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19 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: September 2015
This was our second cruise on board the Regal Princess. In 2014 we sailed on the Regal out of Barcelona and have sailed with other cruise lines. My wife and I liked the ship so much that we sailed on it this time in the Baltic and have ... Read More
This was our second cruise on board the Regal Princess. In 2014 we sailed on the Regal out of Barcelona and have sailed with other cruise lines. My wife and I liked the ship so much that we sailed on it this time in the Baltic and have already booked a third trip on the Regal, a Transatlantic crossing in September of this year. We just find it to be so elegant, in particular, the Piazza. Pros: elegant ship, the Piazza, itinerary, entertainment, food. Cons: I know that most people complain of no stairs mid-ship and slow elevators but we don't find it a big deal. We flew in the day before and stayed at the Scandic Palace hotel. Truly enjoyed the old gem of a hotel. Copenhagen is fascinating city. My wife and I enjoy walking, so it is no problem to get around on foot. Arrived at the ship by taxi at noon, embarkation was a breeze, we were on within 20 minutes. We had a mini-suite and truly enjoyed the space. The entertainment was excellent, looked forward to the nightly show. The food in the main dinning room was very good. We ate at the Crown Grill and enjoyed a wonderful meal. One thing that we noted on this cruise as opposed to last year's in the Med, though the average age of the passengers were roughly the same, the vibe on our Baltic cruise was more upbeat, just seemed that the fellow passengers were having a good time. Perhaps it was the amount of shore excursions on hot summer days in the Med that tired everyone out. This cruise was far more upbeat with more activities and participation later into the evening. We enjoyed the daily happy hour in Crooners. The ports of call were fascinating, enjoyed them all. As previously stated, we enjoy walking and being in the fresh air so we only had three shore excursions booked as we like to explore on our own. All three were worth the money, in particular St. Petersburg where we booked the two day excursion as we did not feel comfortable venturing out with an independent company. One of the highlights was the Vasa Museum in Stockholm. Prior to or trip, we were fascinated that the number one rated attraction was that of a vessel that sailed only 1500 meters then sank on her maiden voyage but to see a 400 year old ship so well preserved was incredible, this is not a replica but the real thing, truly amazing. The itinerary was great, we enjoyed all of the ports, even Gothenburg which I note has been left out of the itinerary for 2016 was enjoyable. Service in our cabin was very good as well as at the 2nd seating in the main dinning room. Very accommodating staff. Disembarkation was easy and quick. We caught a taxi at the terminal as we stayed another night in Copenhagen before flying home. Can't say enough nice things about the Regal Princess, we truly like everything about it. As with anything, there are areas that can be improved but an overall great experience. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
Thankfully we only did a short 6 day crossing from Auckland to Brisbane which was the end of the world cruise. On a positive note the food was acceptable and the shows were of a good standard with a couple of good comediennes and the ... Read More
Thankfully we only did a short 6 day crossing from Auckland to Brisbane which was the end of the world cruise. On a positive note the food was acceptable and the shows were of a good standard with a couple of good comediennes and the one production show had good vocal and music but no sets and very poor costume selection ( what has happened to the big productions and lavish costumes?). The ship itself is very tired with a lot of the lounge seating in the crooners bar where the springs had gone in all the fitted lounge settees which mad for very uncomfortable cocktail times and the arms on the armchairs were worn and almost threadbare. The cocktails were very weak and almost seemed to be watered down even thought they were $13.95 each ,after a couple of nights we decided not to waste our money on sugar water! The waiting staff in the bars and restaurant were very efficient and friendly and made an effort to please the customers. Our cabin was very tired and not the cleanest with us finding old soaps still in the shower box from the previous passengers and dirty shower curtains and a rusty drain hole, tissues not replaced when empty and hand smudges on the prints on the walls and mirror. In the men's bathrooms there were also no tissues for blowing your nose and they all smelt badly of urine. If we had paid to have been on the world cruise we would have been very disappointed but being only a short cruise it wasn't worth making a fuss over . We are elite passengers but more and more are getting dissatisfied with what ships Princess send down for the Australian and NZ market. We are off next week to join the Golden Princess from San Fran to Auckland and hope that being an Americam based ship the standard will be better if not it may be our last Princess cruise and spend our money on HAL or Crystal. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2015
We started the cruise dinning experience with my wife being told that it will take some more time to get a simple cup of hot chocolate it has only been 10 minutes. this is the first cruise that I have been on that I came home without ... Read More
We started the cruise dinning experience with my wife being told that it will take some more time to get a simple cup of hot chocolate it has only been 10 minutes. this is the first cruise that I have been on that I came home without gaining weight. I remember the cruise director in 2006 telling us that you come on as passengers and we roll you off as cargo because the food is so good. Today that is not the case. Their Shore excursions are not even close to the quality they were when they had ship employees as guides. When we booked our departure transportation to the airport Princess made sure that all departure excursion were take care of first. So we were forced to wait an additional hour past our departure time. Then we were dropped off at the wrong terminal building at the airport. When I ask what to do if we miss our flight they told us you will have to contact the airline as it was not Princess's fault. After 50 year of being in the cruise business you would think that they would have a better system in play. We are Platinum level members of the Captains Circle and will look for other Cruise Lines before sailing with Princess again. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
We have sailed on Princess many times, and have been satisfied, for the most part, up until now. We were very disappointed in the Regal Princess. One would think that a larger, newer, ship would have at least as many amenities/venues as ... Read More
We have sailed on Princess many times, and have been satisfied, for the most part, up until now. We were very disappointed in the Regal Princess. One would think that a larger, newer, ship would have at least as many amenities/venues as the older, smaller ships. However, that is not the case. A few examples: one most of the older Princess ships, there is a covered area with hot tubs and a small pool, that is protected from the elements. Typically there is a retractable roof that can be closed during inclement weather. Thus even when it is windy on deck, not sunny, rainy, etc. one can use the hot tubs, take a swim, or just lounge and read. No such venue exists anywhere on the huge Regal Princess. All the hot tubs and pools are out in the elements. Our cruise started in the Baltic and crossed the Atlantic, so there were quite a few days where it was simply not pleasant to be on deck. As a result, the many hot tubs on board were typically empty. On a related note, since it was not pleasant to be on deck and use the hot tub, I thought I'd use the steam bath. On prior Princess cruises, this was no problem - the steam bath/sauna are typically part of the locker rooms in the fitness center area and available to anyone wanting to use them. Not so on the Regal Princess. The steam bath/sauna are in the spa area, and only available for a fee. Not only that, a day fee is not available. I was told that in order to have the privilege of using these facilities I would have to pay a fee for the entire cruise of $480. This is exorbitant and inappropriate. Next, the ballroom dancing venues have largely disappeared. The Explorer's Lounge in the front of the ship is gone - in its place is "The Sanctuary" - a pay-for-use space, also out in the elements, with cabanas. Thus there is no lounge on the bow of the ship to have a drink, watch the ship move through the water, etc. And, the great wood dance floor and venue for entertainment is gone. Second, the dance floor in the Wheel House is now a postage size in the middle of the hallway from one end of the ship to another. In its place is a specialty restaurant (another extra fee opportunity - are you seeing a trend here)? There is a dance floor in the Vista Lounge, but on our 26 day trip it was only used for music/dancing a handful of times. Instead they would screen movies that were available for viewing in the stateroom, which seemed to us like an inefficient way to use this space. The primary space for music/dancing, in the Piazza, is ok, but because of the open floor plan on 5-7, it is impossible to have music on 5 in the Piazza and on 7 in the Crooner's lounge, at the same time. As a result, there was often an hour between dance sets. In addition, there is not enough space in the Princess Theater to hold half the passengers. As a result, on many evenings one would have to get to the Theater 30 minutes ahead of the show to get a seat. Lastly, as a result of the larger ship, on many occasions we were not able to dock close to downtown. In Stockholm, we went to Nynasham, not Stockholm at all, and had to tender. Those going to Stockholm thus had a commute of 90 minutes to get to the City. This reduces the time available to enjoy the ports. Summary: the ship may be larger, but there are fewer amenities and less usable space. We will not be returning to a cruise on this ship. Read Less
9 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
First and foremost, our Baltic cruise on the Regal was absolutely flawless....challenging physically and intellectually.....but a total delight. We had a deluxe balcony stateroom which was more than adequate for two tall people like us, ... Read More
First and foremost, our Baltic cruise on the Regal was absolutely flawless....challenging physically and intellectually.....but a total delight. We had a deluxe balcony stateroom which was more than adequate for two tall people like us, and the balcony was very spacious for enjoying sea days. Unfortunately my luggage didn't arrive with me in Copenhagen. This is where the Princess 'culture' really was tested, and came through with surprising grace and professionalism. For the first 3 days of the cruise (5 days total) I had nothing but what I left home with. Passenger Services took that challenge and ran with it, one agent working through lunch hours each day on the phone and email with British Airways to track my bag, and calling me each evening with an update. In the meantime, they offered me free laundry for my clothing, a shipboard credit to purchase a few necessities in the store, and the Medical Centre very courteously replaced the medications I needed. When my bag finally arrived, it was badly damaged and missing a number of items. The stateroom steward thought to take it to the upholstery shop onboard and they were able to repair it for the eventual return flight to the States. My experience with the concern, professionalism and proactivity on my behalf was unexpected, and indicative, I believe, of a much more significant aspect of the company that trains/encourages/allows their crew to act as they did. I shall be forever grateful to each person involved. We were fascinated with how the crew handled each and every crowd scene! Disembarkations at ports, the muster, shows, the whole thing was seamless. We were in awe. Embarkation in Copenhagen took about 10-15 minutes, and we walked off with out own luggage when we returned. Super easy! Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
