This is a very busy cruise. There are only 2 sea days and by the end of the cruise we were yearning for a sea day. We did all private tours with various combinations of a group of 12 friends and relatives. We are mid-60's and have cruised on Princess 13 times. The Crown Princess is the largest we have cruised on in terms of passenger size, but we have done several on Grand-class ships. The addition of an extra deck makes this ship the least favorite Princess ship we have cruised on. It is crowded in the buffet and shows and there is no card room, no library with seating and, no place for a person to take a book and read.
Our cabin was C752 on the aft and it is a great cabin. Quiet as a tomb with a nice balcony. It is however almost 1/5 of a mile to the other end of the ship and 5 or 6 decks up to the buffet. We took steps and did a lot of walking. Elevators were impossible at meal times.
We did this cruise and the one prior (Norway) so were on the ship for a total of 24 days. We were disappointed but not surprised that the shows, TV offerings, activities, and entertainment were repeats of the previous cruise. We are not foodies particularly so the food was fine for us. My husband did the Chef's Table and has not stopped raving about it since. Great experience if you enjoy fine food with wine pairings. It would have been wasted on me, so I did not go.
We went into Southampton a day early. We arranged with Woodford Chauffer Cars for pickup at Heathrow for our party of 6. We were met promptly and had about two hours to wait until the rest of the group arrived on another flight. Our driver decided to take us about 30 minutes to the town of Windsor so that we could see Windsor Castle and the town itself. We just did a drive around, but it was a thoughtful extra for our driver to throw in. We met the other parties when their flight arrived and drove to Southampton, about 90 minutes away. Our overnight accomodations were at the Jury's Inn. This is a nice and inexpensive hotel within walking distance of a beautiful park, the Bar Gate, and lots of shopping and restaurants. The city is partially surrounded by walls remaining from the Norman era and the area below the Bar Gate is being restored as a big shopping area with numerous restaurants and bars. We enjoyed dinner at the Red Lion, a restaurant and pub housed in a medieval building with a lot of interesting artifacts. Portions there are HUGE, so sharing is a must. We had a good and reasonably priced breakfast the next morning at Yates on High Street. The best bargain in Southampton tho was the free walk that is given daily in July. We chanced upon a sign at the Bar Gate announcing these walks and took one the morning of embarkation. The walk began at 10:30 and lasted several hours, although you could leave at any point. The docent took us around and up the walls, into the walls, into the cellars under the walls, all the while explaining the history of the walls, the times they were built, etc. The walk ended at the water at the Titanic museum. It was a delightful two hours, the perfect thing to do on the morning of embarkation, and best of all was FREE and required no reservations.
Embarkation was no problem and luggage arrived promptly in the early afternoon.
Ports--The only Princess tour taken was to a distillery in Glasgow and my husband took that. All other tours were private.
The rest of this review was written to my kids and emailed while we were on the cruise, so the tone will be somewhat more relaxed. I have copied and pasted from those emails.
Guernsey is one of the Channel Islands between England and France and is a UK territory. But they have their own currency which I find kind of amazing for a 30 mile long country. We paid for a couple of beers in British currency and got Guernsey currency in change and then had to convince one of the street vendors to swap with us since we would never be here again. It is apparently illegal to do so, but we bought some candy from him so he agreed to do it.
Anyway this island is lovely and was such an unexpected treat. After tender disembarkation we followed the harbor around to the left to catch a local bus to get to the German Occupation museum on the other side of the island By mistake we took the one that goes the long way. So for 60 pence (like $1.00) we got a great tour of the residential parts of the island. The bus driver was definitely not helpful and was a little surly and we figured it was because there were 3 cruise ships in town with people who are not at all familiar with British currency and have to read each coin to see what it is. I just hold my hand out full of change and tell them to take what they need. But the tourists cause the buses to be late and the drivers are apparently not vested in having tourists take over their town. We got off at the wrong spot and had to walk back a little ways to the museum and it is very hard to remember that traffic is coming from the other way in the UK. The museum is a little hard to find as it is back down a country lane from the main road. There is a small sign marking the way in, but be sure and ask your bus driver to let you know where to get off. We got off at the airport and had to walk back to the right place.
There happened to be a food fair going on at the waterfront, so after returning from our bus ride, we sampled the wares at a couple of booths, bought some candy and went back to the ship..
Weather is gorgeous today--crystal clear with bright blue skies and about 70. Tomorrow we go to Cork, Ireland and I think it is supposed to be chilly and rainy. We will be on a tour which includes the Blarney Castle and rock and I am not sure what else, so hopefully it won’t be too bad.
