The ferry terminals at Portsmouth and Cherbourg are well situated and very well signposted.
In Portsmouth, it is just off the M275, Cherbourg’s is about half a mile outside town.
Check-in on this side of the Channel was very fast, but it proved to be a major hold-up in France.
Our queue took an extremely frustrating 25mins to check in about 10 cars.
Because all the space was booked on the 7am Superstar Express crossing, I travelled to Cherbourg overnight on Pride of Cherbourg, one of P&O’s two traditional ferries that operate on the route. Loading was fast and easy.
Superstar Express loads and unloads through the rear of the vessel and is a simple process, unlike many fast ferries. There are two car decks and cars drive around in a semi-circle to face the right way to disembark. Vans and high-sided vehicles park in the centre of the deck. They can’t turn on board, so they have to reverse off and on in Cherbourg. As I was booked in Club Class I loaded last so I could be first off in Portsmouth. It meant also I had to reverse on to be ready to drive off in the UK.
Service and safety
The service in the restaurant on board the Pride of Cherbourg was the best I can remember on any ferry.
We felt welcome and despite the late hour, everyone was cheery.
Superstar Express was more disappointing.
We were in Club Class, but no-one asked to see our ticket and none of the staff offered to serve a drink or explain where we should get them.
The captain was very informative as we arrived in Portsmouth, keeping us informed about a delay in getting onto the berth.
Safety announcements on both ships were clear and made in both English and French.
Pride of Cherbourg is an old ship with limited en-suite facilities. A few inside four-berth cabins have en-suite toilet and shower, otherwise the choice is cabins with washbasins only or reclining sleeper seats.
The ship has two restaurants – one self-service, the other has waiter service. The food in the latter was excellent.
Superstar Express is a different experience as the craft is only two years old and the decor is bright and modern.
The lower deck has plenty of seating, a self-service food bar, a drinks bar and two shops. The upper deck is for Club Class passengers, who get free drinks, biscuits and a newspaper for a £7 premium.
The speed of Superstar Express has transformed the Cherbourg service and its modern, bright look stands out sharply against Pride of Cherbourg, which is showing its age.
I liked the layout of the fast ferry and the ride was smooth and quiet. It is great for adults, but it is nearly 3hrs with nothing to occupy children.
Club Class was nice, but I was disappointed that no-one offered to serve even just one drink to greet premium-paying passengers.
Head of passengermarketing and sales P&O Portsmouth Richard Kirkman.
“I am disappointed to hear your experience in Club Class. You should have been welcomed and given a badge to gain entry and offered any amount of drinks. The point of Club Class is that passengers should feel exclusive.
“The Club Class came with the vessel. It is not designed as we would like and it is too big for our needs. About 10% of our customers upgrade, whereas it takes up 25% of the ship. There is no doubt Superstar Express has refocused attention on Cherbourg and turned it into a day-trip destination. Half of June sailings were full and if that continues we might lease a larger craft next year.
“Loading is a problem. We have to restrict the number of vans and coaches because backing on or off takes time and there is only 45mins to turn the vessel around in port. Also some people are not happy backing on and we cannot carry caravans at all.
“The two traditional ferries have two years before we would have to refurbish them to meet new standards and, as that would not be worthwhile, we will replace them.
“What we replace them with depends on what happens to carryings post duty-free, but we believe there is still a market for traditional ferries on this route. As far as shopping is concerned, we are selling alcohol and tobacco at French duty-paid prices, but we are also moving into electrical goods.”
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