This first section is about the travel and the ship. Discussion of ports will follow.
WHO WE ARE:
I (Carol) took this trip with my mother (Barbara), my sister (Barbie) and Barbie's husband Eddie.
Our trip began with a United flight from Jacksonville to Washington DC, then on to London (Heathrow). The trip was smooth and the time passed well enough. The hardest part of the trip was the long, long walk from the arrival gate to the customs area. I believe we walked more in Heathrow than any of the ports we visited.
We took the Hoppa bus to our hotel, the Holiday Inn Express on Sipson. We thought our agent had already paid for the transport, but couldn't find tickets, so bought them on the bus--4.5 pounds each. We later discovered that you can buy the passes inside the terminal (and hotel) and save about 50p per ticket. Our hotel was fine. It had been a year since our first trip to England and I had forgotten a couple of differences from US hotels. We thought our door card didn't work because we put it in arrows first. Turns out that is backward. Also, you can't work the lights inside of the room until you put your key card in a special slot beside the door.
A breakfast buffet was included with our reservation. It was a good, typical English breakfast. For an American who has never been, you'll see pork and beans, several kinds of sausages, "bacon" which looks more like ham pieces. They had little containers of Marmite. I'd read enough books set in England that reference this, so had to try it. I put it on toast like I would jelly. I don't know if that's what it's intended for, but to me Marmite tastes like burnt toast.
We saw some men having breakfast who looked like a rock band--men in their 50's and 60's with long hair. So, nosy as I am, I spoke to one later and it turns out I was right. They were the band Uriah Heep! Even I had heard of them. (BTW, I listened to some of their songs on YouTube after I came home, and they were really nice.)
We took the Hoppa back to the airport to meet the Princess reps. They were easy to find and took care of loading our luggage onto the bus for transport to Southampton. It was a rainy day and took a bit longer than normal, but otherwise was an uneventful trip. The driver was actually someone who generally worked in the office, but Southampton had 6 ships in port that day, so personnel were rounded up from everywhere to drive buses.
Embarkation on the Crown Princess was relatively fast and easy. My mother was a Platinum Member of the Captain's Circle club, but the line for all other passengers was actually shorter and so we were directed there. After registering our credit cards, we received our ship's cards and headed on to the next spot where they had to take our pictures for the card. After that, as always, they had photographers set up to take embarkation photos. We just politely demurred and skipped that.
We entered the ship on Deck 5, Plaza Deck. We had to wait our turn for the crowded elevators, but eventually made it up to our cabin on Baja (deck 11). We had a category JJ, inside cabin. It was nicer than I expected because of the arrangement. It's hard to describe, so please look at a drawing of the layout, but basically, the closet and bathroom are off to the side from the entryway. From the beds, you cannot see either. We were pretty hot by this point, and there was no ice in our ice chest which was kept in the refrigerator. The cabin steward was in the hall and he assured me he'd fill up the ice daily, but they didn't usually have ice waiting upon embarkation. However, no problem, he got the ice for me immediately. He was a great steward--we never came back to an unmade room.
We then went up to the Horizon Court for lunch. More about food later. The nice thing about the Crown is that servers are everywhere to help you find a table, carry your tray and get your drink. We then explored a bit and rested until it was time for the safety drill. Fortunately, they hold their drills inside, so you could go to a lounge and sit rather than lining up on the promenade deck. We met in the Explorers Lounge. Our "presiding authority" was the Assistant Cruise Director. He was very fun, with sort of a dry sense of humor. Throughout the cruise, we would sometimes choose our activities based on whether or not he was the one to be running them.
Our Roll Call group was to meet on deck shortly after the Life Boat drill. It was still raining so I assumed no one would show. I was wrong; apparently they had a great get together. I did meet up with them at our next schedule Meet and Greet. We had a large group, and it was fun to meet so many people.
We had early seating for dinner in the Botticelli Dining Room. The dining room was very nice. Although it is large, it is divided in such a way that you feel like there are only 5 or 6 tables nearby. Our waitress was Alexandra from Mesopotamia. She was very good--exactly what I like. She was very professional and yet was somewhat friendly. The assistant waiter was Laszlo from Hungary. He also did a great job, and he cut up with us some. That was fun.
