Our Transatlantic to the British Isles May 2013 The lands of our ancestors and more
We avoided flying to England for our British Isles cruise by booking a transatlantic cruise on Celebrity Infinity from Ft. Lauderdale. It is called sailing back to back cruises(B2B). The transatlantic cruise started on May 1 and was 12 days with three ports, the Azores, Cherbourg, France and Brugges, Belgium, ending in Harwich, England. The British Isles cruise was 11 more days, starting from Harwich on May 13. We visited Le Harve, France; St. Peter’s Port, Guernsey; Cobh (Cork) and Dublin, Ireland; Liverpool, England; Belfast, N. Ireland; Greenook (near Glasgow) and Invergordon (near Inverness), Scotland, ending at Harwich. After the cruises, we had three days in England, before returning home on May 27.
We drove to Ft. Lauderdale from St. Simons, Island, Georgia. The trip is almost entirely on I-95 and about 420 miles, taking a little over six hours. We drove down on April 30 in order to arrive on time for embarkation the next day. We stayed at the Fairfield Inn & Suites/Ft. Lauderdale Airport/Cruise Port, which had a deal allowing 30 days of parking if you spend one night at the hotel. The price for the inclusive parking package is about $30 more than if you book a room separately. We had used the hotel before on a cruise. They also provide free shuttle service to the cruise ship.
Embarkation was painless. We arrived about 12:20 and were on the ship eating lunch in Bistro on Five by 1 pm. Bistro on Five is a specialty restaurant on deck five that specializes in crepes and paninis. It is great and only costs $5 per person. Few people use the restaurant, so it is generally quiet. Our cabins were ready before we finished lunch. We had a cabin on deck six, somewhat forward, which is the deck right above the lifeboats. This was not a problem for us. We had originally booked a balcony cabin on deck seven, but took the veranda (balcony) guarantee offer saving almost $900 on the fare. Our transatlantic cruise did not cost us much more than what the airfare would have cost.
Dinner was in the main dining room (MDR) at 6pm every evening with the same passengers. Fortunately, we had great table mates at table #325. Jan and Fred were at our table. We had met Jan and Fred on our cruise through the Panama Canal to Chile in 2011 and arranged to dine with them. We were joined by Franklin, Sandi, Mel and Grace. They were all great dinner companions. The dining was excellent, as we have always found on Celebrity. Our waiters and wine steward provided excellent service, so we looked forward to dining every evening. After all, eating on a cruise is like a cow grazing in thick grass, sometimes it seems that you are eating almost constantly. The buffet was not bad, just the configuration on the Millennium class ships slows down the acquisition of food. DW stopped going to breakfast, so I would take her coffee, fruit and yogurt after I went to the fitness center in the morning. Generally, I wake up earlier than DW, so going to the gym worked out well for both of us.
The Infinity fitness center was very crowded on the first days of the transatlantic but started to thin out after about four days at sea. I had no major complaints about the fitness center, except that it only had about half a dozen cycle machines and one was broken during the transatlantic.
Also, I purchased a five bottle wine package, which provided a modest discount, but facilitates the ordering of wine for dinner.
Since I am preparing to submit this story of our trip as a review on cruise critic, I will discuss the usual issues that such a review provides, as well as providing a somewhat separate story for each cruise. The main purpose of the story is to inform family and friends of our travel experiences.
The entertainment on the Infinity’s transatlantic was excellent. Our cruise director was Alejandro, from Argentina. He proved to be entertaining on his own and seemed to provide a spark for encouraging us not to miss the shows. We did not miss any shows on the transatlantic. The Infinity singers and dancers were excellent and participated in four of the shows during the 12 nights of the cruise. We has seen the shows before on other Celebrity cruises, but still enjoyed them again. The main shows were,” iBroadway,” “Boggie Wonderland,” and “Celebrate the World.” We especially like “Celebrate the World” with its lively music from around the World. When the go to Russia, we almost sing along with them (Kalinka). I don’t know how frequently Celebrity changes its shows, but on our next cruise in September, we will likely skip “iBroadway”and “Boggie Wonderland,” after seeing it about four times. We did skip them on the British Isles cruise.
