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If you’re travelling between continental Europe and the UK with a dog, there’s not many transport options available, in particular if you’re travelling on foot without a car. I’ve previously written about the only ferry option available to foot passengers with a dog between France and England. Another alternative for foot passengers heading to Europe with a dog is the Stena Line ferry between Harwich and Hook of Holland (or Hoek van Holland).
When returning from the UK to Europe with our dog, this was the perfect option for us to continue our travels through the Netherlands and Belgium. It’s also a good option for people travelling onwards to Germany. Based on the number of dogs travelling on our crossing, plus about 25 kennels on board, it certainly seemed like a popular crossing for dog owners, both in car and on foot. The downside compared to the ferry to Dieppe is that it’s a longer crossing. In contrast though, dogs can stay in a special kennel section (not on the car deck), and it’s possible to visit the kennels during the journey or just monitor them from your room on a special TV channel!
Leaving from London at the end of our holiday in the UK, we were meant to catch a train about 7pm from Liverpool St station. There’s an express train that leaves at 7:32pm each evening. But if you’re travelling with a dog, it’s recommended to arrive at least 2 hours before the departure time of 11pm, meaning we needed to take the earlier train involving 1 change arriving at 8:45pm. However, due to a signal failure along the line, none of the trains were leaving! After a lot of confusion and panic, we finally made it onto the first train to depart, and arrived around 9:30pm.
The train station at Harwich International is right next to the ferry terminal, meaning it doesn’t take long from the train arrival until you board the ship. Our late arrival with a dog didn’t end up causing a problem. In fact, we don’t recall that his Pet Passport was checked at all, unlike when travelling the other direction. Once onboard, we headed to the reception, were assigned a kennel number and took him down to settle in for the night.
The kennels on board our Stena Line ship (Stena Hollandica, but presumably also the second ship operating the route) were split into two rooms, each of them accessed only upon entering a code. Schnitzel was in a small kennel on the top in the larger room. The row of kennels reminded me of the cages for dogs at our local vet’s. A duvet per dog is provided, if you want. We folded it up in the kennel, then added Schnitzel’s bed and his water bowl. He had already eaten before leaving London. Then we headed upstairs to our cabin.
Even if you weren’t required to arrive earlier due to travelling with a dog, I recommend arriving and boarding as early as possible. For starters, once you board the ship the clock are set to Central European time and it’s already an hour later. Additionally, it’s nice to have some time to enjoy the ship’s facilities, other than the dog kennels.
As we didn’t book that far in advance, the mid-range cabins were already sold out and we ended up splurging on a Captain’s Class cabin, complete with window, double bed and complementary mini bar. We switched on the TV and changed to the channel showing the kennels, while having a glass of champagne. The TV channel is a security-type set-up that alternates between about 6 cameras. Unfortunately (or luckily?) no sound is broadcast, but it’s still fairly easy to tell if the dogs are barking or settled. We had planned to return downstairs to check up on Schnitzel again, but knowing we would disturb both him and all of the other dogs, decided against it.
After falling asleep quite awhile after the ship departed at midnight (Central European time), my alarm went off at 6:30am. It was almost immediately followed by an announcement over the ship’s speaker system – a way to ensure everyone was up and had breakfasted before the ship docked at 8am! As we also wanted to head downstairs and check on Schnitzel, we rushed through having showers and then the buffet breakfast we had paid for.
Schnitzel seemed quite fine when we arrived in the kennels. We’re not sure whether having the other dogs around him helped (or hindered, if they barked or fretted). We packed up his stuff and then headed downstairs to the dog exercise area for his morning business. However, it was just a small section of deck, with no artificial grass, and there was no way he was doing anything unless he really needed to. So, we headed back upstairs with him to await the time to disembark. A tip – only do this after you’re fully packed up and ready with your luggage, as no, you can’t take your dog along to your cabin!
As we were travelling with a dog, we disembarked before all the other foot passengers, meaning that there were no queues for the immigration desk. It was then a short walk to the waiting bus, that transported us to Schiedam train station, just outside of Rotterdam. It was then a further 2 trains until we arrived at Amsterdam train station around 10am – luckily with no train problems this time! If it’s not possible to check into your accommodation early, it’s possible to leave luggage at the station for €10 for a large locker.
If travelling via this route, you can conveniently buy a single ticket for all the transport (the train from London, the ferry, then all transport to anywhere in the Netherlands). This cost us £110 for 2 adults, although the fare varies depending on the date. The fee for a dog is £16, meaning that the cost of £126 was actually cheaper than our fare on the Dieppe-Newhaven ferry. However, as it was an overnight ferry, it was compulsory to book a cabin. Our Captain’s Class cabin cost an extra £139, however, inside cabins are far cheaper (and still include a TV to watch your dog).
Alternatively, there is a daytime crossing, departing at 9am and arriving at 5:15pm. The base fare is usually the same for both, but there is no need to book a cabin. However, you would then need to leave London about 5am, making for a very early start to a long day! And while you could visit your dog multiple times during the day, if all the dog owners did that, it would mean a lot more disturbances for the dogs.