The glamour of the P&O Cross-Channel ferry
The cross channel ferry reminds me of Eurocamp holidays to Brittany in the 90s. The short voyage would easily be the highlight of a 12 hour journey, 5 of us crammed into our Citroen BX from Chester to the French countryside. Recently in the interests of nostalgia (and economy), I decided to revisit this more leisurely mode of travel on a trip to Paris. We had found an £8 return trip from London Victoria on the Megabus, the UK’s cut price coach company.
Approaching our ship ‘The Pride of France’ I was surprised to see the vast lines of cars and caravans waiting in anticipation to drive inside the vast midnight blue hull. Already I could see a clear pattern, there seemed to be a particular type of person that still preferred this route to the continent, even in the days of low cost airlines and the Eurostar. This was the reserve of the fiercely independent home counties holidayer, who preferred to reach the Dordogne or the Loire valley under their own steam. Volvos, Rovers and the Citroën Picasso (is this the new Citroën BX?) all clamoured to be the first onboard and consequently to bag the sofa at the on-board Costa Coffee. They would be coming back, boots filled with cut-price French wine and cheese, sure to wow dinner party guests of the future.
Once on-board I was met by a strange mixture of motorway service station and cruise ship. It seemed P&O was keen to cling onto a heritage of transatlantic crossings and Caribbean cruises, yet this was a 90 minute hop across a rainy English Channel. For an extra £15 you could gain access to the ‘Captains Lounge’ a VIP section which curiously offered free access to commercial and HGV drivers.
The duty free shop promised the luxury of a Knightsbridge department store with products from Dior, Channel and Hermes, yet the shop assistants provided a level of customer service, I suspect was the result of a day long shift of sailings. The girl I spoke to told me she had been to Calais 5 times that day. She was wearing a T-shirt that said ‘Go-on treat yourself’, I didn’t.
Listening into the conversations at ‘The Brasserie’ I quickly learnt that I was on-baord the flagship of the P&O fleet, the table next to me had the unfortunate experience of sailing on the ‘Pride of Canterbury’ an older ship that lacked the classier facilities of The Pride of Kent. They likened it to a trip on board of floating Weatherspoons pub.
I decided to take the sea air on the deck where I could see Calais on the horizon. All of a sudden I realised there was something so exciting about taking a more old fashioned mode of transport. France seemed a lot more exotic, more so than if I’d taken an Easyjet Airbus into Charles de Gaulle. I could see the appeal of travelling at a slower pace, it felt more authentic. It reminded me of travelling from Tarifa to Tangier across the Strait of Gibraltar and the nervous and excited feeling I had about my first trip to Africa almost 10 years ago. For a moment I was like Micheal Palin. All of a sudden my contemplation was shattered with the shrill announcement that it was time to return to deck as we would be reaching dock shortly.
I joined the queue and waited patiently to board the Megabus. Travelling with Sid for a quid had never seemed so chic!