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Europe - British Isles & Western
We took the four day pre-cruise bus tour in western Ireland's "Ring of Kerry." That was awesome, and actually better than the cruise itself. Our other cruises have been with Oceania and Holland-America (H-A).
The ship is pretty nicely fitted out in the public areas. The piazza is the center of activity and there always seems to be something going on there. The International Cafe is always open for a nice snack when you need it. If you're into wine, the Vines bar is very nice, recommend buying the bottle straightaway as the per glass prices add up quickly! Vines also offers tapas and sushi; the tapas change every day, the sushi does not, both tasted excellent each time. Crooners was very nice for a martini and the pianist was Paul Burton, who is really amazing, quite a singer!
The pools were not much in use as it was still early season and, while not rainy, it was quite cool and breezy. The "Movies Under the Stars" Princess promotes was pretty pointless in that kind of More
weather, though the crew had nice warm blankets for those who chose to enjoy the films. The same films are on in the room anyway.
We chose anytime dining for flexibility, and were very happy with the service in both the Coral and Island dining rooms. The food was quite good every time. We also went to afternoon tea one time and liked it, but thought Oceania and H-A were better in terms of tea quality and food offerings.
We went to Horizons buffet just once and it did not compare well with offerings from H-A and Oceania. The way the different stations are set up, there's just too much cross-traffic to navigate with plates. Add to that people who enter from the wrong end and it's a real bother. Princess should work on the traffic flow, perhaps by next refit so that can be fixed. The food is the same as the dining room, but not as fresh-tasting and often not warm when it ought to be.
We had booked an interior room, then were upgraded to a balcony (Thanks, Princess!). It was nice to have a view of the sea and shore, though it was a bit too brisk to linger out there. The room was quite nice, except we thought the beds were uncomfortable, like camp beds with mesh supporting an okay mattress, ended up being too soft and saggy in the middle. H-A and Oceania have much nicer beds, at least as good as our Tempurpedic at home, and perhaps better. The bathroom was okay, plastic shower compartment, tile floor, dodgy shelf but it never totally fell off. Our toilet button failed but the crew fixed it in about 15 minutes, good job to the auxiliarymen.
No robes in room as with other lines, but you can ask your steward for them and they are happy to let you borrow. We discovered this with about three days to go, so, live & learn, not that big a deal.
The Princess tours are crazy-expensive, much better to use CC and organize your own if you want to go out with a guide, or just take advantage of local transport. Some things fill up early so best to plan well ahead if you want a guide, e.g. Normandy.
The Wake Show on the television with cruise director and his assistant were hilarious and shared a bit more about the behind the scenes action on board.
We bought the spa package, $198 to be able to use heat tables, 3 different sauna experiences and rain-showers. Wife also enjoyed 7 acupuncture treatments that were effective relieving joint and sinus pain she has been living with for years.
Shameful fees for Internet or wireless, but that's not just a Princess thing, Oceania and H-A do the same thing. Be careful with your cell phone, you may incur charges if you go out of airplane mode on the ship, but, you can actually use your phone. The library was tiny compared with H-A & Oceania.
Princess requests you not bring booze aboard from excursions, but not enough to actually remove it from your bags, so, sorry Princess, request denied!
Both of us want to return to Western Ireland, Liverpool, and Scotland (but not Glasgow so much). I think France would be nice as well.
If you're on a tour, don't sweat the underway time; the ship did not leave as scheduled, ever, usually an hour later.
This time of year, the days are quite long, 4:30-ish sunrise, 21:30 sunset, but the sunset afterglow continues to about 23:00, kind of cool to watch. Less
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Port and Shore Excursions
May 31, 2012
Free coach ride to city center, near city hall. Took a CityTours tour around the city and building yards. R.M.S. Titanic was built here, but their ship-building days are over now, sadly. Best wishes for the future.
The city is actually fine until you get out into the Protestant/Unionist neighborhoods, which are a bit scary-looking, and made me think the political issues are simmering away still. Murals are interesting & troubling. They are meant to be.
The Catholic neighborhoods are worse-looking, but the Catholics were long forced to the bottom of the economic ladder. Hope it get's better for everyone someday.
Lunch at the Morning Star near the tour bus pickup, in the main shopping district, lovely buffet for 5 pounds. Smithwicks on tap, quite nice. City hall is supposed to be nice, but we just shopped and headed back to the ship about 4 p.m.
May 29, 2012
Okay, this time it's really Dublin. 8 Euro to downtown with return, each. Not unreasonable really, but Oceania and H-A offer free shuttles when needed.
Princess offered free coaches downtown so we took one and were dropped off across from Trinity College.
Went to Book of Kells, lovely to see but horribly disorganized for viewing. You have to try and be patient and nudge in to the endless circle, when others will not be patient. People were very grumbly here but no one actually threw punches. Gift shop nice for souvenirs.
Lunch at the Duke on Duke Street, Irish Stew as good as anywhere, fish & chips heat-lamped and soggy, disappointing, Carrig ale quite good & not something we'd have at home normally.
Went to the fine Museum of History and Archaeology, excellent display of Viking influence on Ireland, stunning craftmanship by Irish metal workers producing gold jewelry, very nice history of medieval period.
June 4, 2012
Anchored in S. Queensferry.
Tendering much smoother this time. Coaches to city just 10 pounds round trip, but the train just up the hill takes you to practically the same spot for a bit less, & slightly closer to the Castle & Royal Mile.
