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Caribbean Princess British Isles Review


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We pulled into Dublin at around 7AM on Sunday, July 14th. Kathy and I spent four wonderful days in Dublin in 2009. Since we’d been there previously we decided this was a good day to forgo the tour and DIY. We went out early and immediately caught a taxi into town. The fare was around 7 or 8 euro and a ten easily covered the ride and tip. First stop, Trinity College and the Book of Kells. http://www.tcd.ie/Library/bookofkells/

 

Our taxi dropped us off at the “back entrance”. As we stood at the locked gate, wondering how to get inside the college, one of the locals walked by and told us “You’re too early. Most of us are just getting to bed”. We laughed thinking he was kidding. Looking back on the day, he wasn’t. Dublin is a little sleepy and understated on Sunday.

 

Deciding not to chance the back entrance, we wandered around the corner to the front entrance. Along the way we saw the Molly Malone statue (known locally as the “Tart with the Cart”) complete with a couple of empty whisky bottles - it was Sunday morning after all.

 

When we arrived at the entrance at 8:30 we were first in line. The Book of Kells does not open until 9:30 so we had plenty of time to see Trinity College. Dennis staked out a spot while Kathy and the kids took a whirl around the campus. It is a lovely campus in the middle of Dublin. It was still quite early, apparently, so it was a quiet peaceful walk. A short while later another couple from the CP showed up and they shared that they came into town on the light rail and had been dropped off just a few blocks from Trinity. Turns out it was even cheaper than our taxi. I found out later that the ship didn’t dock in its normal spot and because of this the light rail station was only a 10-minute walk from the pier. From the normal berth it is apparently a 15-20 minute walk. Either way it is a good option for getting into the heart of Dublin (instead of taxi) you could ask someone as you got off the ship how to get to the trolley (or tram) known as the Luas. http://www.luas.ie/

 

If you take nothing else from this blog please listen to this. If you are interested in the Book of Kells go straight there in the AM. You don’t have to be there as early as we were but try for 30-45 minutes before opening (typically 9:30AM). The line for this gets exceptionally long. By the time we were allowed to enter the line had wrapped around the center courtyard. We saw a similarly long line in October 2009. The best advice is to get there as early as you can.

 

We purchased our tickets for Book of Kells online before we left home. Pre-booking your tickets does not give you skip the line privileges. However, it does save a small amount of money.

 

Once you get inside, walk straight through the exhibit area and go directly to the Book of Kells viewing room. You can circle back to the exhibit area afterwards. You’ll find two of the four volumes of the Book of Kells under glass. They show two pages on any given day (I think they change either weekly or monthly). They usually have one volume displaying text and the other on a full picture page (or sometimes two pages if they are opposite). If you get there early you should have ample time to study the books without a crowd pressing at your back. It gets increasingly crowded throughout the day. Once you are done admiring the manuscripts, circle back to the beginning of the exhibit room. There is a lot of information explaining how the manuscripts were made and blow ups of some of the pages of the Book of Kells with explanations of the artwork and symbolism. You learn how the pages were made and the painstaking effort the monks took to create them. Once you have seen the exhibit area, walk back through the viewing area (if you are lucky you will get a chance to take another peek) and head into the Long Room. The old library looks like something out of Harry Potter. It’s long, heavily wood paneled, and very old with huge ladders spanning the two stories of books. These shelves are full of ancient volumes and masterpieces. Most of these you can’t see well from the tour area but several books and manuscripts are on display under glass in the tourist area. It also includes the Irish Harp (yes, the one on the Guinness labels. Finally you go to the obligatory gift shop and back out into Trinity College. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Trinity and the Old Library.

 

From here it’s easy to catch the student led tour of Trinity College http://www.tcd.ie/Library/bookofkells/trinity-tours/

 

or head into the downtown area. You are also close to several good museums (archeology, natural history amongst others). We chose to head into town. We wanted to see St. Patricks, Christ Church, Temple Bar area, Half Penny Bridge and some other central sites. We did see all of these things but being a Sunday the churches were busy being…well, churches. We could have joined the worshippers but didn’t feel appropriately dressed (shorts and t-shirts). You can still see the outsides, which are magnificent. We then went to Dublin Castle and found that they didn’t open until noon on Sunday. Temple Bar was not very lively since it was a Sunday morning. We walked across the ha’penny bridge and up O’Connell Street. O’Connell has several statues (O’connell, Parnel and Larkin) along the center promenade, most commemorating the Easter rising of 1916. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-easter-rising-begins-in-dublin

There is also the Spire, a modern sculpture that replaced the Admiral Nelson pillar that was blown up in 1966. The Spire has several “interesting” and mostly politically incorrect nicknames. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Pmanderson/Dublin

 

After this we headed back to Temple Bar and noticed there was a little more activity. Emily wanted to eat authentic Boxtys (stuffed pancakes) so we searched high and low for a place to eat. We did end up finding Gallaghers Boxty House after passing it several times. Not sure why we missed it earlier since it has a massive sign that says “Boxty House”. Like most food in Ireland (and particularly in Temple Bar) it was pricey but the Gaelic Boxty (tender medallions of Irish Fillet Beef in a Whiskey & Mushroom cream sauce) was excellent. http://boxtyhouse.ie/

 

After lunch we tromped back to Dublin Castle and it was open. As we headed up the main entrance we saw the attendant closing the barriers. When we got up there we found out it was closing for the day for a special event. Therefore it was open for a grand total of 30 minutes that day and we only viewed the outside.

 

We then headed to Grafton St. where we did some shopping. Kathy bought necklaces for herself and both of our daughters (trinity knots) and we browsed the interesting shops in that part of town. We then strolled through the beautiful St. Stephen’s Green and caught a cab back to the ship.

 

When we got into the taxi we told him to take us to the Caribbean Princess. He took us to the wrong berth (we did mention that the morning driver had told us that it wasn’t the normal spot). He then backtracked around which cost him a toll and us a few extra euros on the meter. It was still only about 10 euro for the trip.

Looking back on our day in Dublin we would probably have preferred a trip to Powerscourt Gardens and/or Glendalough monastic site. We visited both in 2009 and they are very good (Glendalough was one of our favorites on that trip). I think we felt this way mostly because it was a Sunday and there was simply less activity and fewer attractions open than other days. Despite this we had a wonderful time in Dublin and look forward to returning for a longer visit in the future.

 

That evening was a typical ship evening. We went out for sail away (nothing happening in the big city) and then to the show, dinner and bed.

 

Photo 1 – Molly Malone statue with Whisky bottle in cart

Photo 2 – suds fountain – evidence of a hard Saturday night

Photo 3 – Christ Church

Photo 4 – Dublin Castle (this is as far as we got!)

