This post is not sponsored by P&O Ferries or any of their affiliates. But it should be.
In a nutshell
Object: The Club Lounge (the equivalent of first class seating) on P&O Ferries
Location: On the Calais/Dover and Dover/Calais cruises
Price: €14/£12 per person, unless you’re the first car to board the ship, in which case it is €14 per car
As a frequent traveller to the U.K., I have been sailing with P&O Ferries on the Calais-Dover line for years now, sometimes twice a month, but it had never occurred to me to book tickets to the Club Lounge before last month. I usually sit in the Family Lounge, which is nice enough because 1) it boasts a gigantic bay window through which you can see the sea, 2) it has comfy armchairs and couches, and 3) it has a bar that serves both Starbucks coffee and G&Ts.
The disadvantage of the Family Lounge is that it can be a little noisy at times, what with the football supporters who get heavily drunk and the little children who are overly excited to be travelling on a ship for the first time. (Note: Funnily enough, given a certain level of drunkenness and an equivalent level of excitement, it’s impossible to distinguish the football fans from the toddlers; they make the same noises and ultimately vomit in the coach ten miles from Canterbury before falling asleep.)
This summer, P&O Ferries are offering a very generous discount code that makes it possible to access the Club Lounge for the fairly modest price of… nothing at all. So of course, being the intrepid adventurer that I am, I tried and tested the Club for you, dear reader. I have since been trying to come up with an unbiased angle for this review, but it wasn’t meant to be. The truth is, I love P&O Ferries and I loved travelling in the Club Lounge in July and August. The whole experience was extremely positive, and it can be summed up in three adjectives: peaceful, comfortable and stylish.
If you are not familiar with ferries, the principle is actually very simple: you just board the ship with your car, bicycle or on foot, then you cruise to your destination. Jon and I particularly like it because we like to have our car with us as we enjoy driving around and accessing remote places. P&O Ferries make it possible to cross the Channel in 90 minutes, which always makes for a nice break on our journey. You can walk the decks, go outside to feel the sea sprays, purchase makeup and wine from the tax-free shop, play arcade games, or simply sit down and enjoy the view (or, like me, pester Jon to play UNO).
In the course of the years, I have learned the names and specificities of every P&O ship that does the crossing. I developed a soft spot for the Pride of Canterbury and endless love for the Spirit of Britain. Moreover, as a romantic, I am forever in awe when I see the White Cliffs of Dover approach in the misty distance. There is a sense of travelling just the way our ancestors did and of the complete power of nature that just cannot be achieved when you arrive by the tunnel.
As the successor of the Atlantic Steam Navigation Company, which was founded in the 1930s with the aim of offering a no-frills transatlantic passenger service and trooped bravely through WWII (before being renamed European Ferries in the 1940s and finally receiving its current name after a merger in 1987), P&O displays a no-nonsense approach to travelling.
You can book your tickets online (recommended) or at the booths in Calais and Dover (not recommended, because then you create queues and I am mad at you because you’re wasting everybody’s time). The check-in and boarding processes are pretty straightforward, provided that there are no reinforced border controls and that you have your passport and ticket ready (please do have your passport and ticket ready, because if you don’t, then you create queues and I… I will track you down, I will find you, I will fold my arms and I will scowl at you in such a way that your knees will buckle).
The ships are nice and clean, with a delicious air of nostalgia to them, and the onboard crew are professional and friendly. The sea is generally calm, though the Channel can change her mind very quickly and I have sometimes sailed in rough conditions. Still, there is nothing to worry about because no captain would take the responsibility to put his or her passengers in danger. It is, at worst, like riding a very slow rollercoaster. If you’re in luck, you’ll see the White Cliffs even before leaving Calais. If not, you won’t see them at all until you’re driving along them in Dover. In either case, it is always a pleasant experience.
The Club Lounge
To access the Club Lounge after parking your car on one of the decks according to the instructions of the deck marshalls, all you need is your specifically-issued ticket. On the older boats, you will show it to a stewardess, while on the Spirit of Britain and the Spirit of France, you will have to scan the barcode using the scanner to the Club door. And then, be prepared to be pampered.
