The Bay of Biscay is notorious for bad weather and rough seas but how accurate is this reputation? During this post, we explore what cruising through the bay is like, how long it takes, why it has such a bad reputation and if it is dangerous.
I have made the crossing on a number of occasions and experienced both bad and good weather.
We also have first-hand accounts from 9 cruisers who have made the journey.
How Far From Southampton is The Bay of Biscay?
The bay of Biscay lays along the west coast of France and the north of Spain. It is approximately 300 miles from Southampton and found in the Celtic Sea.
The average water depth of the Bay of Biscay is said to be around 5000 ft!
Which Cruises Go Through the Bay of Biscay?
If you are cruising to the Mediterranean or the Canary Islands from the UK you are most likely going to go through the Bay of Biscay. Many cruises head straight from the edge of France downwards so avoid a lot of the bay.
Many transatlantic cruises from the UK will go through the Bay of Biscay. Transatlantic cruises often move downwards before going across the Atlantic, they may even stop in the Canary Islands, Portugal and the Azores before making the crossing.
A number of ‘northern Europe’ cruises will also go through the bay.
There are some ferry routes which pass through the bay. One of the most popular being from Bilbao in Spain to Plymouth in the UK. You are far more likely to experience rough conditions on a ferry than on a cruise ship due to the smaller size. I personally wouldn’t dream of going on a ferry as I get so seasick! (Cruises are okay though).
How Long Does it Take to Cross the Bay of Biscay?
It takes the best part of a day to go through the Bay of Biscay. This depends a lot of the ship and how fast it is going of course! Many cruises stop at La Rochelle which is in the Bay of Biscay. Making a stop in the bay is likely to extend your journey time through the bay to two days but it shouldn’t be much more than this.
What is Cruising Through the Bay of Biscay Like?
In my experience cruising through the Bay of Biscay can vary a LOT. I’ve been on crossings where you couldn’t feel any movement at all but also crossings where you really could.
I am an EXTREMELY travel sick person and I do get seasick when I cruise. If I am on a coach or a train for more than about two hours I usually take travel sickness pills so of course, I bring these with me when I cruise, (more about this later in the post).
I decided to ask the members of our Facebook Group for their experiences cruising through the bay, below are a few of their experiences:
I have been on 5 cruises from the U.K. and back through the Bay of Biscay. I know it can be bad, but we’ve never had anything major in 10 crossings; (August, April, February, May and December). I think the cruise ships are so well stabilised that it’s usually relatively comfortable. We did catch the tail end of a storm and even that was just a bit of movement as you wandered around the ship. – Sam
Never had any problems crossing the Bay. We had sea fog as we came around Portugual and Spain once, and also experienced Le Mistrale in Marseille, but I think the Bay of Biscay is a myth!! (Watch us have a terrible cruise in August now.) – Sarah
My last cruise through the Bay was particularly bad at the end of October 2017, most passengers and even some of the crew were looking a little green around the gills. My husband found it fairly challenging and was grateful for the Cinnarizine that is packed for him in anticipate of this very event! – Emma
There are more personal experiences from our members at the end of this post ***.
The Reputation of the Bay of Biscay
The Bay of Biscay has a reputation for bad weather and rough seas. We’ve all seen the videos of ships being thrown around and passengers clinging onto things for dear life, I won’t show you one of these here as it might put you off, but it shouldn’t. Rest assured though that crossings like this are EXTREMELY rare.
The ‘continental shelf’ extends into the Bay of Biscay and this is a reason, in part, for some of the rough weather often experienced. In a very non-sciency way… bad weather comes over from the Atlantic where it has lots of room, it gets squished into the Bay of Biscay and becomes powerful. I can do science me.
Is The Bay of Biscay Always Rough?
To answer this question I decided to survey our Facebook group members and the public on Twitter. I think the results speak for themselves. It seems to be around 50/50.
I asked “If you have cruised through the Bay of Biscay, did you experience bad weather?:
To see the full Facebook poll click here.
Is Cruising Through the Bay of Biscay Dangerous?
Safety is at the forefront of everything onboard cruise ships. If the captain and crew thought that sailing through the Bay of Biscay was dangerous they would not do it.
Weather is one of the main reasons that cruise itineraries are changed last minute. This happens for a number of reasons and I have another post all about why your itinerary may change here: Do You Get Compensation For Missing Cruise Ports?
It’s worth noting that if cruise lines are completely within their rights to change the cruise itinerary at any time. They may do this months before the cruise or actually on the estimated day of arrival.
