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Better Late than Never: Report of August 2013 British Isles Infinity Cruise


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After much procrastination, I'm finally posting my trip report of our August 2014 British Isles cruise aboard Infinity. Hopefully travelers will still find it relevant.


Saturday, 3 August Arrive in London


Sunday, 4 August Stonehenge & the Salisbury Plain


Monday, 5 August Embark Infinity at Harwich, England


Tuesday, 6 August LeHavre, France


Wednesday, 7 August St. Peter Port, Guernsey, UK


Thursday, 8 August Cobh (Cork), Ireland


Friday, 9 August Dublin, Ireland


Saturday, 10 August Liverpool, England


Sunday, 11 August Belfast, Northern Ireland


Monday, 12 August Greenock (Edinburgh), Scotland


Tuesday, 13 August At Sea, sailing the North Sea


Wednesday, 14 August Invergordon (Inverness), Scotland


Thursday, 15 August At Sea, sailing the North Sea


Friday, 16 August Disembark at Harwich, England


Just some quick background: We are frequent cruisers, with Celebrity as our favorite. We're DINKs, middle-agers, who like to travel with a middle-of-the road budget. We like to do alot of our own arrangements, believing it's more fun to get a personal experience rather than a cattle call. The anticipation of the trip is just as much fun as taking it. We're not foodies, not suite customers and are pretty easy to please, while having some high service expectations.


I'm not including any photos here because I generally enjoy seeing things for the first time in person, so think sometimes too many photos act as a spoiler.


I hope you enjoy this report! Please ask questions.

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August 3: Arrival in London


(if you don't enjoy reading about pre-cruise land stuff, skip this post)


We arrived at London Heathrow on August 3 at about noon. Once off the flight, we spent only about 20 minutes in line at customs and once through, our bags were practically waiting for us at baggage claim.


We had purchased roundtrip tickets in advance (2 passengers, £50 total) for the Heathrow Express train to Paddington Station, where we’d planned to taxi to our hotel, the Doubletree Tower Bridge. A large-scale bicycle race was in progress when we arrived and we were aware in advance. The race route essentially blocked off a ring around greater London, making it impossible for street traffic (including a taxi) to flow normally. Before leaving home, we had been able to find an alternate way to the hotel via subway. It would involve more up-and-down-stairs-baggage-schlepping than we desired, but there were few, if any alternatives.


Back to the airport scene: The Heathrow Express was easy to find.. We loaded our bags onto the luggage rack and settled in for the 20-minute ride to Paddington. The train was very well appointed, clean, safe and comfortable. Before we left Heathrow we took note of which terminal serviced our return flight so we’d know where to get off the train on the way back. Be sure to do this!


We arrived at the gigantic and bustling Paddington Station. There we talked with an agent who advised us to buy an Oyster Card to travel on the Underground for the next three days. I feel like a smart person who can grasp complex concepts if I have some visual or written aids to study, but figuring out how to best pay for multiple subway rides in London just never really “gelled” in my mind. Don’t be afraid to ask an agent. That out of the way, we then found the Circle Line to take us to The Tower Hill Station.


After the requisite luggage schlepping on the stairways of Paddington and Tower Hill, we were finally “topside” outside the station staring-down the extremely-close Tower of London and Tower Bridge: impressive! Just a short half-block walk and a left turn brought us to the Doubletree, which was situated among office buildings in “The City” business district.


Even though we arrived before the official check-in time, we were quickly greeted, given the requisite warm chocolate chip cookies and found room 262. This hotel was once part of the Mint chain and retains a cool modern vibe. The rooms are small by American standards but by no means “budget.” There is minimalistic décor, a sleek bath, a wardrobe, room safe, mini-bar with free drinks, tea kettle and Mac computers that double as TVs. Our view was of an antique residential building on a quiet pedestrian alleyway. All was very nice and trouble-free throughout our stay.


We spent the rest of the first day casually wandering through London on a mission to just discover things. On Day one we discovered St. Dunstan’s in the East church (WWII-bombed gothic church left in ruins and surrounded by gardens), The Monument (311 spiral stairs to a great view of a great city), Trafalgar Square and a giant blue rooster (Katharina Fritsch’s Hahn/Cock sculpture). We dined at a cheesy chain called Garfunkel’s for dinner, and at 7:30 pm boarded “The Ghost Bus” (a vintage double-decker) for a historic nighttime tour of London’s most famous sites under the guise of a “ghost tour.” A combination of jet lag, sitting and darkness kept me fighting to stay awake, but the on-board “conductor,” the stories and the fun fellow passengers made this a nice alternative to boring motor coach tour. Fare was £20 per person for a 90-minute ride with humorous commentary about the darker side of Parliament, St. Paul’s, and such. This is definitely something we would do again.


After surviving the Ghost Bus unscathed, we caught the tube back to the hotel to turn in, so we could get up early on Tuesday for our planned trip to Stonehenge.

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August 4: A Quick Trip to Stonehenge


Day Two was supposed to be comprised of a half-day visit to Stonehenge via a dreaded motor coach. This is not my usual method of touring, but quite simply, there was no other easier way to get there without involving either a serious outlay of cash or having to drive on the wrong side of the road. We booked with Premium Tours via the London Toolkit website.


Our half-day tour to Stonehenge was set to depart at 8:00. The bicycle racers were still circling the city, so instead of being picked up at our hotel like the tour company typically does, we had to join the group at Victoria Coach Station, about six stops on the tube from our hotel.


Finding the right meeting spot ended up being a little dicey. We could easily get to Victoria Station and once there, learned that it wasn’t the same as the coach station. A helpful person directed us to follow a blue line on the floor. The line led us outside and stopped. From that point we kept asking people for directions as it was not nearly clear enough where to go. After a good three-block walk, we finally made it, harried, with a few minutes to spare. The coaches did not board for 30 more minutes, so we had some time to breathe before departing with our driver, Dick.


As we left the station, Dick announced that we would not have a guide today (he was flummoxed about that) and instructed us on the timeline, how we would get our tickets into the monument and when we would leave for our journey back to London, arriving at 1:00. Almost immediately, the timeline was revised: it was the dreaded bicycle race.


At my day job, we’re always batting around the term “resilient and adaptable” to describe successful employees. Well, Dick wins the prize for “resiliency and adaptability,” for sure. Dick spent a good hour trying to get out of town; every major intersection ringing London was blocked off. The whole time he gave us a running commentary about what we were driving past. Eventually we got out of there and to Stonehenge, which didn’t care at all about a bike race delay and was waiting for us like it had for a zillion years.


The trip back to town was equally as painful, detour-wise, but it was still WAY better than a regular day at the office. Once our feet were back on the ground we continued our casual wandering, first visiting the wonderland of luxurious things to eat and drink, Fortnum & Mason. Next stop, the nearby Piccadilly Circus, a tourist trap if one ever existed, but still considered “required” if you’re in town. Where else will you be able to find 100s of London T-shirts from which to choose?