The ship itself was beautiful. It was always gleaming! The marble/granite floors were gorgeous around the Piazza. Frequently there was a small musical group performing in the Piazza and we enjoyed just listening to them. At other times they had some jugglers. These were 2 men that trained performers for Circ de Soleil. It was a good act, but it seemed to be the same act every time I saw them perform.
The food was pretty much the same thing that I see on other cruises. The only difference is that they now offer a "home-style" entree on each dinner--meatloaf, fried chicken, etc. I do have to say a word about my FAVORITE foods. First, we always love the bread sticks! Second, several nights into the cruise I ordered the Fettuccine Alfredo as an appetizer (it's always available). It was AMAZING. After that, at least one of our group ordered it every night. A couple of nights we ordered the larger size as our entree. One of the reasons our next cruise is on Princess is just for this dish!
Besides the Horizon Court and the Dining Room, there are other places to eat on the ship gratis. The International Cafe has some salads, sandwiches, quiche, and light desserts all at no additional charge. They do have a charge, however, if you want the specialty tea, coffee, or gelato. In Crooners bar you can request an olive tray, which they'll serve with your drink. As a non-drinker, they said they'd be happy to serve it with only an order for water. The tray has about 8 olives, each with a different filling--anchovy, garlic, almond, jalapeno... Yum! Vines also serves tapas and sushi with a drink order. However, since we had early dinner, it never fit into our schedule. Late at night you can go all the way to the back of the ship, behind the Horizon Court, to Cafe Caribe. They have a small buffet, but they also have table service so that you can have a steak. Our favorite thing was to get chips and guacamole just before bed.
We did not go to the specialty dining venues--Sabatini's or the Crown Grill, so cannot comment on them.
I believe that the crew on this ship were the friendliest that I've ever sailed with. It wasn't that they did so much more, but just that they ALWAYS said hello and seemed sincere about doing so. There was only one exception, which you'll read about in a minute. I only needed to talk to someone at the purser's desk once or twice and received fine service there.
The evening entertainment was good. I didn't go to all of the shows because this was a port-intensive cruise and I didn't stay up as late as usual. I did go to the hypnotist show (David Knight) and participated. It was fun. The cruise staff had some trivia games and morning Sudoku and trivia sheets to pick up in the Library, but I don't remember there being a lot of scheduled activities. Well, with exceptions--there were several art auctions, spa lectures (LOSE INCHES!) and talks about the great jewelry buys onboard. As with other ships these days, it seems like a lot of the activities are just ways to try to separate you from your money. I shouldn't complain, because if these are successful and make some passengers happy, then they have their place. Plus, if it helps to keep the base price of my cruise down... There were several movies each day, either on MUTS, in the Explorers Lounge or on the in-cabin TV.
OK, now we talk about something negative. Many days the Internet wouldn't work at all. When it did work, it was SLOOOOOWWWWW. There was a man who ran the Internet Cafe. I never dealt with the man myself, but some of my family did and they had nothing nice to say about him. Other people on my roll call also mentioned him. According to reports, he had a bad attitude and didn't know what he was doing.
I only plat slot machines and I must say that I had a lot of fun in there. I play the penny machines, usually playing all lines with just one penny per line. So, I'm not a big gambler. I prefer the machines with the fun bonus games and had some good luck on several. On Jackpot Party I won $50 on one spin. Later I played one about Little Green Men family reunion and won $60. But the best was the camping game--the bonus brings up a bear (sort of like Yogi) and he keeps going around the screen turning the icons into wilds. On one bonus round I won $114. It all eventually went back to the casino, but these wins helped me to play longer, so it was good.
Inverness Scotland was our next port. It is not listed in the drop-down menu for this review.
