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The lost art of travel: Catching the ferry to Britain

The Local · 10 Aug 2009, 10:01

Published: 10 Aug 2009 10:01 GMT+02:00

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The truth, as we all secretly know, is that low cost air travel is never quite as low cost as it pretends. Just add the cost of getting to and from airports, tax, parking, and decadent luxuries such as baggage and checking in. Not to mention the undercurrent of stress that comes with the whole dehumanising experience.

In fact, it has been scientifically proven that everybody hates Ryanair, from the passengers who are herded like cattle, to the underpaid Latvian cabin crews forced to try and sell lottery tickets. Deep down, even Michael O’Leary, the chief executive, has an air of self-loathing about him.

But what are the alternatives?

There are other airlines flying from Sweden, as well as connections from Copenhagen. Or the train, which everyone knows is the most civilised form of transport known to man; until you get to the UK, that is, where prices and reliability are anything but civilised.

And then there is the coach, with Eurolines going from Gothenburg to London Victoria for just under 1,500 kronor. However, with two small kids who need to be kept happy, do wee wees and who, despite how small their clothes are, have bags twice as big as mine, a 26 hour coach journey was less than appealing.

So the ferry it was…

I sat down with pen and paper and worked out that the total cost (considering that plane travel would involve hiring a car on top of all the other extras) was pretty competitive by ferry. Of course, it would take longer… but then, isn’t that what travelling is all about: The open road, views disappearing slowly into the horizon and a sense of freedom? Try getting those in the departure lounge of Stansted airport.

Unfortunately, DFDS no longer have a passenger service from Sweden, so we had to go from Esbjerg in Denmark. The travelling added a couple of days to either end of the trip but we had decided to make this a part of the holiday. We had time for a swim in Småland and a night on the Danish coast, hopefully making the journey rich with experiences for the kids, rather than a chore to be endured.

It was liberating to travel without deadlines. Boarding the ferry was the only time we had to be at a certain place at a certain time. Even then it was all very relaxed, simply waiting in the car until being waved through passport control and onto the ship. Unlike air travel, there was no stress over parking, weighing of bags, queuing up to remove shoes, or rushing to the gate to be pushed and shoved onto a wipe clean seat.

Travelling by ferry is pleasant, but don’t be fooled by DFDS’ publicity material, which attempts to delude you that 18 hours on a North Sea car ferry can be compared to a cruise in the Caribbean. The beautiful people from their brochure are sadly absent and at no point did I share a romantic moment staring at the sunset with a Daiquiri in hand. In fact, and strangely for a ship, it’s quite hard to get a decent sea view. The windows in the café and bar areas don’t lend themselves to sitting and watching the big blue (or, as it’s the North Sea, the murky green). The public deck areas overlook the lorries and coaches and there is no access to the bows of the ship (or the pointy bit, as Kenneth Williams called it in Carry On Cruising).

However, if you really hunt, there are a couple of decent vantage points and the view was an ever-changing canvas of land, sea and sky, at times full of birds and boats, at other times empty.

Unless you travel during the British school holidays there is little entertainment on board, suggesting that British kids need more entertaining. Off season, the claustrophobic ‘Playroom’, with a small climbing frame and a video screen, can be found, in true Danish style, next to one of the smoking areas.

If you do travel in July or August, the kids’ show is worth watching if only to see an embittered old-school entertainer attempt English patter to kids from a variety of different countries. I found the show a bit tacky, but my four year old is less discerning and I was slightly disappointed that he found the jokes hysterical and the magic fantastic.

In the evening, there’s live music in the bar and the kids’ entertainer does a comic turn as Manuel from Fawlty Towers. However, despite the obvious lure of such delights and with a big drive the next day, I opted for bed. Sleeping on board ship is one of the most relaxing places in the world and I was soon deep in the land of nod, rocked gently by the pitch and roll of the North Sea.

