We don’t have a car. A cheap, one or two-hour flight would have sufficed. But we’re curious people, it’s why we travel. Considering we had the freedom of time on our side, we decided to continue on from Barcelona to Morocco, via the Barcelona to Tangier Ferry.
It was interesting…
For those of you adventurous road-trippers heading from Barcelona to Morocco, or simply those with the same curious streak as us, I’ll explain the practical details throughout. That was our original intent, as we could find almost nothing online to help us for a ferry to Morocco. But due to the fact that this little boat trip was so absurd that it was amazing, this would-be guide abruptly became a story. And I don’t mean amazing as in pleasurable, or fun-filled; it was more… entertaining, in a bizarre, pitiful kind of way.
Now to be clear, nothing that we encountered would be out of place in many countries we’ve visited, say in Asia or Latin America. There’s just a certain flow to the chaos that locals understand. But budget option as we might have chosen, this is still Western Europe, on a Western European ferry line. We fly budget airlines in Europe all the time. There are no dog turds on Ryanair.
How to Take the Spain to Morocco Ferry – An Adventure
Wake Up Too Early
Our booking confirmation for the ferry informed us that check-in closes 240 minutes prior to departure. Four hours? I think I’ve been asked to arrive three hours for a flight – once. However, following a phone call confirming this, we understood we’d be having a 4 am wake-up for a 10 am ferry that was sitting a quick 15-minute taxi ride away.
Neither of us enjoys early mornings, and I think it’s fair to say that most people don’t. But an early morning this particular Friday was even more gruelling. During the final two and a half days in Barcelona, Kylee and I didn’t leave the hotel room. Both contracting a crippling stomach bug, we could hardly move from the bed. We survived on six oranges, a handful of breadsticks and a small tub of hummus.
60 Minutes to Check-In
Though we were feeling much better by this point, we were still dehydrated and physically exhausted. Thankfully, during a brief moment of clarity in the afternoon prior, we pre-booked our taxi for 5 am. We hopped in, and not long after, arrived at the deserted port. We had no specific directions from the company, just that it’s somewhere on the several-kilometer-long Port of Barcelona. So our driver brought us to the main terminal, which was closed this early in the morning.
He spoke with a parked taxi nearby to inquire where we should be, and we were off again.
39 Minutes to Check-In
A short drive later and we’re in a parking lot full of cars, loaded with goods. This looks promising, yet the terminal building here – which also happens to be closed – bares the name of Grimaldi, one of the other ferry operators.
A security guard passes and he tells us that, once again, we’re in the wrong spot. So we check Google for the company and it pins a strange location nearby. The driver follows and we end up near a cruise ship terminal. We’re told by the gate operator that where we just left is the only place Moroccan ferries depart and is the only place it could be.
We head back.
27 Minutes to Check-In
Running out of options and getting tired of watching the fare continue to rise, we bid farewell to our taxi and sit hopelessly on our bags on the cold concrete sidewalk. Unanswered phone calls and last-minute Google searches lead us nowhere. It isn’t until an employee shows up that we learn that this is, in fact, not the spot. Not from January to March anyway. During these months, GNV ferries leave from a terminal back near the main entrance where we began.
Good, finally we have an answer. If only we had time.
4 Minutes to Check-In
There was no possible way we’d be making the 6 am cut-off, but we went for it. Ten minutes later, sweaty messes, we arrive at the terminal.
The sign states that it doesn’t open until nine. So we sit and wait with the other dozen or so people who seem as confused as us. The doors open at seven.
Following a smooth check-in, I ask at the main desk what time the last check-in actually is. It isn’t four hours prior to departure – it’s one.
At least we made it.
Boarding the Ferry from Barcelona to Morocco
Just prior to boarding, all luggage is passed through an x-ray machine for inspection. Fairly standard practice. However, as soon as bags go in, I noticed that everyone quickly ran to the other side. I realized as we got closer, that the conveyor didn’t seem to go anywhere. It appears that the belt would typically go outside to some waiting cart, but today seemed different.
Squished Bags and Passport Control
My time came and my bags were dropped and I hurried to the other side. I arrived just in time to watch my main pack sandwich my electronics-filled daypack against the closed door.
From here there’s a bus ride to the back of the boat. This is interrupted briefly by passport control. An official gets on, takes all passports for a minute or two, and returns them. No issues here.
However, while stopped here, we notice several of the vehicles that were parked at the “wrong” ferry port hours earlier are now in a line here. So if you’re driving, be sure to confirm when you purchase your ticket exactly which terminal you’re supposed to be.
The Aggressive Bellboy
Are they even called bellboys anymore? The word seems so antiquated… I don’t think I’ve ever used it before. Anyway, boarding was smooth enough, we showed our tickets and were told to take the lift to the 7th deck. Upon arrival, a short, round-faced Italian woman sat surrounded by a small battalion of bellboys. She waved us over and, having checked our ticket, held out a small envelope with our room number. Before we had the chance to take it, one of the older “boys” snatched it and immediately attempted to grab our bags.
