Selected this itinerary based on the ports. Loved the Ruby – she is huge and it did take a while to take the right elevator to the right floor, but we enjoyed the cruise and all ports except Honfleur. Another deciding factor on this particular ship and cruise was that laundry facilities are available on each deck so we could travel lighter than usual. We were in Europe prior to the cruise so we did not bring as much with us as we normally would if we were home. We purchased Princess transfers and we were on one of the first buses to Southampton. Driver took us through the towns of Winchester and Southampton.
Embarkation was pretty smooth but much different than here in Florida. Hand luggage and passengers were scanned just before we got on the ship so lines were very slow. Princess is very well organized and they seemed to call about 50-100 people at a time so it probably went much faster than it seemed.
We aren't out that far at sea so quite a few passengers were disgruntled that the casino was closed much of the trip. I added casino information on each day below for those who might want to give Princess more money… I only gave them $60 more… my DH came out $100 ahead! Casino was open the first night from 8:30 PM to close. Cruise director's comedy (?) said if this sailing can keep the Skywalkers Lounge open past 12:05 AM it would be a first.
Day 1 – St. Peter Port (Casino open from 4 PM to close)
We took the tender from the ship into the town and strolled through the harbor side and the fort. We chose not to do any tours. Visitor Center in town was great source of information, maps, and some souvenirs. The first of two formal nights was that night that we skipped. We weren't the only ones eating in the Lido deck!
Day 2 – Cobh/Cork (Casino open from 7 PM to close)
We booked all excursions except one privately. We chose eCoach for Cork and our driver and tour guide, Kevin, was very informative, knowledgeable, and shared this lovely part of Ireland with us. We started out on time this morning in Cobh and got out before the Princess buses. Our first stop was Blarney Castle. We drove first through the town of Cork and parked near the Irish Woolen Mills in Blarney where we shopped after the walk around Blarney Castle. Next stop was one of the remaining star-shaped forts, Charlesfort, in Europe and then on to the village of Kinsale where we had lunch and walked through many small streets and shops. On the return trip to Cobh we stopped at St. Colman's Church for a "photo opp" then back to the ship. A group of Irish dancers, all students, were on the ship when we returned.
Day 3 – Dublin (Casino open from 5:30 PM to 2 AM)
We took a cab with two others from the ship (cabs are plentiful at the port) that were also on the same tour. The four of us joined six others on a walking tour of Dublin I found on the CruiseCritic roll call for our sailing. Garvan Rushe, AKA www.dublintourguide.ie, is a very interesting young man from the Northern part of Ireland (not to be confused with Northern Ireland) who moved to the Dublin area to attend college. His knowledge of Irish history and culture was combined with humor. Everything in Ireland is due to either the weather or the English!
We started out on Kildare Street in front of the National Library. We walked more than the 10,000 steps two of our other members were counting! Also took much longer than the five hours scheduled and got back to the ship later than planned. We saw many highlights of Dublin including Trinity College where we saw the Book of Kells and the second floor of the library was where much of the Harry Potter movies were filmed. Also crossed the cast iron Ha'penny Bridge after lunch at Bewley's Cafe and then stopped at the GPO (General Post Office) where the 1916 uprisings began. We saw many statues, Dublin Castle, St. Stephen's Green, numerous state buildings and some huge metal umbrellas that are used on market day when it rains. The weather was supposed to be in the low 60's but it turned out to be very warm and sunny.
I would give this a 4-star rating, however. Garvan stopped and talked way too much and we tired quickly of Irish history and the politics. We also had a somewhat mobility-impaired couple on our tour that were just left behind at their own pace…he didn’t seem to slow down for them but that also may be why he stopped and talked for so long so they could catch up. A few of us stayed back with them to be sure they were OK. Another downside was that there was NO opportunity for shopping and we had to grab a cab from somewhere in Dublin where we ended up to get back to the ship. We weren’t interested in sitting in a pub in a part of town that had zero shops, etc. We didn't spend a thing other than on lunch so Garvan saved us some money!
Day 4 - Belfast (Casino closed)
There was plenty of transportation into the city at the port and we got on a bus that cost a fraction of the Princess shuttle bus… think it was something like $15 (Yes! $$!) each for a round-trip ticket. We purchased Hop On Hop Off bus tickets ahead of time that took in the Titanic Quarter, Stormont and Parliament buildings, the Shankill and Falls Roads murals and the Queen's Quarter. We hopped off at the next to last stop and walked a few blocks to the BBC station for a FREE tour of the broadcasting house for BBC2. We saw the television broadcasting area and were surprised how small the sets are. Also met the communications manager who actually coordinates the schedules. On the way through the radio broadcast area we were invited to meet the DJ and ended up on film for the afternoon show. They thought it interesting two couples from across the pond were from Florida and on the ship. Still not sure why a radio talk show was being filmed...
Day 5 – Greenock, Scotland (Casino closed)
Booked a full day tour with Discover Scotland and Ian was our guide and driver. We left Greenock and headed to Loch Lomand where we stopped for a few photos and a souvenir shopping stop...one of many... The loch was a little foggy/misty and looked like something out of a novel! Also stopped in Aberfoyle for photos and more shopping for those inclined. On the way to our lunch stop in Callender, we pulled off to see a small herd of Scottish cattle close to the road.