We had a private tour in Cork yesterday (butlers-buses.com) which included the Blarney castle and kissing the stone. I did not stand in line to kiss the stone because it was an hour long and up about 100 steep and windy steps. You have to lie on your back, grab two rails and bend over backwards under a ledge to kiss the stone. There is a man there that makes sure you don’t fall and he apparently has orders to keep the line moving fast because I think only one person in our group that went up actually touched the thing with lips because the guy yanks you away in an instant. I did not feel bad about missing the stone. Instead J and I wandered around the grounds and then went into the woolen mills which is supposed to be bargain sweaters, etc but was more like a Marshall’s with older walls and floors. I must say that buildings in Ireland have a LOT of charm. Not much is torn down for renovation so unless the building was bombed during the war or has burned down or something, it is still around and being used. We were then taken to the harbor side village of Kinsale and had time to eat at a pub and wander thru the town. Very cute town with houses and shops all in various pastels with massive amounts of flowers everywhere. These people sure know how to make petunias, geraniums and impatiens look good. It is so green and the farms on the countryside are bordered with hedgerows which serve as fences and shelter for small animals. So instead of vast open fields, you have all these smaller fields divided up by these borders of plants some of which are ancient. You are not allowed to cut down or alter the hedgerows.
Our guide for Cork was terrific and we got such a bargain for an all day tour for 25 euros each.
Today was Dublin and we took the Princess shuttle into the city ($6 pp each way) From there we took the Hop On Hop Off bus which is a cheap and easy way to see a big city. The shuttle let us off near Trinity College and the HOHO bus has a stop about two blocks away. We did preorder our HOHO ticket online and saved a little money, but I probably would not do that again. First, it gave confusing information as to where to take the printout you get online to get your HOHO ticket. It refers to the main information office and that is wrong. You can just take it to any of the bus stops and they will hand you your HOHO ticket. The other reason I might not do that again is if the weather is really bad you might not want to do a HOHO tour. There were 23 stops and you just get off whenever you want and get back on when you are ready. We went to the Guiness factory which has been there and functioning since 1789. Did a tour which finished on the 7th floor of the factory with a pint and a panorama of the city. (I had a diet Coke because I don’t like stout and the bartender said “diet coke--in the home of Guiness??” ) Guess he thought it was some kind of sacrilege. We were on our way in to the old jail next when we met our friends coming out of the 1-½ tour. They felt it was not really worth the time and admission so the 8 of us went on the HOHO bus to the Jameson distillery for lunch instead and then came back to the ship in time for the show where Princess brought in some local group for Celtic dancing and folk songs. Tomorrow is Liverpool and we have a free morning with no tours and a short afternoon tour of Beatles related stuff.
We left the ship in the morning and walked into the shopping district and then over to the Royal Albert docks. We actually wanted to find out how long a walk time-wise it was to the Docks from the ship as that is where the Beatles tour left from. It takes about 25 minutes or so. There are two good museums at the Docks, but we did not find that out until later. In the afternoon we went on a Beatles Magical Mystery bus tour which really proved to be as much of a city tour as the real city tour buses are--we were all over the place. They took us to the houses of each of the Beatles for a drive by, their neighborhoods, schools, etc. all the while playing Beatles music with a microphone held to a cassette player/. Very rinky dink music-wise but the commentary was interesting. You did get off the bus for a couple of photo ops, but most of the time was on the bus. We were a little put out as we were specifically told that we were to meet this bus INSIDE the information office at the Royal Albert docks. We found out when the bus arrived that almost everyone else had lined up outside in the driveway and we were thus last on the bus and separated into single seats. The bus let us off at the Cavern Club where the Beatles started and after a quick run through that, we returned to the ship. Cavern Club is about 15 minutes walking distance from the ship.
We took a private tour with Paddy Campbell at belfastblackcabtours.co.uk. This tour covered a lot of territory and unfortunately our party of 12 was crammed into two black British taxis with really stiff construction. These taxis take 6 people--one in the front with the driver, three crammed in the back seat that curves around in a squishy manner, and two on jump seats facing. The jump seats are tilted forward and are very uncomfortable. I recommend that no matter who you use for a private tour in Belfast, be sure and get specifics on what type of vehicle they use. If they say they use British taxis, I would think twice.
The tour day was long with a lot of driving.
