A little background information; I am 52, DH is 56. This was our 18th cruise, but first experience on a cruise that didn’t include the America’s. Other cruises have been on Princess (10), Carnival (4), and one each on RCCL, HAL, and NCL.
We selected this particular cruise because of the itinerary, and the date and length fit my DH vacation availability. We used Princess Air and Transfers for convenience and because I was never able to find cheaper air online (Also liked the next port guarantee).
Our cruise was scheduled to start on Tuesday, August 6th, and we flew out of IAD (Washington, DC) at 9:55 PM on Monday. Of course real sleep was nearly impossible in coach class so we arrived at Heathrow at about 9:30AM local time bleary-eyed and very sleepy. Immigration and customs was fairly fast, and just beyond customs we easily found the Princess rep, who directed us to a waiting area for the next bus to Dover. This was a bit of a wait. I think we waited nearly two hours for the next bus. Once on the bus, the ride to Dover was at least 2-hours, maybe a bit longer, but we were able to doze a bit. We arrived at Dover Terminal around 3PM. Check in was a breeze, although I was a bit taken back that our passports were held (We could have them back after the ship left Dublin, Ireland). First a quick stop to our cabin to drop off hand-held luggage, and then off to the buffet to get a quick bite before the 4:00 muster drill. At the muster drill our cruise cards were scanned to ensure we had actually taken part. Once done, we went topside to watch sail away. We had beautiful weather, and not only did we have an excellent view of the White Cliffs of Dover, but we could see France and their not quite as famous white cliffs. We had late sitting (8:15) and didn’t dare take a nap, so we explored the ship and jumped into a hot tub until time for dinner.
The Ship-This is the smallest ship we have ever been on, 670 PAX. The passenger make up was approximately 570 American’s, 65 British, and the rest were made up of Canadians and Europeans. I was surprised by the number of children on board. With fewer amenities than a larger ship I thought this cruise would have attracted fewer families, for the most part though the children were well behaved. I loved the size of the ship-very easy to get around, and while missing a few of the bells and whistles of larger ships it had everything we required.
Cabin- We had an interior. It was roomy and quiet, and we had good service from our room steward. The bed was very comfortable, and we were asleep by time our heads hit the pillow nearly every night.
Dining- There is no Anytime Dining on the Ocean Princess, our usual preference, instead there were two seating’s in the traditional manner; Early Seating (6:00 I think), or Late Seating (8:15). We ate in the main dining room every night with the exception of the night of the Tattoo in Edinburgh. There were several reasons for this. First the food was very good, and we never had difficulty finding something to eat. We also had excellent service from our waiter Darwin, and assist. waiter Bobby, and finally we were seated with two charming couples; one from Bristol, England, and the other from New York, New York. Great conversation, good food, and fabulous service meant that there was never a need to eat at one of the specialty restaurants. There are two specialty restaurants; Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini’s. They are not both open the same evenings, it appeared that they alternated nights opened. The casual dining option in the evening was the Bistro, which was in the buffet. I did not notice any dinner buffet except the night of the Tattoo. The delicious pizza was available for lunch, snack, and dinner.
Entertainment-With smaller venues there were scaled down versions of several production shows, as well as a magician and a comedian or two. We had late seating for dinner, but the shows were scheduled to ensure late or early seating one could enjoy the shows. Several nights into the cruise we discovered Musical Trivia in one of the lounges at 9:30. Each evening there would be a different theme. Night after night we would participate, finishing second or third, until the final night we were victorious with a little help from our table mates. Trivia was also available once in the morning and again in the afternoon.
On such a small ship there was no Thermal Suite in the spa (A great disappointment for my DH who loves the heated tile beds found on larger ships). They did have a “Relaxation Area” that was outdoors that could only be accessed through the spa. This area included teak loungers that had pads, as well as a large hot tub. There was a fee to use it. I think it was $20 pp per day, or $178 for a couple for the cruise duration. We signed up, and for the most part had the area to ourselves day after day. We used it nearly every evening and both sea days (We had excellent weather for most of the cruise).
Ports of Call-We stopped at St. Peter’s Port (Guernsey), Dartmouth, Waterford, Ireland, Dublin, Ireland, and Edinburgh, Scotland. We did a combination of Ship Sponsored Shore Excursions and Independent Sight-seeing.