For dinner, we visited the very architecturally interesting pub called The Blackfriar, where we’d eaten on a previous trip.It’s a wedge-shaped building on a corner that seems to have a bridge and a tube station named after it. It’s a small simple spot built in 1905 that’s big on interior eye candy, with mosaics, friezes and paintings in the Art Nouveau style. If you’re an architecture buff who doesn’t mind throwing back some pub food, we recommend a stop. Our food bill for two, including a good English pint was about £28.


We jumped on the District Line right there at Blackfriar’s station and rode four quick stops to our hotel, where we packed up our things and prepared to check out the following day to embark on our cruise.

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August 5: Embarking on Infinity


Here was another morning where a good deal of pre-planning helped us achieve success in a foreign country and among foreign operations. We needed to get from London to the cruise terminal in the port village of Harwich, 90 minutes away. Here’s what we did…


Prior to leaving home, we purchased our tickets both ways on the National Rail between London Liverpool Street Station and Harwich International. It’s important to note the very specific names of these stations, as there are also “Liverpool” and “Harwich,” neither of which would have taken us to the right place. The outbound ticket was £8.00 for the 10:00 am departure. This would get us to the cruise terminal at about 11:20 am, after a short stop and train change in Manningtree. We studied a great deal of information and traveler feedback on this rail trip and felt reasonably confident all would go well.


We left the hotel first to grab a light breakfast of pastries and oatmeal at Pret a Manger located a few blocks away. Cost was less than £15. We then returned to the hotel, checked out and got on a Circle Line train just 2 stops to Liverpool Street Station. That is, we got on the Circle Line AFTER we’d mistakenly grabbed a District Line train going the wrong direction and had to literally “course correct” by walking up and down stairways to reverse ourselves back to Tower Hill and start over. (I’m just including this gaffe so that when you board the wrong train going the wrong way at some point in your trip, you’ll know you’re not alone.)


Liverpool Street Station: wow! What a station this one was. There were subway trains and overland trains and scads of departures and arrivals and platforms and turnstiles. It took a good five minutes to figure out that the massive departure board was organized by departure time from left to right. We were now feeling incredibly rushed and concerned we might miss our National Rail train, but found the platform, scanned our tickets and made it through the turnstile.


The advice we’d been given was to sit in the front of the train so as to make the connection at Manningtree easier. So we sat in the first seats we found. It seemed a little too nice…and it was. This was first class (we’d bought coach), and we were actually at the back of the train. Another course correction brought us through a few cars (with bags, no less) to the more obvious coach section. We were on our way. So, besides taking the advice to sit in the front of the train, realize that “the front of the train” is the farthest from the turnstile. I blame jet lag for my deficiency in logic here.


The train was filled with a variety of adults and children. It didn’t seem like a commuter route and probably 75% of the seats were filled. One thing we noticed was that almost everyone was snacking. There was a vendor onboard selling beverages and chips (English: crisps) doing a pretty good business.


It seemed that barely anytime had passed and we were approaching Manningtree. At this point passengers would situate themselves near the doors and gather any luggage. Once the doors opened, it was a little bit of a mad dash getting everyone out. There were other obvious cruise passengers on our train, all of whom had multiple suitcases and bags. The transfer here required you to descend a stairway, walk through a short tunnel and ascend to a different platform before the connecting train left in 5 minutes. All of the advance information I’d seen said this was a very easy procedure, but there was still a fraction of worry. None needed! First off, the underground circuit could have been done in 30 seconds without luggage. Secondly, there were helpful train personnel on hand offering to carry bags up and down or assist less-than-able travelers. We were on the connecting train in two minutes flat.


The trip from Manningtree to Harwich International was just about 15 minutes. Once at our destination, there was the Celebrity Infinity docked only about 100 feet away, with the cruise terminal bumping up against the train terminal. This portion of the trip could not have been easier, and the cost savings as compared to a private or cruise transfer was unbelievable!


Embarkation in Europe is so much nicer than in the United States. Here, kind and caring people truly enjoy taking your luggage and placing it carefully in a cage. No hand is outstretched for a tip; instead it is their privilege to be of service. This was our first impression of the Celebrity service at Harwich. Once inside the terminal, there were no lines and we were processed through the health questionnaire, the credit-card swiping and the document check in five minutes. Again, no lines for the security screening, so we were actually on board sipping our complimentary Mimosa cocktail within 15 minutes of setting foot off the train.


We had five hours before sail away, and decided to walk into the village of Harwich and see if we could find a market to buy some optional provisions for the trip. The still-friendly folks in the terminal pointed us in the right direction and advised us that it was a short walk. Short as the crow flies, perhaps, but it did end up being about a mile down cobblestone roads and cutting through vacant lots to reach a Morrison’s supermarket. We picked up a six-pack of Diet Coke for about £5 and a few other little snacks. We retraced our steps and, on the way, fed some ducks and swans with a cheap loaf of bread we’d bought for the purpose. It was all fun and games until some rats joined in the feeding frenzy, so we quickly left that scene and got back to the ship.


More passengers had arrived in our absence and it felt almost criminal to skip all of the lines, flashing our sign-and-sail cards through the gauntlet of helpful people directing excited vacationers. Back on board, and we were able to drop our carry-on bags in the cabin and grab some lunch. Since we’d just been involved in a feeding frenzy (of the duck, swan and rat variety), we decided to dodge the busy buffet and instead headed to Bistro on Five.


We love this little on-board creperie and think the $5 cover charge is well worth the calm ambiance and attentive service. The crepes, salad, soups and sandwiches are unique in comparison to the other more mass-quantity cruise food. And the chocolate mousse is the very best on the high seas. All was as we expected.


Just before anchors were aweigh, the muster drill was conducted. Our station was the Celebrity Theater with comfortable seating and a droning video: a combination that will put even the most intrepid traveler to sleep. A young couple seated nearby laughed at us as we dozed in and out during the presentation. (Just wait ‘til they combine jet lag and middle age…grrr.) It seems that the ship’s personnel could make the whole arrangement a little more compelling in order to gain the attention of the people whose lives they aim to save. Luckily we’ve been through enough of these drills to understand the basics. If push comes to shove and we have an evacuation, all of that pushing and shoving will definitely keep us awake.


Just before muster our bags had been delivered to cabin 7064, a basic seventh-deck starboard balcony stateroom. We had actually booked an inside cabin guarantee hoping to be assigned something on Deck 3. Our travel agent claimed to pull some strings to get us the balcony and while we are grateful for the upgrade, we never feel like we use a balcony enough to justify its existence. It was wonderful to have, however, as we would glide into port on early mornings and later wave as we departed. We unpacked and got ready for dinner.


For this sailing, we chose the “select dining” option which involves either showing up whenever you wish, or making a reservation 24 hours in advance. On a trip last year, we had great luck with this option, choosing our waiter and times for the whole cruise. This ship didn't allow that. We were required to make the reservation each night and were randomly seated according to our choice of table size, which we prefer to be large.


