Ijmuiden to North Shields

On the DFDS Ferry, September 2007
We travel by ferry from Ijmuiden in Holland to North Shields, ie the port of Newcastle. Watching the vehicles loading was fun, which is more than can be said for the DFDS level of service.
To the port at Ijmuiden
Arrival at the port of Ijmuiden. Quite a short queue, is this all the cars going to England on the DFDS ferry? And very few of them are British registered, mostly Dutch and German. There are less than 30 cars in total.
Fun watching others work
We were held in the waiting lines while the lorries and tour buses and unattended trailers were backed onto the ferry. There were three tour buses, one from Berlin, one from Sweden, and a much more elaborate and swisher one from Munich, who was loaded first despite being at the end of the line and we wondered why but then saw why; it was because he would have been too tall to get under the rope that was tying the boat up to the dock and which stretched out above our heads. The Munich coach had to be brought round the outside of the rope, where the lorries had been going.
Lots of low-loaders from Aberdeen carrying pipes – the type of pipes that might carry gas or something underground, maybe a foot in diameter. Why?
We get on the boat
Then when all the lorries and trailers and buses were stowed away in the innards of the boat, we were beckoned forward, leaving just the gaggle of Dutch motorcyclists still to load. We drove up a ramp that had been lowered inside the ferry, and were parked on the first floor of the vehicle decks above the lorries and buses. And now we discovered why there appeared to be so few cars. The rest had arrived much, much earlier and were already tucked away inside, their owners, we assumed, relaxing in the on-board bars. Many must have arrived several hours before the boat was due to leave. Why?
We get ripped off in the bar
Our assumption about the car drivers filling the seats in the bar proved to be a false one, and when we ourselves went to the bar to get a pre-dinner drink we found out why. Less than a pint of rather flat Dutch beer and a Campari and soda, nine euros 50, served by a slapdash and surly barman whose bar was bedecked with beer glasses, each with a label sticking out the top that said: TIPS. You’ll be lucky, mate. We paid the €9.50, not that willingly.
Then we get ripped of in the restaurant
We’d booked dinner in the self-service restaurant for 7pm, but our table reservation ticket, which we’d collected at the check-in point at the dock, said 6.30 so we thought we’d better go along shortly after 6.30. People were milling about at the restaurant reception desk and being told that the earliest they could book for was 8.45, and it would cost €29 a head. Our pre-booked dinner had a discount on this and had cost £18.50 (roughly €26), and we were allowed straight in, having a 7pm, or 6.30pm, table reservation. We came to suspect that, in order to get two sittings, the restaurant did a 6.30 and an 8.45, rather irrespective of the time you’d specified when booking.
An Indonesian waitress showed us to our table – we were stuck out on the edge near the exit door, though this in some ways was a blessing as it meant we didn’t have people brushing past us on their trip to the service counters. The waitress explained that it was self-service, and gave us a drinks list. We ordered a bottle of Valpolicella, which looked exceedingly overpriced at €30, however it was one of the lower cost bottles on the menu, so we rather begrudgingly went for that.
We asked the waitress if there was water available at the service counter. No, she replied, there isn’t, you have to buy bottled water from me, so we asked for a litre of still. This turned out to cost €6.05, and it would be an understatement to say we felt ripped-off, even more.
The dinner wasn’t good
The self-service food was a disappointment to us too. There was certainly a comprehensive spread. There was salad (for the Germans to have as a starter) and there was a whole section devoted to fresh, or fresh-looking, seafood, with crab claws, New Zealand green-lipped mussels (why New Zealand?), prawns and shrimps and crayfish, and it all looked very appealing, but we found it tasted of nothing. It had been frozen to death, we guessed, and while it looked good, it tasted like cardboard.
For mains you could have pasta with a meat sauce, or chicken, or something called panga, and I asked the man if it was fish and he said yes, or beef slices, or what was described as vegetable lasagne but which was actually vegetables with slices of aubergine on top, and topped with melted cheese. There was also sushi, which we didn’t try on this occasion, and there was another section with vegetables which seemed to include some sort of chilli con carne, though maybe it was lentils – a bit suspect though.
I tried the panga and while I have to trust the man that it was fish it didn’t taste like fish, it tasted like cardboard. Possibly the tastiest thing on the selection counter was the beef slices, that had been coated or marinated in a garlic dressing. At least there was a hint of the taste of garlic.
For dessert we had a completely taste-free cream sponge concoction, and some cheese. At least the cheese was OK, and to be fair the other thing that was more than acceptably good about this meal was the bread. Had we known, we’d have stuck to bread and cheese, though at €29 for a cheese sandwich?
Next time, we’ll avoid DFDS’ so-called service if possible
Next time we travel DFDS Seaways, if ever we have to, we’ll bring our own cheese sandwiches. There won’t be anywhere to eat them inside the lounges, as they’re all geared to spend, spend, spend; so we’ll either have to sit in our poky cabin, or, more comfortably, out on the deck as the wind and rain blows off the North Sea. This may not sound comfortable, but at least we’ll feel comforted, that we’re not being ripped off.
We weren’t impressed with the cabin, either. We’d booked a double-bed outside cabin with window, which was what we got, but we like to read in bed, and the reading light, such as it was, until we turned the duvet and pillows round, was by our feet, and even after rearranging the bedding only one of us could read, since the reading light wasn’t really at the end of the bed whichever way you laid it, so the person on the outside had no chance of seeing his book.
And I awoke next morning to find that the double bed had been made with single bedsheets, so that I was lying on the undermattress, where the sheets had parted in the middle.
We could have had fun playing bingo
Of course, DFDS don’t want you to read in bed, they want you to be in the bars paying for overpriced drinks and playing bingo. We know about the bingo because it was going on as we left the restaurant, a Dutch caller in a lounge suit was gallantly trying to inspire the few people with bingo cards to stay to the end for a prize of about 5 euros. He was doing very gallantly, “When you get a line full, shout out ‘Bingo’ immediately, and George here will be right over, and if George finds you’ve shouted bingo when you shouldn’t, he’ll hit you on the head with a hammer”. Boringly, we didn’t stay long enough to see whether George actually would do that. The Dutch caller, while obviously Dutch as were most of the European staff on the boat including the captain, was speaking in English, and all the announcements were also solely in English, even though the majority of the passengers were Dutch or German. For some reason, and it’s not that there weren’t the natural language speakers, DFDS has decided that announcements will only be in English.
All in all we found DFDS Seaways to be shabby. That’s the word for it. Shabby.

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