The first time I took the caravan on the Ferry was when we bought our first caravan. It’s a long story and one for another day. However, we did end up buying our first caravan from Germany and obviously had to bring it back.
We did it in one day, but bringing it back was the first time I’d towed. Ever!
This was actually easier than I thought, of course at the back of my mind was the Ferry, especially getting it off at Dover. It’s changed a bit now but in 2006, departing the ferry at Dover involved some very narrow bendy high kerbed roads.
One thing you have to be careful of is reading the signs at the port. There are clearly signed “caravan lanes”. At least they are sort of clear. Many a time we’ve had to quickly change lanes, when is easy at 01:30 am but at busier times it takes some concentration.
Of course, these things get easier the more you do them, but the first time needs some thought. Just give yourself plenty of time, don’t get yourself in a situation where you’re having too rush. Easier said than done, I know.
I’d recommend staying overnight, the night before your crossing at a caravan site near to your port of choice. This depends on how far away you live from the port, I mean if you’re only 10 minutes away…But you get the idea. If you can stay within 20 minutes of the port, it will make your onward journey much less stressful.
Consider Staying Close Overnight
We live about and two hours from Dover. On our last trip, we had a ferry crossing at about 01:00 am and left with plenty of time. Until that is a motorway had only one lane open due to road works and took us an extra hour to get there, missing our original crossing.
We travel with P&O. They offer a Flexi ticket, which allows you to cross 4 hours before, or 4 hours after your scheduled crossing time, which is great for us. I know some people will say. “It’s ok, we’ve never been charged they just book us on the next ferry” That may well be true, however, I’ve also “just rocked up early” when coming back from France and they’ve charged me 60 quid, that or wait 4 hours. Now it’s up to you, I prefer the peace of mind, it probably costs about £20 more.
Arriving At The Port
So, on arrival at the port, follow the caravan lane signs. I’ve previously followed another caravan. Some advice here, the caravan in front might get it wrong. I’ve followed another caravan heading north to Calais in Northern France thinking 100% he was going to Calais, where else would he be going? Well, he wasn’t going to Calais! So, just be alert and find your own way to the passport and ticket lanes.
I can’t remember which is first, but you’ll need to show passports and tickets. You are given a Lane number, finding the lane isn’t always easy. I’m always mindful that if I go wrong, turning around in a caravan isn’t always easy. There’s usually staff around to ask. “Oi mate, where’s lane 25,364?” “Just keep going for 4 miles, you can’t miss it”
Finding Your Lane
Here’s the thing, these lanes are sometimes further away than you think. Many times I’ve had a fear we’ve gone wrong. You’ll get signs like “Lanes 0 – 50, Lanes 51-70” etc. Once you’ve found your lane you’ll park up behind someone and wait.
Once in the lane, at Dover, for example, there might be a coffee shop, but we’ve noticed a Calais there’s nothing. There was once a “burger van” and there are also a few vending machines. The tunnel is better equipped for this.
Eventually the vehicles in front will start to move and you’ll be called forward at told where to go. This will involved someone gesturing at you to go left or right etc.
Time To Board
The approach ramp to the ferry can be rather steep, so be prepared for this. Once up the ramp, you’ll be directed by a member of the crew where you should be. The ferry is divided into lanes, much like the ones you first arrived at. So it really is just driving forward until they tell you to stop.
Once stopped you’re ready to go onboard (remembering to apply the car hand brake!) I don’t apply the caravan hand brake, as I’d probably forget to take it off in the excitement of departing!. Don’t forget, once boarded you can’t return to your car/caravan. Also, you can’t take pets on board, this is where pets owners might prefer the tunnel.
One tip at this point. Remember what stairs you exited the deck from, this could be something like Green 5. This ensures you find your car and caravan when returning to the car to disembark.
Now it’s time for expensive coffee and getting some rest with 400 school children running about like they’ve overdosed on sugary drinks and chocolate, even though it might be 02:00 am!
The time will come where you’re called back to your car. You now sit and wait, for what I always think is a very long time, before you get moving. Now, of course, it’s the opposite, the ramp off could be a steep downward slope.
During this time I’ve usually forgotten to sort of the Sat Nav, there’s no signal, so it won’t find the destination. Mandy is asking me why I didn’t do it before, I’m asking for the postcode and then, of course, you have to make a decision what road to take!
It’s fairly straight forward departing at France and you are on a motorway before you know it. This, of course, is based on pre BREXIT times…
Now it’s time to enjoy your holiday safe in the knowledge that you’re a “ferry boarding boss” and you’re actually looking forward to taking your caravan back on the ferry as it really wasn’t they difficult anyway.