We dined with some very fun tablemates and sometimes even serendipitously repeated! It’s great to sit with fellow cruisers and discuss what you all have in common: love of travel. My only complaint thus far with the select dining concept is that it always seems very rushed; in comparison to assigned dining which is very leisurely extending into sometimes a two-hour experience. Select service seems to succeed when tables can be quickly turned over. Except for meeting our fellow travelers, every night in the dining room was unremarkable. Food and service was adequate, neither good nor bad, nor memorable.

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Tuesday, August 6: LeHavre, France


For this port, we had connected online in advance with four shipmates to book a private tour of the D-Day sites of Normandy. Barb & Chris and Rebecca & Daniel, like us, were all Americans visiting this area for the first time. “Normandy Sightseeing Tours” was the very imaginative name of the operation which provided us with a ten-passenger van and a lovely local guide who spoke perfect English. We were engaged from 9:00 to 6:00 for a rate of about €150 per person.


Upon pick-up, the guide suggested we make a stop in Bayeux to see the cathedral and famous tapestry. This had not been part of anyone’s plan, but we agreed, since the guide assured us we would not be rushed through the D-Day sites. The tapestry, not a tapestry at all, but an embroidered cloth, is a 15th Century Norman artifact illustrating a basic biography of William the Conqueror. The purpose of the piece was as a kind of “comic book portrayal” of history on display annually at the Bayeux Cathedral for local citizens who were largely illiterate. We paid €7.50 for entry and audio guide. The actual exhibit was very crowded and progression along this 225-foot-long display case was completely reliant on the people in front of you progressing through their audio guide story. We lasted about 10 minutes before moving ahead to the end. When you’re on a short 8-hour tour of Normandy, there’s a fine line between respectfully enduring local treasures and getting on with what you truly want to see. We took turns waiting for our party outside the gift shop exit while the other walked a block away in all directions to take in the village and snap photos.


Our next visit in Bayeux was to the 11th Century Norman-Romanesque cathedral. It is an impressive structure for such a modest little village. After 30 minutes or so, we followed our guide to a storefront where we ordered sandwiches to eat on the run and were back on the road to the World War II sites we’d intended to visit.


We began our WWII tour at the German Cemetery. This was a solemn reminder to us that not all soldiers fighting on the side of the Axis powers were evil. In fact, most were common German citizens taken from their families and thrust into serious combat. Each man buried here had his name engraved on a headstone and it was sobering to see so many of them. There were very few visitors here on this day and the small parking lot was empty.


Point du Hoc was the next site on our agenda. This is a battleground on a cliff above the English Channel. Invading soldiers were required to climb 100 feet from Omaha or Utah beaches to reach the top where Germany had established a force with which to be reckoned. Concrete bunkers remain and we were able to see just how impenetrable they were. Massive craters cover the fields showing the extreme bombardment wreaked upon the site by the Allies. It is a wonder that any man, ally or axis, survived the climb, the bombardment or the battle.


And yet, all around today, the countryside was filled with quaint villages and farmhouses in a peaceful existence.


Just a short drive away was Omaha Beach. We stopped and walked on a beach that once ran red with soldiers’ blood and that is memorialized as the site of the “last straw” for the Axis forces. Today? Families played in the sand and frolicked in the surf where mines and obstacles had been planted. Small boats were towed to the beach by tractors and launched into the waters of the channel where thousands of warships sailed. It was a sunny day with blue skies and warmth where on the beach’s most famous day it had been stormy and cold as its visitors struggled to re-establish a foothold on world peace.


Last, our small group stopped at the American Cemetery near Colleville-sur-Mer. In contrast to our first stop at the German Cemetery, this compound was teeming with visitors and had acres of parking lots, mostly filled. Motor coaches were constantly coming and going. The cemetery is a newer iteration of the first burial ground for Americans established at Normandy in 1944 and, like Point du Hoc, overlooks the English Channel from a cliff about 100 feet above Omaha Beach. More than 9000 soldiers and sailors killed in the area are buried here and most of them are memorialized by white markers lined up like troops across the acres of grass.


Within the cemetery is a visitor’s center which provides context through video, audio and still photos. A very solemn place and another reminder of the true cost of war, however justified that cost may be.

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Wednesday, August 7: St. Peter Port, Guernsey, Channel Islands


The ship’s stop here was a mere moment. We were scheduled from 7:00 am (at which time nothing is open or running) to 3:00, with tendering required and an all-aboard of 2:30 in the afternoon. This left us with about 3 viable hours to take in the island. Add to this the weather, which was overcast with occasional rain.


Our original plan was to ride City Bus #71, for an all-day fare of £4.40 to circumnavigate the island with unlimited hop-on-hop-off privileges. With the short time and uncertain weather, we tossed out that idea and accomplish little more than strolling around the nearby streets, taking photos and ducking into shops


We did make a stop at the Post Office for Guernsey stamps, which featured both British and Channel Island themes, including the famed Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, a novel which has brought some relative fame to the previously-little-known island. The ship’s port guide mentioned a Postal Museum located here, but it was not memorable.


We returned an hour before the last tender in order to avoid the huge crowds, and enjoyed a late lunch. On this day we (non EU citizens) were required to turn in our passports to ship’s personnel for inspection by Irish immigration. The process was simple: bring the documents to one of the public conference rooms where we were given a receipt. The passports would be held until the next sea day. Simple enough.


At 4:00 we joined the trivia game “Are You Smarter than the Ship’s Officers.” The questions were pretty difficult and we performed woefully with only six correct answers out of 15. Amazingly, we won! And we were, evidently, smarter than the ship’s officers who (as a team) answered only three questions correctly. Did they “let” us win? Who cares: our prize was a gold medal which we proudly wore back to the cabin to prepare for formal night.


Tonight was our first opportunity to attend the Captain’s Club Social Hour for Elite members. This was held in a section of the Constellation Lounge. This used to be a relatively exclusive event held in a more intimate atmosphere, but since membership has grown, Celebrity has moved the nightly event to larger venues. We don’t cruise to drink, and quite frankly, on a port-intensive trip like this, we don’t want anything hampering our ability to get up in the morning, so one or two light cocktails suffice.

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Thursday, August 8: Cobh, Ireland


We had purposefully planned a low-key day in Cobh in order to get some much-needed rest on our busy 15-day itinerary. The ship docked right in town and we watched from the balcony as our fellow passengers boarded bus after bus after bus for the drive to Cork. Once they were gone, we walked-off at about 10:00 to stroll around the village and join an 11:00 Titanic Trail walking tour with a local historian.


The most obvious thing to investigate in Cobh is the massive St. Colman’s Cathedral on the hill overlooking the harbor. The climb was not gentle by any means, but the reward for doing so was a great view of the harbor, our ship, and the village. Adjacent to St. Colman’s is a line of colorful houses that spill down the hill. These have been named “The Deck of Cards,” and it’s a wonderful subject for photographs. We tackled it from every angle and finally headed down the hill to the Commodore Hotel to meet the tour.


Cobh was the port where the Titanic picked up its last passengers before sinking three days later. Michael Martin has made a living becoming an expert on the incident as well as other maritime history relevant to Cobh, which includes rescuing survivors and receiving victims of another shipwreck: the Lusitania. We spent an hour walking around a couple of blocks facing the harbor, learning about Titanic passengers and the logistics of her short voyage. Martin revealed some realistic concepts that were glossed-over in popular culture treatments of the disaster. All-in-all, it was an hour (and €10 well-spent).