The timing of the voyage was perfect. After boarding in the early evening, there’s enough time in the morning to take it easy with a long breakfast before arrival at around midday.

Story continues below…

The return trip was just as relaxed, and on the way back, we took advantage of the freedom of having our own car with no restrictions on baggage. Nobody weighed our bags disapprovingly or asked officious questions like ‘Did you pack this family size pack of Marmite yourself, sir?’

Budget airlines are hard to compete against on cost, but when it comes to having a sense of travel and freedom, I would take the ferry over Ryanair every time.

Ben Kersley (www.speakup.se) is a writer and performer who has lived in Sweden since 2006. He is also Sweden’s only Swenglish stand up comedian.

Ben travelled between Esbjerg and Harwich with DFDS Seaways.

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Your comments about this article

11:20 August 10, 2009 by thisisspain
Yes, I miss the Gothenburg/Harwich ferry (especially in winter - when it seemed to be used as an ice-breaker!)

Memories of more innocent times.
11:58 August 10, 2009 by An08drew
I've used the Harwich to Esbjerg ferry for holidays for the past ten years. Changing holiday and commercial trends dictate different DFDS routes. There is an Immingham to Gothenburg route...but this is a cargo ship, taking 36 hours with far less creature comforts.

The previous UK - Sweden route vessels were far better. Swimming pools, sauna and cinema available.

Sweden's loss is Denmark's gain! Although I confess to a number of recent day trips from Helsingor to Helsingborg, to enjoy some fascinating scenary and shopping opportunities! I've almost finished last year's 10 Kg. of Zoegas coffee - roasted in Helsingborg, aromising the Helsingborg atmosphere and available on offer in the local supermarkets at silly prices in summer for a highly recommended product!

If DFDS were to open up the Gothenburg route again I would book it for my summer holiday...have trends/interests really changed so much...these ferries used to be full of Brits and Scandinavians every summer!
18:13 August 10, 2009 by Nemesis
If there is actualy a ferry from Sweden to England, preferably north England or Scotland, could someone please give me a weblink to it?
18:25 August 10, 2009 by GefleFrequentFlyer
I just took Finnlines to Naantali Finland. Yeah, it's primary function was car ferry, and there was jack squat to do onboard (the bar is only open for 3 hours after dinner, and the duty free shoppette :30min after boarding) but the boat was clean, fast and the food decent. No beauties on board though, just lorrie drivers!

The 7hr journey is more a express trip, but for the money, it can't be beat.
21:15 August 10, 2009 by richardbw
Unfortunately the DFDS route to Newcastle from Gothenburg is freight only, and the route from Newcastle to Stavanger (Norway) ceased on the 1st September 2008. But the Esbjerg to Harwich (Harvik in old norse ?? ) is pretty good in comparison to many ferries, plenty of food with Gamle Dansk at breakfast if you are feeling brave!

Oh yes and if you really want to go by ferry to Scotland you'll have to go via Lerwick (yes via the Shetland isles!)

I found some ferry information including maps at www.aferry.co.uk
10:51 August 11, 2009 by Keith #5083
I don't hate Ryanair and have had only good experiences with them - the first when they stod in for a Danair flight after a technical problem some 18 years ago.

I believe it is also necessary to seperate security considerations from airline requirements, something I repeatedly see Ryanair- bashers unable to do.

Living in Dalsland I cannot take seriously a suggestion that I travel to Denmark instead of the cosy Gothenburg City airport.

Over 20 years I have flown and 'ferried' between Uk and Scandinavia and both systems have their positive and negative aspects.

(PS. I am not an employee/shareholder/investor in any airline or shipping company)
14:00 August 11, 2009 by skane refugee
There used to be lots of options for this ...

