If you read last week’s post about why we decided to go to Tunisia, you know that the only way Jonathan could convince me to visit multiple countries on one trip was if we considered it a visit to the Mediterranean Sea instead of Tunisia, Sicily and Malta. And the only way that would stay true, is if we traveled to each location by water instead of by land. Thus began the ferry research!
The ferry departs three times a week from a port in Tunis, Tunisia and arrives in Palermo, Sicily twelve to fourteen hours later. Grimaldi Lines leaves Thursdays at 18:30 and Sundays at 3:00. Grand Navi Veloci leaves Saturdays at 23:00. The Thursday departure was best for our schedule, so we got two one way tickets for $80 a person ($160 total). There are cheaper options if you are willing to share a room or not have a room at all, but we preferred the privacy. You also have the option to bring a car and a pet, but we did not have either. We found little to no information about the ferry, so we booked two tickets online through Direct Ferries and kept our fingers crossed that it would all work out.
Our tickets were emailed as soon as we paid and they instructed us to arrive at the ferry terminal 180 minutes prior to departure. The email also contained a link for how to get to the ports, however, that link did not work, so we pulled up the trusty Google Maps app and zoomed in to find the ferry terminus, which is located at Gare Maritime La Goulette. On travel day, we paid 7 TND for a taxi from the Souks of Tunis to the Ferry Port, and arrived at 15:30. Once inside, we showed our passports and email confirmation to receive physical tickets, then all we had to do was wait. Fortunately, there is a cafe in the ferry port, where we purchased sandwiches and drinks.
Around 16:30, passengers were instructed to move towards the security checkpoint. Similar to an airport, our passports were checked and our luggage was inspected. This was a very slow process, but we didn’t have any problem getting through. On the other side of security was another waiting room where there were not enough chairs for everyone, so about half of the passengers, including Jonathan and I, got cozy on the floor. Just before 18:00, we were lined up to make our way to the ferry and our tickets and passports were checked again. Our credentials were inspected one last time before getting on the boat, and then we were allowed to find our room.
Walking through the halls, we noticed a number of sleeping bags laid out to claim floor space, which we realized was common practice for the cheap tickets. We had booked a 4 berth cabin on the outside wall, so we had a room to ourselves and a window. There were four bunks in the room, two of which were folded up. Our twin size beds had sheets, a blanket, and a towel. We also had a small closet and bathroom with a toilet and shower. It was all very clean and even a little cozy. Once we dropped our luggage, we went down to the dining room for something to eat.
We walked along the buffet to decide what we would eat, and then noticed a sign on the cash register stating that credit cards would not be accepted, only Euros. We had plenty of Tunisian Dinar and American Dollars, but sadly, no Euros. We were unclear if this was the case on every ferry or this particular machine was down, but either way, we had read and reread our tickets and nothing ever stated that only Euros would work on the ferry. When we approached the employees, they offered no help, even though we would be without food or water for the next 14 plus hours. Eventually, after I started to get a little (ok, a lot) emotional, Jonathan convinced one of the captains to trade us 20 Euros for 20 Dollars, but he couldn’t make the exchange until after the boat had left the port.
Somewhat relieved, but still pretty frustrated, we walked around the boat and went up to the top deck to sit on a bench and watch the take off. Around 20:30, two hours after we were scheduled to leave, the ferry started moving and we went back downstairs. The captain kept his promise, and we took our new Euros to the dining room, only to find that the buffet had been put away and closed up. Fortunately, the bar was still open, so we got some bottled water and the only food they had, potato chips. We wanted to sit in the Dining Room, but all the booths had already been claimed by sleeping passengers.
Back at the room, we snacked on our chips and played a board game (because Jonathan doesn’t go anywhere without at least one game). The beds were relatively comfortable and temperature was pleasant. We had a smooth night and woke up to a voice over the loudspeaker. Once we had showered and dressed, we went back down to the dining room to purchase a croissant from the bar. Then, realizing we were not yet at Palermo’s port, we went back to our room to lie down a bit longer. We didn’t hear the loud speaker voice again, but a knock on the door and a frantic “Palermo! Now!” shout let us know it was time to get out. At 7:00, the scheduled arrival time, we got off the boat at the Port of Palermo and by 7:30, we were officially tourists in Sicily!