© matt@hhvferry.com
Since privatisation, Sealink British Ferries had been heavily promoting motorist traffic, partly in a bid to balance what was still a greater dependency on 'classic' foot passengers than their rivals but also to remove a vague impression that Sealink, as a former agency of British Rail, were still more interested in train-connected passengers than in vehicular traffic. The truth was that Sealink had long-since recognised the real importance of car and especially freight traffic and whilst not in any way attempting to dissuade the 'classic' travellers, it was obvious that that whole sector would be seriously undermined by the completion of the Channel Tunnel, scheduled for the early 1990s. Any over-reliance on such a declining market could seriously affect the company's ability to remain competitive.

Central to the drive to increase motorist traffic were the installation, fleet-wide, of comfortable Motorists' Lounges for the exclusive use of passengers with cars. These ranged from the extravagant and kitsch VSOE Lounges on
Hengist and Horsa or the top-deck 'penthouse', complete with private deck space on St Anselm and St Christopher to more basic reclining-seat lounges on Earl Granville and other longer-distance/overnight ferries. Whilst it would be unfair to say that the French element of the Sealink partnership slavishly followed the British one, it is true that Sealink UK was able to exert an element of influence over all of their continental partners, if only because theirs was both the dominant fleet and, more importantly, the most important home market. Hence, if Sealink British Ferries in the UK advertised all their ships as having luxury Motorists' Lounges, their French partners, having been fully consulted, would also be obliged to provide the facility. By the late 1980s therefore, the French Dover-Calais ships Côte d'Azur and Champs-Elysées were fully equipped with lounges reserved specifically for car drivers and their passengers, created in the location of their former aft bars.

Fantasia and Fiesta, Warren Platner eventually created the largest and most impressive of all the lounges in the Sealink fleet for this purpose - the vast twin-level Motorists' Haven was complete with curved staircase linking the upper and lower levels, private deck space forward and huge murals depicting sunrise (Fantasia) and rainbows (Fiesta). The seating capacity was for as many as 590 in total (350 on the lower deck plus 240 on the mezzanine). The decor, as in most other parts of the ships, was primarily pastel and seating of a variety of individual chairs and fixed sofas was complemented by semi-circular dividers in a bid to increase the intimacy of what was actually a very large space. The original carpet on both ships was largely orange with a stylised Union Jack pattern. This was a particularly curious choice in the case of the French Fiesta and one wonders whether this was an oversight on the part of the American designers, a legacy from the ships originally being ordered both to British Ferries' account or in fact a conscious French decision.

Dominating it all were the huge murals above the bar - the sunrise design of
Fantasia was itself then replicated in the ceiling where moulded 'sun rays' (painted in the same white as the rest of the deckhead) fanned from a central point above the bar out to the corners of the upper level's ceiling. As seen in the view looking across to port on Fantasia (above), the effect was impressive. This sun ray detail, despite the different mural, was again repeated on the Fiesta.

Aboard the ships in their
previous incarnations as deep-sea ro-ro ferries, the upper level of what became the Motorists' Haven was actually the restaurant with a small bar to port - these were the main public rooms on board for the freight drivers. The lower level at that time formed part of the upper freight decks.
e-mail: matt@hhvferry.com
Above: A Sealink publicity shot showing the Motorists' Haven on the Fantasia in the ship's debut 1990 season, still in pristine condition. Of interest is the marble-topped servery counter which was fitted with large food display units and clustered triple light fittings. The servery itself has been completed with curved panels hanging from above and similar designs adorn the counter front, all in the light pastel colours found throughout the ship as built.
Below: A further view of the Motorists' Haven on Fantasia in its original guise, seen from forward looking aft/across to port. The small grey/blue seats arranged at this side of the lounge are different in design to those found in the central section. Clearly visible are the distinctive saucer-shaped light fittings which were found throughout the passenger spaces. (Picture courtesy Ewan Wood)
"Make yourself at home in our famous Motorists' Lounge, where you'll have all the space you need to feel completely at ease" (SBF 1990 Ferry Guide)
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"In the Motorists' Lounge, we have designed a superb room at the front of the ship, overhung by a huge mezzanine and giving views of the sea on three sides with a rainbow decorating the bar. There you will be able to rest and relax in a vast, luxurious and cordial place, in total harmony with the sea" (Sealink/SNAT 1990 French Car Ferry Guide)
Above & Below: Comparative views of the Motorist Haven Lounges on Fantasia (top) and Fiesta (below), as they were in 1990. One of the main challenges in designing any room split over twin levels is that the upper level could easily become under-used, especially when (as in this case) the primary access routes are from the lower deck. Providing an adequate link between the two was a task which the Platner design team resolved with a fairly simple but elegant curving staircase on the port side. Being located right in the centre of the passenger circulation routes, the stairway positively invited people to use it, and the only times when the upper deck was noticeably empty appears to have been when the crew closed it off on quieter crossings to save cleaning time during turnarounds.