I've taken ferries from Go'burg to Harwich, Go'burg to Newcastle via Norway, Esbjerg to Harwich, Hoek van Holland to Harwich on the 'worlds biggest passenger hydrofoil' etc etc

but now it's just down to the Esbjerg route which is a fairly basic boat ... and costs a few quid to get to over the Danish bridges etc

even the dutch route is just slow ferries now, primarily for truckers ...

great shame ... the extra cost used to be covered by deals with fellow expats to bring stuff to or from from the UK ...

best to just drive to France and hop on a cross-channel ferry ... at least you get to stock up on french wine etc on the way back
14:12 August 11, 2009 by Eric Cantona
Sorry, this is surely some Product Placement by The Local advertising department - but I don't see that it says anywhere.

It makes no reference to the fact that it's more often than not rough as fjck sailing across the North Sea and a nice night's sleep is a rarity!
14:14 August 11, 2009 by skane refugee
Agree with that Mr Cantona!
14:23 August 11, 2009 by Princess P
Gothenburg to Immingham or Tilbury:

14:24 August 11, 2009 by kaze
Ferries are so damned expensive. I considered this option when I was coming over but.... You need a cabin and they really jack up the price. Even worse than low cost airlines.
14:49 August 11, 2009 by Puffin
We took the Danish ferry from Esbjerg --> Harwich last month and paid a few kronors extra for the movie package which was well worth it
14:58 August 11, 2009 by dockmandock
Some are, some aren't. DFDS did used to do some great deals in the winter. Otherwise, I agree.

Hook of Holland to Harwich with Stena Line is a fixed price of £26 or £54 with a cabin overnight, and a very modern ship.
15:00 August 11, 2009 by richardbw
Many comments on the cost, and people are right ferries are more expensive. However, the cost would be lower if ferries and ports had the same taxation scheme as airlines and airports...

...But as someone said do the ferry journey for the fun of it, unless you have a motion sensitive vestibular system Mr Cantona :-)
15:06 August 11, 2009 by Princess P
One thing I don't like about the Goteborg:Tilbury one is the cabin arrangements. I'm booked to go over next week on it and have just found out that the cost does not include a cabin, just cabin space. This means I may have to share a cabin with complete strangers. A bit daunting for a woman travelling alone on a ferry full of truckers.
15:20 August 11, 2009 by Jasoncarter
I'm toying with the idea of taking the boat next year. We're going to stay with my family for 4 weeks on the IOW and it would mean being able to take our own car over instead of hiring one for a month. But travelling with an 18 month year old: Is it better to have that 18 hours bobbing along over the North Sea or to spend it driving and pop over on the Eurotunnel? Anyone got any experience of this?

I'm guessing that taking our own car + ferry would work out cheaper than taking flights and hiring. Anyone? Bueller?
15:32 August 11, 2009 by jarvtrask
We used to travel up to Swedish Lapland via the Newcastle-Bergen ferry which DFDS closed last year (just a year after taking over the route). We loved the leisurely pace of the ferry journey, and the boat was pretty well appointed. We also loved the drive through the mountains of Norway (though not the inherrent costs). However, this year we decided to fly from Manchester to Skelleftea via Arlanda with SAS. I have to say that it was much cheaper than the ferry, as well as much quicker. It was also remarkably hassle-free. I looked at Harwich to Esbjerg, and we will do it one year, but we'd have to have a lot more time on our hands, and money in our pockets before it became viable.
15:36 August 11, 2009 by kaze
Surely it'll be seperated into women and mens?

Isn't this the law that it must be so even?

Or is it the big scary bull-dyke stereotype trucker women that scare you
17:12 August 11, 2009 by Princess P
Apparantly not. When I heard this I thought, naaah, that can't be right so rang them up to check. Scares me stupid and I hadn't even considered the scary women truckers. I think I may be attaching my inflatable dingy to the ship's towbar instead.
19:08 August 11, 2009 by jack sprat
There used to be a similar arrangement on DFDS with very basic accomodation units for 4 strangers in amongst the fishes down below the car-deck.

I heard a couple of stories of errors resulting in mixed accomodation.

