British Isles on the Ruby Princess Aug 3 – 15, 2014
This was a bucket list destination for a significant birthday in 2013 that had to be postponed by one year, however with 2014 we were able to board on my birthday and sail the Ruby, both worth waiting for.
For those who do not want DETAIL, here are the Likes and Dislikes…..
Bests & Positives of 2014 British Isles Cruise & Paris in no particular order:
1. Arriving at Southampton’s new Terminal and seeing the Ruby again. This was our third Cruise on the Ruby and we will see her in Halifax in September when she crosses the Atlantic on the way to the Caribbean
2. A huge turnout for our Cruise Critic Meet & Greet and making some great new friends
3. The Skywalkers 5-7 pm private receptions nightly for platinum and elite
passengers. Great food and service and a perfect place to do Sailaway
4. The very cheap (1 GBP) bus tour and everything else about Guernsey.
5. Meeting celebrity fish monger Pat O’Connell at the English Market in Cork (Google his name and the Queen Elizabeth visits Cork 2011)
6. Having fsh and chips at O’Neill’s Pub in Dublin with a cousin who was visiting Dublin at the same time.
7. Seeing the UNESCO Heritage site Giant’s Causeway and a drive on narrow roads and up cliff sides in Northern Ireland
8. Seeing and writing on the Peace Wall and hearing about the Catholic/Protestant conflict in Belfast from our tour guide
9. As we walked in a rain shower, being offered a drive back to ship by a resident of Greenock and a bus tour of Newark Castle by the Greenock volunteers
10. The bus shuttle around Orkney and hearing about the 5000 years of history and seeing the excavations
11. Despite the cold weather, experiencing Edinburgh Castle, tartans, eatiing haggis, the Fringe - what is not to like about this city
12. A late night discussion for two hours with 5 members of the Cruise Directors Staff. Actually we found this to be one of the friendliest cruise staffs.
13. Hot plates keeping hot food hot and cold plates keeping cold food cold
14. Better than usual coffee at Horizon and in Dining Room.
15. Being in Paris for the first time and on August 15 (the National Holiday) being at Notre Dame for Noon Mass.
16. Seeing the Eiffel Tower for the first time – awestruck!
17. Great air flights to London and from Paris via Redjavik with Iceland Air. The day we flew home we missed the volcano eruption which may have cancelled our flight for a few days!!!
Negatives of 2014 British Isles Cruise in no particular order:
1. Missing Invergordon and the Scottish highlands due to high winds from Hurricane Bertha
2. Street construction and congestion in Dublin
3. Having a camera accident in Orkney and ruining my one year old Nikon.
4. Toilet facilities in cities and towns!!! Versailles was especially bad. Long line-ups at most places particularly for women. On the other hand the DeGaulle Airport and Iceland Airport had the finest toilets we had ever seen.
5. At 4:00 am on the morning heading into Edinburgh, having an all ship announcement saying ‘1st response to Bridge’ It turned out there was an electrical fire which was quickly put under control on Deck 16. About 15 minutes later a second announcement noted all was OK (Most of us thought the announcement said First Aid rather than 1st response.
July 31 – Halifax Iceland
We flew Iceland Air from Halifax to London. It was a 4 hours 15 minute flight leaving at 10 pm local time and arriving in Reyjavik at 5:15 am local time. Our wait was 2:5 hours between flights so we searched out breakfast in the quiet terminal. I believe we paid close to $25 each for the breakfast (buffet) Good variety but a tad expensive. 3.990 Kr.
August 1 – London
We arrived at Heathrow shortly before noon and by 1:00 pm had cleared customs and picked up luggage. We found the very reasonably priced National Express to Victoria Station and by 1:30 p.m. and we were off. L12 for the two of us plus L5 tip and from Victoria Station the Taxi L10 with tip of L5 to Hotel. 40 pounds total with tips from Heathrow to London Marriott Hotel County Hall Westminster Bridge Road.
