We really enjoy caravanning at home and, like most other people, have our favourite places and campsites that we return to regularly. It really doesn’t matter how often you go back to a familiar haunt, there is always the pleasure of revisiting the places you enjoy and invariably something new to see and do each time.
If you go to a different county you begin to feel that you are away from home because car registration numbers and people accents vary a little from where you live. Now and again however a real change of scenery is called for and it is time to go much further afield.
We live in Ireland and if we really want to change location we must get off the island. With a caravan in tow the only option for transportation is the ferry, which luckily we enjoy.
The very act of preparing your RV or caravan for going to sea make it feel that you are already on holiday. The was a time when, for me at any rate, this was a stressful exercise. I have since learned that with a little bit of planning and that by following a simple checklist I can begin to enjoy the trip long before I hitch up.
Setting off and arriving at the port is all part of the experience. Even though most of these places are designed to perform the function of getting people and vehicles on an off the ship, being very functional in appearance, there is still a great deal of pleasure and anticipation in checking in and taking you place in the lane ready to board. I always have a walk around the rig, and take a look inside the caravan at this point just to check that everything is still OK after the journey to the port. Then I saunter off for a leisurely walk to have a look at the other RVs waiting to board. This generally leads to a chat with somebody, often another caravan owner going on holidays like us, and sometimes a truck driver doing his or her days work. I always make time for this little excursion and I enjoy these chats when they happen. This is not just to indulge the sociable side of my nature but to exchange information about various aspects of the hobby, places to visit and see and travel conditions along the way.
Once the traffic queue begins to move I become aware of the tide level and if the ramp onto the ferry is at a steep angle I always make sure that there the person helping us to board is aware of the fact that we are there. It is not a good thing to motor merrily onto, and off the ramp onto the car deck, leaving bits of the bottom of your caravan on shore due to the fact that the company representative was busy talking on his radio. If he or she is not paying attention, simply stop. This quickly gets their attention, you get eye contact and they become aware that it is a good thing to keep an eye on your overhang as you leave the concrete.
You must of course remain aware while on the car deck. Go where you are directed no matter how unfamiliar it all feels; remember that the ferry people do this all the time and will get you safely parked for the voyage. Obey all directions like engaging your handbrake, the handbrake on your caravan, and leaving your car in first gear or in park. Be aware when crossing the deck that others are also driving in an unfamiliar environment; don’t get yourself knocked down.
Remember which door you used to exit the car deck and the position of your unit. This will make it all very easy to find your way back when you arrive at the other side.
As our crossings are generally overnight we like to enjoy a meal on board, therefore, especially during busy times, we try to get to the restaurant as quickly as possible to ensure that we get a booking. It is often possible to book you place for breakfast now as well as booking for dinner. A little bit of forward planning a this stage in the journey will ensure that you commence your onward journey with a full tummy, always a good thing in my book!
If you’re taking the less formal route to dining as we most often do, then the earlier, or later, you get there the easier it will be to get served. Avoid peak meal times & if there is a long line come back later. They always carry plenty for everybody.
All that done & it’s time to get off to the shops to secure a bottle or two of something nice and to get some reading material for the journey.
In recent years I have noticed that ferries have equipped themselves with satellite TV allowing you to stay in touch with news, sports and anything else you don’t want to leave behind. I wanted to see a game last year on the way out and a quick friendly word with the bar Stewart ensured that we were parked quickly with the drinks of our choice and the TV on the correct channel.
Sometimes of course it’s not all as easy as that; if the weather is uncooperative the sea may be rough, leading to people feeling a bit unwell. When this happens I take to my bunk and, sometimes with the aid of a drop of something from the bottle I purchased earlier, will sleep through it.
When it comes time to disembark, do it all again in reverse, remembering to take everything with you as you leave the cabin. Once I left a laptop in the cabin and had to make a mad scramble back from the car deck, against a tide of people, to retrieve it. This as you will imagine did not add to my popularity among fellow passengers, crew and especially family who were sitting in the vehicle waiting for their driver while everybody else was going ashore.
You will often find that your local caravan, RV or camping club has made special arrangements with the ferry companies and it may be worth booking through them to get yourself a discount.
Some ferry companies organise holidays at both ends of their journey and you will often find, especially when sailing during the holiday season, that it is possible to book campsites, hotels and other packages as part of your voyage.
Leaving some of the slight disadvantages aside, taking the ferry is a great way not only to go on holiday to a different place, but to use the voyage itself as part and parcel of your holiday.