My first vacation and first cruise. I was with a group who have been on several cruises. I was told before hand that there's a lot of food and entertainment. Everything but alcohol is included and food 24x7. They had 3 dining rooms ... Read More
My first vacation and first cruise. I was with a group who have been on several cruises. I was told before hand that there's a lot of food and entertainment. Everything but alcohol is included and food 24x7. They had 3 dining rooms you had to pay $25 a night. They had two dining rooms and a buffet that was free. All the restauraunts had the same menu so you didn't have variety. They also had hot dogs hamburgers and pizza. All the meals you didn't have to pay for was not very good. Each restaurant gave only 4 to 5 entrees. All food is closed doen by 11pm. They did not have room for people to eat inside buffet so people ate in the cold on deck. They always had one side closed for next meal. I went to get a soda the guy says you have to pay $7 per person per night which is almost $50 that means I would have to drink a lot of soda. I asked for cappaccino which I expected I would I would pay that. The card cost $30 for 15. I bought both because tap water did not sound appealing. The free coffee was aweful. My group kept telling me they have never on any cruise been nickeled and dimed for so much. As far as activities and entertainment they had only a hand full of shows. They showed movies outside on deck and reran them. They had a few trivia games. The had more demonstrations and seminars than anything else. Like how to get rid of cellulite..wrinkles..jewelary.. They really needed to have more entertainment. We were bored for several hours with nothing to do I bought cards to play with. The casino has two nights inly non smoking. It should be other way around. You had to walk through smoky casino to get to certain partd of the ship. Disembarkment very chaotic. I spent $67 on two 8x10 photos. After thinking about it I decided I really didn't need 2 of myself. I asked if I could get 5x7 they said it will cost you more. I adked for a refund it was against their policy. I went to customer desk the guy said I'll tell them to give you a refund they already had the pictures back. Against our policy again. The second to last night I lost my coffee card which had 10 more on it. I'm not sure if I didn't get it back after waiter took it to punch hole or I dropped it somewhere. In the mean time I had a car accident got hurt pretty badly. My insurance company said my car is totaled. At this point I knew I had to watch what I spent. I went to customer desk asked if I could get another card. Its against their policy. I would have to buy a new one. I told them theres two days left and I still had ten coffees left. Sorry you'll have to buy a new one. I explained my stuation that I didn't get my monies worth now I have to buy a new one. I asked if they could just give me 2 and cut my losses. Its against our policy. Then later that day my group leader said to pay the $12 for shuttle back to airport. Princess sent a letter to cabin saying I only had one day to reserve shuttle. I go up they take my card and see they charged me $24. I questioned this because all my emails say $12. I must have this confused with another shuttle. I asked them to cancel and a refund. Guess what they said, No refunds its our policy. The next morning I decided tovtry again. This person tells me they could only refund and cancel within 24 hours. I went balistic saying I did and was told I couldn't. The floors between 5 and 6 smelled like dumpster and at ine port I wike to exhaust fumes. I let someone know and I was told there's no smell. If I hadn't been pumped up by people who have gone on cruises and listened to people on the boat complain that it was the wirst cruise I probably wouldn't have been disappointed. I will nevet go on this cruise line again. Oh one last thing only one elevator out of 6 went up and down at a time. Read Less
5 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
The food ruined the cruise for me. I had difficulty finding anything edible. The fish was undercooked, the chicken was like leather. The lobster was so tough it almost broke my teeth. The smell of bad fish was present on the floor of ... Read More
The food ruined the cruise for me. I had difficulty finding anything edible. The fish was undercooked, the chicken was like leather. The lobster was so tough it almost broke my teeth. The smell of bad fish was present on the floor of our cabin. Even the pizza had fish on it! Yuck. The food looked like it had been repurposed several times and turned into things that were difficult to identify. The crew look tired and defeated. I was told that they work 12 hours per day, seven days per week, for 8-9 months. I'd be tired too. This was my third cruise. I was expecting good food because the food that I'd had on carnival was very good the first cruise and pretty good on the second cruise. Embarkation and disembarkation on Princess was very organized. I loved the science talks and seeing Libby Reynolds (first woman to complete the Iditarod) speak. The entertainment was geared for an older crowd. I would have liked it better if I knew more of the songs. The average age on the ship was about 60; it's really geared toward an older crowd so it's not a whole lot of fun for younger people. Excursions were awesome! Alaska is amazing! I'll never take a cruise on Princess again. Read Less
4 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
We were pleased with the embarkation for Princess. That went very smoothly, and we were very pleased with our itinerary and excursions. We also felt that there was adequate storage in the cabin to put all of our belongings away. We ... Read More
We were pleased with the embarkation for Princess. That went very smoothly, and we were very pleased with our itinerary and excursions. We also felt that there was adequate storage in the cabin to put all of our belongings away. We also enjoyed our anytime dining and liked our server so much that we requested his table every evening. The food was delicious. The entertainment was good, and our favorite was an impressionist. He even got a standing ovation at the end of his performance. Our main problem is that I booked this cruise nearly one year in advance and specifically asked the Princess cruise specialist to help us select a quiet inside cabin. The room was anything except quiet! The galley was above us, and at various hours throughtout the night we could hear large heavy carts being rolled across the floor. However, there was a rattling metal noise that made good sleep impossible. It would rattle periodically throught the day and during the middle of the night. We brought this to the attention of the staff, but they couldn't explain what the noise was or where it was coming from. They experessed concern by calling us daily to ask us if it had improved, but they didn't have any available cabins to move us to. I even used a sound machine that I turned up fairly loudly trying to drown out these annoying noises, but it was to no avail. The staff did a very good job with other matters, but we would never book this cabin again and are unsure we would ever consider booking Princess again due to this problem with our cabin. Read Less
6 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
We flew non stop to HLR and staed in London for four days. We have been to London often, so we choose to get caught up on the theater, plus go to several museums . Transfer to Southampton was by coach. Our arrival to the dock was ... Read More
We flew non stop to HLR and staed in London for four days. We have been to London often, so we choose to get caught up on the theater, plus go to several museums . Transfer to Southampton was by coach. Our arrival to the dock was delayed, by the traffic, five ships in port, bank holiday, and a large boat show. It along with the road work on the motorway delayed our arrival, by over 90 minutes. Check in was easy and we were soon on the ship. Before this cruise, we had read many bad reviews, and we were please with the condition on the ship. Since the ship was full, and it was end of summer holidays for England, we had many families on board, and a much younger crowd than one finds on Princess. The families were wonderful and brought energy to the ship. Our cabin was an inside, outstanding attendant and we were happy with it.. The service by the wait staff in the Palms was great. Good was good and severed hot. We did stop by the Lido one night after the shows, which we thought were the best we had ever had on a princess cruise, and found that they had an outstanding cheese board every night. Thank you princess, and especially the f and b manager who personally selected the cheeses. First part of the cruise there were lots of activities daily for the passengers, and not so much on the t/a part. Ports, we did our on thing after reading others reviews and suggestions found on Cruise Critics. Stravanger, we cruised to the pubit rock, rodne,no company. The bus in Oden does not run after September 1 so we walked to the three lakes and took a hiking trail. There was a tourist bus up but they were sold out. Geiranger we walked up the water fall, and continued up to the overlook. All the other ports we took a local bus or walked. Bergen we took the shuttle (free) to town centre and walked up to the top where the funicular stop on the over view, trail leading up start by the bottom of the funicular, runs up hill thru houses, and churches and then through a forest area. It was a lovely walk, taking about 30 minutes. The T/A part we continue doing our own thing in most ports. We did take a Princess tour in Akureyri to Godafoss Waterfalls, Lake Myvatn, and Mud Pots. I would recommend this tour, if you are not able to get a private one. Isafjordur we walked to the end of the fjord and then up a nearby waterfall. Was nice, cold though and snowbanks were sill around. Reykajavik we did a private golden circle tour which I would highly recommend. The entertainment for the most part was outstanding for Princess cruise line and I all we enjoyed our trip. We would travel again on the ship, but not from a U. S. Port. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
We sailed out of Seattle via the Crown Princess on August 29th. We booked 3 months ahead to get connecting balconies on deck 10 mid ship / B-1 Class. - Arrival and Embarkation was smooth. However, the wind caused boarding delays due ... Read More
We sailed out of Seattle via the Crown Princess on August 29th. We booked 3 months ahead to get connecting balconies on deck 10 mid ship / B-1 Class. - Arrival and Embarkation was smooth. However, the wind caused boarding delays due to the ramp being shifted about. - Luggage arrived approximately 30 minutes after we boarded. No lost bags. - CABIN was clean with the bed configuration as requested. Large balcony with two chairs and small table. Refrigerator, TV, Hair Dryer, Two Nightstands, Desk, Large Closet, Safe. - Beds were worn and needed extra padding, requested an egg crate foam be added to the bed. Next day we had our room attendant add 2 additional foams. Overall, the bed was uncomfortable and very hard. - STAFF was very accommodating and friendly. One issue with service during the cruise was the popcorn machine on deck 15 was always "empty." We arrived at promptly 10 PM and were told by staff that they ran out of kernels. At no time did we see popcorn in that popper. Princess failed miserably here. - SPA was very nice with great a professional staff. - ON SHORE Excursions were overpriced for the activity. We participated in the whale watching and rain forest walk in Juneau and were very disappointed. At 200 per person, I would not recommend this activity! We heard the train ride in Skagway was very good. Besides the scenic train ride, we didn't hear anyone "bragging" about their excursions. - We didn't see the staff cleaning handrails constantly on this ship as with other cruise lines. It appeared they would wipe everything down once early in the morning. - CASINO was very smoky so we would avoid walking through on deck 6 to get to the theater. Take deck 7 instead. The casino was never crowded and appeared empty most of the time. - FOOD was excellent on this cruise! - ENTERTAINMENT was very good with our favorite being Micheal the naturalist. He is very passionate about the environment, wildlife and puts on a great presentation! - ELEVATORS were slower on this ship than other ships we have been on. One elevator was out of service the entire cruise. - TRACY ARM was absolutely beautiful with bright sunny skies. We were disappointed the captain did not turn the ship a full 360 degrees so only the port side got a full view of the glacier when we turned to leave. We heard the small tour boat was a big disappointment for the price. - WEATHER was terrible (rain with rough seas) only 2 out of the 7 days. The other 5 days were great with light winds and sunny skies. - SUMMARY after cruising on multiple cruise lines, this will be our first and probably our last for Princess. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2015
