We travelled from Brindisi in Italy to Igoumenitsa on the North Greece mainland coast with Grimaldi Lines.
The crossing took eight hours, we opted for daytime setting off at 1.00pm as it was slightly cheaper but they do offer an over night.
Our one-way tickets cost: €280.00 For 2 adults, 2 children, 1 dog and our campervan in early July.
Buying the tickets at this port was the trickiest we have encountered yet. We arrived a couple of days in advance of when we were hoping to travel but the staff weren’t very helpful and the first day just sent us away saying come back and ask again tomorrow.
The second day we were passed from desk to desk until eventually someone let us buy a ticket. We would definitely recommend buying online prior to arriving at the port.
Boarding was more organised chaos and we were still sat in our van parked up amongst the lorries on the tarmac at the time the ferry was due to depart.
Once aboard the large seven deck ferry it felt very comfortable. The common areas were clean and spacious. We had purchased the cheapest tickets that included deck seats and there were plenty of cosy indoor sofas and lounge chairs to choose from and find a place to settle. We packed pillows and blankets for the children to have a snooze and the chairs were perfect for making into sleepy dens.
The atmosphere on board was a little lacking and the staff were not exactly warm and helpful.
We started off by searching for the kennels to get the dog settled in. The map on the ferry deck showed us where to go, there were signs up and down different stairwells but we searched for about 30 mins, walking up and down, carrying our luggage and our children asking a number of different staff who pointed us in all manner of directions but the kennels remained elusive.
Eventually we went to reception to be told that there are no kennels on this ferry, even though we had just forked out €20 for a kennel ticket at the port (dogs get free passage on deck).
Luckily they were happy for us to keep our dog on a lead and find a seat indoors, we just couldn’t take her in the bar area so had to do shifts when it came to getting drinks and food. You take the dogs out to wee and poo on the communal deck floor outside where everyone else is walking and sitting. Remember to pack extra poo bags, you do not want to run out!
The bar offered some limited food, mainly tomato and courgette sandwiches or crisps. I would recommend packing all the food and snacks you might need for the whole crossing. We packed some water melon as a travel snack and were really hungry!
Facilities wise it looked great, however we soon realised that the restaurant, second bar, duty free shop, games room, cinema, WiFi area, luxury sleeping chairs and children’s play area were all closed. No explanation was offered. There was a swimming pool on top deck but this was closed and full of workmen for renovations.
The whole ferry felt like a bit of a ghost ship. We soon realised their main customers were the lorry drivers who all got cabins and slept in them most of the crossing, only waking to use their free meal tokens in the restaurant that suddenly opened for an evening meal before dis-embarking. The restaurant offered a set menu of three dishes; veal and chips, greek salad and a pasta dish with herbs and oil. All costing from €12-16 per meal for people without meal tokens.
The truckers were a friendly, happy bunch, the few of them that remained on deck made it fun to spend the crossing with them. They were chatty and were very sweet towards the children. A few of them were carrying bottles of Rum and looked very merry!
All of the toilets were locked, only one set by the bar were open for use. We asked the staff where we could use the toilets, again they just pointed to the stairs.
Even though there was not much in the way of facilities we still had fun and because the ferry was half empty it was possible to let the children run around and explore, which they loved. In some ways it was easier to keep the children happy than the last crossing we did packed with facilities and other families due to having more space to hang out in.
The crossing was beautifully smooth, like sailing on a lake the whole way even though strong winds were blowing through the port as we departed. The route accross the Ionian Sea hugs the Albanian coast line offering stunning views of wild beaches and mountains for most of the journey.
Overall we would definitely recommend this crossing as a budget friendly straightforward route from Western Europe over to Greece. The ferry tickets were much cheaper than the fuel and tolls it would have cost us to drive through Croatia, Bosnia Herzegovina and Albania.
Our ferry was comfortable and the crossing beautiful. However if your budget can stretch it might be worth looking at other ferry operaters to see what they offer for the money, as Grimaldi Lines seem to cater much more to the trucker crowd rather than tourists or families.
However if you do book with Grimaldi, you won’t have a bad trip, just be as self sufficient as possible and carry on all the food and entertainment you might need for the duration.