 

Next stop – Greenock and the lesson on how to find our Whisky

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Touring Tom

 

Nice report on Dublin. I don't know if this was your first trip to Dublin or not. For those who are on their first pilgrimage to the Capital of Eire, I think the best bet is for an overview on the Hop On Hop Off Bus. The city is so steeped in a thousand years of Irish history that visiting individual places is like looking at a few pieces of a jig saw puzzle and trying to understand the completed picture.

 

There are two Dublin HoHO bus companies. One operated by the City's Bus Company (2 tone Green) and the other private (Red).

 

The City Bus Tour is far superior with live commentary not recorded.

http://www.dublinsightseeing.ie/citytour.aspx

 

01 Tour Starts Here - Cathal Brugha Street.

02 Abbey Street - Lower O'Connell St

03Trinity College Dublin - College Green

04 Nassau Street - Nassau Street

05 National Gallery. - Merrion Square West.

06 Government Buildings - Merrion Sq West.

07 St. Stephen's Green - Grafton Street.

08 Tourism Centre - Suffolk Street.

09 Temple Bar - Dame Street.

10 Dublin Castle - Cork Hill

11Christchurch / Dublinia - Christ Church Place.

12 St Patrick's Cathedral - Patrick Street.

13 Guinness Storehouse - St James's Gate

14 Museum of Modern Art - Royal Hospital Kilmainham.

15 Kilmainham Gaol - Old Kilmainham

16 Heuston Rail Station - St. John's Road

17 Dublin Zoo - Phoenix Park.

18 Ryan's Victorian Bar - Parkgate Street.

19 National Museum - Collin's Barracks

20 Old Jameson Distillery - Smithfield

21 The Four Courts - Ormond Quay

22 Liffey River Cruise - Bachelors Walk

23 Dublin Bus HQ Upper O'Connell

24 Writers Museum Parnell Square North

 

John

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It was another sunny day as the ship docked in Greenock for our first taste of what was to become our favorite country on the cruise, Scotland. Since we had so many ports in Scotland we decided to dedicate one to seeing the highlands properly. Greenock was the one.

 

Any day that involves watching a giant inflatable Scotsman named Haggis moonwalking to Scottish bagpipes must be fantastic. It was.

 

We pre-booked our mini-bus tour with Discover Scotland. http://discoverscotlandtours.com/Cruise-Scotland-Tours-Greenock.htm

We chose an itinerary that included Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle and the Trossachs. We pre-bought our admission to Stirling Castle after Discover Scotland assured us we would have enough time to see it (we did!).

http://www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk/home/tickets.htm

 

As we left the ship there were tents with helpful people and shops. They could set you up with a taxi; one of the reportedly excellent free local tours http://richarddetrich.com/around-the-world-with-richard/europe/greenock-scotland-richards-quick-guide/ or help you find an excursion. All in all it was the nicest portside setup we experienced.

 

We breezed on through the tent area and quickly found three mini-buses from Discover Scotland. The drivers each had a list of passengers and we found that we were with Michael. He led us to a clean, comfortable 15-passenger mini-bus with very large windows.

 

Once our group was formed Michael introduced himself. He said, “You can call me Michael, Mike, Mick or Jimmy”. From that point on we knew we were in for a good day.

 

Mike/Jimmy had three main objectives. 1) Ensure we had a great time 2) Ensure we learned something about Scotland (the good, the not so good, the ancient and current events) and 3) Ensure we knew how to find our whisky.

 

After leaving the hustle and bustle of the port area and crossing over a large bridge we were in the highlands. Michael pointed out several historic sites along the way, the beautiful scenery, and the heather which was turning purple early this year. He kept us entertained and it seemed as if in no time at all as we were at our our first stop, the quaint village of Luss on the bonnie, bonnie banks of beautiful Loch Lomond.

 

Luss is beautiful. It’s a quaint village of only about 100 people with stunning gardens right on the Loch. We wandered down a village street towards the Loch and couldn’t help peeking into the back yards to see the gardens. After passing through the small village we were shore side (I can’t help this) on the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. This area is truly stunning and we would have been happy with a day right there. We then wandered down to the beautiful Luss Parish Church that Jimmy mentioned earlier. http://www.lussonline.net/award3.php?subject=new_guides/luss_church2.php

This church conducts more weddings than any other church in Scotland and we could see why. It’s simply beautiful. Don’t miss the ancient baptismal font they found while building the “new road” (I think she said this was around 1745). Also look for the skull and crossbones in the side of the church (not sure why they are there but thought that was unusual for a church). There is also an ancient humpback Viking Grave on site but we were unable to find it before we needed to head back to the tour.

 

The only warning on Loch Lomond is the midges. These little bugs were a small nuisance around the dock area. A little bug spray would have been a good idea. They certainly weren’t so annoying that I wouldn’t go back.

 

Back aboard the mini-bus we were off to Aberfoyle. Jimmy got us there in plenty of time to watch the sheep dog demonstration. We watched as the sheep dog herded a gaggle of geese through, over and around multiple obstacles. We were also introduced to the various types of sheep in the area. The program lasts about ½ hour and is entertaining. Afterwards we had enough time to wander the sizable gift shop and buy a bottle of locally made Scotch (Loch Lomond upon the recommendation of the sales lady). It came in a decorative tin and she gave us bubble wrap to ensure it would not break on the journey home. Cutting to the chase the bottle did arrive home safely and we’ve been enjoying a wee dram now and again.

 

Photos

1 - Kathy in Luss

2 - Luss Gardens

3. - Luss Parish Church

4. - Aberfoyle sheepdog trials

5 - Hotel in the highlands. Does anyone know the name?

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We then drove through more stunning highland hills and mountains and arrived at Stirling Castle. http://www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk/home.htm

Stirling was the home of several kings and queens over the centuries (including Mary Queen of Scots). The Great Hall has been restored to look as it would have in medieval times. It’s very bright on the outside compared to a typical castle. The Stirling Heads are on display (large carved wooden disks of famous people) in the inner hall. These are down to the wood but originally were brightly painted and placed in the ceiling of important rooms. They have some replicas painted so you can see what they might have looked like. I believe they have 34 originals on display.

 

Bottom line, Stirling is a historically significant and beautiful castle. It’s well worth a visit.

 

Stories from the Castle include James IV, V and VI, William Wallace, William the Bruce and others http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirling_Castle.

 

The battle of Stirling bridge site is nearby (Braveheart). You can see it from the castle but we did not have time to go there. If you didn’t want to enter the castle you could easily go into the town of Stirling.

 

We then drove a little deeper into the highlands and stopped at a historic hotel (can’t remember the name but it’s beautiful from the outside), learned about Rob Roy MacGregor, William Wallace, Robert the Bruce, Bonnie Prince Charlie and a multitude of other fascinating people and stories from the areas long and sometimes bloody history. Mick also shared some background on the 2014 vote for Scottish independence. It was interesting to hear about this from a citizen that needs to decide which way to vote for Scotland’s future.