After learning all of that history, we chose to visit the “Titanic Experience” located right on the main road. This building was originally the offices of the White Star Line and the “depot” where Titanic passengers waited to embark. Tickets were €9.50 each and the “experience” was a multi-media presentation about Cobh’s passengers.


One of the nice things about this port is that the ship is docked right in the heart of the village. It was easy to get back on board for lunch, which we did. Port days on board are always quiet with most of the passengers off on excursions, so we nearly had the Oceanview Cafe to ourselves.


Now re-fueled, we headed back out to the village to see The Old Church Cemetery, which claims to have been in existence “since Gaelic times,” and is situated about 1.5 miles from the village along Ballyvoloon Road. It was a walkable journey, but uphill, and the clouds were spitting a bit, so we deemed a €5 taxi ride appropriate. Our morbid curiosity was definitely rewarded: This place has gravesites marked back to the early 19th century, and unmarked stones of even older origin. A roof-less stone church stands tangled in vines and moss-covered Celtic crosses abound! Three stones mark mass graves for victims of the 1915 Lusitania shipwreck; multiple stones marked individual graves of Lusitania officers. We spent at least an hour taking a hundred or so photos and learning the history of local families via epitaphs. Returning to the village only involved getting back on the main road to hail a taxi. Once there, we spent another 30 minutes or so walking the length of the main street, stopped in the grocery for postage stamps, and decided we’d given Cobh a good try.


The all-aboard this day was 7:45 pm, so things were still pretty quiet when we returned to the ship at 5:30. We rested for a short time and then visited the main dining room for an early dinner so that we could make the evening’s first show time to see the ventriloquist, Gareth Oliver. Gareth’s claim to fame is having reached the semi-finals on Britain’s Got Talent, where he was an unfortunate competitor on the same episode as Susan Boyle. While his routine was, for the most part, typical “cruise ship entertainment,” we did enjoy him giving voice to a glass of water. It made the other 40 minutes bearable. We’re not huge on shipboard entertainment.

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Friday, August 9: Dublin, Ireland


The ship wasn’t scheduled to arrive in Dublin until noon, with sailaway at 10:15 pm. The benefit of this was avoiding any kind of rushing this morning, but the resulting payoff included less daylight time and missing some key sites in this busy Irish city. It was our plan to see Trinity College, and take a leisurely hop-on-hop-off bus tour.


We’d prepared to take a taxi to Trinity College straightaway, to avoid lines into the Library and the Book of Kells exhibit. There was a taxi stand at the ship that was running a good business, but we noticed the ship had arranged for many coaches to provide roundtrip shuttle service to the area of Trinity and Temple Bar for €5 per person. The line was moving quickly and buses were departing about every minute, so we changed our plans. Honestly, I’m not sure that it would have been any quicker for us to hire a taxi.


Once off the bus, before we bustled over to the college, I had the foresight to ask the driver to mark my Celebrity-provided map with the location of the bus stop. Do this! There’s nothing like a long day in a foreign town using multiple forms of transportation while still experiencing a degree of jet lag, to cause complete and utter disorientation. Once we had our bearings, we walked very fast to Trinity and found the library, where a line of about 50 people was already in place. We brought up the rear and many more people who we recognized as fellow Celebrity passengers joined in behind us until there were a good 150 folks queued-up to see the ancient texts.


Once inside the gates of Trinity College, it seemed much like my own alma mater or any other university: buildings of different eras and architecture, students rushing to class or lazing on benches, pigeons poking around. We didn’t have much time to take all of this in: our entrance ticket bore a 1:44 time stamp and we were soon in the hushed darkness of the Book of Kells’ exhibit hall.


The book itself is tiny, and the pages we saw this day were not nearly as illuminated as I expected. The exhibit room was dark and hushed. The display case was completed surrounded by people, shoulder-to-shoulder, walking around it in a circle, and it was necessary to kind of “jump the line” to get your turn. No photography was allowed. (Although we recognized some bad Italian pre-teens from our ship snapping away at something they surely did not understand.) All-in-all, an important book, but not very conducive to a tourism experience, but the school tried really hard to make it so. I guess you would call that “the old college try.” So an A for effort, for sure.


Once out of the Kells exhibit, we were emptied out into the vast Long Room of the famed Trinity College Library. Thomas Burgh, the architect, succeeded in creating a room that truly exudes knowledge. The busts lining the main walkway, actual librarians on the spiral staircases accessing books from tall shelves, and the documents encased down the middle of the room were all very heady sights to see. As per usual, we were directed to “exit through the gift shop,” which was doing gangbusters on souvenir sales.


We returned to the adjacent Nassau Street to join the Dublin Bus Hop-on-Hop-off tour, which routes through all of the main attractions of Dublin for €16 per person. We jumped off at Christchurch Cathedral and the Guinness brewery, but didn’t spend the time or price of admission to see the inside of either. We rode the bus through the entire circuit, benefitting from the broadcast details of each attraction. Because it was the end of the business day, many sites were closing now. We stopped at a combination market / coffee shop ironically called “Insomnia” and refueled with caffeine and some delicious bakery cookies. From there, we wandered a few blocks taking photos of interesting neon signs (“Why Go Bald?” was my favorite), unique storefronts, and window boxes overflowing with flowers. We just happened upon Dublin Castle, which was a fortification right smack dab in the middle of the city, yet super quiet inside the walls. As it was nearly deserted, we paused for photos.


Our final stop here in Dublin was to Temple Bar. It was now after 5:00 and things were starting to get very busy in this eating / drinking / partying area. Some shops were open and we ducked in and out just getting more of a feel for Dublin. By 6:30 we were ready to head back to the ship and used our handy map, complete with the pre-marked bus stop, to get us back to the ship’s shuttle. Again, we arrived before the crowds and enjoyed an un-rushed dinner. It was early-to-bed this night as tomorrow we would dock in Liverpool at 7:00 am.

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Saturday, August 10: Liverpool, England


Three months in advance, we booked a private three-hour Beatles Fab Four Taxi Tour here. The ship docked right in center city, on the River Mersey, around 7:00 am. Our tour was set for 9:00, so again, we watched our fellow passengers rush off the ship and onto a fleet of waiting motor coaches. As soon as they were out of the way, we met our taxi driver, Debbie and her cab, named “Lady Madonna” in the parking lot. Rick is the biggest Beatles fan, who’s read every book and consumed every type of media concerning the band, so this would be quite a day for him to actually see the places he’d only heard about up until now.


