Top of the World - Hiking and Private Tour Information: Ocean Princess Cruise Review by cboyle

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Top of the World - Hiking and Private Tour Information

Sail Date: August 2009
Destination: Transatlantic
Embarkation: New York (Manhattan)
This review is primarily a travelogue of what we did in the various ports on our 36-day cruise. It was marketed as two 18-day cruises, "The Land of Fire and Ice" (NYC-Dover) and "The Top of the World" (Dover-NYC), so I have reviewed each segment separately. Only one port (Qaqortoq) was included in both cruises. For more details about us, please see the companion review.

Day 18 (Wednesday, August 12) Dover, England (Turnaround Day), on EDT+5 The TP docked at the Western Docks ( We left the ship around 7AM and hiked to the White Cliffs Visitor Centre. From the Cruise Terminal, walk out to the A20. At the second roundabout, turn right towards the waterfront. Walk along Waterloo Crescent then Marine Parade towards the Eastern Docks Ferry Terminal. Before you get to the Ferry Terminal, use the pedestrian crossing to cross over to East Cliff, there are some signs if you look hard. Continue on Athol Terrace to the steps that will More lead you up to the Visitor Centre. This area is somewhat run-down; obviously more locals than tourists go this way. The White Cliffs Visitor Centre ( was not open that early but we had downloaded maps of hikes to the South Foreland Lighthouse ( or On the way to the lighthouse, we took the more developed, inland path. At the entrance of the lighthouse property (which also was not yet open when we reached it) there is a marked footpath that leads along the wall on the north side to trails closer to the cliffs. We took those back and found a spot where we could get down to the beach and look up at the cliffs ( To return to town, head back down the same way you came and along East Cliff until it joins the A20. Take the first right at the Leisure Centre (#4 on the map); near the parking lot behind the Leisure Centre are the interesting ruins of an old church and a pub called "The White Horse." Between the pub and the ruins is an alley way, which leads to steps that will take you straight up to the Dover Castle ( When you buy your tickets, be sure to ask about the tour of the "Secret Wartime Tunnels" (included in the price of admission). After this 10-mile day we decided we deserved a nice Foster's and a hot shower!

Day 19 (Thursday, August 13) At Sea, on EDT+5 We spent the day recuperating after all the hiking in Dover. In the afternoon, there was a Cruise Critic get-together in the Tahitian Lounge. Tonight was the Captain's Welcome Cocktail party and the first of three formal nights on this leg of the cruise.

Day 20 (Friday, August 14) Dublin, Ireland, on EDT+5 The TP docked at the Alexandra Basin, Dublin Port. The ship offered a shuttle downtown for $5 pp each way; it stopped on Kildare St. near Trinity College and National Art Museum. We had considered walking but a Cruise Critic member who was on the previous Dover-NYC cruise advised against it. This was good advice because there was not much to see along the route that made it worth the long walk. The shuttle did pass the Famine Memorial and the Custom House.

After getting off the shuttle, we walked around St. Stephen's Green and Merrion Square. We had bought a Dublin Pass ( before we left the US, so our next stop was the Old Kilmainham Gaol ( and a good dose of Irish history. Then we were off for a pint at the Guiness Storehouse ( — everything you ever wanted to know about brewing beer. Next we crossed the River Liffey to the Old Jameson Distillery ( to learn all about making Irish whiskey and have a "wee nip." John served on a taste panel comparing Jameson with Scotch and sour mash whiskey; he was the only one to admit he preferred the Jack Daniels. Finally we took a student-led tour of Trinity College (, which ended at the Old Library ( and a peek at the Book of Kells illuminated manuscript plus a visit to the really interesting Long Room in the library. Note that the tour meets in the courtyard next to the main gate, not at the Old Library. The cost of the tour including admission to the BOK is €10 (BOK alone is €9). By this time in the afternoon, there not a particularly large crowd for either the tour or the viewing of the Book of Kells.

We planned our walking route using parts of the following walking tours (especially the iWalks brochures), so we actually were able to see quite a lot. However, the port visit here was entirely too short!

Day 21 (Saturday, August 15) Greenock, Scotland, on EDT+5 This was the first of several ports where we were competing with the Maasdam for dock space. Fortunately, there was room for both of us at the dock at the Clydeport Ocean Terminal. We awoke to pouring rain and live bagpipe music. The Iverclyde Tourist Group welcomed us warmly with pipers and abundant advice on attractions in the area. They offer 3 different free tours (£5 pp donation suggested) ( in the Greenock area. We took the tour to Newark Castle in Port Glasgow ( The castle dates from the 1500s and is only now being restored but was interesting because of several spiral staircases — one up to the battlements, which we of course climbed. After getting back to Greenock, we went to the Old West Kirk ( and had a tour there. We had intended to walk to some of the other sites of interest ( but it was just too miserable in the rain.

