It was quite an experience getting the ferry from Barcelona to Genoa. Firstly, there was very little information online about what time to arrive, where to go etc. Then when we got to the port, there were no signs for GNV and we had no idea where to go or what the check-in procedure was. We ended up pulling up at a bus stop whilst I went off to find out. I decided to write this post to help anyone else looking at this as an option and wondering what to expect.
When we booked our tickets, the website was all available in English and booking was fairly straightforward. We typed in details of the four of us, the car and the caravan, selected our pre-paid meal voucher and cabin and then checked out and paid with no problem. Before you travel, you need to print off your ‘Express Ticket’ which is a single page with a bar code and all your booking details on it. The only odd thing was that this only mentioned the four passengers, the car, the cabin and the meal voucher and didn’t list our caravan, which was a bit disconcerting.
Arrival at the Port of Barcelona
Approaching the port on the B-10 from Vilanova to the west of Barcelona, there are signs for both the cargo port and for the ‘Ferris’ and you need to drive past the cargo port and head for the ferry terminal . We came off the B-10 at junction 21 and the sat nav took us on a circuitous route around the port before arriving at the terminal building. Just before the exit from the motorway, you will see the terminal building across on your right (assuming you are coming from the west): it is a large, square building with ‘Grimaldi Lines’ across the top in big letters. Keep following the signs with the picture of a ferry on them and the letters A to D and the road takes you away from where you want to be, all the way up to the big roundabout at Plaça de Les Drassanes and then you double back on yourself and onto the inner roads of the port. The terminal building is on the Ronda del Port and it is shared by Grimaldi Lines and GNV.
As you approach the terminal building, there are no signs to show you where to enter or which way to go and when we arrived there were lots of trucks parked up at the side of the road, making it even harder to see what was going on. As you approach from the Barcelona side of the port, there is a (very short) filter lane to turn left into the terminal. It has a left turn arrow painted in the road itself but, confusingly, there is also a ‘no left turn’ sign above it! However, this is where you need to turn in and you continue on down the narrow road along the right hand side of the terminal building. The road curves around to the left, behind the building, through a security barrier (where they look at the printout of your booking confirmation) and you will be shown where to park in the holding area. You need to try to arrive at least 2 hours before departure.
Once you have parked up, you have to go into the terminal building to check in. Important: you will need then printout of your booking confirmation, your passport(s) AND your vehicle registration documents. Here you will be checked in and given tickets for your vehicle, cabin, meal voucher and anything else you have pre-booked. Fortunately, although it wasn’t itemised on our printout, the caravan WAS included in the booking!
Getting onto the ferry
Our ferry was due to leave at 1pm and boarding started at about 11:30am. The parking/waiting area is narrow and you are tightly packed in. We only had inches to spare towing out and turning to head towards the back of the ferry. You will need your passports again at this point as someone will come and check them whilst you are in the queue, looking at every passenger in turn.
As we queued, we watched, horrified, as several big container lorries reversed onto the ship. “Oh no, we’re not going to have to reverse on, are we?” Andy asked, trying hard not to sound panic stricken. Fortunately we didn’t. The ramp up was pretty steep – we were on Garage deck D, which was the top car deck – and it was wet because it had been raining. The wheels were spinning all the way up, so if you are towing, I would recommend not starting onto the ramp until the car in front has moved away from the top of the ramp. This way you can complete this section without having to stop on the ramp itself!
Once inside, you drive up and swing round to face the opposite way. We were fortunate that we were one of the first few vehicles on board and so we had a lot of space in which to swing round. Some motorhomes that came after us had to spend a bit of time manoeuvring into spaces at the rear of the row. I should also say that on our sailing at the start of April, the car deck was not even half full.
There are instructions on the car deck as to how to leave your vehicle (in gear, with the handbrake on) and you are given a ticket that tells you which deck you are on in case you forget. As with all ferries, you need to take everything that you need with you because the car deck is not accessible during the journey.
Ferry facilities and cabins
The main deck where all the shops and restaurants are located was immediately above our car deck. A member of staff was standing near the top of the stairs with a table full of electronic door keys. Here you need to exchange your cabin voucher for two plastic, credit-card-style keys and then you can go and find your cabin.
We had an inside cabin for 4 people (2 bunk beds), which was snug and had seen a lot of wear, but was comfortable enough. It had the beds, a small wardrobe and a bathroom with toilet, washbasin and shower. Towels were also provided. We realised that the top bunks didn’t have a child safety rail on them, but we went to the information desk and within minutes someone had come down to our cabin and brought one for us to use.
The ship had several restaurants and bars, although only one (a sort of café/snack bar) was open during the afternoon. There was also a duty free/gift shop, which opened an hour after departure. There was a cinema, but the movie being shown wasn’t in english nor did it have subtitles so we didn’t investigate this further. There was a children’s room on one of the upper decks, but this was really only for young toddlers.
