My husband and I have mainly cruised in the Caribbean with Royal Caribbean. We took the Silhouette out of Bayonne last year and were very pleased with Celebrity (and enjoyed the Elite benefits since we are Diamond on Royal). The last 3 cruises we have taken were all on some of the “latest and greatest” new ships – Oasis, Allure and Silhouette - all a few months old when we sailed. We were a little apprehensive about sailing on an older, smaller ship, but were pleasantly surprised!
Since we had planned to go to Normandy on our day in Le Havre, we decided to go to Paris for a few days prior to the cruise. Neither of us had been to Paris and we loved it. The Parisians were very nice as a whole and treated us well. We flew into Paris and had pre-arranged with the hotel to have a car pick us up, which made for an easy transfer to the hotel. We stayed at the Hotel Sainte-Beuve, which is a small boutique hotel (22 rooms) in a pretty, quiet neighborhood (6th arrondissement, near Jardin du Luxembourg). I think I first saw this hotel recommended on CC ports of call. The people who run the hotel are very personable and helpful. The rooms are small, but well-decorated, clean and comfortable. Breakfast was a treat, with giant, flaky, warm croissants and baguettes with fresh butter and jams, fluffy omelets, fresh fruit, teas and coffee – these were all served in their cozy salon. The hotel is a bit pricey, though we got 30% off for staying 3 nights. We had pre-purchased the Paris Pass and had a wonderful time exploring the city on our own. The Metro was easy, even for a beginner – we preferred that over the Ho-Ho bus, which seemed slow. We walked to several restaurants near our hotel and were treated to memorable dinners and wines (and had to have the typical sidewalk café lunch with wine and watch the world go by). The Louvre was unexpectedly moving for me – I had thought that Mona Lisa would be the main attraction for me, but I actually wept because I was surrounded by so much beauty (uncharacteristic for me in museums ). We took the Eurostar to London (from Gare du Nord to Pancras Station). It was a quick, comfortable journey (around 2 hrs) – 62 euros per person. It was easy to take a taxi to our hotel from Pancras Station.
We stayed at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. They had upgraded us to a beautiful suite so we had a gorgeous room with a terrace with a view of the Eye. We had hired a guide, Bryan Gorin, to take us around all day in London. He was having issues with his taxi that week so asked his buddy, Graham Woodhouse to tour us around instead. We had a memorable day – his knowledge and personable nature made it well worth the cost. We enjoyed touring this lovely city and hearing about its history. The highlight for us was Churchill’s Underground Bunker – this was a fascinating place and was a good set up for our Normandy tour.
We had Silverfleet Cruise Ship Transfers take us to Harwich the day before the cruise. They picked us up at the hotel at 12:45 and took us to the Premier Inn Harwich (about a 2 hour trip). They have comfortable vans (6 people in ours), professional drivers and are reasonable ($115 pounds each round trip). The Premier Inn is an inexpensive, no frills, clean, comfortable and friendly place. They had a fairly decent restaurant attached where we ate dinner and breakfast (this hotel is not in the town so there is not much close by). There is also a store right there for drinks and snacks. We asked for a taxi for the morning that picked us up around 10:30. The trip to the ship was 5 minutes – you could walk, but people at the hotel advised against it.
The whole boarding process was comfortable and easy. When we arrived around 10:40, the baggage was taken by some very nice British baggage handlers. We went into a room with some tables and chairs where a few people were waiting. They said we could go aboard at 11:00. There was a little place to have coffee next to that room. At 11:00 we were allowed into registration – the British hospitality was amazing! The people were so sweet and apologizing profusely for being slow or making a mistake. Security personnel were also very polite. We were on board in no time, with champagne in hand.
I thought the ship was in great shape and we didn’t really miss too many of the features of the S class ships. It was also pretty easy to navigate. It was nice to have 3 sets of elevators.
We were able to snag one of the 5 aft AquaClass cabins since we booked early (we really like being in the aft and prefer Blu for dining so we were able to have both on this cruise). We had 1138, which I would definitely choose again. It has been discussed on CC that 1140 has the bigger, more private balcony, with 1138 and 1141 the next biggest and 1130 and 1133 have the smaller balconies with less privacy. Since there is a smoking area on the starboard side of the Sunset Bar, I chose 1138 which is port side (1133 and 1141 are starboard and 1140 in the middle). We never had any smoke or soot out there, but being a spring British Isles cruise with cool weather, we didn’t use the balcony a great deal. When we did have a nice day, it was wonderful –it is about half sunny (and open for people below to see you) and half shaded (and private). There was rarely anyone on the sundeck above (just saw 2 crew members cleaning/painting) and the people below didn’t really look up much. It was great to run down a few steps to the buffet or bar for a quick bite or a drink.
