We chose this cruise (September 9-23, 2019; roundtrip Dover, England) both for the itinerary and to experience the “small ship” atmosphere of the Pacific Princess. We were not disappointed by either. Indeed, we would sail both this itinerary and this ship again.
Embarkation: We booked a few nights in a London hotel (The JW Marriott Grovesnor House) through Princess, which included transfers from London Heathrow to the hotel and then from the hotel to the ship. All of these arrangements were seamless, expeditious, and professional. We essentially walked from the hotel to the bus to the ship, with the slightest of pauses to check in and collect our ship card.
Ship: In my opinion, the ship was a perfect size. Nothing was too far away and no venue was ever over-crowded. While the ship is older, it has a gracious feel to it, with a proper (and absolutely lovely) library, nicely appointed common areas, cozy bars, a small casino, and ample outdoor spaces. There are no water slides, go-carts, concert venues, or other features of the new mega-ships. (Frankly, they were not missed).
When we booked the cruise, only guaranteed mini-suites were available, so we did not pick this room. It was right next to the entry to the bridge, which limited the hall traffic considerably!
Because the ship is older, the mini-suite does not follow the same layout as mini-suites on a larger ship such as the Emerald Princess. The room is square with no demarcation between sleeping and sitting areas. We had a large bed, two night stands, a couch, a table and two chairs. The bathroom was smaller than those with other mini-suites, but it did have a full sized tub and two cabinets. The closets are enclosed, unlike the large open closets on other Princess ships; there is not as much hanging space. Storage was adequate, but not vast. Unlike other ships we have been on, our large suitcases did not fit under the bed and had to be stored between the couch and the sliding glass door to the balcony. We were comfortable, but I consider the cabin more of a large balcony room as opposed to a true suite.
Dover is an easy port to access and to sail from. And those white cliffs really are white.
I had a hard time finding reviews of this port, so I plan to take some time with this review.
The actual port of Falmouth itself is industrial and not terribly inviting. I was given to understand that the port would like to attract more cruise ship business, so it may have to work on this a bit. However, we were able to walk off the ship and straight onto our tour bus. We had a lovely drive through Cornwall with a knowledgeable guide. The Cornish countryside is just beautiful, as are the quaint seaside villages. It is a popular vacation spot and I would love to spend more time there.
There were many interesting offerings of tours in Cornwall and we had a tough time choosing. We finally selected the tour to St. Michael’s Mount, a small tidal island which contains a historic castle that was once an abbey, as well as a small shop and two cafes.
The guidelines caution that it is a strenuous tour. Truer words have never been written! Indeed, the guidelines compiled by the ship do not do it justice.
The way to the island is via a rough, uneven cobble stoned walkway when the tide is out. (When the tide is in the island is accessible only by boat). The distance is billed as “500 metres,” but it seemed longer. Once across the walkway there is a strenuous climb to the castle at the top of the Mount. The path is steep, rough, and was slick that morning. There are only a few, limited places with handrails; most of the climb is without anything to grab onto, particularly the last part which is over open ground strewn with rough rocks that serve as footholds. Without my spouse’s help I could not have done this climb. And it is even more challenging coming down, which is the same way. There is no secret elevator or modern staircase.
I say all this only as a caution, not to discourage anyone from going. Indeed, I am extremely glad that I chose to visit the Mount as it is one of the most unique places I have ever visited. The castle – complete with chapel and a small weapons museum – was very, very interesting and full of historical significance. I found it fascinating that the family which owns this castle still lives there, and that the Queen visited as recently as 2013. The views from the top are absolutely spectacular. And the Cornish cream tea we purchased at the Island Café was the best I have ever tasted. All in all, a fantastic shore excursion.
We booked a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory and Kilkenny Castle. This was a great tour, helped by the fact that we had glorious weather that day.
At the factory, we had a tour of the glassmaking works, which are fascinating. The tour included some of the history of the company. There was ample time to shop in the breathtaking showroom and I took full advantage. For a flat rate (30 Euros), my purchases were shipped to the USA and were waiting for me when I arrived home.
We then drove through the beautiful Irish countryside to Kilkenny, where there was time for lunch on our own before a semi-guided tour of the castle.
Our only complaint is that the tour was too short in Kilkenny. The castle is surrounded by lovely parklands and gardens, which we did not have time to visit. Adding an hour to this tour would be a good idea, as would an included lunch at the restaurant across the street from the castle.
We had previously been to Kirkwall and toured Skara Brae (a fascinating archeological site) so this time we ventured on our own. We were fortunate to be docked and the city provided a free shuttle into Kirkwall. (We felt bad for another ship in port which had to tender in high winds). We toured the ruins of the Earl’s Palace and the Bishop’s Palace, then St. Magnus Cathedral. We had arranged for a “behind the scenes” upstairs tour of the Cathedral (you need to arrange this with the custodian of the Cathedral well in advance as tours operate sporadically and only a few people go on any given day) and it proved to be, while exceptionally strenuous, one of the most interesting and unique things we have ever done. We had a wonderful lunch at a local restaurant (Helgi’s; I highly recommend the fish and chips) then caught the shuttle back to the ship with plenty of time to spare before sailaway.