Review of "Eurotunnel"
Thinking of taking the car over to Europe? Can't face the prospect of sitting for hours on a pitching and rolling ferry while being charged the earth to have a meal of average quality? Are you like me, do you go green round the gills as soon as a force three breeze blows it's way on to the high seas?Then Eurotunnel is the one for you.
What is Eurotunnel?Well, it's the train service that runs between Folkestone and Calais through the Channel Tunnel carrying motor vehicles. It takes thirty-five minutes to make the crossing, runs twice an hour during the day and two hourly at night.
Why Eurotunnel?It's the quickest and, quite frankly, the easiest way of getting to the continent. I say this as someone who crosses the channel between five and six times a year and has tried all ways and means, apart from, of course, such options as swimming, inflatable lilos, etc. Now I don't want to knock the ferry and catamaran services that operate on this route, indeed I have friends and colleagues who consider sailing part of the pleasure of the journey. For me, though, I just want to get over to the continent and back as quickly as possible in order that I can spend more time doing what I've gone over for in the first place, such as shopping, eating, sight-seeing, getting to destinations further afield, etc.
The journey time of Eurotunnel compares favourably with the ferries, the quickest of which take seventy-five minutes, and it's nearest rival in terms of speed, the catamaran that operates between Dover and Boulogne, which takes fifty minutes. Not only that, boarding and disembarkation procedures are also swifter, while the terminals at both Folkestone and Calais are directly linked to the motorways, saving further time. Furthermore, on the British side, with the exception of those travelling from North and East Kent, the Eurotunnel terminal is some ten minutes less driving time than the port of Dover, to which the town itself has to be negotiated first.How easy is Le Shuttle to use?
To answer that let's start at the beginning, the process of booking.The common ways of booking a journey are by phone or Internet. I don't recommend using the phone as the reservation office is closed after eight o'clock at night weekdays and earlier at weekends.
The Eurotunnel website home page is simple enough, offering you the option of "How to book the best fare". This next page is a somewhat cluttered affair, bombarding you with information, and takes a few seconds to decide which option is required to make the booking. After that however, it does become simpler.By clicking on "Book Here" you are presented with a simple layout, asking in which direction your outward journey is, what type of vehicle you are taking and it's height, whether you are taking a caravan or trailer, and whether your vehicle is LPG fitted (that's Liquid Petroleum Gas if you were wondering). You then enter dates of travel before telling them which country you live in (no, I don't know why that question is there either) before clicking on "Continue".
Now you are asked to select your preferred time and ticket type, and this is the bit I like best about the website. It's quite straightforward, consisting of two horizontal bars, one for each direction of travel, divided in to separate time zones, with the corresponding price for each time zone. What's so good about this is that it clearly shows the more expensive times of day. For example, travelling on 26th September 2006 it's more expensive travelling out between ten o'clock in the morning and two o'clock in the afternoon while in the reverse direction it's cheaper avoiding the six hour bracket between two and eight o'clock in the afternoon/evening.You select the time bracket required in each direction, the system totals the two fare figures together, then offers you a choice of trains available to take at your chosen times. You choose your times of trains before answering the next question asking you how many dogs, cats or ferrets, yes ferrets, you are taking. Once you have side stepped offers of travel insurance and break down cover, or not if you so choose, by pressing "Continue" you are given the total cost of travel, and asked for details of yourself and your debit/credit card.
Once all of that has been sorted out you are given a booking reference number, which you need to retain. If you have booked well in advance Eurotunnel will usually post documentation through to you. If, like me, however, you book up the day before you need to take the reference number with you.So, how easy is Eurotunnel to actually use?
Well. Let's take a trip over to France together shall we? You and me. I've already booked the tickets. I'll drive. We're taking my motor. Ignore the dodgy windscreen wiper and the funny noise coming from the rear axle. Sorry about the biscuit crumbs on the back seat left by my kids yesterday. Never mind. We're on our way.We're on the M20 heading coast bound. We've been following the regular signs saying "Channel Tunnel" so if we've got lost you must have been asleep and I've been watching too much "Petrolheads" on TV and driving blindfolded.
We get to junction 11A and the signs tell us to take this exit. This junction is solely for Channel Tunnel traffic and runs straight to the Eurotunnel tollbooths with only another slip road for freight traffic to interrupt.We queue up at any one of the open tollbooths and wait for the two or less cars in front to be processed. I haven't gone for the new self check-in booth, I haven't tried it yet so I don't know how easy or quick it is to use. Not to worry, we're now at the front of the queue and the nice lady in the booth is asking us for our tickets. I only booked up yesterday so I give her my reference number and credit card used to as payment. She asks us a few questions, like how many there are of us and whether the vehicle is LPG.