The shows included, Antonio Salci (pianist and singer) Don Gavin (comedy), Jack Walker, Matthew McGurk (magician), Pete Matthews (comedy juggler), Craig Halliday (violinist), and Jacqui Scott (pianist and singer). All were excellent, with Jack Walker singing popular and opera; Antonio Salci singing and on the piano; Craig Halliday with his electric violin and Jacqui Scott singing and playing the piano. As far is as I am concerned this is as good as it gets with entertainment on a cruise ship.
This was my first transatlantic (DW did it twice as a child going to England with her Father, who was stationed there in the Air Force in the 50s). Of the 12 day cruise, we had 8 sea days, which gave us plenty of time on the ship. The weather was warm until we arrived at the Azores and we could wear shorts and short sleeve shirts until them. The rest of the way to England it was in the 60s and most of the BI cruise temperatures ranged from high 40s to low 70s. The pool area was used by many until the chilly weather.
We took several books to read, primarily because of the transatlantic sea days. Still, with working out in the morning, occasionally going to presentations or wine tasting, we enjoyed our transatlantic cruise. We did four wine tastings on the transatlantic, which cost from $15 to $20 per person. We enjoyed them all, especially the one for port wine. One of the wine tastings was practically an all the wine you could drink, which was nice, unless you partake a bit much. We did well, however, that night we did the all you could drink, we did not order wine with dinner.
Considering that we generally drink more than normal on a cruise, we did fine, only consuming our five bottles on the wine package, as well as an occasional beer or martini during the 12 days.
The cruise critic meeting organized by Celebrity drew the largest crowd that I have ever seen on any cruise. There must have been 250-300 persons at the meeting. Many organized private tours or arranged for slot pulls, card games and other activities on board.
One day in the middle of the Atlantic, I saw a two-masted sailing ship (not very large) nearby. We learned later that Infinity responded to a distress call. However, the sailing ship was not the ship in distress (apparently, we never saw the ship in distress). Infinity did provide some small aid to the sail boat, but it continued on across the ocean. The seas were generally calm until we approached Cherbourg, France.
Our first port was Ponta Delgada, Azores. We arrived the morning of day 8 of the cruise. The Azores are a part of Portugal, and the island of São Miguel. The island is volcanic and with its green hills, scenic cliffs, volcanic calderas and lush vegetation is very attractive. We very much enjoyed our visit to the island.
We took a Celebrity excursion there, which was excellent and described as follows:
Furnas Valley (PG03)
Ponta Delgada, Azores
At the East of the island is an enormous crater and luxuriant garden in an extravagant atmosphere where the colour of the flowers mixes with the exuberant vegetation originating from diverse continents. In the picturesque village of Furnas, the Terra Nostra Park, this was planted by Thomas Hickling in the 18th century. Pico do Ferro is surrounded by exuberant vegetation and traversed by waterfalls. This belvedere gives a dazzling panorama over the Furnas Valley. Furnas Hot Springs is an area of diverse volcanic activity where water and mud geysers spout and boil.
The tour exceeded our expectations. The guide was excellent and provided us much history and understanding of the local conditions and culture. The Azores have a huge milk industry. We saw milk cows everywhere. Apparently, the Azores have 3% of the population of Portugal, but provide 40 % of the country’s milk. The tour took us across the middle of the island, from the port in the South. We were taken to a high point so we could see three volcanic calderas, which included lakes. Also, we could see the village of Furnas. Later, we visited Furnas and the botanical gardens planted by Thomas Hickling, an American that came to the Azores in the late 18th Century. The Furnas Hot Springs were interesting, with several hot springs with geysers constantly spouting. We learned that at one time a tourist got too close to one of the geysers to take a photo and fell into the geyser and died later from her burns. I highly recommend this excursion. I understand that other excursions go to the Western portion of the island, which also has attractive scenery.
After two more sea days, (three days later) we arrived in Cherbourg. We only had from 1pm until 7pm at Cherbourg. We took a Celebrity excursion described as follows:
Panoramic Cherbourg FC14
Discover Cherbourg, the Port, the Old Town, its rich history and the major monuments. On the way, we will also see the Abbaye du Voeu (1145) and the military naval base reminding us the important part played by Napoleon the Ist in Cherbourg's History, and most recently, that of the town after the D-Day.