 

Jimmy then surprised the group with an unscheduled stop at Doune Castle. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doune_Castle

In addition to it’s historical value this castle is sometimes used as a movie set. Probably the most famous movie was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. We didn’t spend a lot of time here but it was fun seeing the castle. Of course we immediately went home and re-watched the movie and realized our version of the famous horse scene was completely wrong.

 

On the way back to the ship we drove through Glasgow and Michael pointed out many interesting sites. Some of the passengers from cruise critic had an interest in overseas colleges so Jimmy drove us over to the University area for a quick driving tour. This highlighted the way Discover Scotland really tries to accommodate their guests and it was fun seeing the University.

 

The Duke of Wellington statue in Glasgow often has a traffic cone on his head. Mick explained that they keep taking it off and someone keeps putting it back on. It was on as we drove by.

 

On the drive back to the ship Jimmy taught us about whisky. To be considered Scotch Whisky it must be distilled and aged in Scotland. To be a Jimmy certified whisky it must be 1) Pleasing to the Palette 2) It must roll nicely down the throat and 3) It must provide a warm feeling in the belly. So how does one find this whisky? Mick had an answer for that as well. Go to this pub near the university (sorry, I can’t remember the name but maybe my fellow CC passengers will remember) and tell them “Jimmy sent me to find my whisky”. Jimmy went on to say “They’ll line up 10 or 12 of them for you. About number 11 you’ll find your whisky. Remember to write it down because you won’t remember it in the morning”.

 

As you can tell we really enjoyed our time with Michael / Mike / Mick / Jimmy. The tour took us through incredibly beautiful scenery. Michael filled in the gaps with interesting stories and antidotes. We would definitely take a Discover Scotland Mini-coach tour again.

 

Upon returning to the ship we went to the sail away. There were bag pipers and the aforementioned inflatable giant “Haggis” there to wish us well.

 

AJ was hungry and tried out the pizza on board. He reports it was delicious. We tried Movie under the Stars for a while but it got a little cold. Some folks had blankets but I’m not clear on where they got them.

 

The show was Caliente. We got there late and had to sit in the front row – way too close. The show was energetic and fun. After a nice dinner featuring surf and turf with shrimp we were off to bed to rest up for the next days adventure.

 

Photos -

1. Hairy Coos

2. Doune Castle

3. Emily and AJ in the great hall Stirling Castle

4. Wellington statue in Glasgow with his special hat

5. Our friend Haggis who danced and marched for us as we left Greenock

 

Next installment – Belfast and the Titanic

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We have been debating a tour vs just shopping/having lunch in Dublin. Did you have any difficulty locating a taxi to head back to the ship?

 

No problem at all. We raised our hands and one stopped. Taxis were everywhere in the downtown / tourist area.

 

Good luck

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Thank you for such a quick response!

 

As port intensive as this itinerary seems to be - we are hoping to have some down days (pub/shopping) mixed in.

 

It is tiring. Add six days in London and we went 11 straight days without a sea day. I think you can divide the trip into cities and countryside ( although you can go out into the country on Dublin and Belfast and see spectacular sites) and choose from there. Dublin, Cobh and Belfast are easy pub / shopping days. Edinburgh is as well although if you are on the Royal Mile it is more crowded. Blarney woolen mills has a nice pub and shopping as well.

 

Have fun

Dennis

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Thank you for the tips. I have Cobh and Belfast decided, as we have a Titanic fan in our party. :) We are traveling with two 10 year olds, so some slower days will be necessary.

 

I'm enjoying your report so far, and am looking forward to reading what you did in Orkney.

 

:)

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Our plan in Belfast was to go to Titanic Belfast http://www.titanicbelfast.com

and since we had never been to the city before, take the HoHo bus on a quick overview of the significant sites in Belfast.

http://belfastcitysightseeing.com/?page_id=841

 

We pre-booked both attractions with the idea that we would take a taxi from the pier to Titanic Belfast and then catch the HoHo from there. We also planned to take a taxi back to the ship at the end of the day.

 

After a nice breakfast in the Palms dining room we walked off the ship and discovered that there were no available taxis. There were taxis and drivers but they had all been pre-booked. Fortunately, we also discovered that the city of Belfast had a free shuttle bus straight to the center of town. Being adverse to long walks without maps we decided to board the free bus and see what happened.

 

When we got off we were at the main tourist information center. There were several people trying to sell tickets for the HoHo. Talking with them we discovered that the pickup point was right around the corner and the stop for Titanic Belfast was only about 5 to 10 minutes away (The bus leaves from stop 1 and TB is stop 3). We waited for the HoHo for about 10 minutes and then waited again on board for about 20 or 25 minutes while they recruited more passengers. We were still at TB plenty early for our 10AM start.

 

Once we arrived at Titanic we typed our confirmation number into the kiosk and received our tickets. We then started the tour a few minutes early. The first thing to know is that this is primarily the story of how the Titanic was built and how it looked on her first and only cruise. It is not a museum and doesn’t pretend to be. It is very interactive and you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like. We took almost three hours even though we essentially skipped the films at the end showing the discovery of the shipwreck (we had already seen the same footage on the Discovery Channel back home). There are areas where you can experience staterooms, dining rooms and life on board for the various passenger types. There is a display that showed who boarded in Southampton and Cobh (and also the lucky 7 who got off in Cobh). You can learn about how the ship was built and take a ride through the construction. The interesting thing is that the construction took place on that spot. In one display the screen actually changes and you can see out to the dry dock where Titanic was built. If you have time you can tour that area, the pump house and map room that is all within walking distance. This area has been dubbed the Titanic Quarter.

 

The Caribbean Princess is visible when you look out at the dry dock from the exhibit. When we got back on board later in the day we went to the pool/bar area on deck 15 aft and got some nice pictures of the Titanic Belfast and dry dock from the ship.

 

I would give Titanic Belfast 5 stars if you are a fan of the Titanic and her history. If not it’s probably a 3 star attraction. We really enjoyed it and found it to be worthwhile. For more details I would refer you back to DeLorean Girls review (link in my first post) of Belfast. She goes into detail on this attraction, the pump house and map rooms.

 

After we finished we went outside and found our way to the HoHo stop. In about 10 minutes the bus came by and we hopped on. Unfortunately the bus was packed and we were jammed into the rear seats downstairs with limited views but unlimited diesel engine smells. After a few stops we were able to move upstairs and get a better view of the city. If I were to plan this again I would have booked a later start time at Titanic Belfast (around noon). I would have taken the free bus to the HoHo and then made a complete loop while the bus was less crowded and then timed it to get off at TB in time for the tour. Unfortunately this strategy means you either need to give yourself about 90 minutes to ride the HoHo back to stop one and the free bus or you will need to grab a taxi at TB after your tour (there were taxis available).