Knowing full well that he’ll expect a tip for his services, we politely decline. We weren’t being cheap, it’s just that the last of our pocket shrapnel went into the vending machine in the terminal. But he was adamant. We declined again, but he wasn’t taking no for an answer. I was able to get my pack on, but this guy all but pulled Kylee’s from her arms.
At our room, a whole 15-second walk away, we enter and put down our bags. He stood smiling, waiting for his tip. I said thank you, but we have no change. Frowning heavily, almost in anger, he turned and walked out of the room.
Exploring the Luxurious Craft
This was probably the best part of the ferry itself. All rooms have four beds, two of which fold down above the others. This was a cozy fit for the two of us with bags but was more than we needed. If this room was full to capacity it would have been a nightmare.
An attached bathroom with a hot shower was a nice touch – and much-needed after the long morning.
Prior to settling in, we wanted to head outside for some photos before leaving the port. When we stepped outside, however, it occurred that we were a little under-dressed for the chilly wind. Back at the room to grab our sweaters, our keycards won’t work. Was this the result of a disgruntled bellboy or the crappy boat? Neither would surprise me.
At the reception desk, we’re handed a metal key to override the electronics until the problem is resolved. It’s never resolved.
A View from the Top
Near one of the main staircases, we see a map of the ship, detailing the many wonderful amenities. For a simple ferry, we’re suddenly quite impressed. Shopping centre? Casino? Fitness Club? Swimming Pool!? This was starting to look like more of a Mediterranean cruise than a simple mode of transport.
Things were looking up!
First, we made our way up to the top deck for those final Barcelona views. Joining the groups of other travellers doing the same, we grab a few quick snaps of the port as our ship heads for open waters. Turning our attention back to the boat, we notice it’s been a while since the deck has been resurfaced. The pale blue paint is chipping in many spots, leaving dark rusted spots underneath.
Some of the larger rust spots, away from heavily trafficked areas, almost appear to be three dimensional. Curious about this odd optical illusion, I go in for a closer look. It seems that while the smaller spots are rusted steel, these larger anomalies scattered about are small piles of dog shit…
…I guess we found the poop deck.
(I am so, so very sorry for that.)
The Rest of the Amenities
After checking the soles of our shoes, we made our way inside to the pool area. Instead of the sounds of children splashing and laughing, are the sound of old men coughing. Though the doors to the open air are wide open, a thick haze filled the “solarium”. Old men sat in groups, chain-smoking cigarettes and playing cards. A net covered the pool, which sat vacant aside from an empty Coke can and a few cigarette butts flowing towards the drain in a trickle from a recently spilled bottle of water.
The shopping centre consisted of a simple, overpriced bar, and a small duty-free shop. The casino had been converted into a play area for toddlers. We didn’t bother looking for the fitness centre.
Customs and Passport Control
Back in our room, we settle in a little and relax. Just as we pull out our computers to get some work done, the speaker in the ceiling crackles to life. A message is given in Italian, then Spanish, French and finally English. We can make out “Deck 9” and “Passports.”
Not fully understanding what this means, we head to deck 9 with our passports.
We follow a group of people to the sitting room. A large, open room full of comfortable, reclining chairs for those on an extra-tight budget. Half the seats are full and there are a couple dozen or so people standing near the front. Two men sit beneath paper signs reading “Customs” and “Polizia” respectively.
There is nobody to direct the chaos. Though we see someone grab a customs form from a stack in the front of the room. After filling these out, we wait patiently, trying to figure out what happens next. There are people dealing with both men, but there are no lines. Finally, a man enters and says something in Italian and waving his hands, signalling everyone to form a line.
Everyone stands up. Men and women, holding passports of all colours all appearing to claim that they were here first. Eventually, a line forms and we fall in. As soon as Kylee and I reach the front and our passports are stamped, they close the desk for the afternoon. No warning to those behind us or those left in the room. Come back at 4 pm is all they’re told. It seems we were the lucky ones.
Grabbing our passports we make a quick exit and head to the cafeteria for lunch.
Eating and Drinking on the GNV Ferry
We’re lucky we got out when we did, as we made it to the cafeteria near the end of lunch service. This, of course, wasn’t announced, the only way to know opening hours was to ask at reception – as we did for supper later in the day.
Fingers Crossed for a Michelin-starred Meal
One option while purchasing tickets is to pre-pay for your meals at a discounted price, which of course we decided to do. One lunch, one supper, and breakfast. There were several options, including a simple salad, three pasta options, vegetables, breaded chicken, steamed fish and stewed beef. The flavour was decent, but everything was horribly overcooked, and the gnocchi was one gummy, stuck-together mass. Thankfully, we learned at supper that this was a result of us showing up at the tail-end of lunch service. For supper, we arrived right at the beginning and enjoyed a similar selection that was much fresher and edible.