Our first visit to the Club Lounge was on the Pride of Canterbury. We were welcomed by a lady in one of those characteristic light and dark blue uniforms who immediately asked us what we wanted to drink, as the Club Lounge comes with one complimentary beverage (tea, coffee, soda or Champagne). We both picked Champagne and it was delivered to the space we had chosen, which was a cosy salon facing the bay window.
I definitely could have read or done crosswords (or worked on my dissertation, for that matter), but the view was too pretty to focus on anything else, and as the weather was particularly clear that morning, I could look at the cliffs during the entire cruise. The whole journey plunged me into a deep meditative state. Jon did not do much either. We ordered lunch (see below) and had a delicious time. We hit the road completely rested and relaxed, which was lucky because we still had a 4-hour drive to Swansea afterwards.
But worry not, even if I did next to nothing, I still took a few pictures for you.
Equipment and atmosphere
The Club Lounges are equipped with cosy couches and armchairs. They have their own private bathroom with toilets and showers. Each of them has a bar that serves a wide variety of beverages. You can also borrow newspapers and books about the history of P&O. The Spirits have display windows that highlight some of the best sales of the shop, so I am assuming that you can also make some purchases there, though I didn’t enquire because of my semi-comatose state of relaxation.
There are very few people in the lounge, and the few who are there tend to speak quietly as the atmosphere is so peculiarly serene that it would be rude not to. I didn’t see children, which was a great relief, and all in all, the other passengers were very discreet and polite. The Club Lounge on the Pride of Canterbury doesn’t have its own outside deck, but the Spirit of Britain does and there are deck chairs (with cushions!) where you can drink your coffee with a view.
The lounges are decorated in what I would call a vintage-luxury style. In a few words, once you step into a Club Lounge, you feel as if you had just stepped into an episode of Mad Men and you catch yourself thinking that Don Draper is definitely going to enter the room at some point. The couches are made of rich grey and beige jerseys, while some armchairs are made of camel leather and their steel design most certainly reminded me of the 1960s. Surprisingly enough, the maritime theme has been toned down so much that, if it weren’t from the occasional coughing of the Sulzer Diesel engines, you would forget that you’re on a ship entirely. The ensemble looks like a high-end hotel lobby. I don’t know who came up with the general design of the Club Lounges, but they certainly did a very fine job.
The first advantage is that the entry ticket is practically free once you deduce the price of the complimentary glass of Champagne. If you intend on spending £9 or more on beverages on board, then it makes no sense not to go to the Club Lounge. The second advantage obviously is that you will reach your destination completely rested and relaxed. Honestly, if they added a bubble bath, it would be too much and I’d never leave the ship again (I am already tempted to pull a Novecento as it is). The third advantage is that it offers a different perspective on the boat and on the sea. When you’ve been using the same ships as often as I have, it is always nice to see something different (though I do love those vessels, I cannot overstate this enough).
On the Pride of Canterbury, I opted for the ploughman’s lunch (an all-time favourite of mine) and Jon chose the rare roast beef on peppered brioche bun with a balsamic drizzle. The menu also offers breakfast from 6.30 am to 11.00 am, as well as a selection of snacks, sandwiches and wine all day long. The prices are roughly the same as those you’d find in your average pub and the food is delicious.
On the return journey, since we were crossing from Dover to Calais at a slightly later time, we picked the cream tea for two (£10.50 per person, which I find very reasonable), and boy, were we in for a treat! The cream tea came with Wiltshire ham, prawn and cheese & pickle sandwiches, as well as a selection of mini Victoria sponge cakes, macaroons, carrot cake, and of course, the traditional scones with their strawberry jam and clotted cream. It was very nice and I think it is safe to say that neither of us could have eaten anything else that night.
On top of the complimentary glass of Champagne, tea, coffee, water and fruit are also available for free in the Club Lounge, which is absolutely lovely.
You’ve probably understood by now that I really loved the experience and that I am willing to book tickets to the Club Lounge in the near future. It is a different way to travel and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I do recommend eating on board if you’re planning to drive afterwards in order to make the best of your break, and to take a stroll on the deck or to lounge in the sun.
Tips and links
- Book your tickets online
- Discover the Spirit of Britain
- Explore the Club Lounge
- Check out the Club Lounge menu
- Get your P&O summer deal
Psst! While you’re here…
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