2019 Travel Notes, 28 Day Prinsendam Cruise: Norway, Scotland & Ireland
(sorry for any typos, got tired of typing, maybe not such a condensed review as planned!)
Originally I had not planned to review these two cruises as the Prinsendam is no longer a HAL option. However I realized that many of the ports of call are still visited by other HAL ships so will post the following for those still considering a cruise to these splendid friendly English speaking countries. This was welcomed after so many visits to countries where English is a second language. You might initially argue that Norway is one of those. Later you will see why our experience there says, not so.
Four of us, a mini family reunion of sorts, booked this adventure 16 months out which was just before the announcement of the Prinsendam leaving the fleet. Are we ever happy as both two week, back to back cruises, sold out months before embarkation.
Fortunately we had direct flights from Orlando-Amsterdam and return. This was the first time we’ve booked tickets with HAL and we were satisfied with the air fare and transfers airport to ship. Before returning to Florida we decided to upgrade to more comfortable seating, which Delta botched for two of us in their computer system. All was forgiven when a short delay checking in at the terminal resolved everything.
I could go on for several paragraphs heaping praise on the merits of the much smaller Prinsendam, our first cruise on her, but knowing that many/most of you long time HAL cruisers already sing her praises I’ll just give you my Readers Digest version. Loved the shorter commute distances; noticeably superior service in the Lido; the panoramic views from the Canaletto (thanks KAZU for the tip reserving there on fjord sailing days); proportionally larger library; the separated ½ bath in the Signature Suite and the Front Desk attendants with a ‘we can solve anything’ mind set.
Oh my gosh, how could I forget: this ship had TWO yum yum men. Isn’t that unusual, or have I just had my head in the sand before? One was posted, as usual outside the main dining room but there was a second in the back entrance/exit of the Dining Room Annex which we had requested, enjoying quieter dining and improved scenery closer to the windows.
Our only glitch was a stateroom noise issue which was solved promptly by switching us to accommodations in a higher category which had not been available when we originally booked. What prompted the change was a simple request for ear plugs. Not only did we get to enjoy the suite life as usual on our Vista Class ships, but without lightening our pockets. Sometimes you just get lucky!
And now for the ports of call, once again a condensed version:
NORWAY, May 20 - June 2
What wonderful friendly people they are, so pleasant with calm dispositions. We read in a guide book that they are among the happiest people of all countries. Amazingly they almost all spoke perfect English! I asked a coffee shop barista why it seemed like his lack of an accent made me think he was American? His answer was: "Every year of our schooling we are taught English along with our native language." Still it was freaking weird hearing him enouncing every syllable precisely like our English teachers back in the day I when I was enduring read'n, right'n 'n' rithmetic. Actually many Norwegians spoke better English than myself!
Something else noticeable from day one: the public spaces, coffee shops, parks, stores, etc. are all populated with an equal number of men as women pushing baby strollers. Actually they are buggy’s, likely because the high sides keep the frigid winds off the infants. When we finally asked why so many men were caring for infants our answer was: In Norway it is mandatory for men as well as women to take time off from work to care for newborns and it is a paid leave. Mothers have 1st cycle home & then fathers care for the baby when the mothers return to work.
Their economy, extreme socialism, is very successful; complete opposite as to what FOX news says re the evils ofsocialism. The Norwegian economy, oil based and nationally owned, is so successful that the national wealth fund, not national debt, if divided up between every citizen, would aprx.$1,000,000 each; impressed me! (according to our tour guide, not fact checked by me) Obviously socialism works for them.
Also immediately evident: no litter on streets, alleys, anywhere; even in the large cities. To put it in perspective: at our second port of call I saw my sister staring at a spot in front of her on the sidewalk saying, “Look, a cigarette butt.” Immediately the other 3 of us circled around. Finally I said, “Do you realize what we are doing, looking at a butt on the sidewalk as if it is a meteorite from Mars?” That gives you an idea of how much Norwegians respect others space.
One of our tour guides told us that nature is revered so much that all land, even privately owned, is considered public domain. Anyone hiking, and that is a big pastime in Norway, is allowed to cross any private property and freely partake of any natural food, fruits, berries, etc., along the walk. Also they are allowed to camp on your land, no questions asked, as long as they stay a respectful ‘x’ number of feet from the dwellings.
Bottom line: Norwegians restored my faith in humanity!
Wow! those fjords, such magnificent unspoiled beauty. We had been tipped off to dine in the Canaletto Restaurant with it’s 180 degree view back end of the ship on the 4 fjord cruising days. Several months in advance we had reserved the best table there on those evenings ensuring us really spectacular viewing.
SCOTLAND, June 3 - 9
The National Botanical Garden in Edinburgh (a 25 minute train ride from the port, Rosyth) was the highlight for me, 60 acres of unparalleled flora and fauna, manicured, but not at all sterile looking. Walking the heavenly woodland area was better than the marijuana highs of my youth. I can only imagine how much it is enjoyed by the elemental kingdom; wee folk, fairies and such.
