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Britain 0617
Britain 0617

Cruising on the Caribbean Princess

Southampton - Guernsey (St Peterport) - Cork - Dublin - Belfast - Greenock (Glasgow) - at sea - Kirkwall - Invergordon - South Queensferry (Edinburgh) - at sea - Le Havre, France - Southampton

 
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Rating (out of 5):     Ship    Food    Service    Itinerary

This cruise diary continues from the England / Wales land tour that immediately preceded it. We had done this same cruise (with one exception) several years ago - the only difference being the swapping of Kirkwall for Liverpool. We had been twice to the Shetland Islands, but never to the Orkneys, so Marjorie specially picked this cruise for the new port. To save a bit of money we booked an oceanview cabin figuring that the British Isles climate would prevent us from getting much use from a balcony. As much as I love my balcony, it was the right decision as most of the cruise was cold and windy on the ocean.

The ship was very full. Almost all of the cabins were booked. Out of 3,100 passengers about 2,000 of them were from the US, 400 from Britain and 200 from Canada. The rest were from a multitude of countries. The ship had just come out of drydock and some of the public areas had been renovated or changed. The service staff and room stewards were excellent and always willing to please. The food was very good in the dining room and international cafe, but I was a bit disappointed with the buffet fare. I guess I'm spoiled by the Oceania buffet where meat is cooked to order right in front of you.

Formal night is dying on Princess (yeah) just as it has on Celebrity (yeah!). The only difference is that Celebrity has re-written their dress code policy while Princess has just stopped enforcing it. Marjorie and I dressed as normal on "formal night" as did 50% of the other diners with no implications. Princess should re-write / clarify what they are willing to enforce or abandon formal nights altogether (yeah!).

We do enjoy playing trivia on a cruise and met a wonderful couple (Jim & Vickie) who joined us for the duration of the cruise. They were very sharp at trivia leaving Marjorie and I to fill in the odd gap. Our other two team mates (6 on a team) varied from session to session from a pool of 4 or 5 sporadic players. We were quite successful, often winning or tieing for the win. Best of all, we had a lot of laughs.

Pre-cruise (Jun 17) - London to Southampton

The previous land cruise diary left us at Gatwick Airport on our way to Southampton. We were dropped off at the departures level of the south terminal, and right across the street was the National Express bus depot. It was around an hour's wait for our bus and we boarded about 10:30. We had done the Heathrow to/from Southampton route (via Winchester) several times before, but the Gatwick bus took a different route hitting Portsmouth, Fareham, Southampton, Bournemouth and Poole. This was new country for us which was nice. Portsmouth had a lovely sea front. We arrived in Southampton about 1:30 and had a short walk to our hotel (Holiday Inn). We checked in and then headed across the street to Marks & Spencers for a late lunch/dinner. There was some new construction since our last visit, including a new "Showcase Cinema De Lux". We wandered up High Street and had an ice cream cone. We ended up at ASDA grocery store where we bought some muffins for tomorrow's breakfast. We decided to trial the hike from the hotel to our cruise ship. The ship was docked at the QE II docks, which we hadn't been to before. It was several blocks to the main gate of the dock where we were blocked from going any further. That was OK, how much farther could it be? We returned to the hotel and went to bed.
 

Day 1 (Jun 18) - Boarding in Southampton

We were up by 6:30. We munched down the muffins and then wandered around the hotel area. Marks & Spencers opened at 10:30 AM, so we did some shopping. By now it was really hot out. We checked out of the hotel and headed off to the ship dragging our bags behind us. It took about 15 minutes to get to the dock gate that we walked to last night. Today it was open, so we entered and started walking along the dock. There was no shade along the way and it was far further than we had estimated. In all, it took us nearly 45 minutes to get to the ship. Phew!! We dropped off our bags, checked in and then headed to our cabin to dump our carryon stuff. Marjorie had alerted Princess of my birthday and the cabin door had a "Happy Brithday" poster and balloons. Thanks Marjie! We headed up to the buffet for lunch. By the time we got back to our cabin, our bags had arrived. We unpacked and put stuff away. Muster drill was at 4:30, half an hour late due to late passenger arrivals. For dinner I had a steak pie. It was very good. We skipped the entertainment, wandered, then headed to bed.