Debbie started the tour with a mix of songs “cranked up to 11” while we drove for ten minutes or so to our first stop: the birthplace of John Lennon. She gave a little history about his family, answered questions and offered to take photos. This routine continued as she took us to The Liverpool College of Art, and Ringo’s childhood homes. We stopped on Penny Lane for photos with the iconic street sign, then moved on to the Prince’s Park intersection which held the “shelter in the roundabout,” the bank, and we even went inside the barber shop (where the barber “shaved another customer”) memorialized in the song. We went on to visit a variety of homes significant to John, Paul and George. We stopped at Strawberry Field and learned the meaning of it in John’s song. Each time we paused we heard a new story and Debbie was generous with her time and encouraged us to snap photos and look around. One of our stops involved seeing the St. Peter’s Church hall where John and Paul first met. Across the street was a small churchyard cemetery where one gravestone was etched with the name “Eleanor Rigby” and another with the name “MacKenzie.” The story here is that neither John nor Paul admit to consciously noticing these names before writing their song.


For the entire three hours, we were steps ahead of the giant buses filled with 50 passengers, who couldn’t dream of getting the same individualized attention we were experiencing. We heard lots of music, and our guide asked for requests. Background information and little-known facts were shared; photos and graphics were provided via iPad. We asked a lot of questions and Debbie had all the right answers. When she showed a photo of Cynthia Lennon and her Siamese cat, we asked the name of the cat. She didn’t know, but she called a colleague and within a few minutes he’d called back with the name. This was a tour organization that had clearly done its homework: Debbie and Rick compared notes on books, recordings and Beatles history that only the diehard fan would know (or care) about. We sometimes get caught up in the fame of celebrities and forget that they had real lives, relatives and histories that were pretty run-of-the-mill. This tour included all of that.


The three hours went by very quickly and we were not quite finished with the route Debbie set out to cover, so she remained on course (without rushing) until it was complete. We had the choice of where to end, and decided on Mathew Street, the location of the Cavern Club. Debbie dropped us here, gave us more history, posed for photos and said goodbye. It felt like we had just spent the morning with a good friend showing us around her town. This was probably one of the best tours we’ve ever enjoyed—and I’m not even a Beatles fan!


But the day wasn’t over yet.


During the tour we’d stopped to view the Liverpool Cathedral as we were told how Paul McCartney was basically “fired” from altar boy duties. It was something I wanted a closer look at, so we grabbed a taxi. What a great idea this ended up being. The cathedral is huge; the largest in the United Kingdom and the fifth largest in the world. The interior is incredibly open and majestic. It’s made of stone quarried right on the premises. The void from the quarried stone is now a park and cemetery with incredible old moss-covered stones; a park which deserved our attention as much as the cathedral did, and we enjoyed walking through reading epitaphs and soaking up the sun.


Because it was a Saturday, there were various activities happening at the church, including a café serving meals al fresco, an artist inside sharing his work, a bustling historical gift shop and people rappelling from the main steeple-less church tower. Yes, people rappelling from the church! And while they did it, rock music played to encourage them. Specifically, and quite ironically, they played Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t Fear the Reaper. It seemed to be some sort of fund-raising activity, and it gathered a lot of attention from passers-by.


We were finished at the Cathedral and we still had time. We caught another taxi to the St. Albert Dock area, stopped into the gift shop of the Beatles Story exhibit and pressed some pennies to add to an ongoing collection. We didn’t waste time on the actual exhibit because we’d already had the best education ever offered on the Beatles with Debbie and the Fab Four Taxi Tour.


The ship was a leisurely walk away and we strolled along the Mersey watching the ferry made famous by Gerry & the Pacemakers. This area was sunny, vibrant and filled with people enjoying a warm Saturday. Everyone we met today was brilliantly optimistic. Our day was incredible, very much a real-life endorsement of the town; the tourism board could not have done a better job promoting Liverpool.

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Sunday, August 11: Belfast, Northern Ireland


Belfast has too many attractions to visit in one day, so we had to make some tough decisions. Three months in advance of the trip we’d researched tour companies and signed on with City & Causeway Tours to direct our day. Interestingly, when I e-mailed them for information, they phoned me in the United States to get to know me and discuss our options. It was this personal touch which caused us to choose them.


Originally, the ship was to be in port from 8:00 to 6:00, but about six weeks from sail away, the schedule changed to 12:30 to 11:00. This gave us more hours in port, but fewer of them in daylight. City & Causeway was not at all daunted. Our guide, Stevie, met us at the dock at 12:30 sharp and we were on our way to a route along the Antrim coast.


Our first stop was a short one in the village of Glen Arm. We paused for a couple of photos of the village and to take in the scenery at the marina looking east towards Scotland across the North Channel. We checked out a plaque commemorating a local war hero, “Paddy,” a carrier pigeon who, in record time, delivered a message during the Normandy invasion of 1944. According to the plaque, Paddy is the only Irish recipient of the Dickin Medal, the animal equivalent of the Victoria Cross. So begins our tour of Northern Ireland: pigeon trivia!


Some reference materials say the Antrim Coast Road is regarded as one the greatest tourist routes of the world. The drive was spectacularly Irish with sea views, narrow winding roads, sheep, cottages and green, endless green. This was a route that could never be experienced in a tour bus. On many occasions we met a car on the road going in the opposite direction and had to stop while one of us crept past the other. Stevie was not at all intimidated and coached the other drivers through the process through his rolled-down window.


Next on our agenda was a visit, about an hour away, to the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge. Gaelic for “Rock in the Road,” this refers to a land mass in the sea route for Atlantic salmon, which is maybe 50 yards from the “mainland” of Ireland. Fishermen, for 350 years, have maintained a rope bridge to access the little island. Now it’s under the direction of the National Trust and how lucky for us! Admission to cross the bridge was £5.60 per person and required a 1 kilometer walk over paved and dirt trails, rustic stone stairways and hilly embankments. Once at the bridge, we watched as eight people passed at a time, first one way, then another eight people walked back, all about 100 feet above the sea. It was windy here, which made for an interesting situation, but it never seemed scary or dangerous. Once across, there wasn’t much to do other than take in the scenery of the sea and the coastline, so we were traversing the bridge back to the “mainland” within 20 minutes or so. With the walk to and from the bridge, we spent about an hour here.


We were now headed to the Giant’s Causeway, a 30-minute (or so) drive along the coast. The Causeway is #1 of the Seven Natural Wonders of the UK. We aren’t sure who makes up the list and what other wonders are included, but this one is definitely list-worthy.


There’s no cost to visit the Giant’s Causeway unless you want to enter the visitor’s center or use a shuttle bus. On the advice of past travelers who found the visitor’s center pretty weak, we skipped it and steered ourselves straight onto the paved walking path down to the water. There was no information on the length of the trail, but a good guess would be 1 kilometer. The whole area was very rocky, but you didn’t see the hexagonal basalt formations until about ¾ of the way there, and then they were incredibly present all around. It was very easy to see how this place inspired legends and wives’ tales among the earlier civilizations. Having no background in geology, it’s a mystery how lava can form into perfect hex-shaped columns and it made for an otherworldly landscape with the sea’s waves beating up against it.


In Minnesota we have our local giant, Paul Bunyan, to explain a number of natural phenomena. In Ireland they have their own giant, Finn McCool, the main character of many legends, including one that involves the causeway. Finn seemed a little more complex than Paul, and we lost a lot of his meaning in translational context, I’m sure.