Guernsey-St. Peter’s Port (Tender port)- We experience our only truly bad-weather day here, and it wasn’t all that awful. Sure it was overcast all day, and yes, it did rain off and on, but it wasn’t a driving rain and we were able to stay dry with the cheap rain ponchos I had purchased just days before we left. We signed up for bicycle riding on the isle of Sark. We took an early tender to Guernsey and transferred to a ferry to Sark. With the exception of tractors there is no motorized traffic on Sark.; everyone gets around by bike, foot or horse drawn cart. Our ferry was apparently a private ferry, and we got to the island well ahead of the scheduled ferry. This was nice because it got quite crowded once the first scheduled ferry showed up. Once we got our bicycles we were on our own to explore the island. I loved this island. You feel like you have truly stepped back in time. The village was quaint, with directional sign posts that gave destinations in the minutes it would take to walk, rather than miles.
Dartmouth (Tender Port)-The best weather day of the entire trip. Clear blue skies, nary a cloud in sight, and temperatures in the high 70’s to low 80’s. Dartmouth was picturesque and one of my favorite stops. We had signed up for another ship-sponsored excursion “Dartmouth Steam Railway & Buckfast Abbey”. DH and I loved the train ride on the old-fashion carriages, and the scenery was beautiful, but there was a lot of time wasted (About 45-minutes) waiting on the train platform for the train, which was on-time, to arrive. I felt that our guide was a little amiss in giving us all the needed information such as telling us where on the platform we should wait for the train, or that when the train arrived at our destination we needed to get off ASAP and make our way to the buses, with no time to linger at the gift shop. Due to traffic we only had 35 minutes at Buckfast Abbey instead of the hour promised. However, once we made it back to Dartmouth we had time to explore on our own. We found a pub called The Cupid which was housed in the oldest building (ca. 1380) in Dartmouth, and had a delightful crab sandwich, which didn’t taste anything like a Maryland Crab Cake Sandwich (And wasn’t suppose to), and cider on tap. DH also tried a Cornish Meat Pie (Pork, apples, and cider simmered inside a pastry) that he proclaimed wonderful.
Waterford-Another ship sponsored excursion-Jerpoint Abbey, which were ruins, but enough remained to get an idea of what the place must have looked like in its heyday. After the abbey tour, which took about an hour, we made a quick stop at a quaint Irish village for a photo opportunity, and we drove through the lovely Irish countryside. We then made what was supposed to be a quick 20-minute stop so a couple of passengers could use an ATM, but it turned into a 40-minute stop when 2 of our fellow riders apparently got lost inside a Starbucks and lost track of the time. They were NOT popular when they finally made their way back to the bus (No apologies either for keeping the rest of us waiting). Anyway, back at the ship we took the free shuttle into Waterford, which stopped in the front of The House of Waterford. We stepped inside where there are a number of pieces of Waterford Crystal on display and for sale. I took one look at the prices and hustled my lumbering lug of a husband out of there before something gotten broken and I became broke. There are a few sights to see such as Reginald’s Tower, built by the Vikings around 800 AD, but there is a fee to go inside and the ceilings are very low-We passed. Mostly we walked around, looked at the varied buildings & popped inside a few gift shops.
Dublin-We took the shuttle from the pier, which cost $16 pp roundtrip. Here we did our own thing, opting for a hop on/off tour bus. Where the shuttle dropped us off was near stop #3, so we decided that we would just get off at any sight that struck our fancy, and complete the circuit in time to make the last shuttle. Our first stop was the Guinness Storehouse. DH was leery of making this our first stop so early in the day (About 10 AM), but I pointed out that it is the #1 attraction in Ireland, and it was bound to become a madhouse later in the day. It was 16.50 euro to get in, and for that you got a self-paced tour and a pint at the end of the tour. I did like the bar on the 7th floor, which afforded wonderful views of Dublin, but I feel the tour is way overpriced (You can buy tickets online for a 10% discount). I was right about it getting crowded. As we left, tour bus after tour bus was pulling up, dispensing hordes of tourists. Next was the Old Jameson Distillery. I actually liked this place better than Guinness. This was also popular with the masses, and was rather crowded. If I remember correctly it was 15 euro pp to take the tour. They had a very nice bar on the ground floor (Try the hot apple cider w/Jameson’s and apple slices-divine), and a restaurant that looked good, but was pricey. Finally we went to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells. We had been told that if you go in the morning there might be a wait of up to 3-hours. We got there at about 1:35 and decided to take the 2 PM walking tour of the college grounds (10 euro) which included the Book of Kells. Just to see the Book of Kells costs 9 euro, so 1 euro more for the tour was the best value in Dublin. The tour was given by a 3rd year student. The half hour tour was quite informative, and included a brief history of the Book of Kells. At 2:30 we were in line to see the book, and our wait was about half an hour. We finally got in, and made our way to the darken room, and waited some more to actually get close enough to take a look. By this time it was getting late so we hurried to catch the shuttle back to the ship. Of the three sights we stopped at in Dublin the only one I would do again is Jameson’s, and that’s for the bar. However, I’m glad we did all 3, and next time we can see more of this very beautiful city.