Day 2 (Jun 19) - A day in Sark

We woke up at 6:00 to a beautiful blue sky day. It was going to be very warm. We had breakfast in the buffet as we anchored in St. Peterport, Guernsey, and then headed off to our 7:00 shore tour. We had explored Guernsey on a previous cruise, so decided to do something different this time. The tour would take us by ferry to the small island of Sark. About 450 people live on the island with only bicycles and horses for transportation as no cars, trucks or motorbikes are allowed there. (Actually they do have a few tractors, but that's it). All of the roads are dirt roads, but they are well maintained. Surprisingly, the island has a large school and a parliament building. We tendered in to the St. P dock and then transferred to the Sark ferry. There was a mix-up causing the ferry to be waiting at the wrong dock, so that took half an hour to clear up. The ferry ride was about an hour long, arriving at Sark about 9:00 AM. The island was rimmed with rocky cliffs, so the village was entirely on a central plateau. We got off the ferry at a small dock and were jostled up to the village on tractor pulled wagons. In the village center we transferred to a number of horse drawn carriages, each with a capacity of 10 passengers plus a driver. The quaint village, the blue sky, the sound of the horses hooves - we were in heaven!
 
 

There were only enough buggies for half of our crowd, so we were split into two groups - one doing the carriage ride first, then the garden / village tour; the other doing the carrige ride second. Our driver took us around quite a bit of the island (for about an hour) then dropped us off at the "La Seigneurie Gardens" for an hour or so. The gardens were beautiful including a soft fruit area, an orchard, a vegetable garden, a small hedge maze and, of course, a flower garden. We wandered the grounds for quite a while and then broke out the cookies and Coke (from the ship). The carriages returned to take us the short distance back to the town center. There we were given another hour to explore the village. We discovered a general store and had ice cream cones to beat the heat. It was about noon that the tractor appeared to take us back to the ferry dock. We had a one hour voyage back to St. P. Now, our stay in Guernsey was a short one and our ship was supposed to sail at 2:30. Therefore, all of the Guernsey tours were morning tours. By fluke, all of the Guernsey tours seemed to have arrived back at the tender port at the same time. There was a huge lineup of people waiting for the tenders. We were in the line for almost an hour (in the hot sun) until we finally made it to a tender. Not nice! Regardless, we had certainly enjoyed our brief visit to Sark. We were back on the ship by 2:30, and the ship had to delay leaving until 3:00. We had a late lunch in the International cafe, and then made it to afternoon trivia where we tied for the win. For dinner I had broiled shrimp with vegetable rice. Excellent. Once again we didn't make it to the entertainment but instead wandered and then went to bed.
 
 

Day 3 (Jun 20) - Revisiting Cobh

Today we were visiting the port town of Cobh (pronounced Cove). This was our third visit, so we didn't plan an excursion. The weather was mostly sunny and warm. We were up at 6:30 and had breakfast in the MDR. At around 9:30 we did a walk around the town ending up at the library so that Marjorie could use the internet. The town is built on the slopes of a hill, so some of the streets were quite steep. On the way back to the ship we stopped at a small grocery store to buy a couple of cans of Beamish stout. We were back onto the ship by 12:30. We had lunch at the pizzaria (part of the buffet). Afterwards Marjorie headed back into town to the library while I went to the gym. At 4:30 trivia we did very well (won). For dinner I had roast beef and yorkshire pudding. At 8:00 we did evening trivia and tied for second. It was a very enjoyable day.
 

