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not the latest Tracey Emin – but a Brittany Ferries mattress

July 29, 2018


It started so well. All the pet-friendly cabins on the Brittany Ferries Portsmouth to Le Havre crossing were booked, but a helpful woman called Celia said she would check for cancellations each day until she found one. With hindsight I wished she hadn’t.

As a frequent traveller on Brittany Ferries – four to six crossings a year between 2005 and 2014 – I’ve had concerns about the cleaning on both the ‘economie’ service and main service from Portsmouth to Caen on a number of occasions.

I try not to look too closely, but on this particular crossing the cabin had been cleaned in haste – the floor was still wet and the bed had not been properly made, providing a nauseating glimpse of the mattress protector underneath.

It was covered in black hairs and a patchwork of stains that appeared to have accumulated over a considerable period of time.


Seeing that was shocking enough– it looked like a cast-off from an Ebola ward– but what followed was unbelievable.

Rather than a fulsome apology and swift evacuation to another cabin, three senior members of Brittany Ferries staff, called to inspect the mattress, deemed it fit to sleep on, shrugging their shoulders and telling me there were no other cabins available.

Instead of an apology Brittany Ferries staff made it quite clear I was inconveniencing them.

The cleaner, who had shamelessly smoothed a thin sheet over this grotesque sight, looked pointedly at his watch and gruffly declared that he would like to go to bed.

‘There is no way I’m sleeping on that,’ I said.

The receptionist glared at me behind her glasses. ‘Madame, vouz n’avez pas de choix.'

My dog, Biff, by now deeply distressed, slunk under one of the bunks. (When he eventually emerged, he was covered in thick grey fluff and dust.)

The crew proceeded to turn over the mattress, insisting that this would make it acceptable to sleep on. The underside was truly horrific – a huge brown stain and a hideous collection of effluvia that would put a Jackson Pollock canvas to shame.


‘I’m not sleeping on that,’ I repeated.

‘You will ‘ave to; you ‘ave no choice.’ One of the stewards tried to make me wait outside in the corridor while they remade the bed. I refused. Instead, I watched as they peeled off the rancid protector to reveal a mattress covered in yellow stains and black mold spores – in other words, a serious health risk.


Unbelievably, they STILL insisted that the mattress was fit to sleep on. The cleaner mumbled something about going get a new cover and remaking the bed. ‘There is no problem. You will not be sleeping on it directly.’

‘Would you sleep on that bed?’ I asked.

Silence. I think we can assume the answer was ‘No’. But each of those crew members felt it was acceptable for a passenger to sleep on this soup of effluvia, hairs, bacteria and mold spores.

I didn't even want to be in the same room as it.

Only when I became seriously upset – and perhaps crucially, mentioned that I am a journalist and author of travel memoirs – did the purser suddenly move me to another cabin two doors down.

Why, I asked, had they lied to me and pretended no other cabins were available, that the ship was completely full?

The receptionist shrugged and marched off. ‘Madame, I cannot discuss this any more. You are not the only passenger on this ship.’

As a pet owner travelling on Brittany Ferries ‘Economie’ service – the only service to allow, pets in cabins – I accept that you must park your aesthetic sensibilities on the car deck. The cabins would have been basic and past-their-sell-by-date even in Soviet Russia.

We pet-owners put up the dirty lino floors, nicotine-coloured walls, the bile-yellow sheets, arrogant staff and ships that are barely fit for purpose – the return crossing was delayed by over one and a half hours because the rear door wouldn’t shut – because we love our pets.

We tolerate BF’s so-called ‘no frills’ – aka ‘fleece-the-pet-owner’ – service [nearly £400 for the 'economy' return crossing] because we’re grateful not to leave our beloved doggos below deck.

But when did ‘no frills’ mean absolutely filthy?

What really bothers me is how Brittany Ferries' staff could continue, crossing after crossing, to pull a thin polycotton sheet over that disgusting mess, knowing that some poor passenger was going to have to sleep on it?

What casual contempt must Brittany Ferries have for its customers to allow this to happen. What if someone with respiratory problems had unwittingly slept on it?

The following morning, after a night of no sleep – and with a six-hour drive ahead of me – I went to see the purser and gave him both barrels. It was difficult as he kept interrupting me. (Note to BF staff: when a customer is this angry it is best to shut up and listen.)

‘Madame, what exactly do you want from me?’ he asked at one point.

‘I want to know how, in good conscience, you can allow your passengers to sleep in such disgusting conditions? You should be ashamed.’

Brittany Ferries, he declared, only has the budget to replace ‘some’ mattresses each year.

‘But it’s not just the mattress. The cabin you moved me to was filthy too.’

‘That’s your opinion.’

‘There was a mass of grey fluff, hairs, and bits of plastic under the bed; and pubic hairs and dust on the bathroom floor, as well as hairs and dead insects between the mattress and the side of the bunk.’


‘Madame, if you look hard enough you will always find something wrong.’


I write for a living. It’s rare that words fail me. But in this instance, they did. So I’ve posted the pictures of both cabins so you can decide for yourself.

And if you’ve booked a cabin on Etretat in the immediate future, I suggest you don a full hazmat suit first and hose yourself down with disinfectant afterwards.

*I wrote to Brittany Ferries customer service on 24th July, copying in their managing director (Christophe.Mathieu@Brittany-Ferries.fr if anyone has similar concerns, as I know some of you do) and have not yet had a reply. I have also contacted Environmental Health – or ‘Public Protection’ as it is now called – in Portsmouth, in the hope that that they will investigate conditions on board Brittany Ferries ships so that no other passenger will have to endure such a disgusting, degrading and frankly traumatic experience.

comments (5)

1. Posted by Mel Cory on July 29, 2018 4:19 PM

This is disgusting, even if it is a basic service that should not mean dirty. Nobody should have to endure this treatment. This is a risk to health both yours and Biff’s and they must be held accountable for this neglect to their customers. I hope you get a favourable outcome from them along with a public apology for such appalling treatment.

2. Posted by Margaret on July 30, 2018 5:23 PM

I agree with both you and Mel Cory, this is disgusting. Apart from an apology from the company and I might even go so far as to suggest a full refund as you were unable to sleep in such filthy conditions so pointless having a cabin anyway, the hygiene on ferries really does require investigation. I know there is a very short turn around window because of tides, but hygiene must be a priority. You are a good customer of this ferry service, they need to pay heed to what you have said.
Margaret P

3. Posted by Margaret Powling on July 30, 2018 5:37 PM

I have tried emailing you, Karen, but you have a new email address, I think. I wanted to mention that I've mentioned your books on my blog today at www.margaretpowling.com
Very best wishes,
Margaret Powling

4. Posted by Chris Lipscomb on July 31, 2018 11:55 PM

Very disappointing but having seen some of the cleaners in Portsmouth and their attitude towards their work, I am not totally surprised. This is a very helpful review and one that is alarming in respect of the response from BF crew on board the ship.

5. Posted by bob harder on November 30, 2018 9:00 AM

Have just arrived in Charente via Brittany Ferries ! Thank goodness I didn't book a cabin Karen! 😊 I prefer to put up with the discomfort of a 'reclining seat than your nightmare scenario in that dreadful cabin!! I am a BREXIT refugee 😯 Any advice please? bob.harder@ntlworld.com Loved Tout Sweet by the way.

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