Our London hotel (Marriott County Hall) is situated next to the London Eye overlooking the River Thames, Houses of Parliament and the vibrant South Bank. It is a huge hotel, not in height but length. There is only one set of elevators and we had an eight minute walk to our room from the elevator. We napped for one hour, freshened up and checked out the concierge and purchased Hop on – Hop Off (L31 each) for one day and tickets for the London Eye. (L20 each) This way we avoided the line-up for ticket purchase at Eye. Speaking of lines, we picked up some quick food at Mcdonald’s at the Eye. Cannot beat Mcdonald,s prices but there was a line!!! Before the Eye we did the 3D London Eye Show (10 minutes) then had a thirty minute wait for the Eye. The Eye is a very pleasant experience giving great views and great photos of historic London and the Thames. There are about 15-20 people in each car and you are free to walk around as you revolve.
We were able to begin our one day Hop on Ticket at 7pm so we decided to do one of the routes and ended up back at Big Ben by 8pm. By that time we needed drink and food and found a nice Italian restaurant closeby (Locale-Cucina Italiana) 36 pounds for wine and a shared caesar salad, calamari and marguerita pizza.
August 2 – London
Our breakfast was at a nearby Starbucks and we were off to get a Big Bus ride for 75 minutes in Westminster. Got off at St. James Park and walked seven minutes to Buckingham Palce for the 11:15 am Buckingham Palace Stateroom Tour. I had bought tickets on line a few months prior to be assured of getting this tour as it does sell out. We got in the 11:15 line-up and were in the gates by 11:30 am You get a great inside glimpse of the staterooms, exhibits, history and well produced multi media presentations. Get an audio guide (free) to follow along. By 1:30 pm we end up at the Gift Shop and Garden Café. Needing food we waited 5 minutes for a seat – Had a ham & cheese sandwich with scone strawberries and clotted cream.
Bought a few souvenirs and Buckingham Castle book with pictures and then spent time on grounds.
Back on Hop On Big Bus to Kensington Palace, Diana Playground and finally found Diana Memorial Garden after a 30-40 minute walk. Back through park – went into Palace to use washroom and picked up an ice cream.
Back on Hop On Big Bus and went through Knightsbridge, Oxford St, Regent St and finally back to London Eye at 6:15p.m. Part of the Bus Pass also gets three walking tours (which we did not take) and a Thames River Cruise. So at at 7 pm we caught the last boat and cruised up the Thames to Tower of London Bridge and back – 70 minutes.
Returned on Big Ben side and found a pub across from Ben for a beer, hamburger and fish & chips and a chicken burger. Fish was cod and excellent. 12 hours later we were back at the hotel.
August 3 – London & Sail Away at Southampton:
We had pre-booked/paid on-line a National Express bus ticket from Victoria Station for 8:30 am so taxied (15 pounds with tip-10 minutes) to Station. The taxi cost the same amount as the very comfortable bus ride of 2 hours to Southampton. There was just a single three minute stop at Winchester along the way. The driver kept to a speed of 100 km. After he got out of London, there was a 6 lane highway ride for an hour.
At 10:30 am we arrived at Southampton Bus Station and shared a cab to Cruise Port with another couple for 10GBP total for 4 people and 8 suitcases!! The Ruby was waiting at OCEAN TERMINAL #46/47 OCEAN TERMINAL-BERTH 46/47EASTERN DOCKS
There were very few people at this very new Terminal. We gave our luggage up, no tip. Right into terminal at 10:55 am and checked in very quickly. Waited in Priority Lounge (Juice and muffins) No issue with scanning and taking two bottles of wine aboard.
We were about the 10th person on Ruby Princess at 11:45 am. Went directly to room on the Caribe Deck and unpacked smaller suitcase. We reconnected with the Ruby, made Crown and Sabatini reservations and proceeded to Horizon for buffet. Hip of Beef and salads were the order of the day. My wife gave me a Happy Birthday – Wine Package. It was- $160 for 7 bottles. All must be under $30 and consumed in Dining Room. At the end of the cruise we had finished all seven bottles. If you do not, you can order it up to your room to take home. My wife bought a soda package at $4.50 a day.