The only issue we had with the cabin was the noise. Not from surrounding cabins, as you might expect, but from the Ducal Lounge immediately below us where there was live music from 9:30pm until 11:30pm. Given that the ship was due to dock in Genoa at 7:30am and so we would need to be up early in the morning, this wasn’t exactly welcome! We could feel the base beat reverberating through the floor and through our bodies.
Pre-paid meal voucher
When we booked, we opted for the pre-paid family meal voucher. Once again, there were no details on the website or on board ship as to how this worked, so we had to find out as we went along. Although there are several restaurants on board, the meal vouchers are only valid in the ‘American’ self-service restaurant. The voucher entitles you to one main meal (either lunch when you first get on board or dinner in the evening) and one breakfast. At €28.90 for the four of us, we thought that this was pretty good value. The restaurant was only open from 7:30pm until 9:30pm and earlier on in the evening there was a queue to get in.
The choice was quite limited, but perfectly sufficient. An adult could have two bread rolls, a drink and a main course with either chips or salad. The main course options were a plain piece of breaded chicken, beef tagine (which was absolutely delicious) a seafood dish with cuttlefish or some pasta with pesto or tomato sauce. A child could have one of the two choices of pasta with chips or salad, plus a drink. We found that we had plenty of food between us.
Breakfast was simply a glass of orange juice, a hot drink and a croissant or pain au chocolat and the restaurant opened at 6:30am.
We dropped our bags off in the cabin and headed straight out onto the rear deck to watch Barcelona receding into the distance. The route hugged the coast for quite a long time and the sea was pretty calm. Later on in the afternoon we went back out on deck but we didn’t stay for long as it was so windy we almost got blown off our feet! At about 5pm we started to head out into open water, crossing the Gulf of Lion, and at this point it got a bit choppier. The ship was rolling from side to side quite a bit and you had to grab the handrail as you walked around. They even brought out sick bags which were left in strategic locations around the public areas of the ship. It felt particularly bad in our cabin at the front of the ship so we went and sat in one of the public areas where it didn’t feel quite so bad. At about 9:30pm however, it felt like the engines were slowed and the rocking reduced.
Getting off the ferry
In the morning, we had breakfast at 6:30am when the restaurant opened and by 7:30am the cleaning staff started to request us to leave our cabin. At this point, we took our bags and enjoyed the wonderful view of Genoa in the early morning sunshine as we came into port. Shortly after we docked, the stairs down to the car decks were opened and by 8:30am we were in our car and driving off the ferry.
There was no orderly disembarkation one row at a time as we have experienced in other ferries: instead everyone just rushed towards the exit and it was every man (or woman) for his- (or her-) self. We were waived through all the security checks on the Italian side, although some people were being stopped to have their vehicles checked. Before we knew it we were out of the port and into the busy early morning traffic in the centre of Genoa.
Tips and observations
If you get a chance when you are booking, or possibly when you check in, ask for a cabin towards the middle or back of the ship – all the cabins above the Ducal Lounge (numbers 7000 to 7127) were extremely noisy in the evening when the live music was playing (9:15pm until 11:30pm). We asked if they could turn the music down a bit and they said they would, but it never happened.
Culturally, it was a very interesting voyage. We hadn’t expected a ferry from Barcelona to Genoa to be full of people from North Africa. At the back of the ship for much of the voyage, big groups of men in kaftans and smoking shisha pipes were gathered around tables playing card games. In the restaurant, we only saw men dining together, never with women or in families. And later on when we went down to have a look at the band playing in the lounge, the men were all sitting on one side of the room with the women in the middle looking after the children. In the UK it is rare to see such segregation of men and women. It was fascinating to see and was very different culturally from what we are used to. We also didn’t see any other British cars or hear any English voices on our journey. There were a few other Europeans and what appeared to be a German tour group who were all travelling together on a coach, but other than that most of the passengers seemed to be of North African origin.
When you travel on cross-channel ferries from the UK, you have to purchase either a cabin or a reclining seat. It appeared that this wasn’t the case on GNV ferries: on some of the upper decks, people had laid out blankets and pillows in the corridors and corners, obviously intending to bed down there. There were notices in the cabins saying that you were forbidden from using portable gas or electric stoves in them, but judging by the amazing smells wafting down the corridors, some people were flouting this rule!
All in all, it was an excellent service for the money. We travelled on 5th April 2017 and the total cost was €416.50. This included a 15% discount for early booking as we booked it before the end of February 2017. The cabin was €41.65, the meal voucher was €28.90 and the rest was for 4 passengers, the car, the caravan, taxes and supplements.