We picked this cruise by price and destinations. We flew to Istanbul on an afternoon flight arriving about 5:30pm; the ship did not leave until 23:00 hrs. Take our advice and try not to travel on a weekend as the traffic is tremendous and ... Read More
We picked this cruise by price and destinations. We flew to Istanbul on an afternoon flight arriving about 5:30pm; the ship did not leave until 23:00 hrs. Take our advice and try not to travel on a weekend as the traffic is tremendous and it took nearly two hours from airport to the cruise terminal. As we were late we almost walked straight in, and within a few minutes we were in our cabin together with our cases. We had a balcony cabin next to the rear lifts handy for the buffet and the fusion lounge; we did not notice any noise from the lifts. Joel was waiting for us and with a font of knowledge and tips. We soon renewed our layout memories and after a good dinner in the buffet we turned in early. The next day was a ‘sea’ day which enabled us to adjust to the extra two hours time difference, we did all the normal activities run by a brilliant entertainments team – I was glad to see that we were giving jobs to some of the ‘Colonists’ - we were soon caught up in activities like Trivia, taboo and Scattergrams, which may seem boring but when you’ve got passengers from all over the world it became hilarious. In the evenings there were game shows very familiar to the British, copies of mr&mrs, blankity blank and family fortunes. The theatre put on some good and varied shows from Mime, comedian, vocalists and not to mention the princess dancers and singers who put on some Broadway standard shows. The weather was fabulous our complete cruise, the sun beds and pools never seem to empty. They also became handy for watching some of the latest films with free popcorn. Being a couple of pensioners we did not take part in the more vigorous activities. Including learning to dance, ball or line. I’m afraid even a well equipped Gym couldn’t temp us. We tried both types of dining, the main dining room and the buffet. The main dining room was a bit disappointing the menu selection was poor and the alternatives looked good in name but when they arrived they were often only tepid and didn’t look inviting. On formal nights we ate in the buffet on the Lido deck which we found to be hotter, more varied and you can have as much as you liked. For the weight watchers there was a good assortment of salads and loads of fresh fruit daily. On this cruise we found waiting staff to be superb willing to chat (if not busy) and tell you all about the homes, it went to show what can be done we a few friendly words. They were always willing to fetch drinks or help someone with difficulties. Having done quite a few cruises we have managed to visit all the tourist sites in the Med at least once so now we’re happy going for walks around the port area or local town and seeing how the other half lives. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2015
We have cruised many times before and therefore were quite surprised by the difference between this cruise and the others we have been on. This cruise did nothing well from the captains drinks a shambolic tacky affair, to the food which ... Read More
We have cruised many times before and therefore were quite surprised by the difference between this cruise and the others we have been on. This cruise did nothing well from the captains drinks a shambolic tacky affair, to the food which had the oddest combinations of flavours which mostly did not work. They could not even do simple dishes like pasta well which is quite amazing. The desserts and plain meats were the only highlights and both of these were good. The buffets had very odd combinations none of which went together and anyone liking any type of asian food would have been very disappointed by the flavours. Room service was prompt but could not get the orders right and never brought coffee that was hot, we gave up ordering it as it was virtually cold. Many accounting issues occurred being charged for wines when having a drinks package, and also not receiving the on board credit which was clearly on the booking from, but the customer service could not have been less helpful or interested in sorting these issues out. The desk was constantly clogged with unhappy people. Overall this cruise lacked any special feel. The entertainment was ok, the timing of trivia etc not well thought out meaning 8.00 diners virtually never able to do some of these things, but nothing was really good or memorable, anyway. The boat always docked at the furthest dock, and the company never ever put on any free transfers to town, even on one occasion charging 20 american dollars per person for a couple of kilometers in a local boat to town. The cruise was very poor value for the quality of food, staff, rooms and general experience. Many better cruise lines are out there offering, cheaper far superior experiences. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2015
We sailed on the Emerald from Istanbul to Rome. This was our 2nd cruise having sailed on the Ocean Princess last year. First, embarking was a breeze. Took us about 30 minutes. We stayed in Istanbul a couple of days before getting on the ... Read More
We sailed on the Emerald from Istanbul to Rome. This was our 2nd cruise having sailed on the Ocean Princess last year. First, embarking was a breeze. Took us about 30 minutes. We stayed in Istanbul a couple of days before getting on the ship. If you have concerns about Istanbul, don't. What a beautiful city. We set sail at night. The ship is beautiful. Our room was a perfect size with nice closet space. We were on Caribe deck C515 with a very large balcony. 4 chairs and a table. Perfect. Dinner was the 2nd seating and Na was our server. She was brilliant and the food was consistently good. I only had one meal that was not great. They tend to cook beef longer so Americans beware on medium vs. medium rare. The nightlife was ok. The Skywalker Lounge was large but the DJ kept playing annoying pop music that was not appropriate to the age of the people that were in the room. He did not seem to care. The other venues were great. Don't miss the Fish and Chips lunch during the cruise. Best lunch on the ship!! Used the Sancuary and this is certainly worth the extra $$ when you are a day at sea. Very relaxing. Ports of call - Mykonos - wow - Malta (go to Mdina) - Sicily (go to Taromina) Naples (go to Capri) and finally Rome. We did some of the excursions but they were very long days. Next time, we may just do our own thing. Also - note that the internet connection was very poor and expensive. Unplug and unwind. You know you had a good cruise when you are already looking to book your next cruise. Enjoy the Emerald! Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2015
We really enjoyed this cruise especially the sail out of Venice. I have sailed into and out of Venice with Princess before and it's a real delight - do it while you can, it may not always be an option with the potential sinking of ... Read More
We really enjoyed this cruise especially the sail out of Venice. I have sailed into and out of Venice with Princess before and it's a real delight - do it while you can, it may not always be an option with the potential sinking of Venice! The overnight in this port gave us the option of seeing the city at night too - it's a wonderful place, easy to get around with lovely buildings and canals at every turn. This was a busy itinerary, Istanbul, Mykonos, Athens, Naples, Rome, Florence, Toulon & Barcelona, but great if you have the stamina for busy, cosmopolitan destinations. The embarkation and disembarkation we extremely well manged, full points Princess. In Istanbul, Athens, Mykonos, Toulon and Barcelona we did our own things, partially because I had visited several of them previously but we did the Rome on you own, using the ships private train excursion because Rome is so far from Citavecchia. This was comfortable, relaxing and convenient, much better than taking a bus on the busy roads. We had a guide who took us into St Paul's Square and gave us great tips, a map etc. and then we were left to our own devises. We chose to simply orient ourselves, use the underground and see the places rather than waste time in the many long queues for the major attractions, planning to come back on another occasion when not so pressed for time. We did a similar thing in Florence, but this time it was on your own by bus but again our tour guide John did an excellent job in orienting us, giving hints and tips for Florenece - he was so amusing! We chose to visit Herculaneum using the ship's excursion - a sound decision and hugely more interesting than Pompeii. We had an archaeologist who worked on the site to show us around. A very good half day tour. Prior to this in the morning we simply walked off the ship and into Naples town a mere 5 minutes away. Toulon was perhaps the most disappointing visit. There isn't a great deal there and as others have said the place is closed on Sundays, although there is a market open and a small tourist train operating. However, the beaches are in easy reach by the tourist train, by bus or taxi only minutes away, although from the ship a water taxi is necessary to the main town area. After the cruise we spent a couple of days in Barcelona; TIP using a Hop-on Hop-off bus go straight to the tourist office in Plaza Cataluna, they are really helpful, and pre-book times for busy sites (any Gaudi venue) to organise your day effectively. MAJOR TIP FOR PIRAEUS/ATHENS - as others have said getting into Athens is cheap and easy via the Metro (15mins from Piraeus), about 1.5 euros per person each way, however, getting to the Metro, which is in the main train station depends on where your ship is berthed. We were berthed at the Themistokleous Pier Terminal B which is beyond Gate E12 of Piraeus Harbour and the furthest away. The main train station/Metro is between gates E5 & E7 on the opposite side of the road. Gate E6 is a Pedestrian bridge over the busy main road but this is closed for repairs! From Terminal B to the Metro is a good 50 mins walk at a goodly pace and remember it's the same coming back, one could perhaps take a taxi or public bus there. Don't bother with an all day ticket on the metro, once in the city, if you start at the Acropolis buying the 12 euro all venue ticket, you can easily work back towards the direction of Piraeus without using the metro again - we walked to the New Acropolis Museum, to Hadrian's Arch, through the Plaka and onto the Roman Agora before catching the Metro back from Monistiraki and all for less than 23 euros each! Istanbul too is easy to negotiate by tram, follow recommendations that you can find on-line from the port of Salipazari. Mykonos is very easy to visit on foot from the water shuttle stop. It's a while since we used Princess Cruises, a few things have changed but not sufficient to disappoint us. We were very pleased with the food, service, entertainment etc. Like I said - a great cruise. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
