Spirit of Tasmania journey with our kids, dog and caravan
We are a family with 3 kids and a dog, sharing our experience sailing onboard the Spirit of Tasmania (SOT) with our Jeep and Caravan in late 2019.
First things first, the cost to travel varies depending on when you would like to travel, the size of your car and caravan, whether you want to book a cabin or a recliner and if you need a kennel for your pet. You can input all your data on the SOT website (car make & model, van length & height, cabin (outboard/inboard), pets, day / night etc) and get a quote from their website without committing, click here for a quote.
For us, it cost $2,500 return to sail with our Jeep, 22ft caravan, kennel for Ted and an outboard cabin. Cabins are 4-berth, so we also had to book a recliner for the 5th person. We sailed from Melbourne to Tassie on a night sail and during the day on the return trip from Devonport to Melbourne, we booked a cabin both times.
Check in commences 2.5hrs before departure and closes 45 minutes prior, you can then board 1.5hrs prior.
We arrived at Port Melbourne a couple of hours before departure. Lined up, passed through the quarantine section. They lifted the bonnet of the car to check for any signs of soil and mud. It's good for you to check for any leaves and seedpods under the windscreen wipers in the vents yourself before checking in.
I showed the quarantine officer through the van and he did a quick check in the fridge to ensure we didn't have any prohibited items. Leaving Melbourne you can't take any fruit, vegetables, plants, fish or fish products onto the ship.
We cleared our the fridge and freezer in the caravan and turned off the gas bottles prior. We are grateful to have a fridge / freezer in the Jeep, which runs off battery so we put a few things in there to keep cold.
Once through quarantine, you move forward to the vehicle check in area and then through to the marshalling yard to await instruction to board.
Seeing the lineup with trucks, caravans, cars we didn’t think we would fit!! But we’re surprised how big it is, it can take up to 500 cars as it has 1.85km of lanemeters.
On the return trip quarantine were focused on flammables. They‘re not concerned about fruit and veggies coming back to Melbourne, when I asked they just mentioned that lettuce is the only thing not allowed.
TRAVELLING WITH YOUR DOG
If you have a pet, there are two options:
1. Book an onboard kennel
2. Sign a waiver of responsibility and leave your dog in your van / car.
Important to know: if you are travelling with your dog leaving Melbourne you must have proof that you've treated them for tape worm within 14 days, we bought ours from the vet and presented the invoice upon checking in.
At check-in you're given a yellow tag and advised where the onboard pet kennels are on decks 3 and 5, they said we could check them out and we had a choice of which one to use. When you drive up and park your car/van, you are able to hop out and find a suitable kennel, there are large and small kennels and you can take your pick. We went with deck 5 as it had better acoustics (more open) with fresh air coming through and more pets to give him some neighbors. We did notice a lot of people leaving dogs in their cars, but for us we felt up to 12 hours was too long without being able to check on him. SOT staff check on pets in kennels regularly and ensure they are safe and have fresh water, they have your number in case they need to contact you during the trip.
The kennels are empty they just have some newspaper on the bottom, so you have to bring your own bedding etc. We left Ted in his kennel with his bed and a towel underneath, chew toy and a t-shirt of ours that hadn't been washed for comfort.
When we picked up Ted the next day, he was very happy to see us. We didn't see any change in his great nature afterwards.
Once Ted was safety in his kennel and the car and van secure, we got the kids and our overnight bag and went to find our cabin.
There was stair access from the deck where our car was and you can also find lift access should you require it to take you up to the upper decks.
Our cabin was a 4 berth with an ensuite, we picked an outboard cabin so we could have a sea view and wouldn't feel so closed in. Kids loved the bunks and enjoyed seeing the lights as we sailed out of the channel. We had to book a recliner for the 5th person, but we all slept in the cabin, lucky for us the girls are only small.
ENTERTAINMENT & FOOD
On the night sail after we dropped our overnight bag off in the cabin we had a drink at the Top Deck Bar which was close to the kids playground. Our 3yo twins enjoyed the playground, but our 7yo thought it was too babyish. For the older kids there is a games room onboard, but you'll need your gold coins ready.
There are also two movie cinemas onboard, it's $10 for adults and $5 for kids (3-15yo). Our our evening sail, the movies were a little too late for the kids. But during the day sail we watched the 9.30am sitting of The Adams Family. Tickets can be purchased from The Pantry onboard.
On the day sail they had kids face painting and kids circus activities, this only happens during the school holidays which was a lovely surprise.
There are a number of bars onboard and eating options. You can get things like pizza ($12) / toasted sandwiches ($7) and ice creams in the lounge / bar areas if you want a small snack, or have the buffet in the restaurant. Plus there’s a shop onboard with take away snacks / drinks etc.
On our day sail we enjoyed live entertainment on deck 9 whilst the kids were busy making juggling balls and then colouring in - WIN-WIN.
For dinner we opted for the buffet, we found the food reasonably priced at $29.50 per adult, kids 15 and under $16, kids 10 and under $11 and under 5yo's eat free. Food was very fresh and tasty with a good variety. The kids loved the novelty of choosing their own food.
One of our twins had Penne pasta with pork crackle and the other Pavlova....
After dinner we went to back to the cabin, went to sleep and woke up in Devonport to an announcement when we could access our car.
On the day sail, the restaurant meal was a little different, it's still a buffet but you were only able to fill your plate once and there was no dessert. Definitely wasn't as good as the evening. Cost was $25.50 for adults and kids same as dinner prices above.
WI-FI / TV Streaming
WI-FI is available for a cost in public areas, excluding cabins. The cost is $12 per hour or $20 per crossing.
There is also free streaming of free to air TV on your own device.
We found we had data on our mobile phones for 3/4 of the journey.
Jason was in the Navy for 15 years and the last thing he wanted was to be sea sick in front of his kids.
We decided its much better safe than sorry and even though we knew the weather was looking ok for our journey both time, we all took seasickness tablets, the chemist suggests starting them the day prior to give them time to work properly.
If you're interested in seeing what the weather for your journey might be like, from 72 hours out you can check report on the BOM website, click here to access. On this site you can see what conditions you may encounter in a timeline. It shows the wave height / wind etc.
So the big question that everyone wants to know is whether they should book a day or a night sail? There are pros and cons to both, when we booked we wanted to have both experiences so did a night for trip over and day for trip back.
What we liked about the night sail:
The night sail was easy, you can sleep for the most part and wake early to disembark. You can sleep through any rough weather and there is no time for kids to get bored.
One downside could be having to pay for a very late checkout at a caravan park, we were lucky as we were able to stay with family for the day and then drove into Port Melbourne on a quiet Sunday afternoon ready to board.
Our kids enjoyed the buffet dinner and our son loved watching the lights as we sailed out of the Melbourne channel.
What we liked about the day sail:
We got up early and drove 15 minutes from Ulverstone to the ship. We boarded around 7.30am.
We booked to see a 9.30am movie 🎥 had the buffet lunch and later took the kids to the playground, which kept them busy for 5 mins! But in the afternoon they loved the craft, whilst we had a drink and listened to live music.
I think your experience is very dependant upon the weather, we were very lucky to have good weather for both sails, Ted travelled well in an onboard kennel and the kids loved the experience.
Would highly recommend it, day or night!