 

The HoHo was enjoyable once we got upstairs. I lived in England for most of the 1980s and “the troubles” were a nightly news item. Because of this I think I was much more interested in seeing the fortified police stations, murals and hearing stories of the various neighborhoods I remembered from those news broadcasts than the rest of my family.

 

We saw the major sites except for some of the murals. There had been some local violence in the area for several days so the HoHo company decided to not drive up Shankhill road as a precaution (stop 11 I believe). We received conflicting advice (from the same guide) on whether or not it was safe to just get off and walk up the street so we decided to stay on board. We did see many of the murals from the bus.

 

After the HoHo we did a little shopping and then took the free bus back to the ship a little earlier than planned. This allowed us to once again go to the on-board tea at 3:30PM, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

 

 

With the next day scheduled as a sea day (and our planned laundry day) we decided to take advantage of our early return and do our laundry a day early. We hauled our clothes the length of the ship to the deck 10 laundry room only to discover later that the deck 9 laundry room was directly under our cabin! Four large loads (wash and dry) cost about $17. We brought our own supplies but did notice they sold them there for about $2 a box. We got there just in time and were able to do everything in just a few hours while chatting with fellow CC member CaseyJo. Our strategy of doing it the night before the sea day allowed us to relax and enjoy our first day off of touring since we had arrived in the UK 11 days earlier.

 

Laundry advice – Get your quarters in advance or bring small bills. The machine in our room would give change for a $20 but unless you wanted 80 quarters it’s not the best plan. The casino is shut for several days in a row due to UK gaming laws so the only place to get quarters is at the purser’s desk. The lady I worked with had to go look in the safe and didn’t seem to have many left. We brought a small bag of Tide Pods that happened to be on sale at our local grocery store a few days before we left home. We wrapped the bag in a plastic grocery bag in case one broke open during our travels but none did. They worked great. We grabbed several dryer sheets and put them in a sandwich bag. This probably saved us $16 to $20 compared to buying them on board. If your laundry room is full/busy try another deck. It’s likely you’ll find something available. We did hear from fellow cruisers that everyone had the same idea and the laundry rooms were jammed on that first sea day.

 

The show that night was the MacDonald Brothers. They also appeared two nights later before disembarking in Invergordon. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_MacDonald_Brothers. This duo made their name on the British version of the X Factor a few years ago. They sing a mix of traditional Scottish songs, old songs (Elvis!) and basically anything that influenced them. They were by far our favorite show on the cruise (Emily bought the CD which they graciously autographed after the show).

 

We then headed to dinner back in the Palm dining room. AJ and Emily had the duck with honey glaze, Dennis the prime rib and Kathy chose an orange roughy dish. As usual the meals were delicious and nicely served by the dining room and kitchen staffs. Emily did try a chilled apple and celery soup that she wasn’t thrilled with so our waiter Peter quickly brought her another appetizer. Dessert was a nice black forest cake.

 

We tried Movie under the Stars again but gave up after a half hour or so. It was a little chilly.

 

The ship had the usual port T-shirts on sale in the main atrium. AJ found some he liked but they weren’t available in his size. The saleslady told us that they had them in the shop so we were able to buy the ones we wanted (had to buy three to get a lower price) and then exchanged the one that was the incorrect size in the shop for a correct size. That worked out well so if you see the shirt you want in the wrong size this tip might just work for you.

 

Photos -

1. Titanic Belfast

2. Murals

3. Titanic Belfast from ship (you can see the dry dock in the foreground)

4. Emily on the HoHo

5. We discovered Vines

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Sea Day one

Rain – this was the only day we saw rain and fog the entire cruise. We were pretty much socked in and heard the ships horn all day as the crew navigated the pea soup. We felt lucky that the rain and fog came on a day where we had the entire ship to entertain us.

 

The kids took full advantage of the sea day and slept in a little while Kathy and I had breakfast in the Palm Dining room. We debated whether we preferred the buffet or the dining room for breakfast. The group consensus was the dining room was nicer and we tended to eat less but the buffet was very handy on those days where we needed to get moving on our day.

 

We were able to try out the shipboard gym. There was a good selection of free weights and treadmills along with just about anything else you might want.

 

After all that exertion it was time to eat again (after all it had been more than 90 minutes since breakfast). This time we headed to the buffet and enjoyed lunch. As we finished up our headwaiter from dinner came by and let us know that they had just opened up the sushi buffet. Of course we dove in for more and definitely overindulged on that meal. The sushi was very good.

 

We decided to take it easy in the afternoon and catch a movie in the Princess Theater. They were showing Olympus has fallen. This movie is essentially action from beginning to end so AJ thought it was awesome. It was nice to just relax for a few hours.

 

After the movie we stopped by game time in one of the lounges and then headed to tea for our third meal of the day. We loved the tea, scones, finger sandwiches and cookies. Some days they sat us with other passengers and some days they didn’t. We really enjoyed talking to everyone during tea and will ask to be sat with a group next time.

 

That evening we discovered Vines. We ordered a bottle of wine and had a glass each. They had a nice selection at all price points. They then stored our bottle away and we were able to continue it the next evening. We could have also had it delivered to our table in the dining room. Good to know.

 

The show was a variety type show with the Caribbean Princess singers and dancers. After the show we had another delicious dinner (English roast with Yorkshire pudding was very good). All in all we really enjoyed the sea day and felt recharged for our next port.

 

Next installment – Orkney and our favorite port.

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Kirkwall is the largest town on the archipelago known as the Orkney Islands. The town is on “The Mainland” which is the largest island in the chain. The name literally means “Church on the Bay” due to the large cathedral (St. Magnus Cathedral http://www.stmagnus.org/ ) built by the Vikings on what was then the edge of the bay (now more downtown due to reclamation projects).

 

Originally we tried to get a mini-bus tour with a company called Orkney Aspects. http://www.orkneyaspects.co.uk Unfortunately they were fully booked but the owner, Pat Stone, offered us a private tour with her. We jumped at the opportunity and are very pleased we did. I don’t mean to say the mini-bus tour wouldn’t have been great (we had lunch with some passengers on the mini-bus tour and they seemed very happy with the company) but the private tour gave us the opportunity to go a little more in-depth and learn quite a bit about what we were seeing and experiencing.

 

Kirkwall is a small town and therefore has limited capacity to host large numbers of tourists at once. In 2014 I believe there is a date where multiple cruise ships are scheduled to be there simultaneously and the local officials are a little concerned about that. Of course they want to be gracious hosts and believe that one ship at a time is best for all concerned. I think the various cruise lines are keeping an eye on whether or not adjustments need to me made but if you are in town on those dates be aware.