Tried it a couple of times, but it was definitely worth paying the extra to move upstairs.

First time I had a Hells Angel,a big African guy and Ben Ladins double for company.

Second time I was joined by a couple with a dog which they tried to hide under the sheets for the full trip,...which was totally illegal on the G'burg run.

I think they must have given it a few knock out drops to keep it quiet.

Better sleep with one eye open Princess!...
19:40 August 11, 2009 by irishmark
We did Tor-line last year from Göteborg to Immingham. The ship was very modern, and we even got a tour of the bridge as one of the lorry drivers advised us to ask nicely after dinner.

There weren't actually very many lorry drivers on the ship. Most of the freight is containers and lorry trailers only. On our two sailings, there were only about half a dozen drivers and enough cabins that no-one had to share. The food is superb by the way (the same chef cooks for the drivers and the dfds staff), and it's quite an informal buffet kind of arrangement.

Other than that there's bugger all to do, but watch some telly or put your feet up and read a good book. We took a laptop and some DVDs as well. It was actually quite relaxing to have a day were you have no choice but to chill out and relax - although we were very lucky to have potentially the calmest weather the North Sea has ever seen!
19:49 August 11, 2009 by smokin joe
i need to go to the uk sometime in my car and stock up on some food.

anyone got a link to some ferrys.

cheers joe
22:00 August 11, 2009 by bravedave
I can only disagree with everything writen here. The inconvience of making your way to a ferry port in denmark from sweden (especially stockholm) far outweighs the 120 minute trip on the flygbuss to skavsta. The return journeys aswell you have a fair distance to go. Stansted is just 40 minutes on the train from London Victoria and busses depart regularly.

I have looked into many ways of making the trip from Sweden to London, but my conclusion is always the same. We live in a day where time is money, the longer it takes to travel the more frustrating it is.

I flew with BA from Heathrow to Arlanda last week. There was no difference with waiting to go through the gate, waiting to go onboard, waiting to find my seat and waiting to get off the plane. So if being treated like 'cattle' exists then it does not really matter which airline you fly with.

I would also like to mention also that I recently booked 3 sets of return tickets with Ryan Air from Stockholm - London. All taxes and fees for 6 SEK! How? Look out for Ryan Air's 1 SEK each way tickets on the Ryan Air website, Book with visa electron, do not check in luggage and say no to any extras.

There is no argument with the Skavsta / Arlanda dispute either, the flygbuss costs the same and if you do want to take the Arlanda Express then you have to pay twice as much if you are over 26.

In conclusion, the ferry takes in total 3 days more of travelling which means 3 days less holiday. The ferry ,with transfers, costs at least 4 times as much, flying, with transfers, flying is still the safest and quickest way to travel, the view is better from an plane than a ferry.

Exactly how good is the view from a ferry terminal?
23:27 August 11, 2009 by Puffin
My experience travelling with young kids (did the first trip when DD1 was 12 weeks) is that the ferry is preferable than driving with a screaming baby - they can play in the playroom, get som balloon animals from the pirate club - and that you can take all of your baby equipment plus you can bring home stuff.

We have flown a few times but the cost of hire cars can be pretty pricy - paid £300 last time for a weekend hire of a Renault Clio - and also have had trouble with transport of baby buggies (Ryan Air damaged one and BA lost it for 6 days)
06:52 August 14, 2009 by Madstadlad
Last time we took the ferry will always be the last time we took the ferry! 4m high waves for 16 hours was enough for my wife to say never again. Having experienced similar rough trips by ferry across the North Sea it's Ryan Air for us everytime! We've flown RA over 40 times and never had problems! Quick, cheap and vomit proof!
08:20 August 14, 2009 by Jasoncarter
Yes, but if they are charging 10 quid to check your luggage in how much is it going to cost to fly my car over with them? I doubt it's going to be cost effective.
09:36 August 14, 2009 by Puffin
You can get good and bad experience with both air and sea travel

- we have had a few rough crossings in the winter

- however some friends travelled Ryan Air and did not enjoy the experience of sleeping on the floor in Stanstead with young children when their flight was cancelled
12:18 August 14, 2009 by Ross
This is actually something we do 2 times year.