The 'sun rays' fanning out from above the murals are more clearly visible in the lower picture on
The Motorists' Haven
The Speedy Gourmet (
Fantasia)/Le Relais Gourmet (Fiesta)
"Our Speedy Gourmet  self-service restaurant caters for all tastes. At the Pizza Factory, see your pizza prepared and cooked while you wait. The Hot Buffet offers a range of traditional hot meals. Salads, sandwiches and sundries can be found at the Bread and Salad Bar. A tempting selection of gateaux, cakes and pastries is available at the Pastry Island. We also offer a wide range of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages." (Fantasia onboard guide)
Sealink British Ferries' experimentation with "free-flow" self-service restaurants on the Dover Strait had been largely through the extensive refurbishments of the twin 'Saint' class ships of the early 1980s, which had seen the entire centre sections of their main decks stripped out to create a large walk-round servery area at the forward end with seating at the sides and astern. This location and format was to be repeated on the Fantasia and Fiesta, with the idea being significantly scaled-up in line with the size of the new ships. The result was the Speedy Gourmet (le Relais Gourmet on Fiesta) which in its original guise had seats for as many as 458 passengers. The free flow concept saw Sealink encouraging passengers not to queue, an idea which worked best on quieter crossings with queues inevitably forming, especially at the hot meal counters, when the ships were busy.

Interior designer Warren Platner drew on his extensive experience of creating shoreside restaurants for this part of the project and in many ways it was a shame that Sealink did not permit him a more formal restaurant than "merely" a self-service with which to display his undoubted talents. In the event, the Speedy Gourmet took Platner's keynote
Windows On the World restaurant at the top of the north tower of New York's World Trade Centre as a reference: although the decor of the ferries was much more utilitarian and hard-wearing, the idea of the tables in the centre (and so farthest from the windows) being on a raised section for a view of the sea over the heads of diners on the outside was a direct repeat of his Manhatten masterpiece. As Platner said on more than one occasion, "as near as possible, each table should be the best seat in the house".

The decor of the Speedy Gourmet was simple with brown low-level banquette seating matched with free-standing chairs around tables with simple decorative designs on the table surfaces. Small semi-circular dividers split up the booth areas in addition to larger structural bulkhead sections which were decorated with simple designs showing bowls of fruit.

The overall effect was impressive if only for its sheer size. Although the scale of the seating area dealt with the previously common problem of passengers having purchased food not being able to find anywhere to sit and eat it, it also allowed the smell of these purchases to escape undeterred into other passenger spaces. Nonetheless, most Dover Strait passenger ferries since the
Fantasia and Fiesta have followed their step-change in size of self-service restaurant with "free flow" servery areas now common at least on all P&O ships.
Top & Below: Two scenes looking forward in the Speedy Gourmet on Fantasia in 1990. The first picture is a Sealink publicity image taken prior to all the details of the decor being completed - by the time the second view was taken, the semi-circular divider has received its imagery. The Sealink picture is taken on the central raised section: although the intention was good, the effect was in reality to create an area of even more restricted headroom than was usual with the benefit of the view of the sea seeming limited. The second picture is taken adjacent to one of the ramps which sloped up to the raised level.
Picture below courtesy Ewan Wood
Below: Low ferry headroom meant that although the intention of the full-height windows was the same, Platner was unable to fully repeat the success of the tiered sections of his previous projects, such as Windows on the World, seen here, or The American Restaurant.
Above & Below: Overall views of the Fiesta (above) and Fantasia's Speedy Gourmet servery areas at the forward end of the self-service restaurant. The former is from the ship as new, the Fantasia image dating from around 1992 after the area had been slightly "Stena-ised" with the addition of neon signage, although the overall structure remained, for now, intact. Slight decor differences can be seen between the two ships. (Fiesta image courtesy M Fournet)
Below: An earlier image of the Fantasia's servery area, as it was completed in 1990.
Below: The much-lauded Pizza Factory, which appeared in 1990 on both Fantasia and Fiesta as well as Irish Sea newcomer Felicity was a relatively short-lived innovation (image from Fantasia).
Above: An overall view of the Motorists Haven on the Fiesta, taken from the mezzanine level. (Picture courtesy M Fournet)