Day 4 (Jun 21) - Surrounds of Dublin

The weather was changing. We woke up to cool and cloudy in Dublin. In fact it was raining in the early morning, but mostly dry for the rest of the day. We were excited to be back in Dublin having been here several times in the past. We were up at 6:30 and had breakfast in the buffet. We had booked an 8:45 tour out of Dublin, mainly to the Powerscourt estate. We were out to the bus on time and did a quick tour of Dublin in the heavy morning traffic. Then we headed south to the seaside village of Bray for a short pit stop. We wandered through the village, then got back on the bus. Our next stop was at Powerscourt Waterfall. We walked through a treed wilderness area to the highest waterfall in Ireland. We were given about half an hour to see the falls and wander the park area. Being near lunch now we stopped at the Powerscourt Arms Hotel in the village of Eniskerry Town for a wonderful meal of Irish stew and apple dessert. Our final stop was at the Powerscourt Estate and gardens where we toured through the stately home and then traipsed through the huge gardens surrounding the home. We were given 2 hours to explore the area. From there we drove back to the ship arriving about 5:00 PM - a full day tour. The afternoon traffic in Dublin was just as bad as in the morning. For dinner I had leg of lamb. We wandered the decks for a while and then headed to bed.

 

Day 5 (Jun 22) - Back to Belfast

Today would be our third time in Belfast. In the past we had met up with our friend, Bill (from Larne) but this time we were on our own. We hadn't booked any excursion and decided to just wander around the city. It was a cool day (high of 19), so it was long pants and a sweatshirt for me. We were up at 7:30 and had breakfast in the MDR. Afterwards we hopped on the city shuttle bus to take us from the container port to the city center (about 15 minutes). The shuttle was free as, like so many ports, we were not allowed to walk through the busy container areas so the bus was provided. We wandered around the downtown core visiting St. Ann's Cathedral, M&S, Lidl (groceries) and Dunnes (dept store). Marjorie bought some souvenirs (tea towels and mug) while I got some Irish beer. We shuttled back to the ship in time for lunch (12:30). After lunch Marjorie did laundry while I went to the gym. (Marjorie cleaning the clothes, me making them dirty!). For dinner I had lamb shank. Then wandering and bed.
 
 

Day 6 (Jun 23) - Greenock and Robbie Burns

Today we were returning to Greenock. The previous time we had done a local tour around Greenock, followed by a tour of Loch Lomand. This time we were meeting good friends from a previous cruise - Ray and Ronald from Troon - who had kindly volunteered to take us on a tour of Robbie Burns country. It was a cloudy, cool day, but not too bad. We were up at 7:00 as we docked in Greenock. We ate in the buffet and then left the ship to meet R&R at 9:00. They were parked right outside the cruise dock gates and welcomed us to our Burns adventure. We drove about an hour south of Greenock to Alloway - Burns' birthplace. Our first stop of interest was the Robbie Burns Museum which was wonderful. We learned a lot of facts about his life and endeavors. From the museum we walked to the old Burns house (birthplace) and gardens. A volunteer in period costume explained each room and demonstrated some of the items on display. Afterwards we walked back to the old Alloway Kirk where Robbie's parents were buried and then to the new Alloway Parish Church.
 

It was about 12:15, so we walked across the street to the "Poet's Corner" for lunch. We had a very nice lunch and then walked to the Burns garden at the Brig o'Doon House. From there we wandered to the Brig o'Doon (yes, it's a real bridge) and walked over it. The road had been relocated by half a kilometer, so the Brig did not lead to anything other than a green copse and hill. While we were standing on the bridge the sun popped out! That was nice. By now it was 2:30 so R&R drove us back to the ship (arriving about 3:30). Thank you R&R for a very interesting and educational day! After saying our goodbyes, I headed onto the ship while Marjorie walked to a nearby grocery store for some shopping. She was back aboard on time for a 4:30 folkloric show in the theatre. It was very good - pipers, highland dancers and a singer. For dinner I had seafood skewers. While we were eating, the captain announced that due to some very heavy weather in the Orkneys, we would be scratching our port stop at Kirkwall and adding an extra sea day. We would be arriving at Invergordon in the afternoon of the second day. Aaargh! Kirkwall was the one new port for us and why we had booked this sailing. Too bad! To bed.
 