Cost is usually the most important - however we do sometimes want the "trip" to be a part of the holiday as well - so in Summer (we actually got back last night!) we go by Car - over the bridge into Danmark, then the ferry from Rodby to Puttgarden (Germany - the border shop - yay!) and then drive down through Germany into Holland (Venlo), Belgium and then into France - to Calais get on the boat and sail to the UK. It's not that tiring and you don't have a lot of driving really, in fact you can stop off at attractions in Germany without too much bother.

It usually takes 3 days ... we stop off around Lubeck and the next day around the Koln area. With petrol (and food) - there and back with Ferries and bridge costs - it cost us about £650.

At Christmas we usually fly from Göteborg via Amsterdam or Copenhagen to Manchester .. this way is cheapest for us ... however we sometimes get the direct flight from Göteborg to Manchester with City Airline if the price is right.

I did do the ferry from Göteborg to Newcastle once - the year before DFDS stopped it! ... That was nice but a little boring ... and expensive!

I have friends in Immingham who can get us on the freight ferry - however it's not the most exciting journey and be expected to share ... so I always shy away from that.

I am always on the lookout for cheaper alternatives - I know flying to Prestwick or Stansted with Ryan Air is one but I just don't like them ...

Hej Hej,

Ross ...
13:16 August 14, 2009 by scoutingsquirrel
We really enjoyed our crossings on the Esbjerg ferry, (with 4 year old and 10 month old), and my parents (60s plus) also prefer this method of travel.

We have had smooth crossings, so the weather which can't be influenced by the company would have to be left out of my judgement.

The food was good, the cabins comfortable - I particularly like the sofa bed arrangement with fully made up bed, and wish they sold them for houses! The kids adore the children's entertainer and his material is good - performance material and quality of giveaways (One plastic telescope kept my boy busy for the next three weeks of holiday!) but it is true that he is embittered. During the magic show he almost seems to be enjoying himself but the patter in between 'set pieces' is very self-depreciating and miserable. Still the kids enjoyed it and he kept their attention constantly.

It gives the driver a proper break and the children chance to run and play. I would recommend it.
10:26 August 17, 2009 by Roger Choate
Alas! The old ferry services between Gothenburg and England disappeared long ago. The passages certainly weren't cheap, but, even so, much less expensive than airlines if you had an entire family in tow. A typical round-trip ticket for our family of three, including cabin space and car, was around 2,000 kronor in the early 80s.

If memory serves me (and sometimes it does) we would load up the car with clothes that needed to be dry-cleaned, and have that particular service performed in England which was ridiculously cheap back then.

On the return trip, the car would be filled with provisions purchased in London, ranging from butter to washing powder. I know it sounds crazy, but the price differentials between high-cost Sweden and cheapo England were so considerable that we liked to think we were actually making some money in the bargain 
15:09 August 18, 2009 by Englishgent
I was on the very last voyage of the Princess of Scandinavia, the Newcastle to Gothenburg route. As we sailed into port the cabin crew were hurriedly removing all the cash registers and goods from the shops and stripping it bare of its once proud DFDS identity.

In 2002 I could travel for £69 return. A bargain I hear you say. Indeed it was if you were prepared to lower your standards and share. A few years later these cabins were gone and replaced with single accommodation ones at three or four times the cost.

DFDS decided to close the route due to its inability to compete with the low cost airfares and at this time it was certainly true. I had decided myself to opt for Ryanair and fly out of Stanstead instead. However with the rising air prices this is no longer true and given the choice I would choose the ferry again. Its standards may have been basic but it had a warmth and charm about that no other airline could match.
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