 

We did discover that there is a free bus into town that runs on a continuous loop from the pier to Kirkwall. There is also a Hop on Hop off bus tour http://www.stagecoachbus.com/uploads/discoverorkney_2013.pdf but there is only one bus. Pat told us that they had to turn away over 200 passengers the day we were there because the HoHo was full and you can’t pre-book. There are limited to no taxis available and if you want to go to the Maeshowe chambered Tomb http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_205 you must pre-book. The best bet seems to be to join a tour (I recommend Orkney Aspects) or hire a car and reserve early. This is definitely not a port to simply wing it unless you are content to wander the downtown area. With so many historical sites close to the pier and neighboring islands to explore I would recommend planning ahead and having something set for this wonderful place. For something completely different than what I’m going to describe I recommend reading the ohhbrother review http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1851903 .

 

We had a quick breakfast in Horizon’s and went off the ship pretty early. The first thing we noticed was the wind. We had a steady 30-40 knot wind the entire day with some gusts reaching 60 knots. We also had brilliant sunshine and temperatures in the 70s. Based upon the reaction of the locals this was quite unusual and everyone seemed thrilled by the sunshiny day. No one commented on the wind so I think that means it’s windy a lot and something you simply expect. We brought our breathable raingear off the boat with us and used them as windbreakers. This helped a lot and was the only time on the entire cruise we actually used them. We’ve had drenching monsoonal rains in Denver most afternoons in August so we now feel like we got our moneys worth for these jackets we purchased for the trip!

 

Pat met us at the dock much earlier than expected. We piled into her clean, comfortable and modern minivan and we were on our way. Many of the stops we were heading to are part of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/heritage/worldheritage/world-heritage-sites-in-scotland/neolithic-orkney.htm . Pat started telling us about the area and we immediately knew we were in for a fantastic day. Pat took us to the Neolithic village of Skara Brae http://www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_244 and guided us through this fascinating ancient village. Pat's knowledge of the area and archeology in general was astounding. She brought this 5000-year-old area to life and pointed out facts and shared some of the current thinking in the field. This helped us understand that the people who built this village were very knowledgeable and advanced. She made us view them as real people with real day-to-day concerns and needs. Pat is engaging and fun and we felt like we were just on a day out with a friend in no time at all (a very knowledgeable friend!).

 

She showed us the major sites in the area to include the Ring of Brodgar http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/brodgar/ where she shared theories on why it was there and the relationships with the other major sites from the era. This really helped pull together a picture of this civilization from so long ago.

 

Photos:

1 - Skara Brae

2 - Pat explaining Skara Brae

3 - A photo taken by a fellow CC member of our group at Skara Brae

4 - Ring of Brodgar

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We were also able to stop into the Ness of Brodgar http://www.orkneyjar.com/archaeology/nessofbrodgar/ and witness an ongoing archeological dig. This place is very interesting in the summer because it’s an active site. Neil Oliver of the BBC and his crew were filming an upcoming documentary on the site while we were there. One of the archeologists, recognizing Pat, came over and showed us a fairly large stone with some type of drawing/carving that she had just finished preparing for transportation to the preservation hut. Because Pat knows everyone (or at least it appeared that way to us) we were able to be one of the first non-archeologists to lay eyes on this drawing in probably 5000 years.

Pat gave us insight into what was happening at each site and brought the day to life.

 

We had lunch at the Merkister Hotel http://www.merkister.com/, which is located right on the banks of the Harray Loch, a top fishing location (I believe brown trout are prevalent but I know little about fishing). We enjoyed a "Taste of Orkney" light lunch consisting of highland lentil soup accompanied by sandwiches of crab, salmon and egg salad, oat cakes with local cheese and chocolate dipped shortbread for dessert. Of course I also had to order a pint of the delicious Orkney IPA to share with Kathy. Pat had arranged it all in advance so it was a quick, lovely stop.

 

After lunch we drove a short distance to Maeshowe, which is a Neolithic cairn. Entrance to the tomb is by reservation only and the number permitted inside each day is limited. The entrance does require you to stoop over (it’s a little over 1 meter high) and travel down an entrance tunnel that’s probably 10 or 12 meters long. It sounds worse than it is and once you are inside you can easily stand up and move around. Pat had arranged for us to join one of her (Orkney Aspects) smaller group tours. While our group stood inside this incredible structure, our guide Jerry gave a fascinating talk on its history and the theories regarding its importance for the ancient people. By joining a much smaller than normal group we were able to enjoy the visit more. I can’t imagine how 12 to 15 additional people would have been crammed into the small space. Thank you Pat for arranging a smaller group!

 

After the tombs we stopped in (at our request) at Gerry's Ice Cream parlor - a local hidden gem. On some websites it’s spelled Jerry’s. It was delicious (I highly recommend toffee and Orkney fudge) and may be the best ice cream I've ever tasted. What was nice was that Pat was more than happy to be spontaneous and accommodate our ice cream whim.

 

Pat drove us through some of the most beautiful scenery we saw on our entire cruise. We had stunning views of Skapa Flow (120 square mile bay) and we learned more about the history of these fascinating islands. The weather was beautiful and Pat drove us to areas where we were able to see the other islands and other fantastic views. Towards the end she drove us up a dirt road to the top of a mountain/hill and we could see for miles (including the Caribbean Princess!).

 

Throughout the day Pat was engaging, entertaining, knowledgeable and accommodating. We learned much more about Kirkwall and the Orkneys in just a few hours with Pat than we could have learned touring on our own in several days. Pat was simply one of the best guides we have ever had the pleasure to spend a day with. I highly, highly recommend you book time with Pat if you are heading to this stunning area of the world. You won't regret it.

 

Back on board we again headed to deck 7 for the sail away and then got ready for the evening. Dinner was in the Palms and featured seafood pasta, Asagio beef and hot pot soup. The highlight was the Strudel with cream for dessert.

 

The show was the second MacDonald Bros. performance, which we thoroughly enjoyed.

 

All in all we had a wonderful day full of history, archeology and fun (not to mention ice cream). We will definitely put the Orkney’s down for a future visit.

 

Photos:

1 - Neil Simon preparing for filming at Ness of Brodgar

2 - New find at Ness of Brodgar

3 - Lunch at the Merkister

4 - Maeshowe entrance

5 - Kirkwall Sailaway pipers

 

Next stop – Invergordon and our search for Nessie.

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Excellent review, I was on the same cruise as TT and took things somewhat easier given our advancing years, that said we had a wonderful time and would do the same itinerary again.

 

The HOHO bus in Orkney is somewhat different from the norm in that the only hoping off and on is done at the official stops and they wait for you. The route takes 3 hours 35 mins to complete and is an excellent tour at a very reasonable cost. http://www.stagecoachbus.com/uploads/discoverorkney_2013.pdf

 

Touring Tom is correct in that there is only one open top bus but on the day we visited Orkney they put on at least three extra buses, we were on the fourth one, there were a few people left in the queue and I heard someone say that another bus was coming.

