Basically a mini cruise with DFDS from Newcastle to Amsterdam is a return ferry trip. You catch a Friday overnight ‘cruise ferry’, spend all Saturday in Amsterdam and return overnight to arrive back in Newcastle on Sunday morning.
At first glance, a 3 hour drive (from Scotland), followed by a 14 hour ferry trip, a 40 minute passport queue and 1 hour coach trip to visit Amsterdam Zoo for just one afternoon before heading home may seem a poor example of time management. But as our family always enjoys the ferry leg of our holiday anyway, we thought this ‘mini-cruise’ might be really good fun and make for an unusual weekend away… we have now been twice.
We arrived at the terminal around 4, checked-in straightaway and boarded the ship King Seaways within an hour. Fortunately, DFDS have someone on hand to point you in the direction of your cabin – which means you don’t get dozens of people clambering up and down stairs with their luggage when they realize they’re on the wrong side of the ship. (As you do on some other ferries…)
We dropped off our overnight bags in the cabin which can best be described as bijou. The top beds fold down to sleep 4 and there is a toilet/shower room and errr… that’s it.
There are also more expensive Commodore and Commodore De Luxe cabins available which are apparently much more spacious and include TVs, complimentary breakfast, and room service.
Our kids love exploring ships: the long passageways, winding staircases and gangways all eventually end up somewhere fun like an amusement arcade, a shop, a Kidz Zone or a restaurant. King Seaways also has a cinema, a sports bar, a disco, a casino plus another five or six restaurants and cafes with varying prices for food. There’s a nature area with talks and displays on the whales you might spot, Minke are common apparently, though we didn’t see any. The overall atmosphere of the ship was really buzzing too, with crowds of school children, teens, stag and hen nights in full holiday swing in the various areas of the ship.
Most times, we hung out near the children’s zone at the stern which had a bar and snacks and a magical surround view of the North Sea. Enjoying an ice cold Grolsch or two while the sun sets below the waves, keeping half an eye on the kids partying in the ball pit beside you is a fine way to spend any weekend. At fixed times, a children’s entertainer is on hand to create balloon animals and guide the littlies round the ship on a treasure hunt. Oddly, our kids won both the age group prizes so our eldest (8), unprompted, offered his prize to another family to make it fair. He then wanted to head up to the amusement area on his own with the older kids, but he’s still a bit young to go exploring by himself. Next year maybe…
After dinner we went to the cinema to watch Life of Pi. Which, bizarrely was about a ship wreck. (Airlines don’t show movies with plane crashes so I’m not not sure why a ferry firm would show this one but whatever, it’s a great film and the kids didn’t seem to remember where they were).
If you have older kids or are happy to leave them asleep in your cabin you could head off to the Columbus Club, a disco with live band or the Compass Bar which is a lounge serving cocktails and wine tasting sessions or head up to the on-deck, open air Sky Bar and gaze up at the stars above a glistening sea.
Food & Drink
The most popular restaurant by far is the Seven Seas Restaurant with an All You Can Eat Buffet for 38 Euros. (Excluding drinks). There are two sittings and although they insist you turn up when you’ve booked, it definitely pays to wait half an hour and avoid the scrums. There are 80 dishes to choose from and you can return as often as you want. The quality is superb, particularly the starters and the puddings, with small delicate portions so you can try as many as you want. (Strangely, there were adults queuing for the kids buffet, piling their plates to the brim with chicken nuggets and chips which must have made for the world’s most expensive chips).
The Blue Riband is the smart casual A la Carte restaurant and although romantic they will provide high chairs and kids menu. The Explorers Steakhouse serves top quality beef (which I guess it should be at 30 euros per steak).
Out and about in Amsterdam
We thoroughly enjoyed our day trip to Amsterdam’s historic Artis Zoo. This old fashioned Zoo is like a fabulous private tulip garden packed with exotic animals located in the middle of Amsterdam. After seeing Lions, Pumas, Elephants etc. we enjoyed a quiet sandwich beside the canal watching the kids in a giant climbing frame which was delightful as Amsterdam is such an attractive city. The kids had an absolute ball too.
There is only time for one excursion per mini-cruise but you have a choice of Amsterdam Sight Seeing Bus or a Canal Trip. Or you can just hang out by yourselves for the day and the shopping, cafes and bars are great and Amsterdam really is one of the friendliest, most beautiful cities in the world. The newly refurbished Rijksmuseum has just re-opened and of course there is the Anne Frank Museum.
The mini-cruises are obviously extremely popular with hen and stag nights with hundreds of locals on board and coached-in parties from Scotland. The atmosphere was fun and lively but there was no segregation on the tour buses so this meant we enjoyed a constant stream of rather fruity language. Also my 3 year old daughter spotted one of their large pink balloons and requested one too, however, this particular pink balloon was most certainly not suitable for children! In the summer, there will be more families on board so things like this should be so obvious.
Drive: Newcastle (North Shields Ferry Terminal) is pretty easy: straight down the M74/M6 turn left at Junction 44 towards Hexham / Newcastle and pick up signs to the terminal once you get to Newcastle. On the way back though, if you’re not in a hurry, it’s maybe worth a little bit of a detour through Northumberland as the picturesque drive is fantastic.
Coach: Scotland to North Shields International Ferry Terminal
There are pick ups and drop offs from: Glasgow Buchanan Bus Station, Hamilton, East Kilbride and Paisley.