By 2 pm, our suitcases had arrived, we unpacked then explored Ship until the muster drill. We delivered Cruise Critic invites to crew and back up to Terrace Pool for the Sailaway at 5:15 p.m. Stayed on Mid Ship Deck and watched Billy Joel NY Concert on Big Screen until 6:00 pm. It was a great sunny and warm day. Dinner was at Michalangelo – Table for two – no wait. We found if you arrived prior to 8, there was no issue getting a shared table but after 8 pm no luck. Princess is much better than NCL in coordinating shared tables. Finished dinner at 9:45 and off to show in Princess Theatre. The first show was Introduction Show with Princess Singers, Cruise Director overview and a mentalist preview.
August 4 – Guernsey from 9:00 am – 2:00 pm (tender port)
After breakfast in Horizon, we went down for Tender at 8:45 am. Only a 10 minute wait and 10 minutes to land. Walked to the Travel Info Office to left and up Main St. for info on Public Bus - 1 pound each at Bus Terminus – 75 minute circle run of Island. A few short stops for pictures. Back at Terminus, got off bus and waked up Hill. Visited Court House and a few stores. Visited Marks & Spencer then walked out to Cornet Fort. Did not go in but took a few pictures.
Advice: Guernsey takes money in GBP however change is in Guernsey pounds. You cannot use them anywhere else. I paid for a 2 GBP purchase with a 20 GPB note and now have 18 Guernsey pounds which my bank will not even take.
At noon we started to walk back to tender. Line for 15 minutes. Back at ship at 1:00pm with lunch at International Café. Salads and a sandwich and tarts. Out on Deck to catch a few views then back to room to get ready for Meet & Greet.. The International Café is a great alternative for breakfast and lunches. They have quality food and friendly service. Great place to have a specialty coffee or a gelato.
Our Cruise Critic meet and Greet was at 3:30 p.m. We had pre-registered 90 and 70 folks attended. I had invited all senior crew. Not sure if they received the invites but the new Cruise Director Michael did show at 4pm and spoke for 5 minutes and stayed for 30 minutes to chat other CC’ers up. This was his first cruise aboard Ruby and he did a great job.
Our first formal night occurred this day, we had a picture done by Hector (Mexico) who was a very personable crew member. We missed the Champagne Fountain by having an early Dinner followed by the show at 10:15 pm - Colours of the World – Princess Singers and Dancers. Music from around the World.
August 5 – Ireland, Cobh - Cork
Cork/Kinsale Tour with four other Cruise Critic friends so the six of us met at Vines at 8:00 a.m. – The pickup is at 8:30 am with Michael O’Donovan, the driver, we are very comfortable in an 8 passenger van. We paid 80 Euro a couple based on eight couples however two couples had to cancel at the last moment.
Left Cobh for Blarney Castle (30 minutes away). Arrived before crowd. We did not do Castle but walked to Blarney Woolen Mills and walked around for 1 hour 15. Left at 10:20 for Kinsale. Skirted Cork and into Kinsale at 11 am and joined a Walking Tour for 1:30 hours. (History with Herlihy’s Guided Tour of Historic Kinsale). About 30 people. Some light rain showers along the way. After the Tour we did Lunch at Jimmy Edward’s Pub. Spouse had fish (haddock) & chips and I had braised beef with veggies and potatoes. Guinness and soda bill was 34 GBP. Excellent food. A quick drive to Charles Fort and around Town. Off to Cork. The traffic was busy. We stopped at Shannon’s Candy Shop, the Cathedral and the English Market – Met Pat O,Connell (Pat made headlines when he met the Queen in Cork in 2011). We chatted with the local celebrity, gave him a Canadian pin and got pictures. Back to Cobh – Cathedral stop then Ship via Heritage Centre. We were back aboard at 4:45 pm and went up to Skywalkers for the sail away. It is Port and Stilton night. Following dinner in Michaelangelo, we enjoyed the Mentalist Show
August 6 - Dublin
Following breakfast, we were off Ruby at 9:00 am – choices for transportation included
Princess Cruise Shuttles - $16 each return, a taxi – 10 GBP or the Tram for 4 GBP. We decided on the tram but it is a long walk from the Port. While walking to Tram, a taxi stopped who offered to take us to the Tram free. We accepted, then decided to have him take us right into Dublin and get dropped off near Trinity College. We paid 10 Euro.
