Traveling across Europe on a Car Ferry (plus a birthday in “no country”)

In late August, after many hours and kilometers on the road during our European Road Trip, we found ourselves in South Eastern Europe, far from our home in Southern Spain.  Rather than make poor C drive us all the way back up the Adriatic coast and across Italy, France and Spain, we decided to try a different mode of transport – a ferry!  We packed up all of us, our bags and our trusty car and hit the open seas.

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It would have been 21 hours of driving time from our starting point in Dubrovnik to Barcelona, not including stops. Plus tolls and gas.  The ferry trip was about 30 hours on 2 boats, including two overnights, plus a five hour drive from one Italian port to the next. 

Our starting point was Dubrovnik, Croatia. Since Croatia has a long coast on the Adriatic and more than 1,000 islands, boat travel is very common, and it has a large state-owned sea (cargo and person) shipping company, Jadrolinija.  Jadrolinija has a daily (nightly, technically) route from Dubrovnik to Bari, a town on Italy’s east coast. (It was also a Jadrolinija ferry boat we took when we went from Split to Trogir).

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Our Dubrovnik – Bari ferry

Our ferry was scheduled to leave Dubrovnik at 10pm on Wednesday night and arrive at 8am on Thursday in Bari.  A few hours before the scheduled departure time, we were allowed to board the boat, with C taking our car into the hold while we walked in with the pedestrians.

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Blurry picture of C driving into the car hold of the ferry

We opted to get a 4-person cabin, rather than reserving just a seat.  Since there are 5 of us, we did also reserve one seat, but ended up not using it at all, with the little guys squeezing together into one of our four bunks.  The ferry was pretty old and our cabin was tiny and claustrophobic, with a sink but no bathroom or window.

Our small, dark cabin.  Had a sink but no bathroom or window. It was okay for overnight but I wouldn’t want to spend any longer than that in there.

However, the trip was smooth, and we all got a decent night of sleep. Since it ended up being almost  11pm before we even started moving, we were all already in bed and basically slept the entire trip, waking up just before arrival in Italy.

Watching the sun set as we were waiting to leave Dubrovnik

So, in summary, the Dubrovnik – Bari leg – smooth water, easy schedule and old boat.

Our next ferry was a Grimaldi Lines ferry from just outside Rome to Barcelona.  It was a five hour drive from Bari to Civitavecchia, Rome’s ferry port, so we decided to play it safe and instead of catching that evening (Thursday)’s ferry, we spent a night in Italy (which also gave us a day and a half in Italy!) before our 11pm departure for Barcelona on Friday night.

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Our Rome – Barcelona ferry

We hopped on the ferry on Friday night and settled in for a longer ferry ride.  We left at 11pm on Friday and weren’t scheduled to arrive in Barcelona until 8pm on Saturday night. IMG_7689 (4).JPG

Luckily, this ferry was a bit nicer and our cabin had both a window and a bathroom.

Our cabin on the Rome – Barcelona ferry. This one had a window and bathroom.  The top bunks could fold into the wall to allow more space during the day.
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Any extra seating space is always welcome on a 20 hour ferry. Especially with 5 people crammed into a 4 person cabin.

The ferry also boasted about its cruise-ship like atmosphere and included a pool, cinema and several restaurants.  We were (initially) excited to check those out after we woke up in the morning.  We shouldn’t have been. The restaurants were expensive and the food wasn’t good. The pool was tiny and had no water in it and the cinema didn’t seem to be working either. The ferry actually seemed smaller inside than it looked outside.

As with our last ferry, we settled into our cabin, once again fitting our family of 5 into a 4-person cabin, and going straight to bed.  However, unlike the Adriatic crossing, once this ferry started moving, we knew it!  We did a lot of rocking and rolling in our beds all night long until the early morning when we reached a port stop on the island of Corsica that woke us all up a bit earlier than we would have liked.  Once underway again, we still had lots of motion and eventually got an announcement that we were going to change the route to another “lane” in hopes of getting calmer waters, but that it would delay our arrival in Barcelona by about three hours.  Yipee, we were now getting a full day on the ship.

Though none of us were sick per se from the ship’s rocking, none of us felt particularly good.  We did a tiny bit of walking (swaying) around the decks, but mostly spent our time in our cabin.  It also happened to be little N’s 6th birthday on board. He loved having his birthday in “no country”, and we even managed to carry a few presents for him in our limited luggage.

N and his birthday presents, including the Real Madrid jersey.
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This crazy kid is a really picky eater. The plainer the food the better. For example, he will eat cake but hates frosting. An ice cream cone WITHOUT ice cream.  Croatia had these huge sheets of wafers – basically the stuff ice cream cones are made of.  So what do we bring that kid for a “birthday cake” on a boat in the middle of the sea? A huge sheet of wafer!

As we neared the Spanish coast, we finally felt well and hungry enough to grab a bit of (mediocre and expensive) food at the restaurant, and walked around the deck (and by the teeny tiny empty-of-water pool) as we watched Spain come into sight. IMG_7705 (2).JPG

After a long exhausting wait, we finally got off the boat about 11pm and drove about an hour towards home before stopping at a hotel for the night.  Our final thoughts on this ferry – nice ship, comfortable rooms, nothing to do and rough seas.

I think overall the consensus was that we were happy we decided to take the ferry route home to Spain, but it was nothing we would want to do again anytime soon!

This post ends our long, epic summer road trip, and we were all honestly quite happy to be back “home” in Spain ready to get back to routine. But, never fear, we aren’t done traveling. Stay tuned for more travels this fall!

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