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Excellent review, I was on the same cruise as TT and took things somewhat easier given our advancing years, that said we had a wonderful time and would do the same itinerary again.

 

The HOHO bus in Orkney is somewhat different from the norm in that the only hoping off and on is done at the official stops and they wait for you. The route takes 3 hours 35 mins to complete and is an excellent tour at a very reasonable cost. http://www.stagecoachbus.com/uploads/discoverorkney_2013.pdf

 

Touring Tom is correct in that there is only one open top bus but on the day we visited Orkney they put on at least three extra buses, we were on the fourth one, there were a few people left in the queue and I heard someone say that another bus was coming.

 

Thanks Big Chippy. I'm glad someone with firsthand knowledge could let people know about the HoHo in Orkney. Thanks

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Port 7 – Invergordon

The 19th of July saw another beautiful day, this time in Invergordon, Scotland. I was a little nervous about today and our last port in France because I had arranged the group tours and others were depending on my organizational skills.

The challenge in Invergordon was how to get into Inverness to experience the myriad of things to do there. Choices included Hop on Hop off buses http://www.city-sightseeing.com/tours/united-kingdom/inverness.htm , tours of the highlands, DIY walking tour of Inverness and of course, Loch Ness – the home of Nessie.

 

We decided to pre-arrange a taxi to/from Inverness but found the prices to be a little steep. So we looked around and found a 16-passenger taxi from Inverness Taxis – email is info@inverness-taxis.com. I then let everyone know that we had 12 open seats on Cruise Critic and the van filled up almost immediately. Mostly with folks doing the Loch Ness tour with us.

 

In the morning we all met up at Vines and headed out. When we got out to the pier area there was no taxi to be found. I walked up and down but no luck. I then called the company (my one and only phone call on the entire trip) and the individual there said, “I don’t know the layout; the driver should be there”. I then walked further, left the dock area completely, crossed a road and found several taxis in a parking lot. I asked if any were from Inverness Taxi and one confirmed that he was waiting for our group. From this point on this taxi company was great. Our driver Graham drove us into town (it was about 30 minutes if I remember correctly) and pointed out interesting things on the way. He arranged for a pickup at 4PM and let us know that he was booked but another driver would be there at that time. The pickup went great later that afternoon.

 

I went back and got the group and soon we were on our way. After our drive into Inverness we had a little bit of time on our hands. We used it to walk along the beautiful downtown area and along the banks of the River Ness. This river originates in Loch Ness and flows right through Inverness. From there we could see the Inverness Castle but it is not open for touring (still in use). We did a little shopping at a woolens and kilt shop right on the river until it was time to meet our tour and search for Nessie.

 

We booked a combination tour with Jacobite Tours http://www.jacobite.co.uk and chose the Bank Street pickup. This is the second pickup spot for Jacobite and is convenient for the visitor center, shopping and a river walk. Our tour was called the Sensations tour and included a cruise on Loch Ness, an hour at Urquhart Castle http://www.visitscotland.com/en-us/info/see-do/urquhart-castle-p245811 and time at the Loch Ness Exhibition Center http://www.lochness.com/loch-ness-monster-exhibition.htm. It also included a guided tour to and from Inverness to Loch Ness and some guided commentary between attractions. Our guide was Alyson who did a terrific job letting us know what we were looking at and keeping our small group organized. One of the items she mentioned was the Caledonian Canal, which runs the width of Scotland, connecting Lochs together into an important transportation route. Soon we could see the famous Loch Ness out the window and we pulled into a parking lot near the dock and boarded the Jacobite Warrior.

 

This was a 30-minute cruise down the Loch so we didn’t waste time and headed straight upstairs. The cruise was quick and beautiful. We saw several ripples in the water that I’m sure were caused by the infamous “Nessie”.

 

The dock for the Jacobite cruises is right at Urquhart Castle. We climbed the small hill and thoroughly enjoyed the walk around the ruins. There were several placards that described how each area of the castle probably looked and functioned. The history of the castle was also explained. After a trip through the obligatory gift shop we climbed a series of fairly steep steps to the upper parking lot where our Jacobite coach awaited.

 

From here we drove through beautiful countryside with Loch views for a few miles and arrived at the Loch Ness Experience. The experience goes through a series of films in different rooms that try and “let you decide” whether the monster actually exists. They essentially try to tell you that it doesn’t but we weren’t having any of it. Clearly Nessie lives.

 

Jacobite then took us back to town. On the drive our guide continued to point out interesting things and all-in-all it was an enjoyable tour. I would recommend Jacobite if you are looking for a fun day of Nessie hunting. If I had my druthers I would have opted for a longer cruise and maybe less or no time at the Loch Ness Experience. I did think the castle was worth touring.

 

Once back in town we grabbed a bite to eat at Hootenanny’s pub. http://www.hootanannyinverness.co.uk/ It was 2PM by this point so it was fairly empty but the atmosphere was good and the food tasty. We tried our first bit of Haggis by sharing an appetizer amongst the four of us. Not sure it really counts since it was in a pastry rather than the traditional sheep stomach but we felt brave nonetheless. We also had steak in red ale pies that were quite good (and went well with a pint of Red Ale on the side).

 

We spent the rest of the afternoon shopping (Emily discovered she loved Pound Land earlier in our UK adventures and there were several locations in the downtown area). Our taxi and group all met up at 4:15PM and we easily made it back to the ship.

 

Once on board we went to deck 7 for the sail away and were treated to Scottish bagpipers. We then followed our normal routine of dressing for dinner and off to the show. Kathy was a little slow this evening and missed the show. Boy was she lucky! This was the night for Count Dimas. The Count tries to mix piano and comedy but at least on this night didn’t quite pull it off. He is a fairly good piano player but makes the mistake of believing playing fast and loud equals playing well. He essentially bludgeoned the keys while turning to the audience and making a creepy smiley face every 8 bars or so. Then he put on a suit of rubber balls while a weird Transylvania type film played. He came out with the suit and started banging body parts into the balls to squeak out a tune. All in all it was quite bizarre. I would be interested in other’s opinions on whether they enjoyed the show or not. Our group laughed (and maybe that was the point) but found it very strange.

 

Dinner was mostly seafood for the family. Excellent scallop based appetizers.

 

Photos:

1 - Inverness town center

2 - Told you we saw Nessie

3 - Jacobite Warrior cruising on Loch Ness

4 - Urquhart Castle from the water

5 - Invergordon Pipers seeing us off

Next up – Edinburgh

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On July 20th we docked at the port of South Queensferry, Scotland. Another sunny day in the 80’s greeted us. This was a tender port so after a quick breakfast in Horizons we headed for the Islands dining room to get our tender ticket. Once again this process was very smooth and we were on one of the early tenders. While waiting for that tender we chatted with passengers heading to the British Open golf tournament that day. Turns out one of them used to sell houses in our neighborhood in Colorado. Small world.