Below is a section of Princess Cruises passenger contract:
After departure, Princess does not guarantee that the ship will call at every port on the itinerary or follow every part of the advertised route or schedule or that every part of the Package will be provided. Princess reserves the absolute right to decide whether or not to omit any such port(s) and/or to call at additional ports and/or to change the advertised route, schedule or Package.
How to Deal With Sea Sickness When Cruising Through The Bay Of Biscay
Anybody who knows me knows that I am not a good traveller. I get car sick, plane sick, coach sick, if something moves it’ll make me feel sick. I would go as far as to say that I could get seasick stepping over a puddle.
The best thing you can do is BE PREPARED.
Getting seasick on a cruise is not something that should worry you, it definitely shouldn’t put you off of cruising. I’ve been on 21 cruises to date and would say I’ve felt sick on about 4 or 5 of them. If the ship is entering a patch of bad weather the captain will let you know ahead of time, in this situation I take some sea sickness medication and then I’m right as rain.
My seasickness pills of choice are either Sturgeon or Kwells. Whenever I take them I think ‘Is this what everybody who doesn’t feel seasick feels like!? This is amazing!”.
Note: Some cruise lines have travel sickness pills that you can buy from reception for a few pounds if you get caught short, they’re sometimes even free. Alternatively, you can usually get a seasickness injection from the medical centre for a fee.
- Make sure you book a cabin in the middle of the ship, this is where you can feel the ship moving the least. << Although I do recommend doing this I rarely follow my own advice, for me saving money is more important than seasickness so I will often end up with a cabin right at the end of the ship. It doesn’t make TOO much difference but if you do have the option definitely go for the middle.
- If you can afford to, book a balcony cabin. Being able to step outside and get some fresh air can stop you from feeling unwell if the ship does unexpectedly hit some bad weather. I was recently feeling seasick on a cruise I took on the MSC Meraviglia. I had an inside cabin and my parents had a balcony cabin, being able to spend time on their balcony was a life saver.
- I know this one is difficult… but try not to eat a ridiculous amount of food or drink too much. It’s tempting to never stop eating when you’re on a cruise but it is, believe it or not, possible to eat too much and make yourself feel unwell. I am guilty of this.
- Choose to cruise on a large NEW ship, generally speaking, the larger the ship the less movement you will feel. Newer ships are far stabler than older ones and have really sophisticated stabilisation systems.
- Eat green apples. I do understand that this one sounds like an old wives tale but it really does work. Something to do with the acidity of the apples really settles your stomach. For some reason, it doesn’t work quite the same with red apples. Ginger also works, I actually bought some ginger flavoured chewing gum once which helped, I prefer ginger nut biscuits though.
If you are worried about cruising with the Bay of Biscay please do not be! You may experience bad weather but you may when cruising in any part of the world. I’ve experienced worse weather in the Mediterranean and Norway than I have in the Bay of Biscay.
If you are worried about being seasick I would definitely recommend you bring some medication. It makes all the difference.
Experiences From Our Facebook Group Members
I was really worried first time when they said very rough Bay of Biscay crossing the next day and to secure everything in cabin and started tying down everything loose on deck. We were on Oceana which is a relatively small ship and does bob about a bit. The next day was quite lively and the MDR was half empty that night. I was delighted to discover that I don’t get seasick and rather enjoy a rough sea. – Judi
Have crossed this stretch of water both ways on almost every cruise I’ve been on, never had any major issues. We’ve crossed in all school holidays so Dec, Feb, May, Aug and Oct. Had far rougher conditions around Norway! – Sam
We had a crazy experience, there we were sitting st the pool bar , weather fab then suddenly it was like a scene from pirates of the Caribbean, the ship started to sway , the sea fog just came in over the sides, the pool was swishing back & forth , everything at the bar was moving , awesome experience. Later that night was hilarious trying to dance in the night club & watching people stagger sideways . So don’t fear it embrace it , your quite safe. – Kay
It was the perfect excuse to have a couple more cocktails and nobody knew if it was the waves or the beverages. It was fine to be honest. – Jeanette
I have been on 2 cruises through there. Out of the 4 crossings, 1 was rough. – Nicola
I came through the Bay of Biscay on the Independence of the Seas in a force 9 a few years ago. Modern cruise ships are so well built and stable it was hardly noticeable how rough the sea was (although I am fortunate in that I do not suffer sea sickness).
But there was an older cruise ship following us and that was being tossed around somewhat. – Tony
On an Azura May cruise, it was calm as a millpond going down but rough coming back. Bellissima cruise was rough in March! It’s 50/50. – Gavin
Where To Next?