This was our eights cruise, the first with Princess. Here is my verdict: The "Goodies: - embarkation/disembarkation as well as transport from and to Heathrow were easy and stressless - the ship is worthy and has a splendid ... Read More
This was our eights cruise, the first with Princess. Here is my verdict: The "Goodies: - embarkation/disembarkation as well as transport from and to Heathrow were easy and stressless - the ship is worthy and has a splendid inner architecture - nice spacious cabin with (for the first time!!) a real king size bed for the 3rd passenger - food in "Concert" dining room and "Horizon" was of good quality and sufficient variety; Pastry buffet was super! - the service: many thanks to the following people who worked a lot for our comfort and happiness: the stateroom steward JAYSON from India the Concerto team starboard side: the receptionist OKSANA from Ukraine the seating lady MARIANA from Mexico the waiters and their assistants: ALEJANDRO from Mexico, MARIA from Serbia, CESAR and JOSELITO from the Philipines and AKASH from Mauritius. we also loved to chat at breakfast time (a few moments, hey..) with CEDRIK from India in the Horizon - the automatic doors are comfortable and safe - the smoking area on deck 17, at last a positive gesture for those who like to smoke - the huge choice of movies on TV (as the weather often forbade staying on the balcony) - the complete log of the cruise delivered the last night to our cabin - the ship's "horn-organ" playing a farewell melody when leaving a port. The "Badies" - the ship is outszandingly noisy when manoeuvring in the ports, vibrations feel like a quake; this is extremely ennoying, as arrivals in ports often take place in the early morning, when people would like to sleep - the excursions are over the top expensive, the guides were from excellent to very poor - a real time map with the ships position and progress is missing on TV and elsewere - the TV is for US passengers only. For a few bugs Princess could show free news channels in spanish, french and german at least while cruising in Europe. They take a lot of money from non-US passengers, so they could offer them something. On the home page of the TV set the news ticker shows one US news, one international, one finance, one US sport and (my goodness how thrilling) the weather in a US City and then the same scheme all over again! - another "US only" issue are the luggage tags for disembarkation which is kind of offending: on the address side there is no line for "country"; since Copernic and Galileus it should be known that the earth rotates on itself and turns around the Sun and not around the USA ! - the famous "industry first" Sky Walk is a false good idea: walking on this passage you can look into the bedrooms of at least 6 staterooms! and in return, the occupants of these could study the skirt wearing ladies' underwear. Well,all in all we were satisfied as the cruise met our exspectations. We give four stars. Remember, to achieve excellency you should seak for perfection Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2015
Details of the Eavesway coach company Princess line provided were useless because the service from Cumbria to Southampton was not running....not enough passengers. A 5 a.m. start 2 x taxi rides and three trains later we arrived. 2 seventy ... Read More
Details of the Eavesway coach company Princess line provided were useless because the service from Cumbria to Southampton was not running....not enough passengers. A 5 a.m. start 2 x taxi rides and three trains later we arrived. 2 seventy two year olds' do not want to lug cases on and off trains. Deluxe balcony cabin with full view was found to be the smallest deluxe cabin we have been in, the whole bathroom was no larger than a wet room and virtually impossible to dress in there. The deluxe balcony was just large enough for one passenger to use the sun bed to lie down, 2nd passenger had to sit up. No wardrobes just a clothes rail. We had paid £4,700 for this. I suffered a very small lip bleed in the night and left a half square centimeter stain on the duvet cover....no worries they turned it round three times to hide it. The large TV had a good selection...if you paid for it. The fact that the Allegro set time dining room was never more than half full speaks volumes for the food. Tasteless, colourless, same vegetables (courgettes and carrots) night after night, with the odd asparagus tip, it was dreadful. All soups were consomme and tasted like Bovril. You could if you wished dine at several a.la carte venus for 25$ each per night? if you wanted a decent meal. The Horizon Bistro which we used at lunch times was again less than good. Dry, chicken, dry turkey, dry chicken, dry turkey. Need we say more. I ended up with cornflakes every day for breakfast - what can you do to a box. Add to this the undrinkable coffee and you are glad you took a drinks package at 1,342 $. At least you could have decent coffee as and when. Although drinks in the room were not included. Bottles of wine to be paid for. They already have the obligatory 15% service charge on drinks etc. Add to this the 276 $ gratuities it is quite a costly experience. All ports were a bus ride from the designated stop apart from 2. Obviously an outrageous charge was made by the ships tour operators for anyone wanting to reach the advertised location. The first port was Guernsey, too rough for the tenders and so a credit of 2.56 $ was awarded. From various feed back given not a lot of information was forthcoming on the trips regarding history etc. Arriving in Dublin, having spent some time teaching the Americans how to say "Dun Laoghaire" because this was on the documentation as to where we were. We took a taxi to Dublin and a taxi back to Dun Loaghaire. Why? The ship was in Dublin Harbour! Disembarkation was fine apart from the thoughts of the journey ahead, back to Cumbria. This ship is a big nothingness, built to cram as many passengers in the 8 accommodation decks as humanly possible. When we read The Sanctuary we assumed it was the top bar with sea views. It turned out to be an open top area which as far as we were aware did not open during the trip. We have cruised on the Explorer and the Voyager, both were an amazing experience from a "things to do" point of view. If anything was going to make us think twice about cruising again this was it. After 26 we're done. Princess never again. Read Less
Sail Date: August 2015
We will be cautious about taking another Princess cruise. We bought a UK, Ireland and France trip on the Royal Princess and booked a mini-suite. The mini-suite is highly recommended. We enjoyed it although the SMALL balcony does not ... Read More
We will be cautious about taking another Princess cruise. We bought a UK, Ireland and France trip on the Royal Princess and booked a mini-suite. The mini-suite is highly recommended. We enjoyed it although the SMALL balcony does not permit the crew combining your balcony with a neighbors balcony- which we enjoyed on another cruise we took with friends. We initially booked our flight through Princess. We later changed to another carrier since it was over $2000 cheaper and the new flight had better times for us. Princess, it seems, is adding to the airline prices rather than taking a cut as most travel agents would. Recommend not using Princess for travel arrangements except to get to/from the ship. Also, we met several folks that used an outside tour service in various spots along the way instead of the Princess tours. They claimed to have saved money and receive better service and attention from their small group tour guide vs. Princess vendors. Everything, it seems, is an extra charge. Huge charge for Internet .... $.80/ min They have wireless Internet on the boat that gets good speed and reception but it only allows access to a princess web site. Why would they do that when you shell out $7Gs for a trip? Full trip Internet was $200 or more per person, I think. The connection was advertised as "slow". Everyone we talked to was bummed about the lack of Internet access and costs. I wanted to look up location information or an aspect of history all the time and was denied access unless I shelled out for the fee. This is a must fix issue for me. Glass of wine at dinner costs $9.00. Cocktails cost $9 and up. Wine bottles have a typical restaurant markup (You can't bring your own stuff - except wine for a $15 corkage fee) or ... for the price of $50 PER DAY PER PERSON you can get a drinks package. You do the math. Things I expected to be gratis (included in the trip price) were, annoyingly, "extra". Like if you wanted a coke. Or water. Or a latte. Drinking water is $2 to $3 for a bottle (Viking just gives you a new one each day). Any shore excursion (unless you go on your own) is quite expensive and the prices are posted. However, calculating the total cost of your trip including shore excursions is doable before you commit. Just take the time to look over all the options you want and add them up. Then add the number of drinks / day times $9 to $15/ drink (remember those soft drinks too). Also, remember the automatic 15% gratuity add on. The tour guides are local. We had some that were good and some not so good. The Glasgow guide was excellent. On our French tour to Rouen, the guide was both confused and not understandable. One woman said she was going to ask for a refund. Good luck with that! We were supposed to stop for a half day or so at Guernsey. Didn't happen. Refund offered only for tour costs - we opted for no tour at this stop since all we wanted to see was the town and the Castle which were close by so we will get no refund, I guess. On the other hand, we paid to see Guernsey and did not get to. Waves were too rough, in the captains opinion, for the tender to move people. The Captain was cautious and that was a very good thing, but ..... The charges for a short ride from the boat to the town seemed unreasonable - $90 per person for a bus ride into Edinburgh. We did not review alternatives but a hired car in London costs the same as a ride with a bus full of people through Princess Cruises. The prices for things like sundries, clothing and jewelry were high on the boat even though advertised as duty free discount items. At check-in, the port-side people confiscated my small knife (maybe a 1.25 inch blade?); however, I think the inspector just wanted it. Declared it was "illegal". I asked another security person about it and he said it was OK! So, I am out $30 on that plus the annoyance of having to find another one. Hopefully she or her boyfriend will enjoy it. This was not a good way to start the trip. When I inquired about this "theft" on board, I was informed that the shore side folks were in no way connected to the shipboard folks. The coverlets on the beds were too short. One had the choice of cold feet or uncovered shoulders. This was also a complaint of my 5'2" wife. On the good side, the beds were really comfortable. Compared with Viking (river cruise) the Princess food is just fair. We were continually dazzled by the Viking dinners. We have not yet taken a Viking ocean cruise but look forward to doing so. Viking also had a self service coffee machine that made virtually any kind of coffee drink one would want (gratis) while Princess had a barista approach for a fee. Just another annoying cost. The staff was very good in all respects - so I guess my gripe is with the policy wonks at corporate. We will be cautious taking another Princess cruise because of the death by a thousand cuts pricing policy they have and the lack of Internet, which is essential if one wants to learn about places and historical or current events while on the trip. Read Less
1 Helpful Vote
Sail Date: August 2015
The ship was overcrowded by 140 with 3700 passengers of which over 2400 were from USA. The rest of the passengers were made up from approx 400-500 Canadian, approx 130-140 British with the remainder made up of Australian, New Zealand, ... Read More