 

The tender ride took us right under the impressive South Queensferry (also known as the Forth) Bridge. Once on shore we were offered a bus to town for 10 pounds round trip. Some of our fellow passengers peeled off for the bus but we decided to use the hand drawn DeLorean Girl map http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1652129&page=7 and take the train. In the referenced post she talks about the stairs and concludes they aren’t so bad. I agree. We had no troubles making our way to the station and purchasing tickets with a VISA card. Because it was a weekend the fares were off peak (4.60 return for adults, 2.30 for kids). So by walking to the train we saved about 24 pounds round trip. Well worth a few steps.

 

The train was clean and comfortable. Sit on the right hand side and you’ll see views of Edinburgh Castle as you pull into Waverly station. Waverly is a large station, similar to Paddington or Kings Cross in London. Once we left the train we headed for an exit that said “Princess St”. This was not the closest exit to the castle but we had no troubles finding it. Whichever exit you use, head uphill. As you go uphill veer to the left (definitely more uphill than left) and you’ll find yourself at Edinburgh University and Edinburgh Castle. It’s about a 15 minute walk. We were significantly early so we decided to just wait. Glad we did. By the 9:30AM opening time there were massive numbers of people. A large tour group had edged us out of our good queuing position thanks to an aggressive tour guide. Once the gates opened we went through the courtyard area that was all set up for an evening concert and the August Edinburgh Tattoo. If you are going to the Tattoo it appears the better seats are the ones furthest from the castle. If you are near the castle I would think a lot of the performers would have their backs to you. Anyway, after passing through that area we were at the entrance to the castle. Most people had to go into the ticket line but we had pre-purchased our tickets http://www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk/ and went straight through. Turns out we were the first in and we headed straight to the Scottish Crown Jewels. These are also known as The Honours of Scotland and are the oldest crown jewels in the British Isles. If you went to the Crown Jewels in the Tower of London these are quite different. There are only a few objects but they are steeped in history. These were used primarily for the crowning of the Scottish Monarch from Mary I (1543) through Charles II (1651). They are still used for state occasions. There are three main elements: The Crown, The Scepter (Sceptre) and The Sword of State. The castle allows two methods of viewing. You can go through the main hall and see a very good exhibition on the Jewels before passing through into the actual vault where they are kept or you can skip the exhibition by entering on the side and just see the jewels. If you go early I recommend going through the front and seeing the exhibition. It was one of the highlights of the entire castle.

 

After viewing the jewels we toured the state apartments. These beautiful apartments are well worth seeing. We then made our way back to the entrance area and caught one of the guided tours. These tours are included in your admission but if you take one right away the line to the Crown Jewels and possibly the apartments may be pretty long by the time it’s done. The tour doesn’t really talk about either of those places so going out of order doesn’t spoil any of the information.

 

Our tour guide Leslie was energetic and made the tour fun. She took us through the main exterior areas of the castle, explaining how each area was used and throwing in interesting stories. After the tour we toured the rest of the castle including the prisons, which had interesting graffiti from American prisoners of the revolutionary war. We stopped at the Scottish Whisky shop and sampled honey scotch and a scotch crème (similar to Bailey’s Irish Crème). Both delicious.

 

By this time it was almost 1PM and we were a little hungry. We left the castle and stopped in at Castle Arms Pub http://www.castlearmsedinburgh.co.uk/. Located just outside the castle (as you exit the castle and look downhill, do a u-turn to your right and go up the side street about 100 feet), it was quite crowded. Nonetheless we were able to quickly find a small table for four and enjoyed a nice lunch (Fish and Chips for 3 of us while Kathy had a salmon salad). I washed it down with an excellent pint of 3 kegs ale while Kathy and Emily tried the Strawberry Cider.

 

We then shopped our way down the Royal Mile. This stretch of medieval road is full of shops, restaurants, pubs and historical sites and monuments. The shops have the typical items you would expect. Woolens, shortbread and tourist knick-knacks. The one thing it didn’t have was air conditioning. Quite simply, Edinburgh is not prepared for temperatures in the high ‘80s so these shops were all very warm. We did find a way to make it into 10 or 20 and pick up a few more souvenirs. We also purchased a small drawing of the street from a roadside stall that we’ll frame and hang in our house as a memory of this lovely area. Soon we found ourselves at the gates to the Palace of Holyrood House. http://www.royalcollection.org.uk/visit/palaceofholyroodhouse It was getting late in the day by this point so we didn’t have time to visit. I have been in there before and it’s worth touring. Looking back on the day we wish we had shopped less and toured the Palace in addition to the Castle. Of course that just means we need to go back!

 

We made our way back to Waverly Station (about a third of the way up the Royal Mile and then a few blocks to the right as you face uphill). We had difficulty finding our train to Dalmeny so we asked the information desk. We found out it was platform 20 and was leaving soon. We hustled over and made the train! Unfortunately about 10 minutes later the dreaded “this train has been cancelled” announcement came across the PA system. No information on what to do next. Being experienced at this point we went back to the information desk but found it had closed. We looked at the myriad of monitors and found Dalmeny leaving in a few minutes from platform 19. We hustled back and found a much less crowded train and took our seats. This train did actually depart and we were soon back at Dalmeny.

 

Going back to the ship was easy. Just follow the other passengers. Literally over a hundred Caribbean Princess passengers were on the same train and we all filed single file down the dreaded steps and back to the tender dock. We probably had time to enjoy a last pint of British Ale at one of the dockside pubs but decided to head back and we entered the queue for the tenders. This took about 20 or 30 minutes to navigate the long line of returning cruisers. It wasn’t as bad as it initially appeared because Princess augmented their tender fleet with a private tour boat that carried about 150 passengers. There was a steady stream of boats moving the passengers back to the ship. Once on the tender we headed upstairs despite the fact that it had cooled down considerably and had great views of the bridge as we sailed back to the ship.

 

Following our normal routine we went to deck 7 for the sail away but there was nobody wishing us off (or we missed it?). Dinner featured a 3-meat medley (Lamb, beef and chicken) that was quite good. AJ and Kathy had the pork tenderloin and cheese soufflé that they said was quite good.

 

Photos:

1- S. Queensferry Bridge

2 - Edinburgh Castle

3 - Interior of the Castle (I think this is the memorial)

4 - Interesting sites all along the Royal Mile

5 - The Royal Mile

 

Next – a well deserved sea day and then our final port of call – Le Havre.

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Finally, after 6 days in London and 10 days on the cruise we were able to sleep in for only the second time in our entire trip. We slept in until 8:30 but with the time change to Central European that was really only 7:30 in the UK. Still, it felt great. Kathy and I went to the Palms for breakfast while the kids continued to sleep in a little more.

