It is only a two and a half hour drive to Southampton, we arrived just before midday having pre-booked our car parking. We were directed to the drop off bay passed our luggage to the porter, our car being left in the compound to be collected on return. It took all of ten minutes to board Caribbean Princess and deposit our hand luggage in our cabin.
We usually go for a more central location but thought we would try one out towards the rear to reduce the footfall passing our cabin. This did have the desired affect however the vibration from the stern thrusters far out weighed the benefit and we will not choose this location again. The cabin itself was clean and presentable and our steward looked after us well for the whole cruise. As usual for Princess the bed was far too hard to be comfortable for us, we get around this by bring our own self inflating camping mattresses which we place under the very thin, ineffective foam toppers provided.
This was our first time on Caribbean Princess, the ship seemed to be in good condition overall and well maintained by her crew. They were always cheerful and eager to help in any way.
We choose any time dining but only visited the main dining room on two occasions. For the first, we were seated by a serving station and had I not lent forward would have been hit by the assistant waiter when he returned from the kitchen with a tray of food which was average at best. The second occasion was much better, I enjoyed my meal but my wife was disappointed with her choice of main. We dined twice in the Crown Grille, the service was impeccable, as you would expect, as was the food on the first visit. For the second my wife's steak was below par, she was offered another but declined. For the remaining evenings we dined in the buffet, it was generally good quality with very attentive waiters on hand. We did use room service twice for breakfast which arrived on time, you can request alternatives to the menu for example I would have rice crispies for cereal and they would also deliver bran muffins.
The ship had the new system for the Production shows operating. There were four production shows over the twelve nights. We went to three, Do You Wanna Dance, Piano Man and the new show Born to be Wild which out of the three we were most disappointed with, there was too much time sitting in the on stage car and not enough action with a poor choice of song. The forth show, Caliente, we did not see. The production shows were on at 7.00pm, 8.15pm and 10.15pm. We twice went at 7.00pm and once at 10.15pm, the theater was never full and there was no issue in getting a seat, not even when they did the big sell about the new production show for a couple of mornings on the wake show. Our Cruise Director, Dan Styne was excellent and often funnier than the comedians who followed him.
St Peter Port.
This was cancelled due to high winds.
We hired a car for this port, as we are National Trust members we visited Plas Newydd Country house and gardens about thirty minutes from Holyhead at the tip of Anglesey Island across from the mainland. We walked the grounds and had a spot of lunch. We went onto the mainland to visit Bodnant Gardens a further thirty minutes away. We visit Bodnant a few times each year but it is usually a four hundred mile round trip for us. They are beautiful landscape gardens and are well worth visiting if you get the chance.
The original plan was to go on a private tour however, we received a phone call after breakfast informing us that for various reasons it had been cancelled. We didn't have a plan B in case of this happening (a lesson for future cruises) so sprinted down to the shore excursion desk to see if they had anything available. Unfortunately, we only had minutes to decide and went for Powerscourt Estate and Waterfall tour. This did not turn out to be the best choice. First was the painful stop start, stop start, due to traffic tour of Belfast, then being driven through a run down seaside town which they stopped at for 5 minutes for photo taking (don't know why), and then next on to a waterfall where there was also supposed to be a nature trail. The falls where OK but the nature trail was non- existent. We went onto have lunch at a local pub which was, to be fair, very good but slow service. We then visited Powerscourt Estate itself. The main house had a fire many years ago and was totally gutted and has since been rebuilt into a tacky overpriced shopping mall, the grounds however have been restored and are well worth a visit.
I organized a tour for fourteen people for this port. We drove up the Antrim coast making various photo stops along the way to view Dunluce Castle. After the castle we proceeded to Old Bushmills Distillery where I had a tour booked. After this we went to Portrush for lunch at a harbourside wine bar, the food was good and plentiful and reasonably priced. After lunch we visited the Giants Causeway before returning to the ship. We all had a great day maybe tried to pack too much into a short day.
We booked a ships excursion for the day, Falkirk Wheel and Stirling on your Own. The Falkirk Wheel was opened in 2002 to link two canals on different levels, therefore removing the need to use a chain of locks which took I believe eight hours to climb or descend. We did unfortunately arrive early at the wheel, it was a cold morning and nothing was open and we were left to stand around in the cold for a good twenty minutes. Once let into the visitor center we then had to hang around for another thirty minutes before being led out to a barge to experience the wheel itself. You ascend up to the upper canal using the wheel, proceed through a tunnel to a turn around basin before descending and docking. It was interesting to see it in action but we felt that we had wasted a lot of time waiting around. We then went onto Stirling where you are only given two and an half hours of free time to do your own thing including trying to fit in some lunch. We were dropped off at Stirling Castle which is well worth a visit, we ran out of time to see the whole castle and saw nothing of the other attractions on offer in Stirling, we then returned to the ship via a scenic drive. It was not a bad excursion but could have been better organized with more time then available in Stirling.
We were on a private all day tour of the island we visited various historic sites and also admired the rugged beauty of the island. We weren't really sure what the tour consisted of before we set off but it turned out to be a good interesting introduction to the main island and was a bargain in the process.
We had another hire car today. We drove up the east coast to visit Dunrobin Castle, a lovely old castle with some pleasant grounds, which also included a falconry display if you timed your visit right. There were also a few other birds of prey on view around the edge of the grounds. We then went to visit the Glenmorangey distillery before driving through some spectacular scenery to visit the Fall of Shin waterfalls which is well known for salmon leaping, it was early in the season for the salmon to be leaping but with a little patience some where indeed there and leaping, we then drove back to the ship, all in all a good day.
Today we planned to take it easy although you could tender off the ship at 7.00am we did not leave until 10.00am. We chose to take the train into Edinburgh, it's a short ten-minute walk to the train station but it does involve a steep flight of steps to get there. It costs Â£4.40 for a round trip per person and takes about fifteen minutes to get into the city, trains run about every fifteen minutes - much cheaper than the $69 wanted by the ship. We had already pre-purchased tickets for Edinburgh Castle so we walked up to the castle from the railway station, toured the castle, had lunch, wondered down part of the Royal Mile and returned to the ship for 5.00pm.
We did not want to spend three hours just getting to Paris so opted for a lazy morning before going on a ship excursion in the afternoon. They were shipping out 2500 passengers first thing on excursions so we were glad not to be part of it. We left the ship at 1.15pm to visit the town of Rouen. We were given a walking tour of the cathedral and part of the old town before being given an hour to do your own thing. It was interesting but we should have been given some earphones so that you could hear what the guide was explaining as we were led around the town, it was an OK tour.
This was a breeze. We were due to disembark at 8.30am, actually left at 8.40am, collected luggage and were reunited with our car within ten minutes.
We who live in the UK are obsessed with the weather as it is so unpredictable. In March it was warm and sunny, they then told us we had a drought caused by two dry winters. The next day it rained and grew cold and continued to rain right up to the week we were due to leave for this cruise at which point we were then told we no longer had a drought issue just lots of flooding instead. It was the wettest April on record. So our expectations were low however, apart from a few showers in Dublin it was dry for the whole cruise. The temperature started off cold, moved to mild by Greenock, then became hot for Le Havre, got back to Southampton and it was 25 degrees C it was only 9 degrees C when we left.
On the whole we enjoyed our cruise, the ship and it's excellent staff and the ports of call, to the extent we intend to repeat it all again next May.