Portsmouth to Bilbao on MV Cap Finistere Review
We arrived at Portsmouth within plenty of time for our ferry, they do recommend you arrive an hour before departure. As you drive in you are directed to a booth where they check your tickets and passports and give you your cabin keys and a notice to hang on your interior mirror. This is for the staff to guide you to the right place in the ferry. The cabin keys on this ship are cards which you put into a slot on the door of your cabin.
We were directed to a numbered lane where some other motorhomes and high vehicles were, there can be quite a long wait at the terminal but there are toilets and refreshments available if you want them.
Eventually our row started moving and we thought great we are getting on the ferry but only found that we had to join another queue, some vehicles were checked by the port authorities, I think they do this randomly looking for suspicious objects etc. We were once stopped on a ferry and the officer entered the van and asked if he could look in cupboards etc. he soon gave up when things started falling out on his head!
Eventually we were waved on to the ship and the staff guide you to where they want you to park, sometimes the vehicles can be quite tightly packed in. You will need to remember which deck you are on so you can find it easily when you arrive at your destination. Make sure you have everything you will need for the voyage, on this particular ferry we were travelling overnight so we needed our overnight bags. Once you have left the vehicle and the ship sails you will not be allowed back until you reach your destination.
There are normally stairs to climb from the garage to the rest of the ship but we were pleased to see an escalator on this particular ship. The staff will make special arrangements for disabled passengers and make sure they are parked near to lifts.
We quickly found our cabin and it had been cleaned ready for our occupation (you may have to wait a while for your cabin to be ready), we chose an outside twin cabin and we weren't disappointed, it was right at the front of the ship with a window which looked out over the bow affording a good view. The cabins are air conditioned and you can adjust the controls to get a temperature to suit you. The cabin itself had twin beds and a dressing table with European plugs, you can borrow an adaptor from the reception desk. There is a telephone in the cabin to contact reception, I'm not sure whether outside calls can be made on this. The beds were comfortable and we had a good nights sleep I did however note that only one pillow was supplied, as I like two so I phoned reception and another pillow was brought to our cabin almost immediately.
The radio in the cabin was a bit strange we couldn't fathom how it worked and the ships announcements interupted the music very loudly, we eventually managed to switch this off as it was too loud but it wasn't very clear how it worked.
There is a shower, toilet and washbasin in the cabins with shampoo, soap and shower gel but if you prefer your own it is advisable to remember to bring it aboard, towels are also supplied. The shower was very efficient with a good powerful jet and it was easy to control the temperature of the water, the bathroom as with the cabin itself was spotlessly clean. There are life jackets in the cabin for the number of people it sleeps.
Onto the ship itself. It is a modern ship with a very French feel, the staff are mainly French but staff that deal with customers can usually speak English and French. All the announcements on this ships were in three languages, English, French and Spanish.
There is a restaurant on board Restaurant du Port, which serves French cuisine from an a la carte menu, you can have breakfast, lunch and dinner in this restaurant. We didn't use the restaurant so can't comment on the quality of food but wandering through we thought the restaurant looked very stylish and food looked good.
Le Cafe Salad Bar is located on the top deck next to the pool (yes there is a small pool!), we used this for our meals. We had an English Breakfast for £3.90 you order your food at the bar and wait while it is served on trays and take it back to the table. The breakfast was good value for the price, two rashers of bacon, two eggs a sausage, hash brown and beans. I would compare it to a breakfast at a supermarket cafe. They also sell Pizza's (which were very good at £4.90), salads and a special of the day which for both days we were on the ship was Beef Stew and Chips at £4.90 this was a good helping and very nice for the money. Coffee and other drinks are available. The only negative about this Cafe Salad Bar would be that it was on a semi open deck which I would imagine would be cold at times, we went in June and the weather was good. Some tables were also near the dog walking area of the ship which smelt of dog urine when the wind was in the wrong direction. Dogs aren't allowed in the Cafe Salad Bar and there are signs stating this but it didn't stop a couple with two dogs walking past us eating our meal to get to the other doggy section of the boat, when I pointed out the notice they just shrugged and carried on.
Le Petite Marche was located near the main restaurant and so completely under cover and this caters for passengers who want a light bite and sells packet sandwiches, soup, snacks and cakes, plus hot and cold drinks.
There are two bars aboard the ship, a nice outside bar at the stern of the ship on deck 9 is called Belle View Bar, this however is closed during bad weather. Planets Bar is inside at the stern of the ship, free wifi is available in both bars and in the reception area but not in the cabins, you can access the wifi via a code on your cabin key. Unfortunately it doesn't remember you so you have to input the code every time you want to access the internet, we were really pleased it was free however so that we could use our phones to keep in touch via email, facebook etc.
There is a children's play area on board but again it is an outdoor but covered deck so in bad weather wouldn't be very good. The equipment is only suitable for younger children. Various other activities are arranged, bingo, quizzes, talks, magic shows etc., a leaflet is available form the reception area. There is a small heated pool on the outdoor deck but this is closed in bad weather. A cinema shows a selection of films at the time of writing it was £5.50 adults and £4.00 children.
Les Boutique sells duty free wines and spirits, tobacco, perfumes, cosmetics and leather goods. Along with toys, souvenirs, newspapers, games, cameras, sunglasses etc.
There are spa treatment rooms on board the ship with a range of treatments available.
If you are taking your dog on board it is not allowed to stay in your vehicle. There are large and small kennels on board and 14 pet friendly cabins in which you can take your dog, I would suggest you book early if you want a pet friendly cabin, there is also a dog exercise area on board on a covered open deck. These are the only areas that dogs are allowed.
Our overall impression of both journeys was that it was a very pleasant experience and a great way to start and end our holiday. A little expensive maybe but saves the stress and toll charges and time of driving down to Spain. The notorious Bay of Biscay was like a mill pond both ways so this was a bonus, we have heard horror stories about the heavy seas others have encountered and maybe our opinion would be different if we had encountered the same.