We returned to the ship to have something to eat and make a sandwich for the 9 hour bus tour to Edinburgh for the Military Tattoo ( We investigated going on our own but decided that the logistics made this one worth doing through the ship. The Tattoo has never been cancelled due to weather and the forecast was for rain, cold, and strong winds! Also, the seating is notoriously cramped (the Scots must have very narrow butts, shoulders, and knees). The ship's tour office suggested taking something to pad the seat; cushions are rented at the venue for £1 each. We decided to take pool towels inside the 2-1/2 gallon zip-lock bags we use for packing. We figured we could use them to dry off when we got back to the bus after the performance.

The Tattoo is such a popular event that the traffic was horrendous; it took 3 hours to get there (versus only 1-1/2 to get back). On the other hand, we took a roundabout way through the Scottish countryside and got to see at a distance Loch Lomond, Stirling Castle (site of Robert the Bruce's great victory at Brannockburn), and the Wallace monument (above the site of his great victory at Stirling bridge). The crowds were enormous (it reminded me of Mardi Gras); fortunately the seating is reserved. The Tattoo program itself was fantastic ( but without the RAF medical rescue) and the setting is outstanding with Edinburgh Castle illuminated in the background. We understand now why it is described as a "must see!" Fortunately, it did not rain but the wind was over 25 mph and John was sure the spotlights creaking above our heads were going to blow down and kill us; the flags at the top of the stands were flapping so hard they were making loud snapping noises. Our guide expressed concern about the kilts being blown around. We were bundled up well in fleece, wind jackets/pants, hats, and gloves, so we were comfortable enough. Umbrellas are not allowed, so we also had plastic ponchos in case of a real downpour. Our group was very prompt about returning to the bus and we got back to the ship just before midnight. I didn't see any flags — good thing I bought one in Halifax.

Day 22 (Sunday, August 16) At Sea, on EDT+5 We spent the day relaxing after our late night at the Tattoo and getting ready for the Faroe Islands tomorrow.

Day 23 (Monday, August 17) Torshaven, Faroe Islands, on EDT+5 We were supposed to dock in Torshaven ({FE442432-1421-4E80-815E-D87A12234B21}) but the Maasdam beat us to it, leaving us to tender. In the morning we hiked all around town and had culture shock when I tried to buy a flag for my collection. For a little 3x5 inch flag, it was $38! Needless to say, I passed on that. The Old Town in Torshaven was interesting with all the grass-roofed houses.

In the afternoon, we took a bus/boat tour to the Vestmanna bird cliffs ( on the other side of the island. This was another tour we considered doing on our own. However, the timing was very tight and we were afraid that the ship would reserve all the seats on the only tour that would fit the port schedule. The boat went right up to the sea cliffs and sailed through several sea arches and through a cave that must have been at least 100 yards long. The nesting season was over, so we did not see many birds in the cliffs. We saw puffins in the water and in flight but they were too far away to get a decent picture. On the way back from this tour, we saw someone mowing his roof.

Day 24 (Tuesday, August 18) Seydisfjordur, Iceland, on EDT+4 We were scheduled to tender in Seydisfjordur ( but the dock was free. We hiked on our own to the Vestdalur Nature Reserve ( This is a valley with a series of plateaus. At each plateau, the river makes a gorgeous waterfall (or 2 or 3). At the top, is a lake (Vestdalsvatn) that is frozen most of the year. Although we encountered some snow on the hike, the lake was thawed.

The trail starts about 1-1/4 miles north of the village center, past the youth hostel; there is a sign marking the trailhead and showing area trails. We had printed out and brought this map, which shows the trail going along the north side (away from town) of the Vestdalsá River. The "trail" was not very well marked and we had to ford several streams and walk through boggy areas. On the way back, we took a different trail (#44 on the trail sign) that was better marked (green stakes with yellow tops) but only slightly less soggy. However, the views of the waterfalls are much better from the trail on the north side of the river. BTW, you can sport the boggy areas from all the bog cotton ( There were sheep all over the valley. After the hike, we discovered that in addition to mud our boots were covered in a light layer of wool that we collected out of the grass. After that hike, we walked around the town a bit to see the old wooden buildings and then up to another waterfall (Budarafoss) that was right next to the ship. Back on the ship, we discovered that the top of the refrigerator is a good place to dry your boots.

Day 25 (Wednesday, August 19) At Sea, on EDT+4 We spent the day resting up from hiking 5 hours yesterday! Although it was overcast, we were able to see the huge Vatnajokull glacier and lava flows along the coast. We also had good views of the Vestmanna Islands and Surtsey (an island formed by an eruption in 1963).