 

Days 7,8 (Jun 24,25) - Two days at sea, then Invergordon

The two sea days (one and a half actually) went quickly. It was cold and rainy outside, so we stayed mostly inside the ship. We breakfasted and lunched in the MDR, often chatting after the meal. Marjorie attended presentations while I went to the gym. We had several trivias and fared quite well. The first night we decided to eat dinner in the buffet.

On the second afternoon we docked at Invergordon. We were a day early, so there were no excursions. Invergordon is a small, "one street" town. You can't get lost because you either walk down the street or up the street. So 3,000 of us passengers infiltrated the town of 4,000 people, flooding the street with curious onlookers. The weather had warmed up, it was dry, and the sun even popped out for a while. The shops and houses were very quaint. A number of the buildings had huge painted murals. We did enjoy our walk in town, but eventually headed back on board for trivia then dinner. For dinner I had prime rib. Evening trivia was "Animal Planet" and our team mates J&V were a fountain of knowledge re everything about the TV series. We (ahem!) won with a 100% score. Bed time.

 
 

Day 9 (Jun 26) - Invergordon and Dunrobin Castle

As of today we were back on schedule again, waking up at 6:00 still in Invergordon. We ate breakfast in the buffet as we had a 7:30 tour booked. Outside it was cloudy and cool. We were at the bus at the prescribed time and drove north along the coast towards Dunrobin Castle. The driver delayed taking us directly onto the main thoroughfare so that he could take us through the quaint village of Tain. We arrived at the castle a bit early, at 8:45. They normally open at 10:00 but made special arrangements to let our group in at 9:00. So, we had to mill around in the parking lot for a bit until they opened. We were given two hours to take the self guided tour through the castle and then walk around the extensive gardens. On the way back to the ship we stopped at the seaside town of Dornoch. It was a quaint little village and it treated us to a bit of rain. We had half an hour to explore the village and then saddled up for the drive back to the ship. We arrived onboard by 1:00. We had lunch at the International Cafe and then read, wandered and I went to the gym. Trivia was at 4:30, but I don't think we did too well. For dinner I had veal scallopini which was really nice. Afterwards there were three trivias in a row - space, jeopardy (won) and 50's music. All in all a great day.

Note: I thought we would ace the space trivia. After all, I took up space at university. But when the first question asked the weight (sic!) of the Hubble telescope in elephants, I knew I was doomed. Besides, everyone knows that the Hubble scope is currently weightless (zero elephants). I didn't have the nerve to explain to the moderator the difference between weight and mass.

 
 

Day 10 (June 27) - Anchored at South Queensferry (Edinburgh)

This morning we were up at 7:30 to watch us anchor off of South Queensferry, in view of the Firth of Forth bridges. It was stormy outside - 11 degrees, raining and very windy. As the ship anchored, the wind came up causing the ship to drag the anchor. Not good! So, the captain had to raise the anchor and reset it, which took about an hour. All of the morning tours were delayed but ours was, by fluke, an afternoon tour. As we had lots of time, we breakfasted in the MDR. We played morning trivia (very sparsely populated) and won. We had an early lunch and then headed off on our 12:30 tour. We tendered to the shore area, climbed in the bus and drove off on our adventure. We drove north along the highway and, near the village of Falkirk, went past "The Kelpies" - two 30 meter high horse head sculptures. Pretty impressive. Our first stop was at the Bannockburn museum. There was a huge battle there between the English and the Scots. The Scots won, hence the museum to commemorate it. The displays were mostly 360 surround 3-D movies putting you right into the historic battle. There was also a huge war room map on which you could electronically play out different scenarios of the battle (the Scots always win). Outside of the museum was a monument to Robert the Bruce.
 
 

After spending about an hour in the Bannockburn museum, we reboarded the bus and drove further north to Stirling Castle. We were given a brief historical lecture about the castle and then were allowed 2 hours to roam the castle and grounds. The castle is actually many buildings, built over the years. Some of the buildings house interesting museums now. Others have been restored with furnishings from the various eras. The grand hall was beautifully restored with colorful coats of arms on the ceiling and decorative flags. The indoor displays were extra welcome as it was drizzling with rain outside. After exhausting our time allotment, we boarded the bus for our return drive to the ship.