It was cool, windy and drizzling here, but that didn’t dissuade the visitors from climbing around, taking photos and exploring the formations. We joined them in these activities and took in as much as we could for about an hour; by then the chill was starting to take a toll. We also had a one-kilometer slightly-uphill hike ahead of us. So we chose to take the shuttle back to the entrance. I think I recall the cost of the shuttle being £1 per person.


We hopped into Stevie’s van and made a short detour to the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which has not been in use since the 1600s. Set right against the edge of a basalt cliff overlooking the sea, it was very dramatic and would have been an interesting place to clamor around and photograph. But the rain was starting to come down a little harder now and trudging through the mud was the last thing we wanted to do.


Stevie thought we should see the outside of the Bushmill’s Distillery. It was closed by this time, and we hadn’t been interested in seeing the inside anyway. So we stopped for the obligatory photo.


Just before leaving home, I’d read on some random travel website about the Dark Hedges. We asked if it was feasible to include a visit in our tour and, lucky for us, it would take us just 20 or 30 minutes driving south from the Causeway. What are the Dark Hedges? Quite simply, it is two rows of 18th century beech trees that flank a country road. This description wouldn’t convince most people to visit, but it has been slowly coming to the forefront as a destination in County Antrim. As soon as we were at the head of the road, viewing the gnarled canopy, a hush came over us. It’s moody, eerie, mysterious. It looks like a portal to another world, and appropriately, there is a ghostly legend associated with it. We practically had the road to ourselves and spent 20 minutes or so trying to capture the mystic qualities with our cameras. We would highly recommend anyone in the area stop here. It’s not signposted and someone unfamiliar will have trouble finding it, but it’s so worth the extra time and effort to get there and experience it.

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Monday, August 12: Greenock / Edinburgh, Scotland


I was awake when the ship slid into Greenock before 7:00 am and thought my head was playing tricks on me when I heard a faint sound of bagpipes. I looked out our window and saw a lone piper standing on the pier playing away. I stood on the balcony and enjoyed the serenade while the ship situated itself. This was our welcome to Scotland!


Soon a strange and giant inflatable Scotsman showed up behind the piper to greet the ship. Workers readied the dock for passengers by setting up a barrier of containers and securing the gangway. Ship’s personnel laid out red carpet and pretty soon we saw the typical motor coach fleet arrive. Today the Infinity’s passengers had many choices: we were in port for 19 hours and day trips included Glasgow and Edinburgh. We had pre-arranged for the ship’s excursion to see the famous Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo.


Our tour didn’t begin until about 4:00, so we had a good part of the day to explore Greenock. This is a town that really enjoys being a cruise port and you won’t find a more welcoming group of residents to express their appreciation. The cruise terminal was equipped with wi-fi and inexpensive internet stations. They sold Scottish souvenirs and conducted whiskey tasting. Genealogy buffs could look up their clans and identify their tartans. An information desk provided details for independent day trips. Crew members were even subject to help and hospitality from the locals.


…And then there was the Inverclyde Tourist Group. This is a legion of volunteers who have so much pride in their region that they conduct free tours around Greenock. We’d heard about these tours so stopped by their desk at about 8:00 am to sign on to see a castle. Two guides would take us in a mini-bus to a castle and show us around Greenock to boot. The castle did require a £5 entry fee imposed by the National Trust, but still it was a bargain absolutely. At 9:15 we met our guides, a retired couple decked out in tartan and kilt. We were one of two couples to sign up, so it was a very intimate affair visiting the 15th century Newark Castle right on the River Clyde. The guides relayed the history of the stone mansion, “home to an ingenious but villainous lord,” Peter Maxwell. They patiently went up and down stairways and through secret passages revealing hidden renaissance-era defense features and telling us about Maxwell’s infamous beating and home imprisonment of his wife (after 44 years of marriage and 16 kids, no less). Not to worry, she eventually escaped, lodged charges against him and he was found guilty.


In addition to the castle, we were briefed on the local engineer James Watt, who developed the concepts of “horsepower” and “wattage,” and whose improvements to the steam engine ushered in the industrial revolution. To illustrate Greenock’s pride in the steam engine, we stopped to see a replica of the first commercial steam paddle boat, The Comet. Our tour was finished just before noon. We thanked our guides profusely and tipped them generously, and headed back to the ship for lunch.


We still had about 3 hours before our bus left for Edinburgh, so we walked into the center of town. We replenished our supply of cash at the Bank of Scotland. Who knew that Scotland’s currency, despite being the same Pound Sterling that you get in Britain, actually looks different? We took the bills we got from the ATM inside the bank and asked the question: Is this the same stuff? The teller assured us that it was, and offered to trade in our Scottish paper for British. Minor culture shock crisis averted! We spent a little time wandering a small shopping mall and returned to the ship for our departure to see the Tattoo.


The exorbitantly-priced cattle call that is a motor coach tour is exactly the kind of travel experience that we fight to avoid (as mentioned before). But in this case, the only way we were going to see the amazing Tattoo was this way, so we engaged our stiff upper lip and boarded the bus. A guide gave casual running commentary along the 90-minute journey and soon enough we were in Edinburgh which was bustling not only with Tattoo tourists but also participants in a giant book fair. The bus took several passes through midtown to get to the pre-arranged parking spot on King’s Stables Road, with the Edinburgh Castle situated on the hill right above. The guide escorted the group of 50 for about 20 minutes until we were at the famed Royal Mile.


It was at this point that we were directed to the event entrance and we all split up to spend the next 90 minutes trying to get a feel for Edinburgh. Why the ship couldn’t offer an all-day excursion here along with the Tattoo, is beyond me. Rick and I went our separate ways so that I could take photos and he could shop for T-shirts. The Royal Mile was bustling with the 8000+ attendees who were all there to eat, drink, shop and tour in advance of the show. Every storefront and restaurant was filled with tourists; security personnel and ushers were doing a great job of crowd control while still making everyone feel welcome. You could feel the excitement in the air: for many this would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.


We reunited at our assigned seats in the stands: Section 10, Row X seats 22 & 23. These were “front stands,” supposedly offering the best view and we were fortunate to have a break in the seating in front of us so no heads would be in our way. It was drizzling, so we rented seat cushions at £1 apiece. Though it was August, there was a nip in the air and we were glad to have worn a couple of layers and brought hats and gloves.


The Tattoo itself was 90 minutes of precision spectacle! For a marching band fan like me, it just doesn’t get any better than this. We enjoyed performances by bands from (besides the UK) Mongolia, Mexico, Ireland, Korea, and Malta. Our favorite was one from New Zealand who added humor to their show. There were Highland dancers in drill team formation and a group of pre-teens performing choreographed motorcycle stunts. The grand finale included all of the bands playing together in formation in the courtyard: amazing. You just didn’t want it to be over. But soon enough we were patiently, steadily moving our way out of the venue and pouring into the streets.