We've arrived well early. The nice lady asks us whether we would like to catch the earlier shuttle or wait for our booked train. As you only want to stop to use the lavatory we go for the earlier train which will commence boarding in approximately ten minutes time.The nice lady prints out our outward and return tickets and hands over with them a piece of paper with a hook on one end displaying a letter of the alphabet, in our case the letter "C", which denotes the train we are catching. She instructs us to hook this piece of paper, facing outwards, on to the rear view mirror and wishes us a pleasant journey. Up goes the barrier, green light on and away we go in to the Eurotunnel complex. We follow direction arrows at a sedate 20 mph along a short road, which takes us to the terminal car park.
We park up and go in to the terminal, a medium sized building containing a few fast food outlets, a perfume shop, an electrical retail outlet, a bureau de change, a Eurotunnel information desk and, most importantly for us, the toilets. The toilets are light and clean, well the Gents are. I can't comment on the state of the Ladies. How was it for you, dear?Our considerations are interrupted by an announcement over the public address system, instructing all drivers with the letter "C" to return to their vehicles and proceed through border control for embarkation. Letter "C"? That's us. We make our way back to the car, start up, and proceed to the car park exit, drive over some sort of scanner set in the road and approach the security booth. On this occasion we're waved through and head to the next set of booths, Passport Control. French, not British officials man these. I say manned because on occasions there is no one there. This time we are waved through after a desultory check of our passports by a bored looking individual and continue onwards, guided by signs directing us to our relevant lane, in this case for vehicles under 1.85 metres.
We're then met by a steward who, seeing our "C" displayed in the windscreen directs us to another lane allocated to cars travelling on our train. We park up in this line behind the car in front and wait no more than five minutes before the cars in this lane are directed to move forward in single file towards our train. There are around six tracks and flashing signs direct us to our correct track. We drive down the ramp to our waiting train.Getting on to the train itself is slightly tricky as the entrance is at the side, requiring me to do a double bend at low speed. As we're on the top deck (we could have been directed to either deck) we go up a ramp and then drive along through the train until we reach the stationary car in front. An on board steward waves us forward as close as possible to the bumper of the car in front, then instructs me to put handbrake on, leave in first gear and leave window half open.
And that's it until France. Sit back and enjoy the ride. It's best to stay in your car, as there's nowhere else to go apart from the toilets. There are around six windows in each carriage but once you're in the tunnel there's nothing to see. It's a good opportunity to read, snack, listen to music or just catch up on some sleep.Thirty-five minutes after leaving Folkestone we're coming to a halt at Calais. After a couple of minutes cars are allowed to file out of the train. We drive forward, down the ramp; double turn and we're out of the train. We head up a ramp, round the corner and straight on to motorway. No passport control, no customs, nothing but the open road. After half a mile we have the option of heading straight on towards the A16 Boulogne - Brussels motorway or turning off to do our shopping at the Cite Europe retail outlet. Forty-five minutes after boarding the train we can be parking up and getting our shopping trolley.
The return journey is similar, straight off the A16 motorway on to a slip road leading straight to the Eurotunnel tollbooths. Same process as before except this time, instead of a casual French check at passport control, we're up against the full force of British officialdom, chiefly immigration, who check every passport, and HM Customs and Excise, who, if they had their way, would just love to stop and rigorously search each and every car.Hope you enjoyed the ride.
Advantages1. Easy to book, particularly on the Internet
2. No need to drive through Folkestone or Calais towns to get to it.
3. All border checks completed before departure.
4. Fast crossing time.
5. No bad weather to affect your journey
6. On arrival it's straight off the train on to the motorway.
1. It's somewhat soulless. No scenery to look at.
2. No facilities for buying food and drink on board.
3. The French don't like opening too many tollbooths at Calais, sometimes causing long queues.
4. Services are prone to disruption such as signal failures or broken down trains in the tunnel.
5. Probably unsuitable for anyone travelling to the West of France from the West of England and Wales.
For me it's quick, easy and convenient. I'd recommend it to anyone.
As a journey it's about as romantic as a plate of tripe. However, the advantages outnumber the disadvantages. As a means of getting across the Channel, unless you like standing on deck, singing "We Are Sailing" in the face of a chilly wind, it's the only way to go.
Product Information : Eurotunnel
Manufacturer's product description
Listed on Ciao since: 03/12/2003