My husband and I are fortunate to own a second home in the Algarve, in the South of Portugal. We travel regularly between there and our home in England, taking our dogs with us.
We drive, mainly because we can take the dogs with us and also it works out cheaper for us. For instance, if we decided to fly back (we do occasionally), we would have to put our dogs into kennels and at the UK end, hire a car. Adding it all together, it’s much cheaper for us to drive.
Our journey from the Algarve involves a 10-hour drive to Northern Spain, either to Santander or Bilbao where we take the Brittany Ferries route to either Portsmouth or Plymouth in the UK. At the UK end, it takes us about 4-5 hours to reach Portsmouth or Plymouth from our home in Yorkshire.
If you think this is unusual, its not. You would be amazed how many people board those ferries, with dogs, every single week and more throughout the year. It is nearly always full and if we don’t book well in advance, we have a problem getting the things we want.
This is approximately a ten-hour drive. The roads are generally quiet and not like the motorways in the UK at all. We can often find ourselves the only car on occasions.
There are long stretches in what seems like the middle of nowhere in Spain and we make a note of the service stations that are open 24 hours. In some spots you need to make sure your tank is well filled.
Some of the service stations in Spain leave a lot to be desired if I am honest. Some are good, others not so good. Not all of them are directly at the side of the road either and we have found ourselves in little villages in the past searching for where they are.
On the Santander route, about 50 mile from the Port there is a fabulous Avia garage, serving good food, a place to walk the dogs and we see many English people there stopping for a break just like us.
The scenery along the route in parts is awesome and beautiful, particularly in the mountain areas. Spain has a great deal to offer besides sunny beaches and you pass through places like Salamanca with its historic cathedral that looks amazing at night.
On the way back once, we stayed overnight in a place called Cidade de Rodrigues. It had such narrow streets I was worried the car wouldn’t fit, lol. A bit scary at nearly midnight, trying to find the hotel, which was a Parador (historical hotels)
Video Of The Pont-Aven Ferry
The Ferry Crossing With Dogs
The route is operated by Brittany Ferries, who I have to say provide a fabulous service. They have always impressed us: the cleanliness of the ships, the friendly staff, good accommodations, good food etc.
Each of their ships allows you to take dogs on board and it depends what ship you are on how this can be done.
Three of their ships on this route have “pet friendly cabins” and one of them doesn’t. All of them do provide kennels and their own “doggy deck” for walks and daily exercise. Important, as the ferry route takes 24 hours either way.
The pet friendly cabins get snatched up very quickly and if we don’t book well in advance we often cannot get them.
I bet you can guess which choice our dogs prefer!! Yes, the pet friendly cabin. Trouble is with single bunks and them ignoring their beds, my husband and I have a job fitting in the bed ha ha.
We do prefer this way though as we can be in our cabin with the dogs and take them out for a walk when we want.
When they are in a kennel (which they don’t like) we are up and down the decks all the time taking them out, feeling guilty if we leave them up there too long.
On one ship, the Pont Aven, the walking deck is on the top of the ship and very exposed. I have often been subject to gale force winds and rain and believe me: cleaning up poop in those conditions can be interesting to say the least.
On other ships, the doggy walking area is less exposed and in some areas is covered.
We find our dogs don’t eat the same when travelling so I wouldn’t worry too much about this (less poop too, lol). They soon catch up.
You will soon notice the cars with dogs. Everyone has a sticker in the car handed out by the port staff. All cars with dogs are parked in the same row reading to board. Have some patience. Sometimes we board quickly; sometimes we are the last ones on. Getting on and off the ship is the worst part in my opinion.
When you first board the ferry, depending on what ship you are on, there is a routine for taking dogs from your car.
Video of Boarding the Ferry
On one ship, the Pont Aven, you can take them as soon as you board, On this ferry, its all kennels so you take them up to deck 10 right away. This sounds easy. However, when your are managing two dogs like us, plus your overnight bag, the dogs bed and food it can be a bit hectic.
On another ship, like the Cap Finistere for instance, you have to leave them in the car until you are called for. You meet a member of staff, once its announced and they escort you back to your car to take your dog to either your cabin or the kennels.
On any ship, they insist on you having your dogs muzzled. I have to say though, and we have done this trip tons of times, it is rare that this rule is enforced. Best have one with you just in case though.
Entering the UK there are strict rules on what is needed to travel with your dogs. Basically, they have to have had tapeworm treatment from the vet no less than 24 hours before sailing and no more than 5 days before. The vet has to complete their pet passport and declare them fit to travel. If you don’t follow these rules then you will not be allowed to board the ship.
The last time we sailed, our vet didn’t fill in the passport properly with the dates. A technical error but the Port staff made us go to a vet in Santander (on a Sunday afternoon) and we had to have a new passport for one of our dogs. This cost us an extra 70 euros. So its well worth checking the rules and what has to be done.
Your dogs have to be micro chipped, and have had the rabies injection plus their own pet passport.
You can find out more detail about this on the Brittany Ferries Website – http://www.brittany-ferries.co.uk/information/PETS-travel-scheme
If you are going to travel with dogs, then from an early age I highly suggest you get them used to being in the car and travelling. With any dog I have had I have done this from them being puppies.
We can travel anywhere now with ours and they don’t get travel- sick.
There is a side note to this though.
When our youngest dog first went on the ferry, she was with our older dog in one of the kennels. Everything seemed fine. We took them out for walks and settled them down for the night. Unfortunately on our return to them the next morning I cannot describe what their kennel was like. She must have been nervous about the whole thing. Without going into too much detail, lets just say the dog bed was thrown away and we spent the next hour or so cleaning and bathing them both. The moral of this is… take some dry shampoo with you, dog-wet wipes and doggy deodorant spray.
The ship provides poop bags and hose pipes for cleaning up on deck so you don’t have to take your own.
It’s worth knowing that the various ships have a slightly different routine.
On the Pont Aven and Cap Finistere , you are called to take your dogs back to your car an hour before docking. On other ships, you take them when told, along with everyone else.
Taking them down an hour before worries some people. When mine were puppies I worried I would have a car left by the time I got back. If they are caged in your car then that’s not a problem. However, if you have a dog that likes to chew seats, it’s worth knowing they will be alone for an hour. The staff will not allow you to stay in your car, with your dog on the car deck while still at sea.
Travelling with your dogs on a long drive, including ferry travel is not as difficult as you may think, especially if you are prepared. Remember to take dog food, treats, their favourite toys, leads and their beds. (Beds are NOT provided)
Make sure you check the rules of the country you are travelling to and from so that your pet can be allowed to travel. Although the rules for dogs entering other countries have been relaxed there are still rules to follow. What you don’t want is to arrive at port or another country and find you can’t go because something wasn’t done.
I highly recommend Brittany Ferries if you are thinking of travelling to Spain, France, Portugal or anywhere in Europe for that matter. Its a good alternative to flying and awesome if you want to take your beloved dogs with you. I could a whole post on the Ferry itself and the facilities on board for everyone, however, thats for another day. I use this service at least three times a year and not once have we had cause to complain or be disappointed by any issues.
I hope you enjoyed todays post Ferry Crossing UK and Spain: Travelling with Dogs. If you got some value then please feel free to leave me a comment.
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