P&O’s ‘Spirit of Britain’ – Ferry
The Channel Tunnel and the Low Cost Airlines have certainly not killed off the cross-channel Ferry service as regularly predicted a decade ago.
Spirit, a new £160million ship is the biggest ever to operate the Dover-Calais route. At 690ft long, she’s the largest ferry capable of docking at the existing facilities at either port. Her sister, ‘Spirit of France’ will enter service in September 2011.
Spirit has a gross tonnage of 49,000. She typically carries around 2,000 passengers. Her three car decks can carry an impressive 1059 cars and 180 lorries. I’m told that the cars and lorries are separated on different decks. (I was a foot passenger).
It’s always very exciting walking up the gang-way to board a new ship. The ‘Spirit of Britain’ was no exception; however I must say that I was initially a little disappointed with what greeted me.
The ‘Spirit’ is bright, new and functional. She is a hundred times better than the oily tubs that used to serve the Dover-Calais route two or three decades ago. However the issue for me was that most of the public areas were quite ‘understated’ as our American’s friends say. Now of course this is a very subjective opinion and too much glitz would also create a negative opinion. However when compared with Sea-Frances ‘Berlioz’ (Dover- Calais), and ‘Stena Hollandica’(Harwich-Holland) her public spaces are a bit bland. She lacks what I’d call ‘classy’ spaces, with a few exceptions.
‘Spirits’ décor features graphics some of the famous sights of London. Stairwell landings feature larger photographic images of colored flowers, coded blue, yellow or green. There is a lot of light woods used and the many windows to create many bright spaces.
The ship has two passenger decks, 8 and 9. Foot passengers enter the ship at the rear of deck 8, via a public area called ‘The Bar’(a self explanatory space) which has a very nice large scale model of the ship in a glass display case. The internal decks essentially have an open-plan design, although areas do have names and different functions. Moving forward towards the bow one passes through the slot machine and video arcade (kids) areas. Next is the information desk, ‘Bureau de Change’ and shopping area. The shopping area is not dissimilar to that of any international airport. At the very front of the deck is the ‘family Lounge’ which is a circular lounge, with many seats and panoramic windows overlooking the bow. It has and a regular bar and coffee bar.
Climbing the stairs to Deck 9, the ‘Club Lounge’ is located at the stern. This is a very classy Lounge, although quite small, with comfortable chairs and newspapers. It carries as supplement to use of £14 pp, currently. A glass of sparkling wine and complimentary tea/coffee and newspapers are included. The Lounge also has its own outer deck with some sun loungers. However, if it was near full to capacity, which is more likely as it’s quite small, it would defeat the object of paying a supplement.
The ‘Brasserie’ comes next. This is a very classy ‘al la carte’ dining room with maybe 80-100 seats, I estimate. Its foyer is particularly stylish, looking rather like a Library. Large floor to ceiling windows run down one side of the dining room. The menu features surprisingly simple fare, such as chicken with rice, steak and chip, cod and chips and sausage and mash. However don’t be fooled, the food and service is excellent (although on my crossing it was under-used which must speed things up a lot). I suppose it’s hardly cheap but the price was well worth it. The wines are of course overpriced but the selection is quite interesting.
Next comes the Truckers Lounge which looked remarkably palatial with reclining chairs and video screens and includes showers. They also get their own bit of private deck space. At the bow is the ‘Food Court’. This has both floor to ceiling windows on both it sides and on the rear, the latter overlooking the bow. The food looked very passable but once again the décor was rather ‘understated’, but functional.
Her outer decks for the general passengers are somewhat limited to a modest stern space, although there is an external bar (subject to weather conditions and demand). Both the truckers lounge and Club lounge have own piece of deck space.
In conclusion, ‘Spirit’ is a very nice modern ship with all the facilities that you will require on a short sea crossing. She is a very welcome addition to the P&O fleet and ten times better than the Ryanair experience. However the interior decor of many of her public spaces is rather uninspired. In terms of very stylish interior design, I cannot help preferring Sea France’s ‘Berlioz’. (Although Sea France no longer carries foot passengers at Dover).
Mind you I doubt in 99% of the ‘Sprit of Britain’ passenger will be worried about décor, as long as they can relax, buy a pint and purchase some cheap cigarettes/perfume.