We sailed from 7/19 through 7/31 on Crown Princess's British Isles cruise. This is a great itinerary and is one of those cruises you take for the itinerary, not necessarily for the cruise experience. Summer weather in the British Isles is often cool and cloudy with a chance of rain. Therefore, this is not a warm weather, sunbathing, type of cruise. One time we saw a group of people huddled in blankets watching the Outdoor Movie very different from the Caribbean. This is a shore excursion-oriented cruise and, if you try to see everything you can, you'll be ready for a break when the cruise ends. It is a great way to see alot of the UK in a very convenient way.
We prefaced our trip with a 3 day stay at the Grasmere House in Salisbury and visited Bath, Stonehenge, Stourhead Gardens, Winchester, etc. This is a great way to preface your cruise and make sure you're in the area on time so you don't miss the ship (We are amazed at people that will take a 'red eye' from the USA and try to go to straight to the ship that's not our idea of a vacation). We were very fortunate to miss the rain in every port. It was forecast many times, but somehow escaped us.
Embarkation at Southampton was great. Princess advised us if we arrived after 2 p.m.,embarkation would be the fastest and that was definitely true. We literally walked right on and didn't wait a bit (and this cruise was sold outI guess everyone got on before us!)
Overall the service was excellent. This is our 3rd Princess cruise and our impression of Princess's service levels has improved with each cruise. We had an outstanding server in the dining room. We recommend staying on Plaza level it is less expensive and very convenient with many cafe's and other facilities on this floor and the one above. Also, this is not a 'balcony' cruise and sometimes the cool weather wouldn't make it worthwhile.
The first port of call was St. Peter Port, Guernsey. A drawback of this ship is the size and # of passengers. Whenever tenders are required, there is often a wait. We waited until 11 a.m. to get off and still had to wait a while.
Because there are 5 in our family, we generally avoided the Princess shore excursions. Since our Princess Mediterranean cruise in 2007, it seems to us that they (Princess) have significantly increased the price of these to the point that a full day outing for a family of 5 often runs $800 to $900. As a result, we arranged for van/taxi tours, in advance, at most ports and generally had a great full day outing for around US$400 to US$500a significant saving from the cruise line. All the ports (except LeHavre) are English-speaking, so it is even easier here.
In Cork, we used Cork Airport Taxi's (Maurice) , who gave us a great tour of Cork, Blarney Castle, and Kinsale. There are incredibly long lines at Blarney Castle waiting to kiss the stone our advice, don't bother. Save the 2-3 hours you'll wait to see something else (especially Kinsalea beautiful, scenic village)
Next was Dublin. We had an outstanding drive named Nicholas Glynn, who we got from Dublin Taxi Tours. Again, we got a full 8-9 hour tour for 40 euro's an hour in a nice Mercedes Van. Our first stop was the beautiful Powerscourt Gardens, then to central Dublin to Trinity College (Book of Kells) and the Guinness Brewery and the wonderful Gravity Bar (where you get a free glass of you-know-what plus a fantastic 360 degree view of Dublinyou can even see the ship from here). Finally, we went to Malahide Castle, which was closed, but the beautiful grounds were still open for our pleasure and strolling. Nicholas brought us to a beautiful viewpoint with a lighthouse.
Liverpool: This was the only port where we took a ship tour. We did the Lake District Tour with the Steamer Train and Lake Cruise. This a very nice outing and we had an excellent guide. Plus, again, great weather with excellent view of the mountains around the lake.
Next to Belfast. We wisely skipped most of the city and went straight to Giant's Causeway. Again, we were blessed with good weather and enjoyed the spectacular coastline, including the Rope Bridge and Dunluce Castle. We stopped in Belfast for a quick city-center drive around and a stop to see the 'murals' painted on the sides of houses. We used Belfast Taxi Tour and our vehicle was a regular taxi cab without seat belts for all passengers. Our drive was OK, but if I did it again, I would make sure we had a van.
Glagow: We used George McClelland Glasgow Taxi's and, again wisely, went straight to Culzeane Castle, near Maybole (about an 80 minute ride from Greenock). This is an absolutely spectacular place If I did this again, I would just go here and no where else. The house, coastline, gardens, trails are simply amazing and beautiful. Again, great weather lucky us! We made a stop in Glasgow at the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the Cathedral (these were interesting, but looking back, just stay at Culzeane and soak up the beauty.
At sea A very beautiful trip sailing through the Hebrides. You get excellent views of the rock, barren, windswept islands.
Invergordon. This a very small village, so you really want a shore excursion here not much to walk to. We used Highland Tours. They were great because they had a fixed agenda, which we didn't realize, and they amended it for us. First to Dunrobin Castle (another great spot with an excellent falconry show) and Dornoch. We left the main group and our drive took us to see Loch Ness and her charming, home village (Drumnadrochit), where we had an authentic Scottish lunch. She brought us to the hillsides near her home for some spectacular view of the lake. After a lakeside drive, back to ship.
A disadvantage of this cruise is that some of the most interesting things to see are an 60-90 minute drive away.
On to Edinburgh. No need for a shore excursion here just walk up to the train station (we took the city bus) and you're in town before you know it. You can walk to everything. Tip: Instead of waiting 60+ minutes to get into Edinburgh Castle, just go to the office and buy a National Trust 3 Day pass. It's 5 pound extra, but you skip the entire line. This is a beautiful city make sure you go in to see it. The only drawback with this port is that you have to tender ashore (Although you anchor in a beautiful spot, near the Firth of Forth Bridge).
Le Havre, France: We used LeHavre Radio Taxis. After extensive e-mailing weeks earlier, we located an Enlish speaking guide who took us to Giverney and Rouen. Givereny is a must see for any art lovers. The home, gardens, and water lillies are spectacular. They look just like Monet's paintings. By taking the taxi tour, we got there way ahead of the hundreds of cruise passengers. This trip was by fare the most expensive (460 Euro's), but still about $US250-$300 less than if we used the ship tour.
Because we had travel plans in France for a week following the cruise, we elected to not go back to Southhampton and disembarked one night early. We went back to the ship for quick buffet dinner and then got off around 7:00 p.m. (just as hundreds were coming back from the trip to Paris). This worked out really well we took a taxi right to our hotel in LeHavre and toured HonFleur the next morning (Another must seean exquisite seaside village near Le Havre).
All we missed by disembarking early was one meal (breakfast the morning of disembarcation), plus the depressing site of all the luggage sitting out in the hallway. To do this, you have to obtain permission from the cruise line in advance (we did it several months ago), because the cruise line has to coordinate with the local immigration authorities. You don't get any credit back from Princess, but we saved a whole travel day by having to go from Southhamptom all the way back to Paris.
Great trip. If you're interesting in English/ Irish /Scottish scenery, history and culture, this is the one for you.