Note: As we approached South Queensferry the guide pointed out a shipyard (across the forth) where two aircraft carriers were under construction for the British navy. One of them was supposed to start sea trials today. Sure enough, later in the evening, we saw one of the carriers with a tug escort heading across the forth.

We arrived at the ship about 6:30. Because of the late tours, the MDR was open seating. For dinner I had diver scallops. We missed trivia due to our late dinner. As we went to bed we turned the clocks one hour forward, ready for a day in France.

 

Day 11 (Jun 28) - A cold rainy day at sea

Today was our final sea day as we headed across the North Sea towards Le Havre in France. It was still very cool, wet and windy. We had breakfast in the MDR followed by morning trivia, where we came second. After a wander around the ship we did a lecture on the history of Europe since the Roman times. We decided to eat lunch in the buffet. Afterwards Marjorie wandered or did a shop sale while I went to the gym. Trivia was at 4:00 and we repeated our second place performance. For dinner I had shrimp and scallops (love seafood). Then there were two evening trivias - rock and roll, and movie themes. Not my forte, but then we had J&V on our team to pull us through.

Day 12 (Jun 29) - Le Havre and Rouen

We were up at 7:00 to watch us pull into the city of Le Havre. The last time we were here we had done an all day trip into Paris (3 hours each way). This time we had decided to tour the city of Rouen, just over an hour away. We were booked on the afternoon tour (1:30 to 7:00) so didn't have to hurry in the morning. It was cloudy and cool out, but not raining. We had a leisurely breakfast in the MDR. We did morning trivia at 10:30. Afterwards we made a start at packing our bags as disembarkation was tomorrow. We had a buffet lunch and then packed our backpack for the tour. The bus left about 1:30 and we drove east along the Seine to Rouen. We were let off by the old town and did a walking tour on the cobbled streets. Our route took us by the old clock tower and the law courts. We ended up at the modern Joan of Arc Church which we toured through. About a block away we saw where Joan of Arc had been burned at the stake by the English. Not a nice ending!
 
 

At this point it was about 3:30 and we were set loose for a 2 hour on-your-own time wander through the shopping district. We explored along the main street and ended up at the Notre Dame Cathedral. The cathedral was open so we did a walk through the huge building. The stained glass windows were amazing. When we finally exited the church, the sun popped out and a small brass band was assembling in the facing square. We popped into a nearby info center so that Marjorie could use the internet. Then we wandered back to our starting point arriving maybe 20 minutes early, which we spent browsing in an adjacent farmer's market. There were lots of flowers, veggies, meats and sea food. We piled on the bus just as it started to pour in rain. By good fortune we hadn't faced a single drop of rain while we were out and about. We were back to the ship by 7:00. The restaurant was open seating again due to the late excursions. For dinner I had lamb shank. We returned to our cabin to finish packing our suitcases. We put our suitcases out in the hallway and hustled to the Explorer's Lounge for a final trivia. We said our goodbyes to our trivia mates and headed off to bed. We put the clocks an hour back tonight.
 

Day 13 (Jun 30) - Southampton and home

We were up early on our final day. We were docked at the Mayflower docks in Southampton. We breakfasted in the buffet then hustled to meet our 8:15 check-out time. We left the ship and located our bags in the terminal building. From there we went out to the bus that would take us to Heathrow. It was about a 2.5 hour drive and we were dropped off at Terminal 2. We went through security and had time to snack on some cookies and peanuts in the general seating area. Our flight was direct to Calgary, leaving at 1:00. The incoming flight was late, so we were about 1 hour late leaving LHR. We arrived in Calgary about 4:00. Customs was pretty quick as it is fairly automated now. Christina was waiting for us at the baggage area. She transported us back to her house where we transferred to our own car and drove home. We were home by 6:00 PM. The kitties were delighted to see us. The house was fine. Another great cruise!