It was raining when we left, it is raining now that we are back, but where we went on the coast was gorgeous. I am sure we have a good weather fairy sitting on our shoulders, not just on this trip, but on all our cruises. Yesterday in Liverpool the Beatles bus tour guide said the day before the roads were all flooded due to the rain and the tour was a mess. Today in Belfast the tour guide said yesterday it had poured and was foggy and you could not see any of the coast line stuff we saw and it was horrible to be out in. So I am thankful that we have been so lucky with the weather. A few showers here and there, but nothing too bad (except Bergen in Norway where it poured). . Anyway, today’s tour. The trip to the coast was 90 minutes each way with a taxi driver--not a tour guide giving comments and answering questions. The driver in the other car was the company owner and you could not hear what he was saying in that car either due to the immense glass panel between front and back. There was a speaker in the rear, but road noise made it impossible to hear. And because of the brogue I could only understand about every third word anyway. So off we went for the 90 minute ride on terrifying roads at top speed. Got to the coast and the rain went away. Everything we visited was scenery or old--we did the Giants Causeway which are unique rock formations on the coast, the littlest church in Ireland, an old castle ruins from 1108, lunch in Bushmill (home of Bushmill’s distillery) and a rope bridge over a chasm that took you out to a small rock which was important in the salmon industry. Everything was beautiful and I have lots of great pictures.
Following our return into Belfast city, the guide took us to the murals where the Protestants have painted the gable ends of houses proclaiming neighborhood political affiliations. The “Troubles” as they refer to the ongoing struggle between the IRA and others is a complicated relationship of religion and politics. Northern Ireland is a separate state and part of the UK. The Irish Republic is the rest of Ireland and is a country and they hate the British who occupied their land until they were freed in 1948. The 6 counties of northern Ireland which includes Belfast are both Catholic and Protestant and are loyal to Britain and use the British currency. The rest of Ireland uses the Euro and is largely Catholic. So that’s where the religion and the politics make the situation murky. I was quite shocked to find out that there is actually a wall separating the two parts of Belfast--sort of like the Berlin wall. There are 3 gates between the two parts. They are unlocked all day and then two of the three are locked at night. The third is monitored by camera so that if anything starts up, they lock that gate too. The wall separates the Protestant side from the Catholic side. The month of July is Marching days and it begins on July 12. The Protestants march into the Catholic side and protest and sometimes it gets out of hand. They had four days of rioting while were on the first cruise. The parts of Belfast we saw were very rough looking neighborhoods although we only saw the mural area and the area that was the battle ground between the IRA and whoever from the 1970’s until the cease fire in 1994. But passions run high here and many houses have flags proclaiming their political alliances. Belfast was my least favorite port of this cruise.
We have just pulled out of Belfast and are on our way to Glasgow, Scotland tomorrow. This cruise has a lot of ports and it is up early and out each day. Sitting in a car, bus or whatever doesn’t sound tiring, but it really is. It’s worth it though to see all of these really beautiful places. We are very lucky to be able to see them.
Glasgow and sea day
Sea day today. Really looking forward to not doing much. Unfortunately cool and gray day so outside stuff is not easy. The last two nights we have gone up to the MUTS (Movies Under the Stars) first to see “Alice In Wonderland”--the Johnny Depp not in 3-D and last night “The Backup Plan”--staring Jennifer Lopez. That was a movie that clearly never needed to be made. So since it is cool you have to wrap up. They ran out of blankets both times we went up so we had to use the deck towels. I would have liked someone to take a picture of me with my big wool socks, two deck towels, fleece jacket, black pashina over my head and wrapped around my neck. I was probably quite attractive. Oh, and a book supporting my lower back with my shoes under my left knee joint for support. Pretty much a Picasso I should think.
We had a wonderful day in Glasgow with Craig Flynn (mini-tours.com). We went nowhere near the city. Our guide picked us up in full dress kilt attire. He is quite young and looks like an early Donny Osmond. Great personality and never had a question he could not answer. The day was mostly a drive for scenery--we went up into the mountains, stopping at two small towns along the way. The first was to visit a small church and graveyard with various gravestones dating back to the 17 and 1800’s. One of the graves is thought to be a Viking grave and is simply a long rounded stone about 4’ long with no markings embedded in the earth. The surrounding village used to be worker homes for the shipbuilding industry and are now private homes. They are tiny, incredibly well tended and covered with flowers and plants. I must say Europe and the UK put the US to shame when it comes to landscaping.
In the second town we had lunch in a hotel pub dating back to 1789. Original furnishings were used in many places and it is just like the pub you might imagine if you have never seen a real pub. We invited Craig to eat with us and he ordered haggis. Now I have heard of haggis--it is internal organs of a sheep or cow cooked up in a cow’s stomach lining. Something like that. But when it is served it looks like a big dark lump.. But I tried a teeny, tiny taste of it. Not bad but I would never be able to eat a big serving like that. After lunch we went to Inveraray Castle, the home of the current Duke of Argyle. He and his family actually live in 2/3 of the palace, while the other 1/3 is open to the public and is fully furnished with original interiors and furniture from the 18th century, along with collections of weaponry, armor, dishes, utensils, etc from that time period. The Duke of Argyle is apparently very accessible to the public, and in fact when we went down to the gift shop area to walk through the gardens, he was there signing books. I expect the proceeds of the gift shop were used to maintain the palace, although since his wife is the heir to the Cadbury chocolate fortune, he certainly isn’t hurting for money.