We docked at Invergordon. Not having made prior plans, my mom and I just walked off the ship and talked to a man across the street. He worked with the taxi drivers to arrange last minute tours. We found some other people who had the same idea as us, and so we went together. I don't remember our price, but considered it reasonable. I did note that they had some of the same tours as the ship offered, but much less expensive. Our driver took us through the countryside. We stopped in Dingwall and looked around the old Beauly Priory. The driver was very informative and pointed out sites of interest and took us to some out of the way charming places. He did drive us by Urquhart Castle and let us stop for pictures, but we didn't go in. I'm sure we could have, but no one wanted to do this. We then drove along by Loch Ness and got some beautiful pictures. I had no idea it was so pretty. He even stopped at a place so that we could all walk down to the water and put our feet in, if we wanted to. I did! My mom didn't want to try to walk down the dirt path, so the driver took a cup and filled it with water so that my mom could say she had put her finger in Loch Ness. What a nice guy he was. We stopped briefly at the Nessie tourist center also. Driving back we went through Inverness, which is a small city. The River Ness runs through it. Again, another beautiful place. Wish I could stay there longer.
Back in Invergordon I spent some time walking around the one main street. Many of the buildings have murals painted on them. I walked into a little grocery store and got a package of crumpets and a package of cookies for 1.5 pounds.
Something a little different--some people on our tour talked about Fish Pedicures. Apparently these little fish eat the dead skin off of your feet. Invergordon had a shop which had just opened, so I went and had the "pedicure." It was a fun experience. My feet were smoother, but it wouldn't replace a traditional pedicure. Unfortunately, the shop closed after just a couple of weeks because the fish kept dying. I did see ads for another Fishy Feet place there, so maybe that one is still in business.
Finally, there was a school band standing by the street playing music. It consisted of drums and bagpipes. The kids looked anywhere in age from middle to high school and they played very well. They even played on the pier as the ship cast off! Townspeople stood on the pier and waved us off. It was a special experience
The next port was Glasgow. Again, it is not available on the drop-down menu.
I loved our day in Glasgow. I took another private tour which Terri had arranged. Our driver, Robert Jack, met the 7 of us right on time. He was dressed in the full kilt outfit. I never realized a man could look so manly in a skirt! We drove through Glasgow on our way to the little town of Airth. The road construction had recently been finished and so Robert made great time. Because of that, he took us first to see the Falkirk Wheel. It is a different way of connecting two bodies of water which are at different altitudes. Unlike the Panama Canal locks, the Falkirk Wheel picks up the boat and all the water it is sitting in and rotates it up to the higher body of water, where it then exits the wheel.
We then continued on to Airth. We were there on the 4th Saturday in July which is when they have their annual Highland Games. Entrance fee was 5 pounds. We saw the Highland dancers, starting with the youngest group called the Babies. Those little girls would go onstage and do just a couple of steps for the judges. As the girls got older they performed more elaborate routines. It was so fun to watch. There was also a bagpipe contest. Each player would stand on a small makeshift stage and walk back and forth, back and forth, back and forth...... playing music. It wasn't the tunes that we recognize. In fact, it was pretty boring. But, this competition isn't for the benefit of the audience, but to rate the players. There were also many foot and bike races. The best part though was to see all of the men who were competing in the traditional Scottish games. They all had their kilts on. We saw several things like the javelin, the shot put, etc. There was a caber toss but we had to leave before it began. In addition, they did have a parade around the field with a bagpipe band. I really enjoyed this part of the day--we were just with the local people enjoying an annual tradition.
After leaving the games, we stopped at the Airth Castle just to see the views. While there, we heard a bagpipe start playing. As we watched, a wedding party came down the hill, led by the bagpiper. It appeared just to be the bride and her family. The groom and the guests must have already been inside the building. They went to the door of the castle where the music continued a few more minutes, before they all disappeared inside.
Finally, we went to the William Wallace Monument (think Braveheart). An actor presented a little one man show and talked to us as if he was one of the men to follow and fight with Wallace. He had an excellent presentation. Again, we took a few minutes to appreciate the view, then we hurried back to Robert for the drive back to the ship. It was a full day, but we made it back in time.
Cork, Ireland was our next stop. Actually, the ship docks in Cobh. As soon as you step off the ship, you are in the train station. The train runs every half hour to Cork. A round-trip ticket was about 7 Euros and the trip takes about 20 minutes.
All 4 of us bought tickets. No one collected our tickets, which led to a little problem later. Once we got to Cork and got out of the station, we realized we'd have to walk 10-15 minutes into the center of town. My mom didn't want to do that so decided to just get back on the train and head to the ship. Eddie went back with her. Before they left, my mom gave me the rest of her Euros in hopes that I could spend them in town and could then repay her in US$.
