Dover - Dunkirk Ferries
The Dover Dunkirk ferries provide an interesting possibility for the cross channel ferry traveller who is looking for an alternative to the Dover Calais ferries. These are usually very frequent but can sometimes be incredibly busy, and there is the challenge of busy ports at both Dover and Calais. But if you use the Dover Dunkirk ferries, although Dover is unavoidable, at least Dunkirk is very calm compared with the activity at Calais.
Dover Dunkirk ferries were operated by Norfolkline, but are now part of DFDS - same ships, same route, but new owners. This means it's not a cross channel ferry operation that is likely to suddenly cease trading, as Speedferries did in late 2008. Although nothing is guaranteed, when you book a Dover Dunkirk ferry crossing with DFDS it is likely that your booking will be totally safe and you will sail on the planned date.
I first used Norfolkline (now DFDS) in about 2002 when I was taking my family on a short break to Belgium to stay in a very nice holiday park for a short break over a long weekend. It occurred to me that using one of the Dover Dunkirk ferries would save me a little driving time, although the crossing is about thirty minutes longer. But I'd rather sit and relax for an extra thirty minutes and watch the French coast drift by, than have to drive myself the extra thirty minutes along the French autoroute. If I remember correctly, we had also endured a very noisy, crowded Dover Calais ferry crossing with either P&O or Sea France, and at that time Norfolkline were much more of a freight ferry company. This meant that they carried relatively few passengers and the ferries were guaranteed to be much quieter. These days the ferries on the Dover Dunkirk route do get much busier, but because DFDS carry no coaches, there aren't any large groups of marauding school children, sports teams, or senior citizens to contend with. Not that I have anything against large groups travelling together! There are just times when I like a little peace and quiet, and on the Dover Dunkirk ferries it is mainly freight drivers, families and business travellers.
As mentioned above, crossing to Dunkirk, still means travelling through Dover, but on the French side, Dunkirk, or Dunkerque in French, provides a pleasant experience of you have time to visit, or are just on a short break to France and are looking for somewhere to stay. The Dunkirk ferry port is as unattractive as any ferry port, being surrounded by wasteland and industrial sites, but it is a very short and easy drive to the outskirts of Dunkirk. Within a few miles of the port is the small town Loon Plage, and just off the main road there are a few motels and a small supermarket. If you really wanted to avoid driving, you could shop and stay a few minutes from the port.
But having used the Dover Dunkirk ferries to avoid Calais, it is well worth the drive into Dunkirk, and down to the seafront at Malo les Bains. For me, this is one of the most delightful little resorts in Northern France. A lovely sandy beach is backed by the most amazing selection of original houses, many of which have been converted into shops, bars and restaurant or brasseries. There is a wide, paved promenade, and my wife and I have enjoyed walking up and down, along with what seems like half the population of the town many times. It's great to just walk and relax in the evening sunshine before enjoying a simple but excellent French meal.
There are some small hotels in Malo les Bains, but more often than not, we stay in one of the motels just off the autoroute, which is only a few miles drive inland. And once back on the autoroute there is a very large Auchan hypermarket to stock up with all the French food and drink that you could possibly fit in your car. It is also just a short drive across into Belgium and a trip to the delightful town of Bruges with all its canals can easily be included in a weekend break.
So if you have not tried the DFDS Dover Dunkirk ferries, I suggest you seriously consider the possibility, and experience everything that Dunkirk and the surrounding area has to offer.