With the main holiday season now up on us, many of you will be gearing up for your holidays and for some that may well mean a ferry trip, not for the first time … but for the first time with a fast moving, inquisitive, adventurous and possibly selectively deaf toddler. Welcome to a whole new world of travelling – with toddlers!
In the past ferry travel may have meant sunbathing on deck (if you were lucky enough!), perhaps a leisurely romantic meal in the posh restaurant or just some time catching up with that book you had been promising yourself for ages that you would read. Some of this you might even have managed with a small sleeping baby. But that once sleeping baby is now a toddler and ferry travel will not be the same again for a while. Do not despair – a bit of pre-journey preparation can make all the difference.
If you have a long journey before reaching your ferry it might be best to schedule in some extra travelling time so you can give your toddler a good run round somewhere beforehand. Ferry ports often don’t have much in the way of safe places so perhaps find a play area or park where they can run off some energy. Remember that in peak times you may be queuing for quite a long time and the combination of energetic toddlers and stationary cars in busy ferry ports is not the best one!
Even on a day crossing it’s a good idea to book a cabin – and I would say absolutely essential on a night crossing. In the daytime it will give you somewhere to dump your stuff so you have less clutter to haul after you when your toddler decides to take off unexpectedly! If there are 2 adults one of you may want to get some sleep before the drive ahead and this is much easier in the calm of a cabin! Plus if your toddler decides to throw a major tantrum and you can’t cope with the disapproving looks of some passengers at least you can hide away in the cabin until they have calmed down (your toddler not the fellow passengers) knowing your child is in a safe and enclosed location.
Even if you have a cabin you don’t need to take masses of stuff on board with you – and certainly keep this to a minimum if you don’t have a cabin. A back pack is a great idea as it leaves you with 2 spare hands at all times. Your toddler can also have their own backpack and will feel very grown up if they are allowed to carry their own spare clothes, nappy and a favourite toy. Don’t be tempted to take loads of toys with you – these can all too easily get lost … although a couple of toys hidden away in your bag to bring out as a surprise are a good idea.
Safety and sickness
Accidents can and do happen but you can do your best to be prepared. Make sure you know where the first aid station and changing facilities are located.
By all means allow your toddler to run around but be vigilant around crowded areas, steps and on deck. It always amazed me how fast a toddler who has only just learnt to walk can go!
Remember that if you are on deck the combination of sun and wind can burn delicate skin very quickly – slap on a hat and plenty of sun cream if you are spending a lot of time outside.
Not every crossing is like a mill pond and sadly some toddlers will get travel sick. Make sure you have some suitable travel sickness tablets with you, a good supply of sick bags and a change of clothes – for you too!
On a night crossing ask if your ferry company supplies bed guards – or put the mattress on the floor if your toddler tends to thrash around at night.
Many ferries have on-board entertainment – there may be a suitable film or a TV lounge with kid’s TV showing. You could always take a travel DVD player or your laptop on board for some down time in front of a film and I know that Brittany Ferries now have free Wi-Fi. There will often be a magician or other children’s entertainer so check when and where these are taking place. You might want to avoid the on board disco if your ears are a bit sensitive though! For energetic toddlers many ferries have a soft play area and ball pool or for quieter times there may be a special kid’s room with free activities run by a member of staff.
Ferry food can be expensive and there is nothing worse than paying for something that your toddler then refuses to eat and you are left both out of pocket AND with a now hungry, grumpy toddler on your hands. Even if they are good eaters, queues can be long at peak times and restaurants crowded – all a perfect recipe for potential tantrums (or was that just my children?!) Taking a picnic may therefore be the best option. Also, many boats will have microwaves you can use for free so warming up their favourite food and milk is possible. Take plenty of drinks too – theses are fiendishly expensive to buy.
On leaving the boat
If you have had a long crossing and your toddler is fractious it may be a good idea to find somewhere fairly soon for another run-around … or you may be lucky and find they crash out as soon as you set off. If you have toddlers of the former group, booking a destination not far from your chosen ferry port is a good idea. And remember – the ferry journey is part of the holiday so do your best to enjoy it … plan a few games you can play and make full use of every tactic in the book to keep your toddler happy. All too soon you will be at your holiday destination and with one ferry crossing under your belt, the return one should be much easier!
Rosie Hill lives on a smallholding in Normandy, France with her family. They own a self-catering cottage called Eco-Gites of Lenault which welcomes guest all year round and has a large play area; plus guests can get to know their animals! She blogs about parenting, children, environmental issues and life on the farm at http://eco-gites.blogspot.co.uk, Tweets at @EcoGitesLenault, Facebooks at https://www.facebook.com/Ecogiteslenault, Pins at http://www.pinterest.com/ecogiteslenault/ and Google+’s at http://bit.ly/1qfUpBu