Now we needed to find our bus. I’d made a discovery while out on my own taking photos. Where the bus parked, I’d noticed a funny sign that pointed upwards to “Granny’s Green Steps.” I found the top of those same steps just around the corner from the Tattoo entrance, so we hurried that way and were at our bus in moments while others in our group wound their way through the crowds for 20 minutes using the route our guide had shown us when we arrived. By about 11:15 we were on our way back to the ship in Greenock, with arrival at nearly 1:00 am, 45 minutes before all-aboard.


Because there were no eating venues still open on the ship, they had arranged for a snack to be waiting for us in our cabin and after such a long day, I can say it was the very best tuna sandwich I’ve ever eaten and its small touches like these that make Celebrity our favorite cruise line.

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Tuesday, August 13: At Sea


Nine days in and our first sea day! The jet lag, the odd hours for 10+ days, and the go-go-go of this itinerary meant we were ready for some serious rest. All we did today was relax: sleep, read, visit the Jacuzzi, play some Yahtzee, compete in two rounds of trivia and—you guessed it—eat. As much as we enjoy seeing all we do in port, the sea days are treasured experiences. We needed the rest to be ready for our last stop, which would be another jam-packed visit to a new port.


Here's some info on shipboard information...

Captain: Michael Symouras

Cruise Director: Ian


Celtic Diva Sinead Blanchfield

Celebrity Showtime: "Around the World"

Ventriloquist Gareth Oliver

Vocalist Sam Kane

Celebrity Showtime: Boogie Wonderland

Vocalist & Pianist Claire Maidin

Hypnotist Christopher Caress (his real name?!)

Celebrity Showtime: "iBroadway"

Comedian Jeff Nease

Beatles Celebration "From the Cavern to the Rooftops"

Edited by SixOneTwo
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Wednesday, August 14: Inverness Scotland


Today the ship docked at 7:00 am in the tiny village of Invergordon, the port for Inverness. We had done a good deal of research for this port so that we could avoid the high priced ship’s excursions to Loch Ness.


Our independent adventure started just before 8:00 when we touched land and walked half a block to the city bus stop. It could not have been easier. (Walk off the ship, out the driveway, veer slightly right onto Munro Street, about 50 yards to High Street, There’s the bus stop on the “ship’s” side of the street.) Our research had told us to take any city bus numbered 25 or 25X. The roundtrip fare per person was £10.50 for a ride that lasts just short of 30 minutes and gives an informal overview of the many villages where it stops along the way. (Compare this to a cruise ship transfer on a motor coach in the neighborhood of $32 pp. They ought to be ashamed.) The final bus stop was our destination, the Inverness bus station, where we’d meet a representative of Jacobite Cruises. This appeared to be the only company providing tours of Loch Ness and the surrounding area. We’d pre-paid for the “Sensation” tour which includes a cruise of the loch, time at the Urquhart castle ruins and a visit to the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition, all within a 3 ½ hour time span.


Our tour wasn’t to depart until 10:30, so we had about an hour to spare, which we spent wandering around Inverness. Shops were already open and we alternated ducking in and out with taking photos of the river and architecture.


The weather here this day was the best we’d had since embarkation. The sky was blue with white fluffy clouds, sun shining, perfect temperatures. We boarded a small bus that took us to the dock of the Loch Ness Clansman, a hotel on the lakeshore. We joined about 150 other travelers on the Jacobite Warrior and sailed out onto the loch. Loch Ness is the largest in Scotland (by volume) and contains more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined. You can tell by a quick glance at a map that the lake fills a fault. It’s over 700 feet deep in some locations and very, very cold.


We spent some time on the back of the vessel taking photos of the green hillsides and the sailboats on the water. Of course we were secretly looking for any sign of Nessie, but were keeping our best poker face on so no one knew our gullibility. Inside, Jacobite was doing a brisk business selling cups of gourmet coffee. We sat down on the lower level and tracked our progress on the map printed on the tables. I was delighted to see that Jacobite had included the location of Jimmy Page’s former home (and questionable mystic location) Boleskine House. Despite our pre-cruise research, we were excited to find out the proximity of this house to Inverness, but alas, time was short and we were unable to find a way to fit in a visit.


After about 30 minutes on the loch, we came to the ruins of Urquhart Castle. There is some evidence that a castle existed here in the 14th century; it was key in a variety of battles during the 15th and 16th centuries, and it was intentionally ruined in the 1600s. Since the 18th century it’s been an attractive subject for painters. In the early 1900s, the castle was designated as a protected landmark and not ten years ago a visitors’ center was built. The castle this day was doing a bustling business with tourists climbing around and even a bagpiper playing in a beautiful grassy setting among rock walls with the loch behind him. After taking in all of this, we grabbed a drink from the visitors’ center and waited for the time when our bus would pick us up for the next step of our tour: The Loch Ness Monster Exhibition.


First a preface: Rick is an absolute believer of all mysteries and conspiracies, the Loch Ness Monster included. I, on the other hand, am an unapologetic skeptic. So it would be interesting to see what this center would do to either confirm or suspend one of these beliefs. What the center is, is a series of rooms that handle the history of the loch, the monster and the science surrounding it. We started with geology and dinosaurs, and then moved quickly to 1933 when the Monster turned into a proper noun. We were clued-in on various methods by which a hoax could be enacted and provided lots of evidence of investigations and scientific studies. In the interest of not being a spoiler, I will only say here that one of us had our mind changed by the experience.


While awaiting the departure of our bus to town, we stopped by the gift shop (as if we’d had a choice not to) and found a penny press where we embossed Nessie in copper for our collection of smashed pennies from all over the world.


Back in Inverness, we still had plenty of time before we had to head back to the ship for all-aboard at 5:45, so we strolled along both sides of the river bank, taking more photos, visiting a small church cemetery and just taking in the great weather. We returned to the Inverness bus station and grabbed a bus leaving at just before 3:30 and arrived at the ship at 4:00. Interestingly, this bus and the one before it were completely full; I’d say at least 50 percent were cruise passengers. Back in Invergordon, we stopped in the local convenience store to buy postage stamps both for my collection and to mail post cards. We were on the ship an hour before the deadline.


As we sailed away from Scotland, a rainbow appeared over the sea. How very appropriate for this part of the world.


Today was our 25th anniversary and our family had provided an onboard credit to celebrate with dinner in the SS United States. Our reservation was a little late, 8:30, but since we didn’t have to get up early the next day (at sea), it worked for us.


We’d eaten at this venue when we sailed on the Infinity in 2009 and enjoyed it very much, so looked forward to the nearly one-on-one service and the rich, well-prepared foods. Unfortunately, the SSUS must have been having a bad night. We were offered bread immediately, but never again. It took 20 minutes for someone to approach us to take our order. We selected lobster bisque, frisee salad and chateaubriand for two. Each course was served by a different person, we sat for long waits between finishing a course and having the plates cleared. We didn’t get the simultaneous un-covering ceremony that usually occurs. The Chateaubriand was carved tableside and I noticed the server struggling to cut it, thinking “that man needs a sharper knife.” But it ended up not being the knife; the meat was dry and tough. After the main course we waited a very long time when suddenly one of the Maitre ‘Ds from the main dining room appeared to hand us our dessert menus. We asked what was going on and he answered something vague like, “I just stopped in to check on things.” Our soufflé desserts were very good, but by this time our expectations had been dampened a bit and we left fairly confused. Last time we celebrated here, the cost was in the $25 per person range and the food and service quality was top notch. This time, the cost was nearly twice as much while the food and attention suffered. We’ll stick with the “free” dinner venues from now on.