Day 26 (Thursday, August 20) Reykjavik, Iceland, on EDT+4 Reykjavik ( was another port where we and the Maasdam could both be accommodated at the dock (Skarfabakki Pier). I had arranged a private taxi tour for us and 3 other couples (Paul929207, Sydney1a, Cycmom) with Hreyfill ( Our driver/guide was Hjorleifur Hardarson (or Hjorlei, approximately pronounced Hurly), owner of taxi #487. John and I had visited Reykjavik previously; on that trip, we rented a car and drove the "Golden Circle." This time, we wanted to see something different, so we booked the "South Coast Spectacular" tour. This took us along the southern coast of Iceland ( to the southernmost town of Vik. Along the way, we saw lava fields, views of the Vestmanna Islands and Surtsey, waterfalls (Urridafoss (Salmon Falls), Seljalandsfoss, Skógarfoss (really gorgeous!), and many unnamed ones), glaciers (Eyjafjallajökull and Mýrdalsjökull), and sea stacks/arches (Dyrholaey). We made a photo stop at the Skógar Folk Museum to see turf-roofed houses. On the way back to Reykjavik, we saw Gluggafoss (Window Falls) near Fljotshlid and more unnamed waterfalls, stopped at the Sólheimajökull glacier tongue, and even got a peek at the most active volcano in Europe, Mt. Hekla. (Hekla means "cloaked" or "hooded" because it is usually covered with clouds.) Our final stop before returning to the ship was a thermal field in Hveragerdi, which is used to heat greenhouses that grow most of the vegetables (like tomatoes) and flowers sold in Iceland. The only vegetables that seem to be grown outside are potatoes. We also passed several geothermal energy plants and natural thermal areas. Hjorlei was not as talkative as the driver/guides we had for Akureyri and Lerwick and he did not have a loud voice or microphone like the others. However, he was willing to answer all our questions at length, spoke excellent English and seemed genuinely pleased to be showing off the beautiful scenes in Iceland. Also, there was no problem modifying the itinerary ( on the fly. Note that the banquet mentioned in the itinerary is no longer offered but we did have a quick snack break at Vik although most of us brought sandwiches from the ship.

Day 27 (Friday, August 21) At Sea, on EDT+3 This was the day of the Princess Grapevine and also the Captain's Circle party so free drinks! Tonight was the second of three formal nights on this leg of the cruise. It was a nice day to relax and finish my library book, Stephen Colbert's "I Am America (And So Can You)."

Day 28 (Saturday, August 22) Cruising Prins Christian Sund, on EDT+2 This was a fantastic day! Even though the Maasdam left Reykjavik before us, the TP went through the sound first and had a beautiful, sunny day. She went through later after the clouds had rolled in. We saw the Greenland ice cap, tidewater glaciers, hanging glaciers, sheer cliff faces, a fishing village, and several packs of seals hunting fish. The last Dover-NYC cruise was unable to get into the sound due to ice, so we felt lucky to be able to see the gorgeous scenery. The trip through the sound took all day and by the end we were exhausted from the unrelentingly beautiful sights.

Day 29 (Sunday, August 23) Qaqartoq, Greenland, on EDT+2 This was our second visit to this port; see the previous review for more information and links. Captain Kent took the scenic route from Prins Christian Sund, so Maasdam beat us here — they got the close anchorage and we were further out. This time the Qaqortoq residents had several shows and demonstrations (for a price); guess it wasn't worth the trouble when it was just the TP. If you want to hike, download a map (; the tourist office has a more detailed free map of the town but it does not show the trails. Anyway, this time we took the second trail from the bottom right (at the back of a construction site), walked up and down the ridges, and almost came back on the trail at the bottom right. Again, we had to make our own trails because they are not marked very well (or at all, mostly). After that, we walked around town a little to see the fish market and the fountain (under repair); we went back to the ship a little early. The captain had moved the departure up an hour because high winds were expected at 4pm. They came in right on schedule as we left the anchorage. He had been worried because there was a large iceberg right between us and the Maasdam.

Day 30 (Monday, August 24) At Sea, on EDT+2 We really had some rocking and rolling last night! Today we had the "Most Traveled Passenger" luncheon. We moved up to the second from the bottom table. At the luncheon we found out that the captain is navigating the TP among **4** low pressure systems, one of which is the remains of Hurricane Bob. Relaxing on our balcony this afternoon, we saw spouts of 15-20 whales. From what we could see of the backs and fins, they were probably Minke whales.

Day 31 (Tuesday, August 25) At Sea, on EDT+2 The people who went to the "Most Traveled Passenger" luncheon yesterday were allowed to visit the bridge today. As before, this was top secret. I got to sit in the captain's chair!