We got back to Greenock, the port city for the Glasgow stop, and the guide took us to his favorite castle. Most of it is from the 1100’s or so--these castles all tend to run together in my mind, but it is open to the public to walk through every part. We went up the skinny spiral staircases to the turrett rooms. My big feet on little steps would have been a huge problem on a day to day basis, but I guess they would not have been so big had I lived 800 years ago. People were sure a lot shorter then. So we walked thru every part of the labyrinth of rooms while Craig told us the history of the castle.
After the old castle, Craig took us to his favorite sport in the city which was a spot on top of the hill with 360 degree views of the entire city, the mountains in the distance, the river Clyde with this gigantic Crown Princess sitting at the dock. It was just lovely and by then my camera battery had died so I have no pictures of it. Tomorrow is Invergordon which is the area of the Loch Ness and the monster. I am absolutely certain that Nessie will raise her head tomorrow when we are there.
Here’s the bad news. There is no Loch Ness monster. It is a legend, the Loch is only 30,000 years old and dinosaurs died out before that. The famous photograph has been proven to be a hoax. But a lot of people make their living off of the tourists who want to see if they can see the monster. It is almost impossible to see anything in the Loch (Gaelic word for lake) because of the amount of peat in it.
The day in Inverness was just okay. Lot of driving in a van with a driver who was a truck driver and knew very little about what we were going to see. The Urquhart Castle was so packed with Princess tours you could not get around. We chose not to pay the entrance fee into the LochNess center. We did go to Culloden battle ground which is the scene of a one-hour battle between the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie’s militia, but unless you know any of the history it would take a lot of reading to figure out the significance. Anyway--not our best day.
Yesterday in Edinburgh (pronounced Edinboro) was excellent. We had the same tour guide as in Glasgow(mini-tours.com) and he is probably the best tour guide we have ever had and I recommend him highly. He is funny, relaxed, and knows the answer to any question you might want. Rather than go into the city and do the Edinburgh castle (always packed) or the Royal Mile (equally packed shopping area) we asked him to go to some of the lesser sites that the tour buses don’t go to. First we went to Roslin Chapel but that required an entrance fee so he took us instead down this little used path next to the chapel to the ruins of a castle tucked into the rocks high above a glen. The final scene from The DaVinci code was filmed there, so I will have to look at that movie again. The house on the grounds is from 1660 and is rented as a bed and breakfast although I can’t see how anyone would ever know about it. No one else was there and the castle ruins were beautiful. We stopped by a small loch with swans all over on the way to Craigmillar Castle ruins where we were completely alone and the boys explored the many rooms and towers on their own while he took us through this beautiful 1500’s relic showing us the various rooms and discussing what they were used for. These are all stone buildings and the engineering skills that goes into these places is just amazing. Sort of like the Pyramids--it is hard to believe that these mammoth buildings were built with the skills and machinery in place at the time. After the castle we went to lunch at the oldest pub in Scotland, the Sheeps Heid Inn, in continuous use since the 14th century. Again, no one except locals even know it is there because it is tucked away in a little village on the outskirts of Edinburgh. Good lunch and my husband got to try haggis which he liked. This only was a little different and almost looked like dark hamburger. It appears to be always served with mashed potatoes. In fact, most everything is served with mashed potatoes here and in Ireland. Following that we did a quick run thru the city of Edinboro. This is the home of J.K. Rowling and Craig drove us past the boys’ private school from 1824 which was the inspiration for Hogwart’s Academy. It was not used in the films, but an amazing building. We stopped by this Victorian graveyard, a great place because all of the people with money tried to outdo each other with elaborate gravestones. All in all a wonderful day with a great tour guide.
Today is sea day and tomorrow we go to Normandy beaches.
LeHarve--we used Overlord tours for a full day to Normandy. Beautiful day and we highly recommend this company. Approximately 100 E per person. Our driver/guide's passion is WWII and the Normandy landings. He is a native and knows all the back roads and small sights. Again--not a cruise ship bus in sight. He had lots of historical stories as well as his own personal scrapbook of photographs and clippings from D-day. We saw several small places as well as Utah and Omaha beaches, the American Cemetery and the German cemetery. On the way back he drove us to Honfleur which was PACKED as there was some festival going on and it was the weekend. This is a gorgeous port that inspired the impressionism movement and is full of shops, flowers, pubs and restaurants. It would be a nice choice if either Paris or Normandy holds no interest for you. I think the ship does a tour to Honfleur because we were there on a Princess excursion the last time we were in LeHarve.
Disembarkation was easy and we used a Princess transfer to get back to Heathrow. No problems.
Hope you have found this review helpful. I will be happy to answer any questions.