Walked around Trinity College campus – Long line for Book of Kells. Our plan today was to meet a relative who was also vacationing in Ireland and just tour the city. We bought Hop On Hop Off Tickets - 17 Euro each. Got on Bus – Went to Molly Malone Statue, took pictures – across from O’Neills Pub. Went into Pub at 11:40 am for an early lunch. Had a Guinness and fish & chips again – Janice had Sheppard’s Pie. Big Servings and actually one item could serve two people. After lunch back on Hop On for an hour to other points.
Dublin was very busy with lots of construction and delays so we actually did not get into any key places like Kells, Guinness, St. Patrick’s or the Jail. Queues were very long.
Advice: Pick one or two things and do them well rather than try to do everything. Even the Book of Kells had a tremendously long line to purchase tickets and in the end those that got in said it is very disorganized and you do not see much.
We started to walk back to Port but got a Tram instead - 4 GBP 20. After getting off Tram we still had a 20 minutes to walk back to Ship. Dublin was not a particular favourite destination!!
There was an excellent Irish Music Show in Princess Theatre at 5:00 pm for 30 minutes, after which we went back to Skywalkers (Platinum – Elite Lounge) until 7:00 p.m. for Sailaway. Our Dinner was at Sabatini’s. Specialty restaurants are a nice change from the main dining room. There are only two on the Ruby although they also have the Crab Shack on a few evenings. The Crab Shack is seafood and since you cannot beat Nova Scotia seafood, we don’t usually try to compare.
August 7 – Belfast, Ireland
I organized our tour for six on internet back in November with Alister. He actually called me twice prior to the cruise and he ended up with two different CC groups that day. Michael was our driver. We were off ship early and looked for our sign. Cost was 300 GBP for 6 people which would be $160 a couple for the all day tour.
We drove an hour from Belfast through pleasent vistas and farms with our1st stop in Crushindale for pics. We opted not to do the rope bridge walk but stopped for a bathroom break at the location. This was followed by a spectacular hill and mountain ride – narrow roads and great views. We arrived at the Giants Causeway, SPECTACULAR UNESCO Site. Google this and make sure it is included in a tour you take. We paid for a bus ride up and down to save time. Lots of people and pictures
Next we were on to Dunluce Castle where we explored the grounds (no admission just pics). Our lunch was at a great café near castle. Chicken sandwiches and dessert – 17 GBP. While we were at the Castle, driver went up an reserved us a table otherwise we would have waited. Food was superb. It was 90 minute drive back to Belfast where we did a tour of the Protestant & Catholic sides of Belfast. Needless to say, the religious and political strife is sad and laid bare before everyone. Murals in the Protestant quarter with stories then saw walls in Catholic section. Commentary and history from Michael all along the way. The gate close at 6 each day in the Catholic section. We actually say wooden pallets being prepared for bonfire demonstrations. We also saw the Monastery and wrote a message on the Peace Wall
By 5:00 p.m. we were back to Ruby after a full day and by far the one tour we will remember the most on this cruise.
August 8 – Greenock
This was a Port that many used to go to Edinburgh and the Tattoorather than Glasgow. We were not interested in the Tattoo and after a disappointment in Dublin we opted not to go to Glasgow so we decided to stay and explore Greenock. The weather was cloudy with showers and it sure was cool.
We had breakfast in Horizon at 9 am and was off Ruby by 9:45 am in Greenock. They have a very friendly and welcoming Visitor Centre with scotch whiskey samples and great volunteer guides. We happened on a tour around town and to Newark Castle organized by the volunteers It was 7 GBP so when we booked only the 2:45 pm tour was available. W e walked round town, the library, Lyle Kirk and St. Mary RC Church and a walk along the Esplanade and Clyde River. A rain shower started at 12:15 so back to Ruby for Lunch. One of the guides at the Church recognized us walking back so she picked us up and drove us back to Port. A real nice gesture!!