The ship was overcrowded by 140 with 3700 passengers of which over 2400 were from USA. The rest of the passengers were made up from approx 400-500 Canadian, approx 130-140 British with the remainder made up of Australian, New Zealand, South African, Irish and Philippines. Getting there: We drove from home to Southampton - 180 miles and parked at the Ocean Terminal. Port Information: Our American Port Guide should've been fired! If anyone actually believed her, they would still be in Glasgow waiting for a tram to Greenock! Glasgow Trams closed in 1962. She was clueless in her presentations for example when did Windsor Castle look anything like Corfe Castle in Dorset? and 'Tower of London Bridge' and 'Whitehall Street' in London? We Brits and the more educated and well-travelled passengers cringed at her profound statements and her crucified pronunciation of British and Irish names. Some complained why no local guides were used. Dining: Catering on the first night was a disaster as 2400 stampeded their way into the main restaurants, you'd think they hadn't eaten in ages!!! Catering on all remaining nights was eat where you could because 3700 mouths all got hungry at the same time. We ended up in the Horizon and overheard some sarcastic and offensive comments about the way we Brits use our cutlery at meal times. Formal night to us means a dinner jacket and black tie or a high quality suit. Our 2400 extras thought it must just mean a clean shirt as they'd been wearing the old one for some days and we noticed it!! Port & Shore Excursions: Guernsey: Weather conditions prevented us from tendering at Guernsey, I knew by the weather reports that we would never get there. To our American guests it was the end of their world. Cobh: We took the train to Cork and did a Hop On Hop Off tour of the city between showers! Then back to Cobh. Dublin: We were being collected by friends who drove up to the ship and off we went for a pub lunch south of the city. Belfast: We did the shore excursion to Giant's Causeway, I last saw it over 30 years ago and feel that the 'Interpretation Centre' has ruined the approach to that wonderful coast. Greenock, I tried hard to escape the Americans, but they followed me to the station to travel to Glasgow - You push the yellow button on the train to open the doors, admiring it will do nothing!!! I made my own way around Glasgow, after all, my father was from there. Orkney: At Kirkwall, we did our next shore excursion around Orkney, sadly our guides thick heavy Orcadian accent was hard on my ears. Invergordon: We escaped on a train to Inverness and did a bit of shopping there. South Queensferry: We did the same to Edinburgh. Lunch and a bit more shopping. Le Havre: Did a shore excursion to Rouen . Entertainment: Evening theatre entertainment was variable - Princess Singers and Dancers were at their best, but the Tom Jones 'soundalike' and the Irish 'singer' need to find alternative employment. The Beatles Experience was excellent. Disembarkation: We left a bit earlier and in less than 10 minutes we were driving out of Southampton home. The ship: Royal Princess hasn't changed since I sailed on its maiden voyage in 2013 and I wouldn't expect it to. This time it was overcrowded and poorly managed and the passengers either had little or no understanding of European cruising and it showed. Such behaviour may be acceptable on the other side of the Atlantic but not here. It was a good cruise, but it would've been better had it not been for the imbalance. Read Less
3 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
We picked this cruise and ship because of the itinary. The cruise and ports we stopped at were wonderful and got to see so much in the 12 days we were on board. Loved that part and the service on the ship but my complaint was the ship!!! ... Read More
We picked this cruise and ship because of the itinary. The cruise and ports we stopped at were wonderful and got to see so much in the 12 days we were on board. Loved that part and the service on the ship but my complaint was the ship!!! We had a nice deluxe balcony cabin at center ship very near the center stairwell and elevators. My husband likes to do the stairs not ride in elevators but on this ship they close off the stair and you have no access to them for the entire voyage. If you want to do the stairs you have to walk to the front or back of ship as no access at center. Second annoying feature was the promanard deck did not go all the way around the ship so you couldn't walk around it. Only way to walk around whole ship was to go to top to the pool deck and navigate around chairs etc up there to get to front and back of ship on your walk. Third annoying feature was our dinning room had no direct access from the center of the ship. We had to go down to deck 6 then walk to back of ship and go down via stairs or elevator to 5th deck for access to our dinning room. Very frustrating!!!! The layout of the new Princess ships was stupid, to say the least but the staff were wonderful so helped make up for it!!! Read Less
8 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
Royal Princess – a huge ship – 17 decks – 3600 passengers plus crew - far too big for my taste but if you like it – it’s certainly new. Poor design - in parts of the ship you have to go up in order to go down - very confusing. ... Read More
Royal Princess – a huge ship – 17 decks – 3600 passengers plus crew - far too big for my taste but if you like it – it’s certainly new. Poor design - in parts of the ship you have to go up in order to go down - very confusing. elevators are always crowded. Cabins are small. Some glitches, e.g., if you go to the ‘pizzeria’ Alfredo’s on the sixth or seventh level of the piazza– food is good and desserts are nice but you have to pay extra if you want coffee with your dessert – excuse me!!! This is not one of the specialty restaurants. I don’t get some of the nickel and dime stuff that goes on. The itinerary in general: The British Isles are wet – expect some rain every day and you won’t go wrong. We cruised 8/25-9/6 and I thought I’d wear some shorts or pedal pushers on sunny days – no way. We wore jackets and long pants so pack for that weather. General advice for any cruise: bring your own laundry soap (a few of those tablet kinds) and softener sheets for the dryer – you’ll save a lot of money. Second, do your research ahead of time about the cruise tours – they are outrageously expensive, rushed, and often conducted by people who know very little about what you’re seeing. Whenever possible, use local tours. Third, avoid the on-ship internet – another outrageous expense – you can find local places with free wi-fi. See my comments about each port stop below. First stop: Guernsey Islands – we couldn’t go ashore because you have to be tendered in using small boats and the weather was too bad – so we got another ‘at sea’ day. Be prepared for those tendered ports – you might not get ashore. Second: Cork, Ireland – you can walk right off the ship and take a train from the dock area to Cork (Cobh dock)– takes about a half hour. Or, you can stay in Cobh – a lovely little village with some shops and restaurants. There is a Heritage visitor center at the end of the dock with free wi-fi. We did take a tour to Kinsale/Charles Fort in the afternoon – it was a waste – don’t bother. If you want a tour – go to Cashel; we had been there before so didn’t take that tour but should have gone back a second time instead of Kinsale. Or go to Blarney castle but skip Kinsale. Third: Dublin – we docked at dun Laoghaire which meant we had to be tendered in (we were on the Royal Princess –a huge ship). There was a hop-on hop-off bus at the dock. We took a tour to Powers Court (free wi-fi in their coffee shop) – a lovely old mansion with beautiful grounds etc. Another overpriced tour. Stay in Dublin – it’s a fabulous city – most pubs have free wi-fi. Go to Trinity College to see the Book of Kells – take the hop-on hop-off bus. Don’t bother with the frills of those other tours. Four: Belfast – We took a tour of the city– a waste. Belfast is not an attractive city in my book. We stopped at the Donegal Place Center with free wi-fi. We saw the peace walls but all in all I could have skipped this city. If I had it to do again I’d spend the money to go the Giant’s Causeway and Antrim coast. Five: Glasgow (Greenock dock)– lovely little city. You can walk off the ship and down the street to the Oak Mall that has free wi-fi and lovely shops including a book store. Tourist shopping right at the dock. Glasgow is about 45 minutes away by bus. We took a tour of the city which was rushed (again) and left me wanting more. I’d go back to this city just to see St. Mungo’s church. Six: Kirkwall – The Orkney islands – my all time favorite stop on this cruise. Skara Brae, a fabulous Neolithic stone village – Brodgar stone ring third in size after Newbury and Stonehenge. Maeshowe, a burial barrow that you can enter – again over 5000 years old. Archaeological digs everywhere. If you, like me, are thrilled with historic sites, this is a place to see. Now some advice. The tour to Skara Brae was great. The afternoon tour to Brodgar and Maeshowe was led by the worst tour guide I’ve ever had (Patricia Sinclair) – so don’t take that tour. It was raining when we got to Brodgar and by the time we got up to the rest of the group she had moved on – I asked her to wait for all of us to get to a point because half of us didn’t hear what she had said and she replied “well you didn’t miss anything – we really don’t know much about it.” So much for our informed guides. It’s cheaper and better to use a local taxi to get there and bring you back. Maeshowe has it’s own tour guides so they take you inside – you don’t need to pay a private tour that gives you nothing but transportation for a very high price. Seven: Invergordon, Scotland. A 45 minute bus ride to the city about a five minute walk away for about 11 pounds or a twenty minute walk to the train if you prefer. Okay this is where you get to see “Nessie.” We went to a lovely shop (may be closed by now) called SER Supplies – for 2.5 pounds you can use their wi-fi all day (for both of us) and get free coffee/tea while we play. It was a nice shop also. We went in the afternoon on a tour to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle – where Nessie is reputed to reside – we never saw her. The castle is in ruins but fun to see and walk around. Eight: Edinburgh (South Queensferry): This port is also tendered meaning you get in little boats to bring you ashore to Hawes Pier – a 45 minute drive to Edinburgh. I saw a little of this city because we met up with friends from Leeds, England and spent the day with them. We did tour the castle which is amazing and then walked the town (the old part) to shop. We had lunch at the Tower (in the National Museum of Scotland) and spent a long time and a lot of money for our reunion – it was well worth it. DON’T take the Ship Transportation to the city – it’s $59 per person – you can take the shuttle bus right outside the dock for 10 pounds (about $16) round trip. Nine: LeHavre, France. This is a tricky port because you think “I’m in France” but the sights are so far away you spend the whole day on a bus. The trip to Paris takes far too long (three hours each way) and not worth it. We took a tour to Honfleur – a beautiful little place that we had visited before. However the tour is so expensive and so short we couldn’t even stay for the restaurants to open at noon. Overall it was a waste. It’s far better to find another couple and share a taxi back and forth. You can stay the whole day and have a wonderful lunch there on the water. If you just want to walk around LeHavre – DON’T take the hop on hop bus that leaves from the pier – it’s a total waste – there’s nothing really to see and you wait a long time for it. It is absolutely walkable from the ship – it is ridiculous when you see for yourself how close everything is. This cruise as an afterthought for us (see my complaints about princess cruises entitled "Beware of Princess Cruises Fine Print" - they really did screw us. The cruise thought was for me a really good itinerary (except for Belfast which was not a great stop). Loved the archaeological sites. Read Less
32 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
PORTS OF CALL Southampton, England; St. Peter Port, Guernsey (canceled); Cobh, Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Greenock, Scotland; Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland; Invergordon, Scotland; South Queensferry, ... Read More