Barbie and I took off for town. Some of the prettiest pictures I got were of the flowers just growing on the stone walls. In town, we walked into a shopping area. There were lots of food stalls selling everything from meat to cheese to fudge to breads... Very interesting, especially the long thin thing that I think was an oxtail! We then wandered around outside and got some more great pictures.
On the way back to the train, Barbie realized she still had Eddie's train ticket. Yikes! We wondered if we'd find Eddie waiting for us at the station, but no, he was gone. When we got on the platform for the train to return to Cobh, a ticket collector came by and finally took the tickets we'd been holding onto all day. Back on the ship we heard their story. Eddie discovered he didn't have his ticket when the porter came for it. So, my mom and he went back into the station to see about buying a one-way ticket for him. That wasn't a problem, although the cost was 4.65 Euros. Eddie had no cash, so my mom was going to take care of it. Remember what I said at the start of this story??? It was at this point that Mom realized she had given me all of her Euros. When Mom explained the problem to the ticket agent, the lady just laughed. (I might have too.) She then said mom could use her credit card; however, there was a minimum credit card purchase. So Mom ended up having extra Euros after all!
One thing we did learn because of this is that if you are leaving cash tips for your steward or wait staff, you can leave it in dollars, Euros, or pounds. So, guess where the extra Euros went...
Our final port was Guernsey. Oh, what a beautiful island this is!
We tendered in to this port early in the morning. Again I was booked on a private tour with people from my roll call. We did the "Potato Peel Pie Society Tour." It took in the major locations mentioned in the book. We started at the German Occupation Museum. History buffs would enjoy this, but I didn't really care to look at all the guns and stuff. The one thing I did find interesting was a diary kept by a woman on the island during WWII. It was opened to a page with this entry. I don't know the month, but it was Tuesday, the 3rd. Besides mentioning rations, she wrote, "An Organ and Vocal recital at Church this evening. I sang a duet with Joyce Browing who sang very flat and spoilt the whole thing." I got a laugh out of that.
We then went to the Little Chapel which was built by a man in honor and remembrance of Lourdes. It was beautiful. I'd recommend you google it for some neat pictures. Following that, we went to the Cliff Walk. All I can say is, WOW! There was some fog over the ocean and it softened the whole scene as we stood on top of the cliffs and looked down to the water. It was almost like being in an emotional movie scene--it evoked strong feelings. I didn't want to leave.
However, we did have to move on, and went back to a place for a snack. I had a scone and clotted cream, with some jelly on top. I didn't know what clotted cream was, but it was as good as I'd heard. It's a thick cream, almost the consistency of soft butter. It's slightly sweet. Oh my, it was good!
Our last stop was the German Underground Hospital, left over from WWII. It was dark and dank. I would have hated to had to stay there!
We got there the week after they had a contest on the island for the nicest yards. There were flowers growing all over. I've never seen so many colors of hydrangeas.
As we drove around, we just got to enjoy the beauty of the island. Our driver pointed out little homemade stands beside the road. People would put out their extra produce or eggs and put a sign up telling the price. People who wanted some would just put the money in the jar or coin box. The honor system works well there because the people are honest. To move there, you have to be approved by a committee of residents and they're really careful about who they let move in. I would love to go back and stay awhile, if they'd have me :).
I hate it!!! Well, that's not the fault of the cruise line, it's simply that all cruises must end eventually. The procedure was actually very smooth. We found our bags relatively easily, and Customs was a breeze. We found the right bus to return us to Heathrow. Once at the airport, we waited, and waited and waited. Our flight left late in the afternoon. At Heathrow, they don't tell you the gate number until about an hour before your flight leaves. That means everyone waits in a big central location. That in itself wasn't bad, but when you finally got your gate assignment, you had to hurry to get to the gate on time. This was especially difficult because we had to secure a wheelchair for a member of our party. By the time we got to our gate, it was almost time to board the plane.
OTHER GENERAL SHIP COMMENTS:
Other than coming out of shows, the ship rarely felt crowded. Many times it felt deserted. I stayed onboard while we were at a port one day and that was so nice. I found that the Wheelhouse Bar is a nice place to sit and read (or recline and read if you prefer). I would go on this ship again with no hesitation.