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I'm a Canadian flying to London next year and I want to take the ferry to Europe. I see fares to Brussels that look good at around $40 round trip, but I don't wanna do the Channel Tunnel, I wanna take the ferry boat. It's not clear from the search results which one I'm getting. How can I be sure I book the right one? I'm assuming its fun to walk around the ferry boat.

EDIT: I appreciate the helpful answers and comments that have been posted so far. I am disappointed to read that there is nothing particularly enjoyable about the ferry ride. I just visited Victoria BC and purposely got off the plane in Vancouver so I could enjoy the ferry ride on a beautiful spacious boat with ample seating, restaraunts and cafes, a walk-around deck and of course beautiful scenery (which I forgive the Channnel for perhaps lacking.) I still think I want to take the ferry, unless you tell me that I have to stay seated in the bus the whole time over.

The responders have also explained the reason why I was not able to choose specifically between the chunnel and the ferry: because even the bus lines do not offer that choice, using sometimes one and sometimes the other. Some suggest that the duration of the trip is a clue, and indeed some trips are an hour longer than others, suggesting that those would be the ferry crossings. But that conclusion is contradicted by the suggestion that the bus lines themselves do not choose the route until the last minute, depending on traffic conditions etc: how then could they publish a time schedule without knowing which crossing method they were taking?

One of the correspondents suggested that Megabus most frequently uses the ferry, so my best bet of a ferry passage is to use that carrier. I checked out the fairs, and indeed they have a very reasonable 60 euro round trip for me and my wife (30 euro each) so it looks promising. They also offer two schedules, one of them an hour longer than the other, so I will probably choose the longer one. But again, no guarantee that I'll be riding the ferry. Worst case I get to see the chunnel, which would also be OK i suppose.

The foregoing is a lot of clarification without exactly asking a question, but there remains one question: as compared with my British Columbia ferry experience (Vancouver to Victoria) just how dingy and cramped is the channel crossing? Does anyone enjoy the ride?

  • Compare the bus schedules to the ferry schedules and the train schedule, with particular attention to the duration of the trip (assuming there is a significant difference; I don't know whether that's true). That ought to give you your answer. – phoog Sep 23 '15 at 20:11
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    eurolines.co.uk/destinations/france is all you need – Gayot Fow Sep 23 '15 at 20:22
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    There won't be that much of a time difference between the Dover-Calais ferry and Chunnel trains, hard to work out which they take from times as you do not know how long they have to queue before boarding. – Willeke Sep 23 '15 at 20:22
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    In the era when I took the ferry it was in my car. I can attest that the experience gets old after about 1 crossing. It's not 'dingy and cramped', but you'll stay on the outer deck for about 3 minutes weather permitting. The approach view to Calais is nothing great, and the approach view to Dover is yes, white cliffs means we're home. My advice: take the time you spend boarding and waiting and sailing and put it into doing Brussels instead. If you simply MUST take the ferry, go from Calais to Dover. Make it three legs: bus to Calais, ferry as a foot passenger, then catch a bus from Dover. – Gayot Fow Sep 25 '15 at 2:20
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Since you're a fellow Canadian, we hope you came across our London - Brussels route offer on Busbud. :)

We know of at least four bus companies operating England - Belgium. It's our understanding that the channel crossing mode changes happen based on traffic, delays and driver time behind the wheel rules. So you might, as previously mentioned, consider taking a ferry specifically and connecting on either end since you seem to care a lot.

Or it could be good to check with the bus operators about the specific schedules. As a rule of thumb the Eurotunnel goes from Falkstone to Calais while many ferries depart from Dover; if you see Dover in any bus schedule, you can be pretty sure the journey is planned to be by ferry. Interestingly when crossing by Eurotunnel, the whole bus (along with other motor vehicles) is actually rolled into a train which takes it through the tunnel.

In general the crossing between the UK / England and Europe by bus company:

  • OUIBUS (formerly iDBUS) prefers the Eurotunnel trains but they sometimes use ferries.
  • Eurolines (by National Express) depends on the schedule, many are by ferry but some are by Eurotunnel.
  • Student Agency normally crosses by Eurotunnel.
  • Megabus normally crosses by ferry.
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Call the bus companies you consider using. Some of them change between ferries and train on different times of the day and some change over regularly or irregularly, depending on things I have never been able to work out. From what I hear it is often a surprise which connection they use.

If you want to be sure you will use a ferry to the continent, you can use the Dutch flyer, rail and ferry link, or use a train to get to Dover and take a ferry from there, buses will be available between the station and the ferry dock, both sides of the connection, with trains on the French side as well.

But experiencing a ferry is not such a great deal. I like them but I think going by bus on a train under ground and sea is an experience as well.

I have used several of the ferries and all of those were spacious and you can walk around them freely.
There are seats and restaurant and/or bar areas in all ferries. Most allow you to go outside as well unless the weather is really bad. But on the fast ferries the outside space is not big.

  • Ferry can not be good idea (big airfoils, no outside walk, and not so fun technology as the hovercrafts) but seeing Dover is. I remember one approach with a father showing the cliffs to his two-years old son: -- look, there, the land -- and what land is that, daddy -- that land is England, my son. (Edit: sorry, I misread; he is going to Europe. Nah, get the train) – arivero Sep 24 '15 at 1:34
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    I have been outside on the Dover Calais ferry. It can only be done on days without storm, but it is well possible on at least some of the ferries. And seeing the cliffs move out of view is an experience as well. – Willeke Sep 24 '15 at 18:04
  • If you really want an experience, the catamaran type ferries are much more lively in heavier seas than the regular RORO ferries, which is definitely memorable. I don't get seasick easily, so I remember a crossing where I was eating and noticed I was the only one doing that; most people were looking green-grey. I almost lost it when visiting the toilet, with the blocked urinal having a horrible wave crashing over its end each time the boat rolled back from starboard to port to starboard... That would be sick-at-sea-but-not-sea-sick. – user3445853 Oct 2 '18 at 12:53

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