The cabin was the usual AquaClass cabin – great shower, adequate storage and space. The bed was wonderful –we slept well, just not enough (too many late nights and early mornings). Ray and his assistant were some of the best cabin attendants – the cabin was kept spotless and they helped with anything we needed. Our little hallway was quiet – no noise issues, except some cabin creaking when the seas were rough. There was minimal noise from the Sunset Bar – when the balcony door was closed, there was no noise.
My husband loves to listen to live music in small venues and there were some excellent musicians on this cruise. Ric Steel, Will Foraker and Rob Ondras rotated through the hang outs at night entertaining everyone – we heard many positive comments about these musicians. They took requests and were very personable. The strings group, Fiore Trio, was also excellent and we enjoyed listening to them with our afternoon tea.
I didn’t get to any of the nightly shows – I heard that most were very good. They usually started at 7 and 9 each night.
There weren’t a lot of planned activities with so many port days, though the 2 sea days had the usual lectures, game show recreations, bingo, trivia, spa, etc. Since there were only 2 sea days, we used them for reading mainly. There were many lovely nooks for reading. We loved the Café al Bacio for reading and people watching while sipping some tea. The Solarium was also a pretty quiet, peaceful place to read. The Constellation Lounge was also a nice place to go if nothing else was going on there.
The casino tends to take your money, but I ended up having some good luck on my special slot machine. I won a $500 dollar pot and had a lot of flashing lights and loud music, etc, which was lots of fun. I also won $250 once and a couple of $150 pots, but of course put much of it back in. It seemed good to end up on the positive side this cruise.
As usual, there was no lack of food. We tend to avoid the buffet, if possible, but ended up there for some early breakfasts before early tours. The food was pretty good for a buffet, but as others have said, the set- up is not great. Unfortunately, some people aren’t on their best behavior in a buffet situation. For breakfast, the made to order eggs Benedict bar (“Poached Eggs and More” at the very aft portside of the buffet) was good and not too busy. They had the eggs partially poached and English muffins partially toasted so it was pretty fast. There were Mexican ones with guacamole, Scottish ones with salmon, etc. Of course the waffle bar was very popular. At lunch, the soups, sandwich fixings and salads were quite good. The ice cream was good (until you tasted the gelato on 5 - a $3 fee for 1-2 scoops, $5 for 3-4 scoops).
Room service was great. The breakfasts were fast, hot and quite good. We also ordered cheese and cracker platters in the late afternoons on the balcony to have with a glass of wine.
Blu was run very well on the Infinity, in our opinion. The MD, Mr. Popa, kept a watchful eye on everything. We had a few issues on the Silhouette in Blu with service and food prep, but the waiters on this ship were extremely attentive and the food was prepared as ordered. We never had to wait long to get a table (5 minutes max). Most experienced Blu people know this, but for those who don’t, you can order escargot, shrimp cocktail, onion soup and Caesar salad every night even though it is not on the menu. Others have talked about ordering things on the MDR menu, though we stuck with the Blu menu. There were some misses, but we enjoyed most things. The staff there is amazing, especially Glen, Gabriel, Islam and Maria. The sommelier, Maggie, was a lot of fun and helped us choose wines every night. We had the premium alcohol package – the first night talked to us about what we liked and didn’t like. From then on she would come to the table soon after we arrived and see what we wanted to start with and then later after we ordered would help us pair the wine throughout the meal. If we didn’t like it, she would bring something else. There were some wines we wouldn’t have tried without her suggestions and they ended up being favorites. Of note, we sat with people who had the basic package, a wine package or no package and the sommelier seemed to treat everyone the same. Somehow she bustled around that room (the only sommelier), knowing who had what package and what they had had the night before, helping people decide for that night, pouring the wine, checking if we liked the wine and then magically appearing to refill the glass or bring the next wine when the next course arrived. If you like wine, it made for an excellent experience.
We thought we preferred quiet tables for 2, as opposed to sitting with people we don’t know (on Silhouette there were a few tables alone in Blu and others in a row so you often had people close by on either side and we liked the private ones). On this ship the tables for 2 were all next to another table for 2 (about a foot apart), but we actually had a wonderful time meeting new people. We always greeted the other couple and then tried to determine if they wanted to chat or not. It seemed that everyone wanted to chat so we had some interesting conversations and sometimes tried to sit with those people again. Out of many breakfasts and dinners, we only were seated next to someone who was not pleasant once (and we had a good laugh after they left because of some outrageous statements). We noticed as the cruise went on that they tried not to seat others next to that couple unless necessary – maybe that’s a good way to get private seating :).
We found our favorite place for lunch was Bistro on Five. They were often quiet and the manager and staff were very friendly. I loved the beef Panini and the Italian crepe (dessert crepe of banana and Nutella). The soups were also excellent – it was well worth the $5 charge. We had the made to order breakfast crepes also, which were excellent. This was open usually from 8AM until 12:30 AM so if you missed the usual times for breakfast, lunch or dinner for some reason you could get something good here.
