We had a wonderful time cruising the British Isles and for the most part the weather cooperated. Our 2nd time on the Crown Princess and again, she did not disappoint—beautiful ship with friendly, helpful staff and good food. If pressed, our only complaint would be the slow, seemingly unorganized process of disembarking at each port and the appearance that sometimes cruise tours were given preference over those passengers touring on their own—it didn't matter as we still managed to get to the sights before the bus loads, but it was frustrating.
We discovered the benefit of booking our own tours privately a few years ago when we went on the Baltic cruise and hired a guide in St Petersburg for 2 very full days with another couple from our ship. You can move much more quickly, take in more sights and have so much flexibility when touring in a small group and the cost is usually much less than booking with the ship. The ship keeps reminding you that if you aren't back in time it will leave without you—keep in mind these private guides you hire want to do continued business with cruise ship passengers and the last thing they would do is make you miss your ship. This time we were traveling with friends so it was very economical to book our own tours..I spent quite a bit of time reviewing Cruise Critic comments (thank you!) along with other online research and I pre-booked guides for: Cobh, Liverpool (but into Northern Wales), Belfast, Greenock, Invergordon and South Queensferry.
Guernsey: Bus #7 gave us a great scenic trip around the Island (find the bus station on the main road just to the left as you walk away from the port—you'll see all the buses lined up). The Little Chapel was pretty amazing and the Occupation Museum was well done. All buses return to the main station and the bus drivers are very helpful—if you have questions, just ask them!
Cobh (Cork): We pre-booked Paddywagon Tours and had Joe as our informative and easy going guide...a bit confusing at first as our driver was not holding a sign with our name on it, but we eventually found each other and enjoyed the rest of our day, even arriving at the Blarney Castle and kissing the Stone before the hordes arrived (we were 3rd in line and when we left after exploring the grounds, the line was a 1-1/2 hour wait long!). A few of our favourites: strolling through the quaint, colourful old fishing (now sailing) village of Kinsale—lots of photo ops. We also enjoyed a walking the aisles of the Old English Market in Cork and having a pint with the locals in a Cobh pub.
Greenock & Edinburgh: http://www.tours-from-edinburgh.com/ Duncan McNab does tours from both Glasgow and Edinburgh. We booked him for both ports. I immediately knew we would like Duncan when he responded to my first email's huge wish list of sights by saying "no problem...if I hire a helicopter!!" Duncan wore a kilt and toured us around in a very comfortable luxury vehicle—we felt pampered, he was professional, but fun and informative...good insight into the culture! I asked for a photo op of a highland steer and Duncan found me one to feed!!...my husband decided he was looking for country flags and Duncan helped us find the shops, when we were hungry he showed us to his favourite pie shops—he spent 2 full days with us and we managed to see almost all the sights, including Trossachs, Loch Lomond, Luss, Falkirk Wheel, Bannockburn, the National Wallace Monument, Glasgow's King George Square and beautiful City Chamber, the wonderful little fishing villages of Anstruther, Pittenween and Crail, St Andrews, Linlithgow Palace, etc—pretty much everything—the wind almost took Duncan's kilt once and we even almost got to see a Scottish sight not on the list ;). Duncan is highly recommended!!
Invergordon: We pre-booked through The Taxi Tour Experience and although I found the initial process of finding our driver frustrating (we had been told through email to "approach the Taxi Tour Experience as soon as we were able to do so" and although we saw lots of taxis, it was not obvious where to go). We assumed correctly that the busy looking man hustling around with a clipboard, ignoring us was the owner—when he finally slowed down enough for us to approach him he immediately pulled a cab out of the line and introduced us to our soft-spoken driver/guide Alan who was extremely accommodating; working hard to get us to the majority of the sights on our long list, including: Urquhart Castle, Inverness Castle, Cawdor Castle, Culloden Battlefield, Dunrobin Castle, etc.
In Le Havre we were very fortunate to be picked up and toured around Trouville, Deauville and Honfleur by our friends from Brittany.
Our days at Sea were well needed to rest up and recuperate from our great, but long touring days. On one day at sea I went on the complimentary ship's Gallery Tour and found it very interesting.
Another wonderful Princess cruise!!