There is so much to do in Edinburgh! Find a Wi-Fi or Internet cafe, order your tickets to the castle for same day pickup, you'll save yourself an hour in the Disney-like serpentine line. The castle is just wow! Outstanding views all around, plus a great collection of history. It being jubilee weekend, some museums were closed, but it was still great to see. Crown Jewels visit takes about a half hour.
Walked down the Royal Mile about 200 yards, lunched in Cafe Hub under St. Giles church, excellent, try the taste of Scotland plate, soup was great too.
Strolled through Prince's Park, as pretty as any park I've ever visited.
Back to Queensferry, pints in local pub Hawes Inn across from tendering pier very nice and welcoming.
This being all the allowed space for commentary, a few notes about Le Harve, our last port call, & gateway to Normandy. After a day at sea, pulled in under threatening clouds. Most on the ship left immediately on tours. Us not being engaged, we took the coach provided into LeHarve. Can't remember if there was a charge, but I think there was; it was nominal, like 5 euro.
Le Harve has a lovely Museum of Modern Art. It's not like MOMA, it's really a nice collection of 19th & 20th century Impressionism, with some older, and nice work. Soon there will be an exhibit on the liner "France"
We walked along the waterfront, lunch at Brasserie Georges (good pizza, pricey menu). Strolled through town, but it was siesta-time by then, so not much open. Strolled through a nice park by Ave. Raoul Dufy, and toured the lovely modern Catholic Cathedral of St. Joseph, dramatic spire and altar in the middle. Dodged raindrops in Wi-Fi equipped L'Eau Tarie for a couple of hours, several Belgian-style beers offered, entertainment from local youth just being French kids, so cool.
Rain eased a bit so we walked back to bus, wouldn't mind to spend a week around here either, looks like fun!
Returned to Southampton and began our trip home June 7.
June 1, 2012
This entry is for Glasgow, Scotland, there not being an option in the dropdown box for Glasgow. Actually moored at Greenock, Scotland, and walked into town. The ship is actually closest to Greenock West station, we found later that cabs were milking the passengers to go to the Greenock Central station, a bit further and not really comfortable walking distance.
We stopped at a Catholic church for directions to the train, and next thing you know, the locals had loaded us up in their car and actually driven us to the station. You cannot possibly ask for a nicer introduction to Scotland.
Glasgow train station is big and beautiful, and well-organized. Took a walking tour of the statuary downtown, notable architecture and Charles Rennie Mackintosh design, and the odd Gallery of Modern Art.
First floor of gallery was dedicated to a tennis-court sized pile of levelled and layered sawdust. Not kidding. Above, a separate installation of bundled cellophane dangling from the ceiling above the sawdust. Sometimes, I just don't get modern art; this was one of those times.
Lunch at Willow Tea Room designed by Mackintosh, actually as nice as advertised. Decor dates to the turn of the century, everything designed by Mackintosh. Every. Thing. But, he did a good job, lavenders, whites and purples, a bit obsessive in a good way, like Frank Lloyd Wright at his best. Walked back to train, back to Greenock, walked around hoping for a pub, but nothing seemed open, so, back to ship.
June 3, 2012
After a day at sea, we stopped in Invergordon, the nearest port to Inverness Scotland. Cold, but clear, snow visible on surrounding mountains.
Easy public bus to Inverness, but, it being Sunday and the Jubilee weekend, not much was open, but the shops that were were nice. Look for the British Heart Association thrift shop near the bus depot.
If you want a Loch Ness tour, you must book ahead. We went out to Culloden battle field and enjoyed that. Taxi 20 pounds each way, but it was worth it.
Returned to Invergordon and most of their shops were open, lots of fun shopping for souvenirs and local treats. Town museum nice but really more for locals, but we were supportive.
May 30, 2012
The ship docks right in the middle of downtown and there's plenty to do. That was just awesome.
We strolled down the quay to the Maritime Museum (Battle of the Atlantic not to be missed, cruise liner era nice as well), the Tate Gallery (and fantastic cafe), enjoyed the free museum & gallery plus the best fish & chips the whole trip, Wapping Ales (excellent, never had better) and amazing soup & salad.
Walked to the stunning Liverpool cathedral, about 15 minutes walk & a bit of steep uphill, also through council estate housing, but no worries, and not really that dodgy at all. Look for a docent in the cathedral, they are happy to share details and explain the church, discuss service and answer questions. Reasonable-looking cafe there too.
Finished up at the new City of Liverpool museum to closing, and sorry we didn't get there quicker, very nice displays in a stylish new building, explains the role of Liverpool in history. Hurry to the top floor for a display of Liverpool as a maker of pop culture and make your way down. Free.
We donated a couple of pounds to each museum, keep up the good work y'all.
May 27, 2012
A lovely community, very welcoming. It being Sunday we went to the Town Church which dates back to the 12th century. It's a lovely church to visit regardless, quite lovely inside and interesting architecture inside. After, it was a market show along the port wall, foodie theme featuring local products (cheese, butter, ice cream, vegetables, & BBQ), with music, quite fun. Free Wi-Fi at the TI just left of the quay the ship tenders leave you. Most shops were not open, but a few were and it was enough. Loooooooong wait to get back on ship, just over an hour to board the tender. I'm not sure why, and the crew offered no explanation, just shrug & smile.