Ferries to Spain
With reports of unreliable, unscrupulous airlines putting holidaymakers off budget flights, getting to your destination by sea is a great way of taking the hassle out of your travel plans.
Why choose a ferry?
If you compare prices directly, getting the ferry to Spain is almost always more expensive than a flight - however it is misleading to disregard other price considerations.
The most obvious of them is that, travelling by ferry, you have the option to bring a car with you which will save on hiring one when you reach your destination.
Not only will this keep you from having to spend on the daily or weekly rental fee, it will also see that you won't fall prey to hire companies adding hidden fees at the last minute.
There's also less chance of your trip being delayed - meaning no unexpected hotel and dinner expenses - and you will, in most cases, be able to take more luggage with you (and therefore won't have to shell out quite so much in spending money).
The UK has a host of all-purpose ports liberally dotted around its coast - but, for tourist trips to Spain, you're generally limited to two major ones in the south-west, those being Portsmouth and Plymouth.
There is no significant difference in price or facilities at the respective ports - both have good rail links if you aren't coming with a car - and therefore your choice will merely come down to which one is easier for you to get to and where in Spain you fancy landing.
At the other end, Spanish destinations include Santander and Bilbao, both of which are in the north of the country, about an hour's drive from the Andorra/France border and two or three hours from major tourist spots Madrid and Barcelona.
Note that if you are planning on departing from Plymouth, you will only be able to go directly to Santader.
The only major operator that will take you to Spain is Brittany Ferries (their major competitor, P&O, only go as far as Ireland, northern France, Belgium and the Netherlands).
The good news is their service is generally well-regarded, and it offers customers genuine options - whether you're satistifed with an economy ticket or you fancy going for a bit of luxury.
For a typical four-person family (that's two adults and two children aged between 4 and 15) with a car, a typical economy return journey would be in the region of £300, whilst the upmarket "cruise" option is probably about £400.
These are only estimates because, in addition to variances in the time of year and how far in advance you book your trip, you may also experience different fees depending on the size of your car, whether you are bringing any extra heavy cargo (i.e. a caravan, trailer or roof-rack with a box), and if you need to accommodate a pet.
If you compare these prices to those of a budget airline carrier, however, where four return tickets would be roughly £200 overall, plus around £30 or £40 a piece for extra luggage, the deal is a pretty good one.
And don't forget: you can drive straight off the ferry yourself instead of having to wait around for ages and then get ripped off by local cab drivers.