23 September 2014

Our Trip to Jersey with Condor Ferries - No Passports Required.

Yonks ago, I lived and worked in the Channel Islands - in Jersey to be precise.  They're situated about 14 miles north of France but are very much part of the UK.  It's impossible to deny the French influence but English is spoken and they drive on the left like the rest of us.

During the second world war the Nazis took Occupation of them for most of it - that's how close they came to the mainland - and although there's lots to see with regard to their fascinating history, there's an awful lot more to explore.

With me being only 18 when I arrived, much of it was wasted on me, but I left four formative years later with a taste for a decent dinner, an aperitif ahead of it and a yardstick against which to measure other beaches around the world.

I'm still in touch with friends over there and like to pop over when possible, but had put it off for a while thinking all of us needed passports and had never got around to ordering one for the youngest, which would mean an extra expense towards any trip, perhaps making it prohibitive.

Seeing as they're British it seemed silly to need one, but, on making further inquiries, it turns out that it's only necessary for us all to hold passports when flying, for airport security, but it absolutely isn't necessary should we travel by Condor Ferries instead.

I cannot tell you how quickly we tried to book our holiday and seeing as tickets start at £49.50 per person with a car, which I deem to be an absolute necessity over there, it can also work out much cheaper than flying.  #WinWin!

The cost to go at the last minute in peak season summer holidays came out slightly more, naturally, but I came to an arrangement with the ferry company for the purposes of the blog, because I think a lot of parents are in the position I found myself where they hold passports but maybe one or more of their children don't.  Not to mention the fiasco that has been occurring this year with those who've actually applied for them but have spent weeks or months receiving them and had to forego their travel plans.

A break to the Channel Islands is like being abroad - things are different but the same, as I hope you see from the video below.  We went the speedy route from Weymouth via Guernsey, taking a total of four hours. There is also an overnight ferry from Portsmouth but that was out of service at the time.

To be able to take your own transport is a godsend.  Although you can get around by bus, they mostly run out of St Helier, the capital and where the port is, but the west of the island is where all the best beaches are so it's good to be based there and pootle about freely.  (You'll need to buy a book of parking paycards, but they're easy to find and not expensive).

Jersey is only ten miles by six so it's possible to even cycle around it in one day, but hiring or having a car gives you the ability to explore bays like St Ouen's (a surfer's paradise) or Rozel, both in the north of the island and all the little villages in the centre, such as St Mary and St Peter, plus, in the east, there are some truly sumptuous restaurants set in seriously scenic spots.  The food is where the French influence is most seriously felt, but it's not formal, just great standard cuisine generally.

Jersey is only 10 x 6 miles - easy to explore by car.
When you can tear yourself away from a world of wonderful coasts, there's still tonnes for a family to do.  There is no VAT in the Channel Islands - they have a completely independent tax system - so you might enjoy shopping even more than usual (think JEWELLERY ladies!) but, best of all for children is Durrell Wildlife Park.

We only just missed Jersey's very own Hollywood star Henry Cavill - the current Superman and Man from U.N.C.L.E. no less, who was born and raised on the island and is still a member of their Rugby Club! (Sorry about the scrunched up Jersey Evening Post rescued from my friend's bin but you can read the full article HERE).

The current Superman -Henry Cavill at Durrell's Wildlife Park the week before we were there!
He has fond memories of being a regular visitor to the zoo (as it was called then) when he was young and remains so passionate about their conservation work that he has become an ambassador for them and the initiative #CavillConservation has been started in support of it.

There's also aMaizin Adventure Park, some magnificent castles and the equivalent of our National Trust - Jersey Heritage - with a variety of gorgeous Gardens growing a wide variety of warmer climate fauna than we're used to in the rest of the UK.  Plus, there's plenty of up to date public entertainment.

When I lived there it was illegal to dance on a Sunday but, gladly, that is no longer the case!

Elizabeth Castle - you can walk there when the tide is out but you'll need a lift back when it's in!
It might be worth inquiring about a Jersey Pass if you want to visit lots of attractions but the jury is still out on whether one of those that gets you into all of them for free, is actually worth the outlay.  It will depend on how much you want to do.  Also, my friends there use a voucher site called JT Rewards and that's definitely worth checking out for daily offers.

They're trying to reboot tourism on the islands with local businesses getting behind a recently launched Visit Jersey.  Hotel prices have historically been high, but many have closed, so they've had to change tack. The industry is reportedly responding to being revitalised and there is a range of accommodation right through from camping and Hostels and Yurts to high end stuff with definite deals to be had.

We loved travelling by ferry.  Being in Club Class rocked!  The supplement is reasonable (£16.50) and gets you their special 52 seater lounge, with attentive but unintrusive friendly waiter service - offering free tea, coffee and soft drinks, biscuits and cakes, newspapers, big, comfortable seats at tables with their own charging stations, and an impressive menu from which to purchase lunch or dinner.  I felt it was worth the extra investment on the way out, but on the return evening journey it came into its own because the eldest wanted to be outside on deck and the youngest needed to sleep, so I flitted about between the two and could see directly into or out of the lounge windows and keep an eye on them both simultaneously.  The staff were very supportive of my position and also helped out.  (Thank you Garry and Ping!)

Children are well catered for on board.  It's easy to get around and there's a Kids Zone with colouring stuff and a TV where we watched a bit of 'Frozen' or 'Tom and Jerry' when they weren't exploring elsewhere or enjoying being outside and there is a Bistro that offers those lunch boxes that they like with sandwiches and stuff, as well as a drink and a treat (£5).

For adults, there is also a cafe bar and a duty free shop (think PERFUME ladies!).  All in all, the time goes very quickly.  The video below shows a few aspects of the ship, including our trip up to the bridge which was very exciting!  We learned that the bigger boats (like the one we were on) must get out of the way of the smaller ones and we watched lots of activity on the radars.

Mostly, it shows fantastic beaches and lunches because we were blessed with perfect weather and that's basically what our holiday was about - hanging out with people we know and love.  If, though, you fancy one that's like being abroad but isn't, and you don't want the hassle of of flying with children, or don't have a passport, then you might like something like this too:

Disclosure - We were provided Club Class tickets by Condor Ferries in exchange for a review of the ship.  I threw all the other stuff in for good measure.  All words and opinions are my own obvs!