Edinburgh-We were going to the Tattoo that evening (Through the ship), but wanted to explore the city on our own during the day. We took the shuttle from the pier to the train station (16 pp roundtrip), and from there bought round trip tickets to Edinburgh. I have no idea how much they cost. I gave up trying to convert US dollars into pounds and euro at this point. I know we were traveling off peak, which makes a huge difference in price. Anyway when the train arrived it was packed, so we rode the entire way standing up, but it was only about 20 minutes as we had gotten on an express train. Once we arrived we made our way to the hop on/off tour buses, which were across the street from main entrence of the train station. The price was 16 pounds pp. This time, since we were at stop one, we rode the entire circuit to hear the tour, and then rode again, this time getting off where we wanted. Our first stop was to see the statue of Greyfriers Bobby, then we stopped in at Greyfriers Bobby Pub and tried haggis. So what did I think of haggis? It was okay. If I was at a dinner party and it was served I would eat it, but if at a restaurant and there were other choices I would probably go with something else. We then popped into the National Museum, which is free, to see the exhibit of Mary, Queen of Scots, which is not free (9 pounds pp). After that we got back on the bus and went down the Royal Mile to Hollyrood Palace. To just see the palace is 11 pounds, to see the palace and The Queen’s Gallery was 15.5 pounds. Time was running short (We had a train to catch) so we opted for the palace only. It’s beautiful. I especially like Mary, Queen of Scots bedroom. Then it was back to the train station, where a very helpful attendant got us on the right train back. Soon we were back on the ship, having time for a quick bite before it was off to the Tattoo.
The Tattoo-My main reason for wanting to do this cruise during this time frame was to see the Tattoo. Princess has it down to a science. We gathered in the main lounge where we were assigned a bus number. From there we were escorted by bus number to the pier where we got on the bus. Our guide then handed out tickets based on the number in your party. The bus took us to a side street in Edinburgh, where we were told it would pick us up after the show. Then we had a bit of a trek, all uphill, to get to Edinburgh Castel. The guide took us at an easy pace, but it is over cobblestone streets and sidewalks, something to keep in mind if mobility is an issue. From there we got into a queue and waited until they opened the gates. The show starts promptly at 9PM and lasts 1.5 hours. I must say I was impressed, as were everyone around us. I was worried about us being able to find the bus in the dark after the show, but it was not an issue. There was someone stationed at every corner to point us in the right direction, and we didn’t leave a single person behind. Princess had kept the buffet opened late as it was well past midnight by time we got back so that anyone that wished to grab a bite could.
Our last day was a beautiful sunny day in the North Sea, and we had the chance to finally catch our breath, and digest all that we had seen and done.
Dis embarkion was a breeze, no customs to go through. We were one of the first off because we had purchased airport transfers through the ship that included a city tour of London. This was actually a pleasant surprise as I had no idea we would be able to see as much as we did in so short of a time. We had a brief stop at a vantage point to take photos of Tower Bridge and The Tower of London, then we drove over Tower Bridge and got closer to The Tower. We saw part of the original wall from Roman times, The Eye, Big Ben, St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street, etc. We had about an hour of free time at Covent Garden, and even a brief stop at Buckingham Palace just in time to see the changing of the guard, and we were still at the airport at 1:00 on the dot-British efficiency at its finest.
To wrap up, I loved every minute of this trip. Although originally disappointed that we were not able to do the 12-day British Isle cruise, I now feel that the longer cruise, while it includes more opportunity to see the sights, with its only one sea day, may be just a bit too frenetic. This 8–day trip allowed us to see many of the major sites, yet gave us the opportunity to relax a little, which is what a vacation is suppose to be about.