After lunch we finally reached Stirling Castle in the town of Stirling. These remarkable buildings were used during the times of James IV, James V, Mary Queen of Scots and James VI. Upon returning to the ship we found we missed a local show of bagpipers and dancers for those that stayed on the ship or returned earlier.
Sea day on Day 6 so we caught up on some sleep. The casino was closed all day and night, too.
Day 7 – Orkney Islands (Casino open from 7:30 PM to 2:30 AM)
We were tendered into Kirkwall and saw the archaeological, spiritual and historical part of the Orkney Islands of Northern Scotland. Booked a private tour with Susan with Explore Orkney (www.exploreorkney.com). I would highly recommend this tour and don't hesitate to book this on your own.
There were three cruise ships in port the day we were there so Susan had quite a task of getting us to all the sites and was successful in avoiding the huge buses everywhere we went! We crossed the island a few times, but we were able to see everything without massive crowds. We first saw the view of Scapa Flow which was used as a travel trade route over centuries. It was also used as the base of the British Home Fleet. During WWII Italian prisoners-of-war worked on the construction of the Churchill Barriers. The prisoners built a lovely little chapel, called the Italian Chapel that tells a story of patience, hope, and camaraderie.
Then we drove to the Standing Stones of Stenness dating back to 3100BC. There are only four megaliths standing today. We then travelled to The Ring of Brodgar dating around 1200BC. This is the third largest and best preserved stone circle in Great Britain. We saw Skara Brae, a Neolithic village, in the afternoon. This site dates back to 3200BC to 2300BC and has eight dwellings. It was buried under sand dunes until 1850 when it was revealed by a major storm.
Day 8 – Invergordon/Inverness (Casino closed)
Booked with WOW Scotland tours today and the owner, Gordon Pearson, was our guide. We started early and first stopped in the lovely city of Inverness. Since it was Sunday, not many shops were open so we only spent about an hour here.
We then drove to Loch Ness to see if we could spot the world-famous attraction....and surprise! Nessie was there! Got some great photos and couldn't believe the weather has been just about perfect for us. Again, since it was Sunday, the pub wasn't open yet so we only spent a short time here, too. The Culloden battlefield where the April 16, 1745 Jacobite uprising's final battle occurred outside of Inverness was our next stop. We then drove on to the Clava Cairns, an exceptionally well-preserved group of prehistoric burial cairns that were built around 4000 years ago. Cawdor Castle was our last stop which is an actual castle that is still occupied. The Dowager Lady Cawdor moves out during the summer and opens her home for tours. The castle is best known as the home of MacBeth in Shakespeare's "Scottish Play."
Day 9 – Edinburgh (Casino open from 10:30 PM until close)
We were tendered from the ship and spent the entire day in Edinburgh. The local shuttle sold us round-trip tickets at the port (think it was about 40 pounds for the two of us) and took us into the city where we used the next set of Hop On Hop Off tickets we pre-purchased from home. Unfortunately, it started to drizzle a bit so we hopped off at the next stop and walked up to the castle. Built on volcanic rock it is naturally well defended. St. Margaret's Chapel dated from the 12th century, is the most ancient building. Stood in a very long line to see The Honours of Scotland (the Crown Jewels) that were first used together for the coronation of Mary Queen of Scots.
After we left the castle we stopped in a basement level restaurant and had haggis and a beer for lunch! We then hopped back on the bus and finished the city tour. The shuttle bus service was very reliable and we got back to the ship early.
Days 10 – 11 – Sea Day and Le Havre/Honfleur (Casino was open on sea day from 9 AM until 7 PM; Open after we left Le Havre from 9 PM to 1:30 AM)
Saw the White Cliffs of Dover around 9:30 at night as we cruised by them on the way to Le Havre. We booked a short (4-hour) Princess excursion into the small town of Honfleur. We were very disappointed in the tour, and the village quite frankly, since half of the stores did not open until 1:30 PM - and we left at 1:00 PM! Tour guide -- an American living in France – was informative. Still second-guessing spending hundreds of dollars for a 3-hour visit to Paris!
Disembarkation was a breeze – we were back at Heathrow before Noon and checked into the Radisson Blu Edwardian for two nights before our flight home. We took a cab into Windsor to see Windsor, Eton and Windsor Castle. We spent the last day of our vacation in London. Wish we had more time....
We bought the internet minutes before the cruise at a discount (?) and spent every one of them… very slow… but it did allow us to stay in touch with home since our first grandchild was born just a few weeks before our trip. We used the Viber app and was able to text message and even call home for free when on the Wi-Fi.
This review is not about what was BAD (there was nothing!!) about the cruise… everyone has opinions on entertainment, cleanliness, food, etc. Our room steward, Pisces, was fabulous… we rarely ate in the dining room so no comments there. We have no major complaints about anything. Fabulous vacation and would do it all over again!
Enjoyed the large balcony when we could - since so port intensive we weren't in the cabin very often! Beds were comfortable and laid out similarly to other Princess ships. Especially like the closet/bathroom separate from sleeping area on Princess ships. Room steward, Pisces, was superb. For those not familiar with this ship, this deck has partially covered balconies that comfortably seat 4 people. Privacy near the sliding door, and if by the railing, decks above can see you -- and you can see people on lower decks!