Before I started trying to fly less, I had no idea you could get to quite so many places by ferry.
I’ve already written all about why I’ve been trying to opt for ferries as a more eco-friendly way to travel, and my experiences chugging between Spain and the UK.
But now I’m here to share my experiences on my two most recent maritime adventures for anyone who’s considering embarking on them themselves:
- Durrës (Albania) to Bari (Italy) with Grandi Navi Veloci
- Civitavecchia (Italy) to Barcelona (Spain), with Grimaldi Ferries
I couldn’t find much detail about either of these when I was researching them online, so here’s an account of what they were both like, along with a few tips.
Durrës to Bari with Grandi Navi Veloci
After an all-too-short week exploring stunning Albania (which I can’t recommend enough as a destination) we caught a bus from Vlorë to Durrës.
This is the old capital of Albania, so there are plenty of buses there from the other main hubs. Bus travel is a bit different in Albania, with no official bus companies or timetables, but it all works just fine. I found this blog to be a very helpful source of information about all this.
The bus station is right next to the foot passenger entrance to the port. We were catching the 10 pm ferry to Bari, Italy, but we rocked up early afternoon and were able to leave our backpacks in some very handy lockers in the terminal.
My ferry travel is usually ultra-budget, but this time I was travelling with my mum, and the prices were far more reasonable than, say, what a cabin would cost Santander>Plymouth with Brittany Ferries.
So we treated ourselves to a very comfortable ‘suite’.
I did check out the cheapest option for future reference. On most ferries, there’s a room full of reclinable seats that you can reserve. I struggle to sleep in a seat like this, but if the rooms are relatively empty you can find yourself a strip of floor between two rows and camp out.
A sleeping mat would be ideal, but in the past I’ve always just improvised with towels and clothes.
On this Grandi Navi Veloci ferry, the room was perfectly acceptable. It was large with nice big windows and bathrooms right there, and almost nobody in it. There was plenty of space for stretching out.
If you’d like a proper bed, there was also the option of a bunk in a male or female-only shared cabin with this company.
Civitavecchia to Barcelona with Grimaldi Ferries
Let’s start with the positives:
- This is a very handy ferry route across the beautiful, usually calm Meditteranean. A mini cruise, if you will. I spotted a few dolphins!
- There’s a pool on the top deck! Grab a sun lounger and catch a few rays.
Unfortunately, that’s about as far as the positives go. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’d still take this ferry again as it’s just so convenient and very cheap.
But sadly ‘Grim’-aldi ferries are very accurately named.
They’re clearly very understaffed right now, as although there are plenty of bars and restaurants on board and the crossing was very full, half of them were closed.
But there’s no justification for the state of the bathrooms by the end of the trip.
I was travelling on my own by this point, so I opted for the cheapest ticket which was ‘deck passage’ as I had a feeling the rooms of reserved seats would be pretty full.
We were directed to a big lounge at the front of the boat and I was able to stake out a good spot on a sofa before it filled up. I felt comfortable leaving my main backpack there whenever necessary, and just took my day pack with my valuables with me around the boat.
Cheaper options aren’t usually as popular, but this ferry stops in Porto Torres Sardinia in the middle of the night, so it turns out a lot of people don’t bother with cabins.
From about 3 am there are incessant, repetitive incredibly loud megaphone announcements to make sure no one that’s meant to get off in Porto Torres has any excuse for missing their stop.
And make sure no one else gets anymore sleep either, apparently. Go to sleep as early as possible if you want to get a few hours of uninterrupted rest.
According to an American couple I met towards the end this was all piped into their cabins too, so even if you pay up you can’t escape it.
They also said the cabin left a lot to be desired in terms of cleanliness.
So, basically, the trick is to have extremely low expectations. You’ll probably be uncomfortable, hungry and tired by the end of it.
But you can also get a nice tan on deck during the day, and you get from A to B, so all is not lost.
In an ideal world another ferry company would start offering a Spain-Italy route and force this lot to up their game, but until then it’s about adjusting your expectations and just grinning and bearing it for a while.
The fact that my one-way foot passenger ticket only cost €60 was what kept me going when they were shouting over the megaphones at 4am.
When compared to other non-flying options, it still wins for me. Trains can be a great adventure, but they’re often more expensive and complicated than they should be if more people are going to start choosing more planet-friendly methods of traveling.
Finding the boat as a foot passenger:
If you take the train to Civitavecchia, it’s then a 10-minute walk north up the beach towards the port.
I didn’t find any left luggage solutions so I just rented myself a sunlounger and umbrella to while away the afternoon, and then went into the port.
Once you’re through the gates, there’s a bus stop a few hundred metres up on the right for a free shuttle bus that will take you to the ferry terminal.
I went to the terminal about 5 pm, but I’d say there’s no need to be there until about 6.30 pm at the earliest, in time for boarding about 7.30 pm.
Enjoy the beach for longer or use the extra time to go to a supermarket or have a good meal to set you up.
At the other end, the ferry terminal in Barcelona is a walkable distance from the centre if you’ve got the energy and aren’t weighed down by bags.
There’s also a bus, but very few taxis make it down that way, so if you’re in a hurry then an Uber is probably your best bet. I ended up sharing one to the train station with some other backpackers.
The first rule of ferry travel is: always bring snacks
You never know what’s going to be available on board, and when you’re travelling you need to keep your strength up.
For the first ferry, we had a big late lunch and stocked up on snacks in Durrës. But, in fact, this Grandi Navi Veloci ferry wasn’t too badly stocked.
It seemed like a quiet crossing so not all the bars/restaurants were open and the ‘disco bar’ was rather disappointing. But it did have very reasonably priced bottles of Italian wine which we drank on the top deck watching the moon rise.
On the other hand, the Grimaldi Ferries trip was a totally different story.
There wasn’t a single vegetarian option in the café and I had to queue for 20 minutes to find that out.
According to the menu at the self-service restaurant there was a veggie pasta option, but the queue was so long whenever it was open that I couldn’t bring myself to wait for all that time only to be told it had run out.
The only thing I could get on the boat was an overpriced donut and muffin. The sugar highs and crashes were quite something.
So, I repeat, ALWAYS TAKE SNACKS! Filling things, with plenty of protein that will actually get you through the best part of 24 hours.
Bank on your ferry arriving late
Almost every long-distance ferry I’ve been on has docked late, so factor that into your onward travel plans.
We rolled into both Bari and Barcelona roughly one hour later than scheduled.
Never rely on onboard wifi. On both these boats there was only paid-for wifi, and the American couple I spoke to had their cards charged multiple times, but never actually got wifi access.
So if you do want to try and get some work done make sure you’ve downloaded all the files you need before you set sail.
This is one of my favourite topics, so I’m always more than happy to answer any questions you might have about my experiences hopping around Europe by ferry so far.
Just leave a comment or send me a message.
Have you been on any flightless adventures lately? I’d love to hear about them.