Back to Visitor Centre at 2:30 and caught the tour to the Castle. It was an informative tour of a fascinating Castle. When we got back to Ruby at 5pm, the Princess Tour buses were loading for Edinburgh’s Tattoo. It was a three hour drive for a 2 hour show then a drive back after the Show. I felt sorry for those going and happy we had had a low key day around a friendly Scottish town. We went back up to Skywalkers for apps and drink until 7pm then Dinner at 8pm in Michaelangelo.
Just like Ireland, there was a superb Scottish music show in Princess Theatre to round out the day.
August 9 – Sea Day
We opted for our only breakfast in Michangelo on this Sea Day.
Read in Skywatchers for most of the am and enjoyed a Pub lunch at Wheelhouse Bar. This is always a traditional treat on Sea Days on Princess and we look forward to the fish and chips and Steak and Kidney Pie even in the Caribbean so it was a must attend in the British Isles. We also went to High Tea in the Dining Room at 3:30 p.m. (After all we were in the British Isles)
The Captains Reception in Club Fusion was at 7:15 pm and we had our Dinner in Crown Grill at 8.
August 10 – Orkney – Kirkwall – (Tender Port)
Like Guernsey, the Orkney visit would be a pleasant surprise.
It is Sunday and at 8:30 am we went down to Level 5 for disembarkation, 10-14 minute tender ride to Port. MSC was docked alongside so we knew it would be a busy day. The day before had been a rough day with driving rain and high winds such that most of Kirkwell closed down.
Ran into CC group of 12 and decided we would stick together and do the local bus tour. We walked and eventually found the Bus Depot/ Visitor Centre for tickets.
A small line-up. Got tickets around 9:40 am and caught the10 am Double Decker. We were just ahead of the crowd and we heard later there were no more buses added.
It was quite windy but sunny and a cool 16 degrees (61) for a drive to Stromness and other points. At 11 am we got to Excavation – Village of 5000 years. Did not buy ticket (8 pounds) but explored grounds and saw everything except inside of the big house (the Museum ). Great grounds, garden, beach, fields, exhibit.
At 12:30 pm, back to bus and 30 minutes to next stop, the Ring of Brodger – fascinating UNESCO Heritage Site. Got pics and quick walk around site. No fee here either.
Back on bus for journey back to Kirkwell 1:30 pm.
After getting back to Visitor Centre at 2 pm. A huge agricultural/Clydesdale horse parade was happening . We walked to the town and visited St. Magnus Cathedral. Found a side door and went inside. Just a 10 minute visit – very busy. Got a bag of chips and then found an Orkney Ice Cream Parlour. Delicious ice cream flavours and very busy. We had a rhubarb and custard and a coconut cream cone. 2 pounds each.
Walked back to Tender for 3:15 pm. And on ship at 3:45pm There was an Italian themed dinner in the Main Dining Room
August 11 – Invergordon turns into Sea Day
The effects of Hurricane Bertha affected our cruise with this stop being cancelled.
We had a private tour planned with 6 fellow CC’ers but it was not to be. It was a stop I was looking forward to experience highland Scotland,
Rough seas and rain most of day. The captain put two stabilizers out and it did not seem bad. We spent most of the day in Skywalkers reading and editing pictures and had a Dining Room dinner.
Met up with fellow CC’ers after Dinner at 9:30 am and sat in the lobby. We were joined by an assistant cruise director (Australia). This was her first contract and we chatted for hour. Then four others from her department joined us and we all chatted until midnight. David from England, also other assistant from Australia and two others (Jamaica and England). We had an enjoyable couple hours chatting and learning about cruise ship life.
August 12 – Edinburgh (Tender)
The Ruby arrived neared South Queensferry at 7 am. It would be a rough morning for the tenders but at least we are here. We had heard there was only a 50/50 chance of getting into Edinburgh. This would have been a big disappointment!
Edinburgh was the easiest to plan for us. The city is stunning and its easy to get there via train. Even if you didn't do the castle, the Royal Mile or Holyrood House are great. The architecture all around is amazing!
Once off the tender, and you leave the dock area there is a sign for a shuttle into Edinburgh for 10 GBP return. The other options are a train or a Princess Shuttle for $69/pp.