I would describe the food overall as large portions of what you’d expect to eat in coach on an average airline. Nothing like the amazing restaurants in Barcelona, where we had just come from…
If we hadn’t pre-booked, the cafeteria would still have been an option, though the prices of what we ate would have cost us slightly more. As well, there are two other restaurants on board that are not included in the pre-purchase. We can’t speak for those.
As for drinking water, this was a bit of a mess as well. Unsure if tap water was safe to drink, we asked the ladies at reception. We were told that if we want our reusable bottles filled, we just need to go to the bar. Once there, the bartender, confused, asked us if we want hot water. We, confused, said that we want cold water, to which he explained that we need to buy a bottle of and he will pour it into our bottles…
Returning to reception, we’re told by another person that tap water is not good for drinking, and that we should buy bottled. Considering we were just getting over a stomach bug, even though we had a steri-pen for purifying water, we didn’t want to chance it. We paid 5 euro for two litres.
How you can force people to buy a necessity like water, without prior warning, I don’t quite comprehend. Is that even legal?
If we hadn’t just been ill, a few glasses of wine probably would have made their way into this experience instead, saving this unnecessary plastic waste.
The Next Day
After supper, we relaxed in our room and had a fairly early night, still exhausted from the previous few days. Sleeping was probably the best part of the experience – and I don’t mean that in a sarcastic “because we were asleep” kind of way. The ride was smooth, with just enough motion to remind us that we weren’t stationary. Like a fast-moving train, or an airplane in only the slightest bit of turbulence. Not enough to be uncomfortable, it was actually a calming feeling.
The ability to adjust the room temperature via the ceiling vent was another nice touch, and the beds were very comfortable. The best part, however, was that our cabin was on the inside. Not that there would be any light entering from the outer cabin windows, but it allowed us to sleep deeply, without sunrise to distract us.
When we finally woke, shortly before 9 am, we went straight to the cafeteria. Thankfully we did. As with the previous lunch, we almost missed the non-displayed or announced cut-off time to eat the meal we had already paid for.
Breakfast itself was simple: a small bun, a croissant, butter, jam, juice and coffee. While eating, the speakers announced that we’d be arriving in Tangier at noon, two hours ahead of schedule.
Back in the room, we begin packing anything we had when there was a knock on the door. The woman from the front desk needed her metal key back. With our cards still not working, we were now confined to quarters unless we left without the intention of returning. As no check-out time was ever announced or listed, we sat in limbo for some time.
Soon enough, though we were well over half an hour from the port, staff began knocking on doors to kick out those who remained. The rooms needed to be changed over for the return trip. We spent the rest of the journey sitting on our bags in the tight hallway, the lobby, stairways and any other prime real estate was already covered in bags and bodies by now.
Arrival in Morocco & Final Thoughts
When we eventually arrived in Tangier, disembarking went smooth. Passports were rechecked and we boarded a shuttle to the terminal. The lush, green mountains rolled almost seamlessly into the bright blue Mediterranean. The air was humid and warm.
Of course, this wasn’t some boat journey from hell, it was merely a boat ride with a few unexpected inconveniences. For those driving, it’s a necessity, for us, it was an experience – something to try. At the time I thought “Next time we’ll fly,” Yet now, writing this only the following evening, I’m thinking that I would probably do it again. It was unique, something you don’t get to experience very often; it’s the reason we travel.
Tips for Taking the Barcelona to Tangier Ferry
- The location for boarding the GNV ferry varies depending on the time of year. From January to March, it leaves from the Transmediterránea station near the entrance to the port. The rest of the year, it leaves from the Grimaldi Lines building, a few blocks farther south.
- If travelling with a vehicle, be sure to confirm where you are required to drop it off. We noticed people with vehicles at both the Grimaldi building and the Transmediterránea building.
- For a simple, 4-berth cabin in the middle of the boat, we paid $107.75 (US) per person. Cheaper options (including only a chair…), shared cabins (male/female only), and larger cabins/suites are available.
- We booked with Direct Ferries, you can book with GNV.
- It doesn’t run every day, and the schedule can actually be quite sporadic. Be sure to check the website and plan accordingly.
- Upon booking, you can opt for the meal package from the cafeteria that includes lunch, supper, and breakfast, for 28.63 (US) per person. This price is cheaper than buying each meal individually once on board, but you are limited to eating only in the cafeteria. Other restaurant options are available, but costs and quality vary.
- For the best quality cafeteria food, go as soon as it opens. For lunch it should be around noon, supper is 8pm and breakfast is 8am (at time of writing).
- Bring water and snacks. Drinking water is not provided, so unless you want to buy water when on board, it’s a good idea to bring your own. Snack options are also fairly limited.
- For more details, check the GNV website.