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Thursday, August 15: At Sea


Last cruise day! How could it be, so soon? And yet, we’d seen so much, covered so many miles, met so many people, and had such fun!


Today was a day to get organized and pack. We played the two trivia sessions, spent time in the Jacuzzi and “worked hard” to get in as much relaxation as possible. The last day is always a combination of disappointment that the trip is over and relief that you’ll be returning to the comforts of home. We had missed our cats, Walter and Bruno, terribly and looked forward to reuniting with them. But if we’d been given a free pass to continue the journey, we’d have been hard-pressed to decline.


Other Shipboard Activities

Interactive Games with Knect

Billboard Music challenge

Dancing Through the Decades Party

How to Cook the Perfect Steak with Exec Chef Andy

Art of Food & Wine Pairing

Are You Smarter than the Ship's Officers Trivia

Formal Night Dance Party

Irish Folkloric Dance Show (Cobh)

Port Lecturer Stuart Gustafson

Sizzle Interactive Latin Theme Party (aren't all parties interactive?)

Irish Folkloric Show (Dublin)

Pub Night

Beatles Mania

Cruising with iPad / iPhone

Jazz Jam

Beyond the Podium: Ian Taylor re: Climbing Everest

Mind, Magic and Mentalism Show

Officers v. Guests Ping Pong

Scottish Folkloric Show (Inverness)

Dancing with the Officers

Late Night Comedy: Liar's Club

Officers v. Guests Minute to Win it

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Friday, August 16: Return to London


Once again, we had tickets on the National Rail from the port to London. The fare was specific to the 9:30 departure, at £16 per person. Because we were loyalty passengers on the ship, we had a special departure lounge in which to wait, but when we arrived, the hostess informed us that we could disembark at any time. We were off the ship at 8:30, thinking we might take an earlier train. The train station personnel advised us against this, as the earlier departure fare was much higher and we’d get no credit for what we’d already paid. We waited the hour, and were joined by probably 20 other passengers heading the same direction. Future passengers should heed this advice: don’t be in a hurry to disembark the ship only to sit around a boring train platform!


Because we couldn’t get a flight out that day, we’d booked one more night again at the Doubletree Tower of London. By now we were old hands at getting there and when we checked in, they surprised us with executive floor accommodations. The room looked the same, but the perks involved a lounge for snacks and breakfast at no additional charge. Plus we got another round of warm chocolate chip cookies.


Just a quick aside about this hotel: If you’re into sustainability and “green architecture” at all, be sure to give the outside of this place a good look. The majority of it is covered in plants, but that’s not evident from the front of the building. Also, the rooftop bar, though I visited when it was not open, looks to be a very jumping place at night. By day, it serves as a great spot for awesome photos of the Thames, the Tower and London’s iconic skyscrapers.


The plan for London this day was—wait for it—casual strolling again. We walked through Covent Garden, stopped for a couple of hours in the British Museum, popped in and out of shops, enjoyed some hot chocolate at the “Hotel Chocolat,” (do this!) and took more photos of architecture and culture. After struggling to decide on a dinner restaurant, we headed back to the hotel via the Victoria Embankment and enjoyed the gardens, fountains and sculptures. We finally were directed by our hotel staff to St. Katharine’s Docks where we settled on Cote for dinner, having salad, steak and “baked crepes,” which were a lot like enchiladas. Great recommendation, and later we found out this is a chain, though you would not know it.


Saturday, August 17: Home


All of our experience handling public transportation meant that we were now old hands at getting around: Circle Line to Paddington, Heathrow Express to the airport. Easy-Peasy. Heathrow Airport is not necessarily for the faint of heart, though, so even with our newfound confidence in ground transportation, we still had to invoke our strongest patience to get through the various lines that result at one of the world’s most busy international airports. You’ll need to muster yours, too.


Trip over! We had a great time, and of course, will just HAVE to go back to see more of the British Isles in depth. And just a few weeks after arriving home, we’re already trying to decide where we’ll cruise next.

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Thank your for a wonderful review, full of great details.

I feel like I was there with you two.

I too love European cruises and know it is all about pacing yourself and doing what really interests you. The few sea day are for totally relaxing.

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----and of course, will just HAVE to go back to see more of the British Isles in depth.[/Quote]


A great in depth geographical/ historical report.

I would love a link to your photos.

I have wondered about this cruise before, now I must look into prices!:)

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Thank you for the great review, I'm on Infinity 5 weeks today so I found if very interesting :)


Thank you also for the nice comments about The Loch Ness Centre & Exhibition (The Loch Ness Monster exhibition) you visited. I'm the Centre Manager there :D I live in the little village of Drumnadrochit (between the castle and the centre) and it's so lovely to hear you enjoyed your time with us.

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Enjoyed your review, I hope you'll watch the forum for some time in the future because I think you can offer a lot of advice to future cruisers. The London to Harwich question seems to come up a lot!


My only slight concern with the review is the general (light) disdain for people who take the cruise excursions. Although, we like to travel independently ourselves we've also taken a cruise excursions when we felt we had too. We do what's best for us!


We travel independently through Europe each year, but it's just not for everyone and it takes a lot of research.

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Wow what a great review, really well written, it really made me want to do a round UK tour and I already live here!!

I am so pleased that the service and the welcome you got was so good, we tend to be very self deprecating here but the fact is if you do a bit of research you can get excellent service in the UK and on the whole people are very friendly and helpful (though like everywhere it's not Universal).

One thing that always surprises me about the UK itineraries is that other than the embarkation port which is inevitably Dover, Harwich or Southampton due to the proximity to London, there is seldom anywhere else other than Liverpool on the schedule in England and nowhere in Wales although I suppose you can visit North Wales from Liverpool. They do however insist on taking you to France and the Channel Islands and have three stops in Ireland and two in Scotland. It seems to me that Bristol would provide great access to the southwest and locations such as Stratford and Bath as well as Devon and Cornwall and Hull or Newcastle which would open up Northumbria and Yorkshire would provide far better opportunity to deliver a rounded experience of the British Isles.

I would be interested to know what the US CC members think?? Where would you like to visit in the UK? Or if you are coming over to Europe do you welcome the taste of France alongside the UK and Ireland?

Edited by scifimonkey
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Excellent and well-writen review. It was nice to replay all the events we experienced in June (we sailed the same itinerary). We've explored England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales many times, but it was fun to hit the coastal areas via the Infinity.

We love using public transportation and it was fun to see someone else make the best of it! I must of done a dozen mental dry runs of the hotel, to Liverpool street station, to Manningtree, to Harwich International -- just to make sure it was a smooth and stress-free experience. Turned out to be a piece of cake.




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