The special brunch in the MDR was on the last sea day. The ice sculptures were pretty impressive. There was all you can eat shrimp cocktail, 2 roast carving stations, many hot dishes, a chocolate fountain and much more. It was quite good – it is fun to just see it (had memories of the midnight buffets).
We loved Qsine on Silhouette and were looking forward to going again on Infinity. Most of the food was good, but our favorites (lamp chops from M’s Favorites and BBQ pork spring rolls) were not qite as good as on Silhouette. It may be that we had a late lunch and an afternoon wine tasting so weren’t that hungry, but we just weren’t as into it this time around. I would still recommend going there – just go hungry!
We went to the SS United States connoisseur dinner that had specific foods paired with wines ($95 each for 5 courses plus pre-dinner canapés and champagne - 2 choices for each course, including different wines for each choice) – it wasn’t well-advertised – our sommelier asked us if we were interested. It was very good and a lot of fun – of course, as the night goes on, it gets even more fun (they refilled the wine glasses, if “needed”). The sommelier discusses the wines as he serves them and you can ask questions. We had 2 other couples at our table that we enjoyed dining with – it was a great evening with impeccable service. An example of the service: for each course 3 waiters brought covered dishes to the 3 women and counted “1,2,3” and then placed the dishes in front of us at precisely the same moment and then repeated for the men. Of course, when they got to the last couple of courses, after 4-5 glasses of wine, most of us were counting with them and chuckling. It was really a fun evening!
We went back there for dinner another night and again had a wonderful dinner. The tables were well-spaced and we had a window seat. The food and service were superb. The goat cheese soufflé was my favorite dish.
We thought we would miss The Porch for lunches, but this cruise was so port intensive we didn’t have as many lunches on board (plus the weather was pretty cool on this cruise) and were very happy with Bistro on 5. I was a little nervous about only having 2 specialty restaurants as opposed to the Silhouette, since we ate at the specialties about half the time on that ship (the first couple of nights in the Silhouette Blu the main course was not cooked to order and things seemed disorganized, though that did improve over the course of the cruise). I had pre-booked 2 nights each in Qsine and SS United States for this cruise, but since Blu was so good this time we cancelled one each of the Qsine and SS United States reservations (and did the connoisseur dinner in SS United States in addition).
We had never been to any of these ports so we were looking forward to this itinerary. It is a very port intensive cruise, especially when you have been trying to see the sights of Paris and London for a week pre-cruise. With the only 2 sea days at the end, everyone we talked to was pretty tired by the time the sea days arrived. There is only one tendered port on this cruise – St Peter Port needed tendering and it was an issue for some since it was also the shortest day (left at 3PM). Luckily, we received priority tendering since we were Elite and could get onto the next tender when we were ready. Most got numbered tender tickets and waited for their numbers to be called. I think the early risers were fine, but we talked to some who waited a long time to get a tender and then only had 45 minutes on the island before they needed to be back (last tender was at 2:30). We had a private tour from 10-1 that ran long and when the driver brought us back at 1:50, the line for the tender was about 200 people long and got much longer soon thereafter – luckily the line went pretty fast. I would suggest booking tours early and getting your tender ticket number as early as possible (and get back to the tender dock by 1:30 to avoid the lines). They may have the kinks worked out for future cruises.
Le Havre: We took Overlord Tours with William to Normandy – was a private tour booked by CC Roll Call people. This was phenomenal – we saw amazing sights and heard amazing stories. The people of Normandy welcome Americans, per our tour guide from Normandy, because of actions in WWII. When our guide heard that 2 of our group of 8 had relatives buried in the American Cemetery in Normandy, he called ahead to have them arrange a ceremony for us. It turned out to be one of the most moving things I have ever seen. My father’s favorite uncle died there and I had found his burial info on-line and bought flowers for the grave in a little Normandy village. One of the people at the cemetery (a wonderful and beautiful place) greeted us and the other person in our group with a relative there and took us to the graves by golf cart. He had a little ceremony with sand from Omaha Beach and French and American flags and thanked us for our relatives’ sacrifice. The 4 veterans in our group saluted the graves – it was so beautiful and there were no dry eyes in our group. Normandy is gorgeous – we thoroughly enjoyed our tour of the beaches, the American Cemetery, Angoville Au Plain 12th/13th century church where 2 medics cared for both American and German soldiers, Sainte-Mere-Eglise and much more. This was a highlight of the whole trip.
St Peter Port: We were very interested in the German occupation history of this island, having read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which details this. We hired a guide, Steve Martin, who took us around in a taxi for 3-4 hours, showing us things from the book, as well as the Occupation Museum, bunkers, etc. while circling the whole island. We saw some gorgeous scenery and heard many interesting stories about the island.
