There was a bit of everything on this cruise to the British Isles (BI), from variable weather to pleasant surprises at port.
We had sailed on the Caribbean Princess the year before when it was cruising the Canada & New England area so we were familiar with the ship. Except for a few places, the ship was in excellent condition and was undergoing some minor renovations during the cruise in some cabins when passengers were ashore. We saw them changing carpets and mattresses in some of the cabins. The staff had changed over almost completely from the prior year and was definitely one of the highlights of the trip. It was definitely one of the most friendly and helpful crews that we have experienced on a Princess Ship. You could tell the crew was happy with their jobs and eager to serve the passengers. Maybe it was still early in their 10 month contracts or the change in venues, but one could definitely feel the energy in the crew.
There were some subtle changes such as the Lido deck not being open for 24hr dining, etc. that indicates Princess is watching its expenses closely. Aside from the first day, I'm also glad that they did not continually try to sell you extras at every turn from premium drinks to on board services. Its looks like Princess is listening to its customers in this area.
Food was typical Prince fare. Good quality but if you wanted something special, there were extra charge restaurants on board. Service was excellent in the dining rooms.
We also liked the fact that they added a 7PM show on most nights. That really helped the overcrowded situation with the 8:30PM time slot where people were fighting over seats. With 3500 people on the ship, two shows per night is just not enough.
Movies Under the Stars may have been great in warmer weather, but most nights we were in the 40s and 50s and there were only a few hardly souls out on the deck under blankets. They do simulcast the move on TV so there is an alternative.
It was also the first time for this ship on this itinerary and the most of crew. They did not know too much about the details of the ports so if we were not prepared, we would either miss a lot or pay a lot to see anything. There is also very little info on the internet about these ports as well, so there was a lot of exploration. Hopefully, reviews like this will help the knowledge base.
Overall the itinerary of the cruise was OK, however you could tell that the ports that were selected were done so for a reason - cost. In some cases, there was no other way to see an area, but on others seeing the major attractions in the area required either a more time at port or a lot more money than can be done by the independent visitor. Le Havre, for example, is three hours from Paris and 120KM from the D-Day beaches, which makes taking the Princess Shore Excursions the only option to most passengers.
We did not go ashore due to bad weather, strong currents, etc. which made it unsafe for the tender boats to operate.
We took the train to Bangor. Walk through the shopping mall and out the other side to the train station, about 15 minutes from the ship. Tickets cost 9.30 pounds, make sure to ask for the Rover Tickets. With these tickets, you can then take the #53 or #57 buses to Beaumaris Castle or the #5 or #5S to the other castle from the Bangor train station bus stop. Train goes by the station with the long name but only stop there 'on request' so be careful about the schedule to be sure you get back to the ship on time.
Took the 8 Euro shuttle bus to town. There is a HoHo bus for 16 Euros, but we decided to walk as everything was fairly close together. Visited Trinity College (Book of Kells), St. Patrick's, The Church of Christ, and Grafton Street, before the drizzle and rain forced us back to the ship.
We took the free bus into the town. If you get there early, independent tour operators will be in front of the information office where they drop you off and you can book tours there to Giants Causeway for around 20 pounds on their bus. We were late, but fortunately we found another couple and shared a London Taxi for 40pounds each person for the trip. Its over 100KM from town, so allocate plenty of time for this if you are planning to go. Visited GC, the Rope Bridge, and Dunluce Castle. Didn't go to the bridge because there was a charge to cross the bridge and the wind was blowing really hard.
Our driver Paul, was a fountain of knowledge about the "Troubles" and gave us a interesting perspective from his point of view. He had two volumes of photos, news clippings and other items of the era which we reviewed on the long journey to and from the Causeway. He can be booked via his email at Paulmccaff1975@hotmail.co.uk. We were lucky as one of the guys pitching tours helped us find him when we missed the bus tour from his company. It worked out even better in the long run
Took the train to Glasglow central for 6.60 Pounds RT. From there, we walked about 10 minutes to the HoHo bus and took that around Glasgow. Cost 11 pounds each and 9 pounds for seniors. Really enjoyed the Transportation museum where they had a huge collection of everything from bikes to full sized trains under one roof. Glasgow is rapidly developing into a major convention town and the HoHo bus goes by the new construction and major points in the city. Had to watch time in order to not miss the train back into Greenock Central. BTW, the Glasglow Central train station is a must see - beautiful.
This is a small port with a bit of charm. Most of the action was around the square of St. Magnus Cathedral which was worth a visit to see its ornate interior. We were at sea on Sunday and landed in port on a Monday. There is a small Catholic Church at the end of Union Street that has mass at 12 Noon on Mondays. After mass, the pastor invited us for tea and we also met some of the parishioners before visiting the rest of the town.
Invergordon is the port for Inverness, which can be gotten to by taking the pubic bus on High Street for 10 pounds RT. Takes about 40 minutes into town. For us, we had to catch the 3:30PM bus back or risk missing the boat as we were not on the summer schedule. Really wanted to go to Loc Ness and made the mistake of reading a review that said the local HoHo bus took us out there. It doesn't. The HoHo takes you around Inverness only and can be boarded at the information office right across the Church. Look for the Church steeple when you get off the bus station and heads towards it and you will find the Tourist information center. They were also giving free walking tours from there as well.
If you want to go to Loc Ness and Urquhart Castle to try to see the Loc Ness Monster, you should stay at the bus station upon arrival at Inverness and check out the schedule immediately. We lost a lot of time walking back to the bus station after going to the Information office and just missing the bus. Cost to Loc Ness and Urquhart Castle Parking lot is another 5.10 pounds from Inverness. Entry into Urquhart castle is 7.40 pounds or 5.90 pounds for seniors. We got pictures from the parking lot but refused to spend that much on admission to see the ruins. Had a tight schedule to get back to Inverness and the bus connection back to the ship.
Great little port. Really small and not too much to see around the ship. Independent shuttle buses available on shore for 5 pounds each way to Edinburgh.
We wanted to go to St. Andrews so we booked the ship's tour on this port. Glad we did as it was in the opposite direction of Edinburgh. The ship's tour was pretty good as we had time to see the Old Course and see some of the town's landmarks. Our guide was excellent and gave a great historical perspective on St. Andrews and some of the history of how William and Kate met there and some of the places they frequented.
Got my photo of me standing on the 700 year old Swilcan Bridge and walked around the Old Course. Bought a lot of souvenirs from the shops lining the course. A bit pricey, but after all this is sacred ground for us golfers. It would not be too much cheaper to do your own tour as Taxis were quoting around 200 pounds to go to St. Andrews which is about an hour's drive away.
Spent the morning on the waterfront watching the tender boats. One unfortunately got grounded and took a long while to get free. Those on board were not very happy as I'm sure they missed their morning shore excursions. It was quite interesting watching the drama unfold as they struggled with the low tide and mud to try to free the boat.
More than half the ship went to Paris or Normandy tours. We been to Paris and Normandy and felt they could not really be appreciated in such a short stay, let alone the cost. Three hours each way to Paris, or two hours to the D-Day Beaches is not a good way to spend a day. 3-4 days in each place is more of a realistic time line for each place. Instead, we chose to explore Le Havre. Glad we did as it was only 8 euros by taxi to town center. We visited St. Joesph's Church (the tall buiding that looks like an office building). Its an usual building and worth a visit. We spent a lot of time at the Apartments, which has many shops and outdoor restaurants. Got back to the ship early and started to pack as we were schedule to disembark early the next morning. Saved a bunch of money and time for a future stay in Paris.