a quick crossing too … once the coffee cup was empty it was time to return to our car.
Irish Ferries from Holyhead in Anglesey to Dublin: We chose a ‘middle of the night’ crossing on their large Ulysses vessel, so upgraded to Club Class in order to get some sleep for an hour or two. The dogs stayed in the on-board kennels – we left them happily chatting to a sheepdog in the neighbouring suite!
Most recently – without the dogs – we travelled on DFDS between Dieppe and Newhaven, as we travelled to Normandy for the D-Day landing anniversary. We didn’t enjoy this particular ferry journey as it took an awfully long time to unload the cars once we reached Newhaven.
In our pre-blogging life, we’ve taken Caledonian MacBrayne to the Isle of Mull (with dog and caravan), and Brittany Ferries from Portsmouth to Bilbao in Spain.
What we like most is the fact that, mostly, we all stay together. The dogs are having a bit of a break from the car too – either in a kennel or with us in a cabin. We can head outside to blow the cobwebs away, grab a proper coffee or something to eat, treat ourselves in the duty free, or just sleep! It’s all part of the holiday adventure.
Who would you recommend travelling by ferry for?
Travelling on ferries is genuinely for everyone; our children were only a few months old when they started going on cruise ships and ferries. Many ferries now have play areas for children, which lets them stretch their legs before heading back to the car for the next part of their journey. In fact, we all need to stretch our legs – not just the children.
For people with dogs, there are lots of ferry companies who cater for your four-legged friends – unless you are comfortable with them staying in your car (in which case most lines are fine). Check out their pet facilities before you book, so you know what’s on offer and what to do once you’ve parked your car on the ferry.
Was there anything that surprised you or that you didn’t expect when you recently travelled by ferry?
Yes, the onboard kennels on Irish Ferries. I was really impressed by how easy they were to locate, how clean they were, how spacious the large kennels were (space for two springer spaniels, and some), and how secure they were. In honesty, until we arrived at the kennel area I was really worried as I’d rather the dogs stayed with us – but once we settled them in, on their own bed, with some biscuits and a bowl of water, they looked happy and content. It meant we could enjoy the crossing without worrying about them.
Where you would like to go by ferry next?
Ooh good question, and one that has a long answer! ‘Nationally’ we’d like to take the Steam Packet Company to the Isle of Man. Also, the Scillonian Ferry to the Scilly Isles, Caledonian MacBrayne to the Outer Hebrides (have been once, desperate to revisit with the children), and Northlink Ferries to the Shetland Islands.
We love the Channel Islands, but can only travel without the dogs because there’s no facilities for them on board either the traditional ferry or high-speed trimarans – they have to stay in the vehicle. I’m hoping this will change one day, as we’d visit a lot more often!
Internationally, we’d like to take the children and dogs on the Brittany Ferries crossing to Bilbao or Santander in a pet-friendly cabin (they are ALWAYS booked up when we’ve looked before!) It’s like a mini-cruise!
The Kiel to Klaipeda ferry was a brilliant find, which we really enjoyed. We’d like to explore and ‘discover’ more pet-friendly routes where we can travel with Izzy and Jack.
Do you have any tips for people planning to go on holiday by ferry with a family and dogs?
The best advice I can give is to research and plan before you book, and before you travel. If your dog has to stay in your car, are you able to disable your car alarm, to stop your dog breaking the beam and setting it off? Can you lock your car with the windows slightly open (our car auto-closes windows when you lock it)? Will your dog have enough space to stretch out in? You should leave a bowl of water and some biscuits. If your dog is liable to chew your car seats, consider confining to the boot if an estate or hatchback, and large enough. Practice all of this before you travel – because there’s a mini-rush and panic once you’ve parked on the ferry and you’re at risk of getting flustered if you leave it all to that moment to sort out.
And don’t forget, while in the queue for the ferry, to give your dog(s) an opportunity to stretch their legs, and do whatever else they need to. As often as you ask your children “anyone need the loo?”, remember the pets might too!
My advice for travelling as a family is to carry snacks, some small travel games or a pack of cards, and their electronic games machines (with headphones) in your backpack; try to get them to walk around as much as possible, but when you want a quiet few minutes to recharge YOUR batteries, let them loose on their consoles to allow you to relax a little.
To find out more about the PackthePJs family go to their blog https://www.packthepjs.com or connect with them on social: