Monday, 18 May 2015

Child Friendly Holiday Review: "The Boat"

It's that oft asked question in travel journalism: which do you prefer, to travel or arrive? For me, undoubtedly the latter. The travel is just one big necessary hassle at the end of which I heave a sigh of relief. It is the part of the holiday I prefer to forget. But for our daughter, the distinction is a little blurrier. Or at least it is if The Boat is involved. The Boat, for our girl, is the highlight of a holiday, and cannot be bettered.

"The Boat" is not the dodgy nightclub with a revolving dance floor that used to be moored under the Tyne Bridge in Newcastle, by the way. Nor is it a Caribbean cruiseliner, or a pedalo on a pond in the park. It is the P&O ferry that travels each night between Hull and Europoort in Rotterdam. It is undeniably brilliant, and the easiest way to get abroad with a child I have thus far experienced. In a (possibly worrying) lack of security checks, you drive up to the barrier, show your passport and ticket, get handed a boarding card and cabin key, drive up a steep ramp onto the ship, parallel park into an awkward gap on the deck (just our ruddy luck to be placed in the queue for that spot), take the lift up to your cabin, and from then on out PARTY.

Party when you have a four-year-old means spending hours sitting next to the small soft play area nursing a Starbucks while twenty hugely overexcited children run amok around you, the bossiest and most annoying of which is your daughter.

Party when you have a child of school age means that the kids clubs should be running (as it is school holidays) or a trip to the cinema if they are not. Spongebob, Cinderella and Shaun The Sheep were all available on our most recent crossing.

Party when you are a grown-up involves drinking at piano bars and cheesy cabaret shows. Whoo-hoo! But be warned, you may be breathalysed early the next morning as you drive off the boat, and the blood alcohol limit is lower in Holland than it is in the UK. So leave plenty of time to sleep your boozing off, should you have the opportunity to booze.

No danger of booze for us. But this year on our return leg, instead of taking a cheapskate picnic on board, we splashed out on the all-you-can-eat buffet, which at £18.50 a head doesn't work out too extortionate if you take a sort of "pound spent per pound of food consumed" ratio into consideration. There are soups, salads, curries, traditional roast dinners, sides, cheese, puddings, ice cream, fruit juices and teas and coffees all included in the price. Prosecco is extra. Suffice to say, we will be doing that again.

Always a risk to eat a massive meal before a potentially rough crossing, so it's just as well we spent most of the journey lying down. You can get on board the ship about three hours before sailing at 20:00, which gives you plenty of time to eat and play before you hit the open sea. We go to bed early to give our daughter enough sleep and to stop other children being hassled to the point of mutiny by her control freakery in the soft play.

We on the other hand don't get enough sleep. Our daughter insists on leaving the light on all night in the cabin, which is like a mild form of torture. This before the constant drone of the engines and the groaning lurch of your bunk from side to side. But it's still better than spending hours queuing for X-ray machines in airports with a moaning toddler, or driving for hours across the country with a bored and fractious child in the back of the car.

Because we were heading to a campsite near Leiden, for us a holiday in Holland means an hour's driving from York to Hull, a night of lying down, then another hour's driving at the other end, and we end up at our destination. Two hours total in a car, but we are abroad. Pretty magical.

Atop the Pride of Hull on the River Humber.

Walter White may have been on board

Luxury dining in a Force 7 gale

You will find that Europoort at Rotterdam isn't very scenic

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