Day 32 (Wednesday, August 26) St Pierre, France, on EDT+2 Both the TP and the Maasdam were supposed to be in St. Johns, Newfoundland, today and in SP&M tomorrow. However, the authorities in SP&M realized that it would be an incredibly bad idea to have both ships in port on the same day; of course the Maasdam got to keep her original schedule and the TP had to alter hers. We found out after we returned that the Maasdam was not able to dock in SP&M and had to skip that port.

Anyway, SP&M (; map at had a free shuttle downtown to the tourist office; this is actually very walkable and we felt foolish taking the shuttle. We walked around the harbor, up to Fort Lorraine, the Cross, and the War Memorial; that took about an hour since each was not particularly extensive. Then we spent about 1/2 hour on a successful (thanks to Paul929207) search for a SP&M regional flag (the official flag is the French tricolor). We almost gave up on hiking as rain and high winds were threatening. On the way back to the ship we passed the carousel, the Sailors' Memorial, the Pointe aux Canons, the lighthouse, and the salines (fishing stations). Eventually, we decided to chance it and ended up hiking about 4 hours --- over to the other side of the island.

We could not find any trail maps for SP&M online; the tourist office has a more detailed free map of the town (somewhat better than the link above) but it does not show the trails. The tourist office does have a large display with trail descriptions. Next to each description is a button that lights up the trail on the display. We tried taking photos of the display and direction but they were very hard to view once we were on the trail. We went up the road to the reservoir but lost the trail pretty quickly (we should have gone clockwise around the reservoir instead of counter-clockwise). We took off north cross-country and eventually saw the plank bridges on the Devil's Cape Trail from a high point. We hiked that trail for about an hour, then backtracked and took the Henry's Beach Trail. Then we backtracked to the main trail and took it back to the road above the ship. These trails were marked with paint blazes and had plank bridges over most of the boggy spots. At the very end of our hike, we finally found a trail kiosk with a map of the trails in the area of the ship.

If you want to hike, here are our suggestions. From the ship you will notice a road heading uphill behind the abandoned building at the dock. To get to that road, you have to walk out of the dock area and make a sharp right when you reach the main road. Take the uphill road until you see the kiosk with the trail map. Follow the Devil's Cape Trail until you reach the junction with the Henry's Beach Trail. The Henry's Beach Trail makes a loop on the map to return to the kiosk but we were told at the tourist office that this section is closed. Backtrack to the Devil's Cape Trail and continue on it to the north side of the island and eventually into town on the Anse à Pierre Trail, ending on Rue Brue. Walk around town and then head back to the ship along the main road.

BTW, from the ship you will have an excellent view of Ile aux Marins (Sailors' Island). It didn't look irresistible to us but if you want to see it, you can either take the ship's guided shore excursion for $59 pp or take the ferry on your own for a couple of euros pp. If you go on your own, the ship may have booked all the ferry tickets (not as likely with a small ship like the TP). If you are willing to take that chance, ferry schedules and last-minute tickets are available at the tourist office. Bobtroll and his wife went on their own with no problem and provided this information.

Day 33 (Thursday, August 27) Sidney, Nova Scotia, on EDT+1 This itinerary change wouldn't have been any problem if it had been announced in advance. However, the passengers were not informed until the beginning of this leg of the cruise. This left us unable to do our usual intensive research on the port. We considered renting a car and driving the Cabot Trail to the Cape Breton National Park but the distances involved made that iffy.

In the morning, we stopped at the Sydney ( tourist office in the Joan Harriss Cruise Pavilion to pick up a city map. It was an attractive city but we did all three of the walking tours in about an hour. In the afternoon, we took a ship's tour to Fort Louisbourg ( It is sort of like a French Colonial Williamsburg but a bit later in history. Our guide made this special with a lot of amusing anecdotes and the ship's tour was well worth it. When we got back to the ship, we were supposed to sail immediately but the wind was too strong. And the harbor pilot went off duty at 6PM. So we were stuck here until 5AM the next morning. Why couldn't we have had an overnight someplace like Dublin or NYC?

Day 34 (Friday, August 28) At Sea, on EDT+1 This is the third and last formal night on this leg of the cruise and also the Captain's Gala cocktail party. We had some rough weather today from the remains of Hurricane Danny.

Day 35 (Saturday, August 29) At Sea, on EDT+1 The Cruise Critic people had another group lunch today. We saw dolphins from our balcony!

Day 36 (Sunday, August 30) NYC, on EDT We arrived about an hour late but had no trouble catching our flight and were back home by late afternoon. I still need flags from the Shetlands, the Faroes, and Greenland. Less

Published 09/29/09

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