Ferries are a great way to travel to Europe but can take a few, or a lot, of hours and the last thing you want is the kids getting miserable. As we all know when they get miserable you won't be far behind and this could lead to a poor start to your holiday.
Luckily, after 20+ ferry trips with the kids we've learnt a thing or two about how to keep them happy and entertained and here they are. 16 way to keep kids happy on a ferry,.
Ferry travel with kids breaks down into three key stages. In each stage you need to think about things to do and how to keep them happy and this is how we have structured our guide and provided ideas for each stage.
The three key stages of ferry travel with kids are:
To get you started or if you don't have time to read the whole article here is a quick summary guide of how to keep kids happy on a ferry trip.
|Take sea sick pills||Waiting to board||more info|
|Eat grapes and other healthy snacks||Waiting to board||more info|
|Spot foreign cars||Waiting to board||more info|
|Play eye spy and other games||Waiting to board||more info|
|Singing||Waiting to board||more info|
|Play with small toys||Waiting to board||more info|
|Eat||On board||more info|
|Explore the ship||On board||more info|
|Check out the ships games room||On board||more info|
|Play Dobble and other travel games||On board||more info|
|Drawing and colouring||On board||more info|
|Kids magazines||On board||more info|
|Photography||On board||more info|
|Softplay||On board||more info|
|Sleep||On board||>more info|
|Play an audiobook||Waiting to leave||more info|
Before we dive into the details of each activity above it is worth talking about kids travel bags.
Ideally, you want your kids to be able to carry some of their stuff up from the car deck on the ferry to your cabin and ships deck. Due to the space restrictions between cars on the ferry and the need to go up stairs or in small lifts it is best for them to have backpacks.
We recommend getting ones with different sections/pockets if you can so you can know where drawing stuff is, their favourite toy, food etc and ensure none of them meet.
For the Travelbetter Kids they both have Smiggle Backpacks and these are very good as they have the required pockets and are pretty hardy as our two haven't been able to damage either of them...yet.
You arrive at the ferry port in good time, get through passport control with no problems and then...sit in one or two car parks for probably an hour or more while you wait to be allowed on the ferry. This can be make or break time for your trip as the kids will be feeling both excited about going away and nervous about going on a ferry so you really want a few activites to keep their minds occupied.
The Travelbetter team are not great sailors. We love boats and the water but the feeling doesn't seem to be mutual so before we board the boat we all take Sea Sick Pills. We do this before as they can take an hour or so to work.
I can imagine you are now thinking "How does this keep kids happy while waiting to board the ferry?" Well, it doesn't but does help to prevent them from being sea sick which keeps them a lot happier than if they were sick when you are sailing and onboard.
Food is always a good way to pass them time and being captive in the car is a good chance to give them some healthy snacks. Grapes are a favourite with our two and us as they leave little mess and give the kids a, natural, sweet treat to keep them in a happy mood.
Cross channel ferries are not just for us Brits to get to mainland Europe but also for Europeans and others to get to the UK. On any ferry trip you can almost garuntee you will see at least some French cars waiting but likely cars from more areas. On a recent trip we spotted French,German, Swiss and Finish cars in the queue.
Play some classic car games that require no special kit. There will be plenty going on around you at the port to give you eye spy options. Additionally, as you will be parked up hand games like rock, paper, scissors are also an option. Here are some example games to try.
Everyone loves to sing in the car safe from the outside world hearing you belt out some hits. It is also a great way to spend some time while you wait to board. A current favourite of the family is the Mamma Mia Soundtrack and thankfully not baby shark.
If you are like us then you no doubt have a kids carseat organisers on the back of the front seats. Just be sure to clear it out and add some fresh toys in before you go. For us it is horses and dolls for Travelbetter Girl and Spider-man for Travelbetter boy.
Once you are on the ferry you may have anywhere from 3 to 20 hours to kill depending on your sailing route. So you need several ways to keep them happy.
Eating is a great way to pass the time and most ferry operators will have a range of restaurants and cafes on board to satisfy your taste buds. We would recommend you pick meals that you can all take you time with an enjoy. For more about eating on Ferries see out guide to Food on Brittany Ferries.
Exploring the ship can be fun but try to make it a game to keep the kids really interested e.g. who wil be the first to work out where the shop is. How many life bouys can you count.
Some bigger ships often have games rooms with a range of games with some suitable for little ones and some not. We try to steer Travelbetter Girl and Boy towards two player sports games like tennis and air hockey.
Make sure you have at least a couple of great travel game options in their bags to play. Here are four of our favourite travel games.
Ok, so paper and colouring books can be heavy to carry but kids (and adults if we are honest) love to draw and it can be a great way to pass the time on a ferry while you sit in your cabin. We love this pen and paper carry set from Crayola as it has everything you need in one handy carry case.
We don't really like these much as often the kids just end up playing with the cheap toy on the front and ignoring the bulk of the magazne and this is frustrating as they cost a fair few quid (usually two lattes worth!). However, we make an exception for travel and recently as the kids have got older they have been inclined to read the magazines and do more of the activities inside so the value of these is slowly going up.
We love to encourage the kids to take pictures with their camera and onboard a ferry is a good time as there are lots of different things for them to snap both inside and outside the ferry.
Once they have taken some snaps go back to your cabin and review their pics with them getting them to talk about what they snapped and why. This is great for developing their photography and descriptive skills and it can be a really fascinating insite into how they see the world compared to us grownups.
If they have a softplay onboard and your kids are in the age range, please don't let your kids in if they are too old, then softplay is always a fun way for them to spend some time and burn off some energy.
If you had an early start or you are all just a bit tired then grabbing a nap or longer sleep on a Ferry is a great idea.
You've arrived in port and got back to your car and now you wait. Possibly for quite a while and you may be facing a long journey so once again you need to think about how to keep your kids happy.
This is tricky. You don't want to get the kids all hyper and excited again at this point but instead be a bit more chilled and in fact you may want them to take a well earned sleep if they didn't get any on the boat. Therefore, we recommend putting on an audio book and encourage everyone to just listen and chill out.
You can get audiobooks on CD from Amazon etc but we are big fans of Audible. I've had an account for about two years and find it a great way to save on audio books. For example my audible account cost approximately £8 per month for one credit a month (one audiobook) but if I was to buy a book like Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone it would cost you nearly £18.
Fery travel is a great family travel option and by following one or all of our tips above you can be sure that everyone will have a good time.