PORTS OF CALL Southampton, England; St. Peter Port, Guernsey (canceled); Cobh, Ireland; Dublin, Ireland; Belfast, Northern Ireland; Greenock, Scotland; Kirkwall, Orkney Islands, Scotland; Invergordon, Scotland; South Queensferry, Scotland; Le Havre, France; Southampton, England We combined this cruise with the Royal Princess’ September 6 “Iberian Passage” cruise; I will post a separate review for that cruise on Cruise Critic. ABOUT THE REVIEW Other reviews give extensive information on the ship, cabins, food etc. Our reviews are not like that; they are primarily a journal of what we did in the various ports, including web links to tourist information sites and maps. In general, we prefer DIY port tours, independent tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members or shared public tours. However, we will take a Princess tour when the logistics or cost make that a better option. Tour operator contact information is included in each port review. We had previously visited several of the ports (Southampton, Cobh, Dublin, Greenock and Le Havre). ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our mid-sixties, who currently reside in central North Carolina. Both of us are natives of New Orleans and, as such, are interested in good food (and wine!) and good times. Our preferred souvenir is a small regional or national flag. On this itinerary, I was hoping to acquire flags from Guernsey, Northern Ireland and the Orkney Islands. We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. Many of our cruises have been in the Caribbean but we have also cruised to Alaska, the Mediterranean/Greek Isles, Scandinavia/Russia, the Panama Canal, the Hawaiian Islands, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, the Far East, the Amazon River, the North Atlantic (Greenland, Iceland and parts of the British Isles), the Norwegian Fjords, the Galapagos Islands, the Holy Land/Egypt, Australia/New Zealand, the Canary Islands, Mexican Riviera, the California Coast, Canada/New England and Indian Ocean/South Africa. We have taken land tours to the Netherlands, Canadian Rockies, Mexico (Cozumel), London, France (several wine regions and Paris), China, Argentina (Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls, Mendoza wine region), Chile (Santiago, several wine regions), the Hawaiian Islands (Kauai, Maui, Hawaii), Sicily, Tuscany and to many parts of the continental USA. On our trips, we prefer nature and wildlife tours that involve snorkeling, SCUBA diving or hiking. In particular, we will hike for miles to see waterfalls, volcanoes, caves or other interesting geologic features. We also enjoy lighthouses, forts, castles and anything else we can legally climb up on for a good view. We are Elite members of Princess' Captain's Circle loyalty program, but have also sailed with Royal Caribbean, Holland America, Costa, Celebrity and Commodore. On this cruise, we were joined by college friends, Robert & Mary, who are also New Orleans natives and now reside in Virginia; they had cruised with Princess once before. REVIEW OF THE CRUISE PRECRUISE DAY 1: THU, 08/20/15 RALEIGH/DURHAM, NC, USA (RDU) TO LONDON, ENGLAND (LHR) John and I had made a concerted effort to pre-adjust to British Summer Time, which is 5 hours ahead of Eastern Daylight Time (EDT). Over the two weeks prior to the trip, we had gradually moved our bedtime and dinnertime back two hours and our wake-up time back 3 hours. We also planned to sleep for most of the 7.5 hour nonstop flight on British Airways (operated by American Airlines) from RDU to LHR. The flight was almost completely full and left RDU 15 minutes late. PRECRUISE DAY 2: FRI, 08/21/15 LHR TO WEYMOUTH, ENGLAND (EDT + 5) The pilot was not able to make up any time during the flight, so we arrived in Terminal 3 at LHR behind schedule at 9:15 a. m. Despite the difficulties of sleeping on the plane, we were feeling pretty good when we disembarked. Passport control was quick but the baggage claim took longer than expected; customs was a walk-through since we had nothing to declare. Next was a long walk to the Central Bus Station, where we arrived at 10:15 a. m. When I had originally booked our National Express (www.nationalexpress.com) bus trip to Weymouth via Bournemouth, I had been disappointed that the first departure was not until 10:45 a. m. However, with the late arrival, delay at baggage claim and long walk through the terminal, I was glad that we did not have to rush to catch the bus. I had booked our tickets (22.30 GBP pp) ahead of time online and printed out an e-ticket to show the driver when we boarded. The bus departed right on time. Prior to our cruise, we spent 4 nights in Weymouth in southwest England. Weymouth was our base for day hikes on selected portions of the South West Coast Path through the Dorset and East Devon Coast World Heritage Site (popularly known as the Jurassic Coast). The review for that part of our trip is posted on Cruise Critic's companion site, Independent Traveler (www.independenttraveler.com/trip-reviews/hiking-the-south-west-coast-path-on-the-jurassic-coast-in-england). PRECRUISE DAY 3: SAT, 08/22/15 WEYMOUTH & LYME REGIS PRECRUISE DAY 4: SUN, 08/23/15 WEYMOUTH & LULWORTH COVE PRECRUISE DAY 5: MON, 08/24/15 WEYMOUTH & SWANAGE CRUISE DAY 1: TUE, 08/25/15 WEYMOUTH TO SOUTHAMPTON, CHECK IN 12:00PM-4:00PM, ALL ABOARD 4:30PM This morning, we had pre-booked e-tickets (11.90 GBP pp) for the 9:00 a. m. National Express bus to Southampton via Bournemouth. It had rained a good bit during our previous days on the Jurassic Coast, but it was not raining during our walk to the bus stop. However, it started again on the ride to Southampton. The buses ran right on schedule. During the layover in Bournemouth, John patronized the Asda superstore (a subsidiary of Walmart), which is contiguous with the bus depot, for a bottle of champagne to share with Robert & Mary at sail away. In Southampton (www.discoversouthampton.co.uk/visit/), it was still raining steadily. We had planned to walk 0.2 mile from the Southampton Coach Station to The Marlands/Asda stop for the CityLink shuttle bus (www.redfunnel.co.uk/travel-connections/bus-connections/citylink/), get off at the Town Quay and walk 0.4 mile via Gate 5 to the Ocean Terminal. The shuttle was formerly free but now costs 1 GBP pp for those who do not hold tickets on the Red Funnel ferry. Because of the rain, we decided to take a taxi (6.20 GBP metered fare) instead. At the Ocean Terminal, we had preferred check-in and were processed quickly. While we were waiting to collect our cruise cards, a woman in the next queue was being denied boarding because she did not have a visa for the Republic of Ireland; this was not the first time that we have seen people denied boarding for lacking required visas or immunizations. Fortunately, US citizens did not need any visas or immunizations for this itinerary. We carried all of our luggage on board and were stopped at the security checkpoint because we each had a Swiss Army knife in our toiletry kits. Although both of the blades were short enough, mine apparently had some sort of lock that was not allowed, so it was confiscated. I asked whether it could be returned to me at the end of the cruise (as is the case with prohibited alcoholic beverages) but I was told that would be impossible. I could not be allowed to bring the knife aboard even if I put it in my checked luggage because I would still have access to it in my cabin. Considering that much sharper and longer knives are accessible to passengers on board, this seems a strange policy to me. They wrote down my name and cabin number, so I guess I am now on some sort of list. Once we were on board, we heard at least 10 announcements for couples to return for additional screening of their luggage. I wonder what sort of contraband they tried to smuggle onto the ship? We had booked a category BB guarantee and received our cabin assignment six days before embarkation. Although we did not receive an upgrade, we were happy to be assigned to the same midships cabin on the Aloha deck for both legs of the cruise. The cabin's balcony is markedly smaller than those we have encountered on other classes of Princess ships. However, the bathroom, especially the shower stall, is considerably larger. There is a large, wall-mounted flat screen TV that replaces the smaller TV that usually occupies a cabinet above the bar/refrigerator. Eliminating that upper cabinet makes the room visually seem larger. Our friends had booked a deluxe balcony, which is bigger to accommodate a sofa; their cabin was forward on the Dolphin deck. Once in our cabin, we unpacked and called Room Service to exchange some items in our complimentary mini-bar setup and request four champagne flutes; Room Service was exceptionally quick, delivering everything within 10 minutes of my call. John called the Dine Line to make dinner reservations for the four of us at Sabatini's ($25 pp) tonight and for later in the cruise at the Crown Grill ($25 pp); he also asked for all of us to be added to the waiting list for the Winemaker's Dinner ($40 pp). Our Cabin Steward, Joao from India, stopped in to welcome us and show us the features of Princess@Sea on the stateroom TV; we asked Joao to put a top sheet on the bed when he made up our room that evening. This was our first cruise on a Royal-class ship, so next we went off to explore the ship before the Muster Drill. As many reviewers have commented, there are no midships stairs open to passengers except from Decks 5 to 7. IMHO, Princess should have learned that this is a bad idea when the Grand Princess was built that way in 1999. There were a large number of mobility-challenged and visually-impaired passengers (many with service dogs) on this voyage who needed to use the elevators, making the midships elevators especially crowded. Those of us who wanted to use the stairs had to go all the way forward or all the way aft. As we walked around the ship, we saw many tables touting the Cafe Selects coffee card, Ultimate Soda package and All-Inclusive Beverage Package. However, there was no advertizing for the Wine Packages. We finally asked at one table about the wine packages and were told that we would be able to buy them at dinner later that evening. We were also told that one wine would be featured each day and available at a discounted price. After the Muster Drill, Robert & Mary came to our cabin to share the champagne. They had arrived in London yesterday and taken an International Friends (www.internationalfriends.co.uk) transfer/tour today from their hotel to the ship. The tour included a stop at Stonehenge, where they got drenched in the pouring rain. At dinner, John & Robert each tried to order a 10-bottle Silver Wine Package. They were told that wine packages could not be purchased in the specialty restaurants, only in the main dining rooms. We have never encountered this policy on Princess before! Only after John & Robert said that they would go to one of the dining rooms, buy the packages and return to Sabatini's, were they allowed to purchase the packages. There is no reason why the Wine Packages should not be available from the same outlets as the other beverage packages; they are simply punch cards like the coffee card. [Note: The packages offered were Silver (wines up to $29) 12 ($240), 10 ($210) or 7 ($161) bottles and Gold (wines up to $45) 12 ($336), 10 ($290) or 7 ($217) bottles. Note that a 15% gratuity is added to the price of each package. Also note that either package can be used to purchase more expensive wines: the list price of the wine is charged to your on board account (no gratuity added) and your account receives a credit for either $29 or $45.] Regarding the food at Sabatini's, it was generally very good. Mary was disappointed with the “Lobster Three Ways”; however she thought that the lobster she had later at the Crown Grill and in the main dinning room was excellent. After all the travel and various irritations of the day, we all decided to skip the “Welcome Aboard Showtime” and get a good night's rest while the ship headed across the English Channel to our first port of call. CRUISE DAY 2: WED, 08/26/15 ST. PETER PORT, GUERNSEY, ENGLAND (CANCELED) This morning we were supposed to call at St. Peter Port from 7:00 a. m. until 2:15 p. m. However, this is a tender port and the weather conditions were too poor to allow passengers to be tendered ashore safely. Thus, the port call was canceled and we had a relaxing sea day instead. Although we were disappointed to miss Guernsey, I have to admit we were happy to have a day of rest before the upcoming four days of port calls. John & I had prepared for our visit here by reading a charming book about Guernsey and the German occupation, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: A Novel", by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. We had planned to do some self-guided walking tours along the cliffs and around town (www.visitguernsey.com/tasty-walks). Robert & Mary were going to visit Castle Cornet (www.museums.gov.gg/article/101089/Castle-Cornet) and enjoy walking around the small town. This morning, we watched “A Little Chaos”, starting Kate Winslet and Alan Rickman, in the Princess Theater. This is about building a garden ballroom at the Palace of Versailles. After lunch at Alfredo's, we had a nap. The Cruise Critic Meet & Greet was held this afternoon in Club Six. Apparently it was well-attended by the roll call members and several officers stopped by. However, the M&G conflicted with the Princess Grapevine wine tasting, which John & I attended instead. As Elite Captain's Circle members, John & I received complimentary invitations. The wines were Hogue Riesling, Fetzer Chardonnay, Estancia Pinot Noir, Wente Southern Hills Cabernet Sauvignon and Rex-Goliath Moscato. Again, there were no souvenir cordial glasses; I guess those are gone for good. Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this cruise. We were pleased to find out that so many shows were scheduled at three times: 7:00, 8:15 and 10:30 p. m. That often allowed us to attend a performance before our late-seating dinner at 8:15 p. m. This evening we attended the early presentation of the production show “Colors of the World”; John and I had seen this show before on the Ocean Princess. That was followed by the “Captain's Champagne Waterfall Party” from 7:30-8:15 p. m.; one of the treats served at the party was Master Chocolatier Norman Love's Chocolate Journeys: chocolate-covered chocolate mousse “Love Pops”. After that, we had our first dinner at our assigned table for four in the Allegro Dining Room with our Waiter, Maryna, and Junior Waiter, Zoran; our Headwaiter was Leonard, from Romania. The table is 4-top right next to a window in an alcove section of the dining room; the 4-top next to us was empty for the entire cruise. (I suspected that these tables were arranged as four 2-tops during early seating.) John and I would be able to have this same table for the next leg of the cruise but it would be converted to a 2-top. The menu tonight was the special 50th Anniversary Celebration menu, with dishes representative of Princess cuisine through the years; everyone received a souvenir menu that explained the rationale for including each dish. The current era was represented by another Chocolate Journey, Chocolate Raspberry Mousse with Vanilla Creme Brulee and Crunchy Shortbread. CRUISE DAY 3: THU, 08/27/15 COBH, IRELAND 8:00AM – 5:30PM This morning, the ship docked at the Cobh Cruise Terminal. The weather was fairly good all day long: a little cool and sunshine interspersed with brief showers. On our 2008 port call in Cobh, we visited Blarney (kissed the Blarney Stone!), Blarney Woolen Mills and Kinsale with eCoach/Butler's Buses (www.ecoach.ie/blarney_bus_tour.php). After that tour, we were dropped off at St Colman's Cathedral so that we could visit that on our own and see other sites in Cobh (visitcobh.com) on the walk back to the ship. This time we took the train to Cork, only 24 minutes away, on our own. There is an entrance to the Cobh station right on the cruise ship pier. When large cruise ships visit Cobh, extra trains are added to the schedule (www.irishrail.ie/media/13-mallowcobhmidleton250920131.pdf?v=gc3uqqe), so there are usually trains in both directions every half hour. Maps of Cork and handouts with the temporary train schedule are available at the ticket counter; there is also a ticket machine. The return fare is 8.50 EUR pp. Even though the ship docked early, we just missed the 8:00 a. m. train. This was not a problem because the 8:30 a. m. train delivered us to Kent Station in Cork with plenty of time to walk to the Tourist Office, buy tickets for a bus tour to the historic Jameson Distillery in Midleton and walk to the meeting point for the 10:00 a. m. tour at St. Patrick's Quay on the River Lee Perhaps the easiest way to visit the distillery is with the Jameson Experience Premium Package (www.corkcitytour.com/jameson-experience/). This 2.5-hour package includes bus transportation to and from the distillery, the standard tour (www.jamesonwhiskey.com/en/tours/jamesonexperience) and free time to visit the gift shop or gardens. The package costs 17 EUR pp (senior rate); the standard tour costs 12 EUR pp (senior rate) when purchased at the distillery. In addition to the four of us, there was only one other couple (also from the ship) on the bus. The ride to Midleton takes about 20 minutes. Upon arrival, the bus driver distributed our tickets for the standard tour and told us when to return to the bus. Inside the old distillery, we joined a larger group to watch a short film about Jameson Whiskey. Then our guide, Maria, walked us through the old distillery to explain the whiskey-making process and see the original malting sheds where the barley was malted (sprouted), kilns where the malt was dried, grain stores, mills and water wheel, mashing vats, pot stills and warehouses. At the entrance to each building were barrels filled with complimentary plastic rain ponchos. We did have a bit of rain during the tour. Near the end of the tour, Maria asked for volunteers to compare samples of three different whiskeys: Jameson, Johnnie Walker Black and Jack Daniels. Of course, John, Robert & I volunteered; everyone else received a sample of Jameson. All of us could then have “Official Whiskey Taster” certificates e-mailed to us. At the end of the tour, we exchanged our ticket at the Jameson Bar for either a glass of Jameson (John & Robert) or a cocktail (Mary & I) made with one part Jameson, three parts ginger ale and a squeeze of lime. After relaxing in the bar with our drinks, Robert & Mary checked out the gift shop while John & I walked around the grounds and nearby public gardens. All six of us returned to the bus ahead of schedule, so we were back in Cork before 12:30 p. m. There was fairly heavy rain during the drive back. A number of self-guided walking tours are available on the Cork City Tourist Office web site (www.discoverireland.ie/Places-To-Go/Cork/Features/Cork-City-Walks); there are interpretive signs along the routes. From the bus drop-off point, we did part of the Shandon Walk. Our destination was St. Anne's Shandon Church (www.shandonbells.ie). Along the way, we passed a building incorporating the remains of Shandon Castle and the Butter Museum. The circular Firkin Crane, where firkins (barrels) of butter were once weighed, is now a performing arts center. St. Anne's clock tower was once known as the “Four Faced Liar” because each clock face told a different time. The church's weather vane, “de goldie fish”, symbolizes Cork's salmon fishing industry. Admission to the church is free; it costs 4 EUR pp (senior rate) to climb the tower and ring the 18th century bells. There were some low ceilings and rafters to bump our heads. John and I climbed to the second floor, where there is a play-by-the-numbers tune book. Playing the bells works best if one person pulls the ropes while the other reads out loud the corresponding numbers for the tune; I played “When the Saints Go Marching In”. Above this level, where one can view the internal workings of the clocks and see the bells, ear protection (provided) must be worn. At the top of the stairs, there is a balcony with views of Cork City. Next we walked to St. Fin Barre's Cathedral (corkcathedral.webs.com), a French Neo-Gothic style cathedral with three soaring spires; admission is 4 EUR pp (senior rate). This church is worth visiting for its mosaic floors and stained glass as well as its other ornamentation. One interesting carving depicts King David playing a Celtic Harp. As we walked back to the center of town, we passed Elizabeth Fort, a 17th Century star-shaped fort. Only part of the fort is open to the public (free) and we considered climbing the battlements for the views over the city. However, we decided to catch the 3:00 p. m. train back to Cobh in order to see the folkloric show at 3:45 p. m. back on the ship. On the way to the train station, we walked through the Old English Market (www.englishmarket.ie), a roofed food market that has been trading since 1788. [Note: Our entire day in Cork cost 33.5 EUR pp or about $37 pp. Princess' “Cork City Drive and Irish Whiskey Center” tour, which only included a photo stop at St. Finn Barre's, cost $89.95 pp.] Back on the ship, we had a quick snack from the International Cafe before watching a local Irish dance group, Rhythmic Feet, in the Piazza. This was followed by the “Gaels Afloat Show: The Best of Irish Music, Song & Dance” in the Princess Theater. Both of these really good shows were part of Princess' Celtic Festival, which included special entertainers, lecturers, dance and music lessons and arts and crafts activities. As we departed Cobh, we were serenaded by the Cobh Brass Band, which had wisely set up under the canopy of the train station to avoid the rain. Before going to dinner tonight, we watched a short special performance, “Here's to Princess!” in the Piazza by the Royal Princess Singers & Dancers. This was basically a propaganda piece for Princess Cruises. CRUISE DAY 4: FRI, 08/28/15 DUBLIN, IRELAND 9:00AM – 7:00PM There was a lot of precruise confusion about the port times in Dublin and whether we would dock or tender there. The original itinerary called for us to be in port from 7:00 a. m. until 6:30 p. m. and tender into the port at Dun Laoghaire. The revised itinerary had us docking in Dublin at the Alexandra Quay. The Royal Princess is so big that she cannot maneuver in the Port of Dublin's turning basin; she has to sail backwards up the Liffey River to tie up at the pier. When the tides or weather are against her, she skips Dublin and diverts to Liverpool. Naturally, this kind of uncertainty creates an impossible situation for those passengers trying to arrange independent shore excursions. I had originally booked an all-day tour to the Wicklow Mountains National Park and the Glendalough monastic site with Wild Wicklow Tours (www.wildwicklow.ie). One of their normal pick-up points is at the Dun Laoghaire ferry terminal and (upon request) we could be dropped off there after the tour. However, with the change to Alexandra Quay, we would have had to take a taxi to and from one of their other pickup points and the connection time would have been very tight at both ends. Denis O'Reilly at Wild Wicklow Tours always responded promptly to my emails. Although he made several suggestions trying to accommodate us, taking the tour was simply not feasible and our money was promptly refunded. A number of people on our cruise Critic roll call had booked tours with Paddywagon Tours, which would pick us up wherever and whenever the ship finally deposited us ashore; they also offered a full refund if the ship did not call at Dublin. The main reason I had not booked with Paddywagon originally was that their tour includes a panoramic tour of Dublin so there would be less time available to explore Glendalough. After investigating other options, our friends and we finally booked the Paddywagon tour (www.paddywagontours.com/Shore-Excursion-For-Cruise-Passengers-In-Dublin-Wicklow-Mountains-and-Dublin-City-Tour). The price is 40 EUR pp plus a 2.9% online booking fee for a total of 41.16 EUR pp or about $45 pp. [Note: Princess's similar tour, Dublin & Glendalough, costs $159.95 pp but included lunch, a visit to the Avoca Hand Weavers and an audiovisual presentation at Glendalough. Princess also provided a shuttle ($16 pp, round-trip) to Merrion Square West in downtown Dublin for those who wanted