FYI: They took our passports this afternoon and didn’t give them back until after we were out of Ireland. They said it was a request of Ireland Immigration. We had to go to the 3rd deck to relinquish them and were given a receipt and then picked them up a few days later. There was a line for passing them in but it was very quick when picking them up (announced that it could be one person per family). As is commonly recommended, we had photocopies of our passports with us. They said we should all have a photo ID with us when in port, so if you only have a passport for a photo ID, you may want to bring a second one (and a photocopy of your passport). Of note, you will need to have passed in your passport to leave the ship at the next port. We talked to someone whose tour was delayed when someone wasn’t allowed off the ship. They had asked Guest Services the day before if they needed to pass in their passports since they were on the second leg of a back-to-back – they were told no so didn’t pass them in. They had to quickly go back and pass them in before leaving – their private tour mates were nice enough to wait about a half hour.
Cork: We booked a Butler Tours ECoach bus tour. This was inexpensive (20 euros each) and took us around that area of Ireland for the whole day. We went to Blarney Castle and were there for a couple of hours to kiss the Blarney Stone, tour the castle and grounds and shop at the Blarney Woolen Mills (great shopping there), drove through Cork City, Charlesfort and went to Kinsale. We had time for lunch in Kinsale and went to an Irish pub to have delicious fish and chips and beer. The driver was actually very good and for the price, this was worthwhile. If you want a more personal experience, some people on the cruise had booked smaller vans through Butler and had a great day (8 people each, I believe). Of note, our driver stressed the need to get out of the port quickly and head to Blarney so we could beat the lines. We were lucky that everyone on our bus got on the bus quickly and we beat all but one bus. We had no wait for tickets to Blarney Castle and then were able to get in a fairly short line for kissing the stone (maybe took 30 minutes). My husband did that (and bought the picture to prove it) while I toured the grounds and shopped in the Blarney Woolen Mills (tons of stuff from linens, woolens, Waterford crystal, foods, souvenirs, etc.). I am claustrophobic so didn’t go up to kiss the stone – my husband enjoyed the experience and said I would not have done well.
Dublin: My husband did the Guinness ship’s tour. He enjoyed it and now is drinking some Guinness at home (was never a big fan before). It’s a good place to get some gifts for beer drinkers.
Liverpool: We did a private Fab Four Taxi Tour for 3 hours with Danny. He was amazing! We absolutely loved this tour of wonderful Liverpool and enjoyed all the inside Beatles information. For 50 pounds you get a personal tour, complete with old pictures of the Beatles, some that others do not have (from Paul’s brother, Michael) and the real story about the Beatles then and now and learn about the history of Liverpool.
Belfast: We didn’t do any tours at this port – I was coming down with a cold and needed a break. We heard wonderful things about this port and regret not going ashore. We will need to return here!
Glasgow: Wonderful tour with Charlie of Discover Scotland Tours. This was in a 16 seat van – we had a great tour of Loch Lomond, the Trossachs and Stirling Castle. This countryside was lovely (my favorite scenery on this cruise) and we enjoyed the day immensely. The Scottish people are very warm and welcoming.
Iverness: A fun private tour with Exquisite Scotland in an 8 passenger van with K. We saw gorgeous Scottish Highlands, Shin Falls, Dunrobin Castle and a fantastic falconry show that was the high point of the day for us. Dunrobin Castle was the prettiest castle that we visited – the falconry show was at 11 and 2, I believe – amazing birds!
Everyone we dealt with was friendly and helpful except one of the fresh squeezed juice people in Oceanview Café. My husband asked for 2 orange juices (had the beverage package) and the guy gave him a lecture on how he should know better than ask for 2 at once, etc., etc. My husband knew about the drink rule and always took my card if he picked up 2 drinks at once, but it just didn’t occur to him at 7 AM when getting orange juice. Anyway, not a big deal, but it started his day off wrong.
We were given the number 5 for disembarkation. Since our Silverfleet van wasn’t due until 9:00, we had a leisurely breakfast in Blu, went back to the cabin to brush our teeth and grab our carry ons and then left around 8:30 (they were on number 32 or so by then). We found our luggage easily and were off by about 8:40. The van was there and after collecting the other 4 people in the van we were off for London. I heard them saying that all numbers had been called and everyone could leave the ship as we headed to the van.
The van brought us to MyHotel Chelsea, which is very close to Harrods. It is a lovely little hotel and very friendly. They have a nice little place to eat and a lovely library/conservatory. We walked to Harrods and did some shopping and then ate at a local pub, which was a great way to end our trip.
We had a car pick us up at the hotel in the morning and went to Heathrow for our journey home (45 pounds).
Absolutely loved this cruise – we met some wonderful people, had some great food and drinks and saw an amazing part of the world!