Part of our summer holiday always involves visiting family. It used to be the US family that got the visits, but with 2 extra little people on board, recently the plans have been more focussed on Europe, notably visiting relatives in the Netherlands. Being half Dutch it makes sense for me to ignore the sarcastic comments about the North Sea beaches, and head for a bucket and spade holiday in Scheveningen every year.
Having tried multiple routes and options, from driving to trains and planes, we’ve finally come up with the best solution: the overnight 9.5hour Stena “Super” ferry from Harwich to Hook Van Holland.
Before we can enjoy the raw herrings galore, the energetic waves and the laid back beach shacks, not to mention the excellent apple pie and acquired taste ‘kroketten’, we need to get over the water, or drive the long loop around. Tried and tested, several times – the sleeper ferry with its cool cabins wins hands down.
The overnight adventure starts at Harwich, somewhere north of London when we board the ferry ahead of the 11pm departure. On time, no stress, the kids are thrilled to be up after dark (a rare occurrence) and are ridiculously excited about sleeping in a cabin with Mummy and Daddy.
The cabins are functional, clean and cosy. We’ve booked a four-berth cabin with an outside window so we can admire the view in the morning on arrival and have the full ‘at sea’ experience. Luxuries include toiletries, tea and coffee facilities and shampoo and soap in the en suite bathroom.
Because it’s late, we head right for our cabin and baggsy beds. Our toddler has been given an extra ‘berth’ with a smart wooden foldaway cot nestled between the two regular bunks. The kids are ready in their ‘tracksuit’ pyjamas – a time saving measure so we can all hop into bed asap. A quick teeth brushing session and we’re all tucked up. The novelty value of sleeping inches away from me is not lost on our daughter, who despite the lights out status decides to play numerous games including ‘wack you on the head with my stuffed toy’, sing a few tunes and generally keep everyone else awake. Thankfully the soothing motion of the ocean soon sends her off to sleep and within thirty minutes, we’re all fast asleep in our fresh sheets.
We’d booked this crossing before, during the daytime and even then, having a cabin was wonderful. The 6.5 hour daytime crossing offers plenty of fun – from the two restaurants to the kid’s play zone to racing around on the deck in the wind, not to mention three bars, coffee bar, shop, internet room and even a cinema – but, when you’re travelling with small ones a space to call your own, and, even better, have a snooze is ideal! It’s worth noting there is no WIFI in the cabins.
I’m not sure why, but the novelty of having your own bijou bathroom (with smellies) in the compact cabins is also something I get a kick out of. Perhaps because it’s slightly surreal to take a shower on the sea as you try to counter the gentle rocking? Admittedly, I once took a shower in a moving RV on the motorway for a laugh – perhaps it’s just me?
At 6.30am everyone is woken up by the chirpy Bobby McFerrin and his ‘Don’t worry, Be happy’ coming over the public address system. He manages to raise a smile even from the early morning’s grumpiest. This is the time, the kids huddle around the window and watch the coastline drawing closer, the fishing boats ahoy and point at fish they have just ‘seen’ in the water yonder. Could this be the best bit?
In the fancier ‘captain’s class’ cabins, you’ll get goodies like Prosecco, mineral water, orange juice, beer, red wine, a bag of crisps and peanuts but we booked a standard room (the best rooms go fast!) so we have a quick cuppa and whisk up a bottle of powdered milk. No bubbles for breakfast today! While the boys go off on a hunt for ‘take away’ breakfast pastries (which were very good incidentally), the overnight gear got packed up, and I tried to convince the youngest member of the team to put some clothes on. Before we knew it, it was time to disembark. Hello Holland!
We travelled with Stena Line – Harwich – Hook of Holland. For booking check www.Aferry.co.uk. Prices start at £98 o/w and £191.75 return (crossing only).