Regular readers will know by now that the Belgian city of Bruges is fantastic for weekend breaks and day-trips. But how to get there? You could fly to Brussels, take the Eurostar from London St. Pancras or you could even drive – it’s only an hour and a half from Calais. But the best way to get there has to be the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge. Return trip minicruises start at £75 for two, so it really is cheap as frites.
P&O call a night on one of their ferries Hull’s biggest night out, but really you’re getting a day-trip in Bruges sandwiched between two of Hull’s biggest nights out, with cabin, entertainment and transfers included all for just £37.50 per person. How can it be so cheap? Don’t think, just book. Pack your drinking shoes and a guidebook to Bruges, and set sail.
The Pride of York ferry leaves Hull at 6.30pm, taking around 14 hours to make the 232-mile crossing to the Belgian port of Zeebrugge. Slightly frustrating as I regularly do the 232-mile drive from Coventry to North Cornwall in four hours.
Check-in is pretty stress-free compared to flying. There are no queues or stingy baggage limitations (although you’re not allowed to bring booze on board, so be prepared for a search). You can board the ferry from 4pm, so you can familiarise yourself with your surroundings and relax in your cabin.
The £75 entry price includes a standard en-suite bunk-bedded room (below) which is perfectly adequate, although you can pay extra to upgrade to a club cabin with a proper bed, a TV and a bit more space.
We left our shoebox and went out to see what was on offer on Hull’s biggest night out. There are three decks devoted to entertainment, with a casino, cinema, two restaurants, a piano bar and the hilarious Sunset Show Bar. The cost of the minicruise may be low, but it is a bit of a captive market once you’ve booked. The carpark at the terminal in Hull costs £7 for 24-hours, and eating at The Kitchen, the ferry’s buffet restaurant, will set you back £18.50 each.
The standard of food is good though, and we tucked into cold meats and salad, a roast dinner, followed by a selection of cheeses and far too many pots of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream – we had to get our money’s worth. We stocked up with baguettes and chocolate from a Carrefour supermarket for the return ferry from Bruges and had a little picnic in our cabin.
After our meal, we looked at our options – neither of us really fancied watching Captain Phillips in the cinema, a film about a pirate attack on a ship, a bad choice for a passenger ferry. Instead, we got a seat near the front at the Sunset Show Bar for a night of cheesy cabaret acts – think Phoenix Nights at sea.
The singer/saxophonist in the MC Hammer pants in the main picture was so bad she was actually quite good. After a quickfire round of bingo, the house band played a few cover versions before the disco started at midnight.
People often ask me how rough the crossing is – I’ve done the journey three times now (the most recent being in the middle of the UK winter storms) and have never had a problem.
Walking back from the bar with drinks can be awkward, and it’s best not to look out the windows as the horizon bobs up and down. But after a few beers, you’ll forget you’re on a boat and think you’re in the pub.
You can leave your stuff in the cabin upon arrival the next morning in Zeebrugge at about 9am, but don’t forget to take your passport with you. As part of the minicruise deal, coaches will take you on the twenty minute transfer to Stationsplein in Bruges, from where it’s a fifteen minute walk to the medieval centre.
The coach takes you back to the ferry from the same place at 5.30pm, giving you a good seven and a half hours to enjoy the delights of beautiful Bruges. If you need inspiration on how to spend them, have a read of my day-trippers’ guide to Bruges.
P&O offer similar minicruises to the Dutch port of Rotterdam, with coach transfers to Amsterdam as well as to Rotterdam. I’ve previously been on the Amsterdam minicruise which is more of the same, but slightly more of a challenge because the two-hour coach transfer only leaves you with six hours in the capital of the Netherlands.
And while you may not get much chance to see Hull before you leave England, with the return trip docking at around 9am, seeing the UK’s City of Culture for 2017 is a must – as they say, it’s never dull in Hull!