We decided to do Shuttle bus at Pier. 5 GBP each (return). Left at 9:15 and in Charlotte Square by 9:35 am. Made our way to Castle. Bought a ticket from HOHO Bus for the Castle – It fast tracks you and costs 13 GBP each. Saved about 20 minutes however by 12:30 when we were coming out there was a very long long line to buy tickets. At the Castle, we spent close to three hours walking around to the various buildings. Did not get audio tour although if we had had time it would have been useful. The longest line was about 20 minutes to see the Crown Jewels.
After the Castle we walked out and came to the Tartan Factory on left. Spent an hour in there. It is about four or 5 levels and great souvenir stop. We then visited St. Giles Church. (historic church)
All eating places were very busy. We found the Filling Station – 20 minute wait. Had Guinness and did free Wifi. I had wanted to try haggis and this place had three pieces of deep fried haggis (beer batter) with a red pepper jelly dipping sauce. Very tasty. Spouse had a pizza. Great friendly service here.
Then back out and proceeded down Royal Mile looking at stores and sights. Very busy with street performers as it was Fringe Festival. Showers continued with breeze so very damp.
Visited St. Patrick’s RC Church (Redemptorists), a Christmas Shop, Walked through Princes Garden back to Charlotte Square. Book Festival also going on in Charlotte Sq. Got to bus at 330 and it left at 345. Back to cruise terminal at 4:15 pm. A 50 minute tender wait and back on ship at 5pm. Some folks had up to a two hour wait as the sea was rough and limited tenders could be used.
Up to Skywalkers for apps (stilton cheese etc) until 8:00 p.m. Late sailaway at 7:45 pm
We chose to do a casual dinner in Horizon Buffet . We are big dining room fans so do not do Horizon for dinner. The few times we did, we were not disappointed.
August 13 – Sea Day
There is a time change upon leaving Edinburgh. We ordered coffee from room service for 7 am but it arrived at 6am!
Had a late breakfast in International Café and went to the Outlet Sale.
Back to room for packing as we disembark tomorrow in LeHavre.
Following lunch in the dining room we read in Skywalkers for the afternoon, completed packing and had our final dinner at Crown Grill with friends we made through Cruise Critic.
August 14 – LeHavre, France
Rather than return to Southampton, we decided to disembark in LeHavre. To do this you must let Princess know of your intention months before you sail. We had surrendered our passports earlier in the cruise and would not get them back until after French authorities has stamped them today.
We booked a train a few months before the cruise for noon hour for the 2 hour 30 minute trip to Paris. It was a short 5 minute taxi ride to the station and they advise being there 45 minutes before departure. Taxi was 10 Euro and train for 2 in 2nd Class was $80 purchased in May on internet from Rail Europe. The train left promptly at noon and we were in Pars at St. Lazare Station at 2:30 p.m.
Advice: Some folks choose to take a 3.5 hour bus tour into Paris, stay four hours and then return by bus. Others choose to do the Normandy Beaches at this Port. A train trip to Rouen is another possibility or you could rent a car. Paris by bus would be my least favourable recommendation.
Thanks for your patience if you read this review/summary of our trip. We gain so much from other reviews and postings on Cruise Critic, we feel we are giving a bit back. Next year the Royal will be doing this cruise. Having had a Caribbean sailing on her last year, we can attest she will offer a wonderful cruise on this itinerary. To close, I have summarized a few high and low points from our 2014 UK and Paris adventure.
As you can see the positives far outweigh the negatives.
August 15 – To Paris
Up at 6:30 a.m. – Breakfast at Horizon by 8:30 a.m. Paid off our account then finished the one book I took from the library (Left Bank) between 9 am and 10 am
Disembarked at 10:45 am.
Picked up suitcases and taxi right at exit to the Train Station. 10 Euro to bus station.
Waited in line 20 mins for ticket processing. On train at 11:50 and left at noon. About 5 stops going in. Arrived about 15 minutes late (at 2:45 pm in Paris)
August 15 – 19 in Paris
Did Hop On – Hop off for two days and touring on our own for two days plus did a day in Versailles.