My sister rented a car in three different ports so we could ‘get out of dodge’ into rural areas. I found that refreshing after so much time spent in port cities of the Mediterranean. Did I say refreshing? Driving on the wrong side of road; scary! Traffic Circles are abundant in the British Isles, some delineated only by a solidly painted disk on the road surface. If not astutely observant one would be upon/in it not prepared. A wonder we did not have an accident. Yes, we-got-honked-at!
Once when trying to return our rental car to the agency at the port in Stornway we could not figure out how to weave through the confusing opposite traffic flow, so my sister asked me to query a driver leaving his parked bus. He started giving directions but then said, “ I will just get in your car and direct you until you get there.” I said, but how will you get back to your post?” He said, “Oh it’s not far, I’ll walk” Absolutely mind blowing how considerate the people in all the British Isles were toward us. I was blown away.
IRELAND, June 10 - 17
We were expecting temperatures noticeably warmer than Norway but temperatures were much cooler than normal this spring. We even had snow one day on the ship approaching an Irish port. Global warming seems to have done a flip flop this year, at least spring wise, in northern Europe.
We left the ship in Foynes, rented a car in Limerick, had an overnight stay in Kenmare (charming little town) and caught up with the ship the next day in Cork. Rural Ireland is rustic, serene, simply beautiful, and still unspoiled. Try and venture inland; we loved every minute of it.
The highlights were a breathtaking mini van drive up, and a challenging walk the last few hundred feet, to the top of the majestic Sleive Cliffs (tour booked in advanced out of Kellybegs). These cliffs are on the Atlantic Ocean and recede inland meeting at the point of a ‘V”. This narrowing, with the ocean wind, becomes intensified exponentially as the ‘V’ closes. At this juncture a magnificent freak of nature allows folks to climb the last 100 feet or so to the top, but the wind now funneled, is almost hurricane strength. But the view! out of this world! looking down hundreds of feet and across to the cliffs on the other side of the ‘V’.
Anyhow we are climbing the last 100 feet up and I’m occasionally blow over! Carolyn and I made it to a huge rock to sit on and looking back down we observed our cousin Judy, 90 pounds if soaking wet, being blown around like a ‘wind sock’ at an airport in a tropical storm. It was crazy funny. Yes she was safe, having left the stone steps, careening up the luxuriant grass hillside, flung hither and yawn, falling, laughing, clawing her way up. Priceless! One of those times in life better than any drugs! Was she ever in any danger? Not a bit. Born and raised on a Kansas farm Judy is as plucky as Dorothy in Oz and has an abundance of True Grit that John Wayne could have only dreamt of. Not a single bruise dared to show up on her limber body. In fact she said, “If we go back I’ll climb even farther including the crest Dead Man’s Path our guide warned us of.”
As for myself, twice I had lost my dignity falling flat on my face. I asked my sister, "why the wind did not send you flying?” She replied, “Every time I started to fall I just squatted.’ And then I got it: My Virgo sister, once she squatted on her bodacious booty, mother nature had no choice but to flow around her as if she were a light house firmly anchored, challenging, “Bring it on.”
A day later, we tentatively approached Healy Pass, a gut-tightening-precarious drive above an incredibly beautiful valley. I shall never forget it--still trembling, never to forget the many seemingly near mishaps plunging head first across the non existent guard rails into a beautiful long fall but nevertheless certain death.
One noteworthy take away of Ireland was some regions of the populace resolutely holding onto the past Protestant Catholic War (‘The Troubles’ is their moniker) which lasted thirty plus years. Even though peace was made about 20 years ago they still have huge walls, reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, dividing neighborhoods. Gigantic political murals are prominent in a great deal of the most severely conflicted areas of Belfast. It’s almost as if they let it all go they fear loosing something of their heritage. My niece has a Disney movie wherein the lead character repeatedly sings, ‘Let it go.’ Guess the Irish did not see it.
Don't miss the Titanic Museum close to the dock in Belfast. We misjudged the extent of it's fabulous displays and had to cut short our fascinating well spent time there. Although the museum was almost within spitting distance from our ship it was not walkable due to the dock configuration. A much better value than booking the HAL excursion was to take the shuttle into town and get on a city bus for the short 10 minute ride back to the museum. Easy peasy.
A British Commonwealth island, was an unexpectedly pleasant stop before ending our cruise in Amsterdam. After tendering ashore we got on a city sponsored tour bus at the end of the dock and enjoyed a 90 minute tour with commentary of the island for only 10 pounds; great value.
In all of my European travels this trip stood out, as far as the welcoming from the populace. Possibly it was because we are all more so kindred spirits (English ancestry) but Norway refuted that. Perhaps their comradery results from living more rural in the north, isolated from the tribal elbow rubbing of the close quarters in mainland Europe. There are still lots of open spaces in the Green Isles; harder to come by in the intensely populated cities of mainland Europe.
Would I like to go back? Yes, but right now we are catering to ‘our Italian Joe,’ fast approaching 80, so the four of us are looking at Northern Italy early October 2020. There we plan to spend 10 days in an iconic villa, returning to Florida on a 27 day cruise originating in Barcelona, shamelessly pacifying my cruise fix!
c'est la vie, Chuck & Joe