The tour took us to see the harbor that was fortified to prevent British naval incursions during the Napoleonic period. The harbor was quite large and had extensive sea barriers to protect ships. We visited a castle Chateau of Ravalet ou Tourlaville. It was a medieval castle that had been improved in later centuries. It was once owned by Alexis de Tocqueville’s father. The castle was not occupied or open to the public. The grounds had English and French gardens. A French garden is more symmetrical and orderly, while English garden is more in tune with nature. We found our way to downtown Cherbourg and some of us visited the cathedral dating from the 12th Century. Our guide explained that Normandy contained many of the oldest cathedrals in France. William the Conqueror was flush with cash after his conquest of England and he and his nobles build many cathedrals and churches. We also, saw the awesome Bayeux Cathedral on the British Isles cruise.
I almost forgot to mention that the Infinity had our brunch in the MDR on our last sea day before Cherbourg. The brunch fills up the MDR with breakfast and lunch dishes as well as ice sculptures. I particularly enjoyed the shrimp stations.
Our next port was Brugges, Belgium (actually the port of Zeebrugge some miles from Brugge). Brugges is a beautiful, well preserved medieval city with canals, old guild houses and a huge bell tower. I had been to Brugges in 1982 and done the bell tower, however we did not have enough time to climb the tower, since the queue was long. We took the Celebrity excursion described as follows:
Ghent & Bruges: Flemish Art Jewels BU13
OVERVIEW: Enjoy a visit to two of Flanders' best preserved medieval cities, Ghent and Bruges. You'll also enjoy lunch at a typical Bruges restaurant as well as free time to shop and explore at your own pace. HIGHLIGHTS: Enjoy an inside visit of St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent and see the famous painting of "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb." Capture the highlights of Bruges on a guided walking tour including the Market Square, the Belfry Tower and Burg Square. Enjoy lunch at a typical Bruges restaurant and free time to shop for souvenirs. NOTES: Guests must be able to walk approximately 3 miles. No photography or filming is permitted of the painting in St. Bavo's Cathedral.
The tour was expensive, $144 each, but it was a full day tour that included lunch. The tour was excellent. Our guide was excellent and the lunch was very good, with two glasses of wine or beer. We learned much of the history of Brugges and Gent. Brugges was once one of the major trading cities of Europe. It prospered until its port silted up and trade routes changed and other cities took over the trade. It became a kind of backwater city, not so rich, which saved its historical buildings from destruction. Also, during World War II it did not suffer significant damage as other cities in the area like Antwerp. The city revived in the 19th Century. Canal tours by boat were available, but since it was chilly that morning we declined. By the time we departed Brugges the sun came out and the temperature went up into the high 60s. We had a little rain early, but not enough to constrain our touring. Brugges is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Gent was another beautiful Flemish city, it appeared to be a larger city than Brugges, but still had much of that same medieval charm. We visited the St. Bavo's Cathedral in Ghent and see the famous painting of "The Adoration of the Mystic Lamb." The excursion was worth the price, although we probably could have saved some money by arranging for transport to Brugges by taxi with others, however doing Gent and Brugges on your own would not have been an option.
The next day we docked at Harwich, England ending our transatlantic cruise. Celebrity offered a couple of excursions for back to back cruisers (B2B). We took the one to Cambridge, while our cabin attendant moved our luggage to our new cabin. Originally, we had the same cabin on both cruises, but we saved on the transatlantic going for the balcony guarantee and got a free upgrade to Aqua class for the British Isles. We had to pack our clothes and valuables, attach our new luggage tags for the attendant. We had received our new key cards the night before at a meeting for Back to Backers.
The excursion to Cambridge was good, as we traveled through the beautiful English countryside of East Anglia (East of London) and visited the beautiful and historical University town of Cambridge. Our tour was good, but did not include going inside any of the colleges. Most of the colleges were closed, so our tour only included a walking tour. Lunch was on our own. We did see the quadrangle in Trinity College from the movie “Chariots of Fire,” buy peering through the open gate of the college only. The movie was about the 1924 Summer Olympics. The college was closed due to examinations. The tour was not terribly expensive and would do it again.
DW learned that Lakenheath, England (where she lived as a child in the 50s) was only about 20 miles Northeast of Cambridge, so we planned to visit there after the British Isles cruise.