 

After breakfast we went to the casino. Not to gamble but to get some cash. I had learned that you could get cash without a fee by putting it on your cruise card in the casino. The casino adds it to your shipboard account as a charge, not a cash advance. So if you pay your card in full when you return it’s a fee free way to get dollars on board and maybe you even earn miles or points on a cash withdrawal. Works great if you don’t stick around and donate some back to the house! We then needed about 30 euros more for the final port and used the exchange machines on board. Those are not a good deal. It’s ok for small exchanges but if you intend to take out a lot (we needed 1,000 euro for our final tour – see next post for details) ensure you take it out either in Ireland or before you leave home. There is a safe in the cabin if you end up with a lot of cash. We had most of what we needed so we only exchanged a small amount.

 

The rest of the day was spent having fun. We went to the cooking special where the kitchen staff puts on a cooking based show. Definitely more shore than cooking but it was a lot of fun. Kathy and Emily took in the ice-carving demo at the pool and thought it was also very good. We topped off the afternoon taking in a somewhat strange mentalist show featuring Alex Crowe. Emily was chosen to be part of the panel and that was fun.

 

The show was a Rock and Roll review titled born to be wild by the ship’s singers. It was fast paced and lively. After another nice dinner featuring the best escargot I’ve ever had and lobster we decided to check out the photo gallery. We found piles of photos of us taken throughout the cruise. After picking out a few we discovered they were $20 a sheet for snapshots, more if you wanted formal night or posed photographs. We thought that was extremely high for essentially digital snapshots so we passed on the entire lot. When we got home we found we had plenty of pictures so that was a few hundred dollars well saved.

 

We’ve been cruising for over 20 years and like all of you have noticed the ships have really emphasized upselling the customer over the past 10 or so. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve always done this but it’s become more prevalent. We enjoyed the ship. The staff was very friendly and professional and our inside cabin was clean and surprisingly roomy. I do wish they’d dial back the upselling a bit. You are free to say no (which we did on most things) but it would be nice to not feel like you are always at a timeshare presentation when you’re trying to relax. That’s my one and only complaint about a beautiful ship with great food and amenities.

 

After this relaxing day at sea we trundled off to bed ready for our final port – Le Havre. Our plan was to tour the Normandy D-Day landing beaches with a small group of new friends from the Caribbean Princess.

 

Photos:

1. Emily in the mentalist show

2. Ice carving demo at the pool

3. Kathy and Emily on deck 7

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22 July was the first day we were not in the UK since July 5th so of course this was the day the Royal baby George made his appearance to the world. We were hoping to be able to say we were there when it happened but of course that was not to be. We were waking up to yet another beautiful day as we pulled into the port of Le Havre, France.

 

While I say this was a beautiful day (somewhat hot, muggy and buggy!) it was actually the second time in 18 days that we saw rain. About 2 minutes of it on the windshield of our tour van as we headed back to the ship. Talking with fellow passengers it turned out a fairly significant summer storm created havoc on the highway about 30 minutes after we passed through. It was enough to delay some passengers but once again Princess waited for everyone before leaving port.

 

Initially Kathy and Emily planned to head to Paris with Princess for a whirlwind tour while AJ and I planned to take the Princess tour of the Normandy Beaches. After reading cruise critic we noticed another group organizing a trip with Overlord Tours http://www.overlordtour.com which looked interesting. We were also reading posts that described the Paris excursion as 8 hours on a bus with a couple hours of sightseeing. K&E decided that wasn’t the way to see Paris for the first time and decided to join AJ and I on our tour. Princess wanted a total of $824 for the four of us (the price had increased from $198 for AJ and I to $214 for K&E). Looking at Overlord they wanted 960 euros for 8 passengers or about $160 each. After reading trip advisor reviews on the company it was obvious we could see the beaches cheaper and with a much smaller group by booking with Overlord. We contacted the other group and found they didn’t have room for four more so we started a new tour by contacting Christie at Overlord. We then advertised on CC and quickly teamed up with Jim, June, Greg and Barbara to fill out the van. The only issue was Overlord wanted the money in cash regardless of how many people showed up.

 

I took out the cash from our local bank and asked our four fellow passengers to trust us and send the money in advance. Because they were willing to do this I knew we wouldn’t be liable for the entire amount and that put my mind at ease. I appreciate them trusting us with advance payment and it all worked out great. Of course I had to worry about large sums of cash during our London week and the previous 11 days on board but other than us dipping into it a little too much (which is why we ended up using the on board machines as described in our previous post) everything went well.

 

Our group arranged to meet at Vines on deck 5 at 7:30AM and then head out to the tour. We met our tour guide Bridgette on the pier and piled into her clean comfortable van. It was a nearly two-hour drive to the Omaha beach area so we settled in for a scenic drive through Normandy. Evidently in France tour vans can’t have microphones (they don’t want the drivers distracted) so we didn’t get a lot of narration during this portion. Bridgette did try and point out significant sites and the middle seat passengers relayed the information to the rear seat passengers. Our ad hoc PA system worked just fine.

 

On the drive we drove across an impressive bridge (Normandy Bridge) but mostly saw the highway and made one rest stop. We pulled into Omaha beach on schedule and got our first glimpse of the battlefield http://www.normandie-tourisme.fr/articles/omaha-beach-338-2.html. Bridgette had maps and other visual aids to use while she described what had happened during those days nearly 70 years ago. She really knew her stuff and soon we could easily envision the events and the sacrifices that occurred on June 6th 1944 and the days following. My first impression was that the beach looked much narrower than I’d seen in movies such as The Longest Day and Saving Private Ryan. Bridgette set me straight by pointing out a buoy that was probably ¼ mile out to sea. She explained that we were there during high tide but the invasion was scheduled for low tide. The buoy marked where the beach started on that day. Now I understood. The reason they landed at low tide was Rommel had the soldiers put traps and obstacles in the way to prevent a landing. These obstacles would have been invisible at high tide but were visible when the tide was out. Of course this also meant that a soldier leaving a landing craft had a much more difficult and lengthy journey to the relative safety of the small cliffs directly under the German strongholds. We had a little time to walk up and down the beach and then we were off to our next stop.

 

Photos:

1. Omaha Beach

2. The low tide buoy where the beach was on D-Day

3. The "cliffs" with german bunker on left - only shelter available to troops

4. Dennis on Omaha

1012083236_OmahaBeach.jpg.cc21f3a40d7dcce748a8bc33188549ad.jpg

533906882_Thelowtidebuoy.jpg.90300a661bf87991bb9f32a1b3168d84.jpg

225897410_Thecliffswithgermanbunkeronleft.jpg.7ef09e083c9b019cd65955a369b1d686.jpg

1568575164_DennisonOmaha.jpg.d9a65712aa757e279ee8b9e8ee9637f7.jpg

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