to DIY.] Although the four of us left the ship as quickly as possible, we were surprised to see that almost everyone else on the tour was already on the bus; five more people showed up after us. Paddywagon's policy is to leave when everyone is aboard the bus or 30 minutes after the ship docks but one more couple was still missing. As time ticked on (and we watched the Princess buses departing), some of the other passengers became a bit rowdy and demanded that the bus driver leave the tardy couple behind. However, the driver's supervisor insisted that he wait the full time plus more. When we eventually left, the driver told us that if the couple ever showed up, they would be brought to join the tour. Considering the temper of some of the other passengers, that might not have been healthy for the laggards. Our driver, Don, pointed out some sights as we drove through Dublin and the upscale neighborhoods along the coast to the Wicklow Mountains National Park (www.wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie). Don gave good commentary throughout the tour. County Wicklow is known as the garden of Ireland; the beautiful rolling landscape here played the role of Scotland in the movie “Braveheart”. We arrived at the perfect time of year for heather: it was in full bloom and the hillsides were painted purple-red; there were also many lavender farms. Don pointed out landmarks such as the Great Sugarloaf (isolated conical hill), the Vartry Reservoir Lakes and the Annamoe Trout Fishery. The highlight of the national park is the Glendalough monastic village, founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. This was one of the most important monastic cities in Ireland until the 13th century, when it began to decline; it was finally destroyed by English forces in 1398. Glendalough (Glendalough_Village_Vale_of_Glendalough_County_Wicklow.html) literally means “valley of two lakes” and the area around the lakes contains the ruins (some restored with original stones) of seven churches and other buildings used by the monks. Although there are a few interpretive signs, it is a good idea to bring some information about the sights (www.tripadvisor.com/Guide-g551590-i6439-) with you. We were dropped off at the Glendalough Hotel near the Lower Lake and given 1.25 hours to explore the site on our own. John & I entered by the monastery's double-arched gate, the only one of its kind remaining in Ireland. We decided to walk to the sights near the Upper Lake first and return later to explore the ones near the Lower Lake. We were lucky to have sunny weather today. We followed the Green Road Walk (www.wicklowmountainsnationalpark.ie/WalkingTrails.html) along the south side of the Lower Lake. There were some great views of the lakes with the hills in the background. We crossed the Poulanass River but did not have enough time to climb up the trail to the falls. At the Upper Lake, we climbed the gold Poulanass and St. Kevin's Cell Trail and checked out the partially-reconstructed Reefert Church. The church dates from about 1100 and is the burial place of many chiefs of the local O'Toole clan. There are several interesting crosses in the graveyard. A little further up the trail, we saw all that remains of St. Kevin's Cell, the foundations; there are good views of the lake and valley from here. We retraced our path to the area between the two lakes. There are some Celtic crosses and the Caher, a stone-walled circular enclosure there. We then took the Green Road Walk on the north side of the Lower Lake to return to the main part of the monastic village. The most conspicuous monument in this area is the Round Tower, standing about 90 feet (30 m) tall with a conical (rebuilt) roof. This sort of building was commonly used as a storehouse and refuge; the door is about 15 feet (3.5 m) above the ground so that the access ladder could be pulled up to thwart raiders. Nearby is the reconstructed Priest's House, so called because priests were buried there in the 18th and 19th centuries. Also nearby is St. Kevin's Church, more commonly called St. Kevin's Kitchen because people thought that the bell tower was the chimney of a kitchen. The foundations of St. Kieran's church are close by. On the other side of the bridge over the river is a hollowed-out stone or bullan known as the Deer Stone. According to tradition, St. Kevin made friends with the birds and forest animals. In one legend, the wife of a worker at the monastery died in childbirth; St. Kevin persuaded a doe to leave milk in the hollow stone for the child. However, another legend says that St. Kevin had no cow, so the milk was left for him. Whatever, there are over 40 stones like this scattered around the site; they may have been used to grind corn or medicinal herbs. Closer to the entrance gate is the largest building at the site, the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul. Nearby is an ancient granite cross known as St. Kevin's Cross. There are various legends associated with the cross. If a person can wrap his/her arms completely around the cross' body with fingertips touching, he/she will either have his/her wishes granted or be married within a year. As we returned to the gate, we looked for a large slab to the left of the inner archway. With a bit of effort, we were able to discern a crude cross carved in the stone, marking it as a Sanctuary Stone: anyone who passed this stone was assured sanctuary in the monastery from any pursuers. One reason the Vikings were so feared was that they did not recognize the concept of sanctuary. Too soon, we had to return to the bus for the trip back to Dublin. I wish we had had several more hours to explore the site less hurriedly. There are lots of other interesting sites in the national park but those were not on the agenda today. Maybe on a future visit to Dublin… Don dropped us off on Nassau Street, near the entrance to Trinity College, and we were given 1.5 hours to tour Dublin on our own. On our previous visit to Dublin, we had bought a Dublin Pass (www.dublinpass.ie) and visited the Old Kilmainham Gaol, the Guinness Storehouse and the Old Jameson Distillery. We also took a student-led tour of Trinity College, which ended at the Old Library and included a peek at the Book of Kells. Today, while Robert & Mary enjoyed shopping and a snack, John & I walked down Grafton Street, which was thronged with shoppers and street performers, on our way to St. Patrick's Cathedral (www.stpatrickscathedral.ie/Visitor-Information.aspx). The 6 EUR admission fee to the cathedral includes a guided tour but we did not have time for that; there is a brochure for a self-guided tour. Naturally, the cathedral has many statues of St. Patrick and there is a slab carved with a Celtic cross that once marked St. Patrick's well, where the saint reputedly baptized converts. There are elaborate family monuments, one erected to Katherine Boyle in 1632. Richard Boyle (no known relationship to John), Earl of Cork, and his second wife Katherine were the parents of 15 children including the famous chemist, Robert Boyle. Robert is thought to be the figure in the bottom-center niche. Another important memorial is that of the famous satirist, Jonathan Swift, who was once the Dean of the cathedral. After visiting the cathedral, we walked through St. Patrick's Park. Along one side of the park is the Literary Parade, a wall with plaques honoring Irish writers. Following part of the “Castle & Cathedrals” walking tour (www.allaudioguides.com/aglist.php?country=102&city=&language=English), we arrived at Dublin Castle, parts of which date to the 13th century. The castle is home to several museums (some with an entry fee); the grounds are free to explore. The Lower Castle Yard is a large park and the former location of the dark pool (Dubh Linn) that gave the city its name. On one side of the park is the part of the castle that we wanted to visit: the Chester Beatty Library (www.dublincastle.ie/visitorfacilities/). This small museum (free) houses an extensive collection of illuminated gospels, 8th and 9th century Qurans, sacred Buddhist texts from Burma and Tibet and other treasures. One of the two upper floors houses “Arts of the Book”, an exhibit of ancient books from many traditions throughout the world. The other floor was “Sacred Traditions”, devoted to the great religions of the world: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism. Because of the limited time we had today, we concentrated on the Christian artifacts. As expected, there were many beautiful illustrated Bibles. However, the most fascinating objects were copies of the gospels and epistles (including part of an actual letter from St. Paul), written on papyrus, that dated to the 3nd century AD. Of course, we had to climb to the roof garden to admire the view. Once everyone was back on the bus, we were treated to a panoramic tour of the city center, with Don pointing out parks, monuments, public art and important buildings. We stopped for 15-20 minutes for photo ops at St. Patrick's and Dublin Castle. After we perused the interpretive signs in the Upper Castle Yard, we would have liked to visit the exhibits in the adjacent City Hall; however, a wedding reception was being held there. On the way back to the ship, we passed some other sights related to the struggle for independence (O'Connell Monument, the General Post Office) and the potato famine (Famine Memorial and the famine ship replica, Jeanie Johnston). This tour was an outstanding bargain. It lacks a guide at the specific sites visited, but doing some research ahead of a visit helps in the appreciation of the many things seen. This evening, we attended a program of traditional Irish music, “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling”, by Indigo. CRUISE DAY 5: SAT, 08/29/15 BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND  8:00AM – 5:30PM The weather today for Belfast (visit-belfast.com) was again forecast to be a mixture of rain and sun. The ship docked at the Stormont Wharf, about 1.5 miles from the city center. The city provides a free shuttle to Donegall Place (opposite the Belfast Welcome Center). The four of us had booked a shared public tour (35 GBP or $54 pp) to the Giant's Causeway (belfastcitysightseeing.com/belfast-cruise-visitors-tours-excursions/). Once again, we had to wait for tardy passengers (13 minutes this time). [Note: Princess' half-day “Giant's Causeway”, with photo stops at Dunluce Castle and the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge cost $179.95 pp.] Eventually we headed north for a 1.25 hour drive to the Antrim Coast by an inland route. Along the way, our driver, Gary, pointed out sights such as Belfast Castle and Slemish Mountain, where St. Patrick is said to have herded sheep when he was a slave. In some places the road passes between rows of trees. Gary said they were planted so that their roots would grow under the road to help support it in the boggy ground. Near Ballybogel, we had to stop so that a herd of dairy cows could cross the road after being milked. Once at the coast, our first stop was a photo op at the scenic cliff-side ruins of Dunluce Castle (www.discovernorthernireland.com/Dunluce-Castle-Medieval-Irish-Castle-on-the-Antrim-Coast-Bushmills-P2819). We continued east along the Causeway Coastal Route to the highlight of the tour, the Giant's Causeway; we had just over 1.5 hours here. Access to the Causeway is free; however, the entrance to Visitor Centre costs an exorbitant 9 GBP pp (not included in the tour price), even to patronize the cafe. The tour company had an arrangement with the Causeway Hotel for us to use the facilities there; refreshments were available at the hotel, a gift shop next door and a pub across the parking lot. All of those establishments are only a short distance from the official Visitor Centre. The Giant's Causeway (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway) was formed 60 million years ago when lava cooled and crystallized into basalt columns with polygonal (mostly hexagonal) cross-sections; some of these columns are over 130 feet (35 m) tall. It is approximately a 2.25-mile (3.6 km) round-trip hike to see all of the formations. However, those less enthusiastic about geology can walk a shorter distance down to the main section and back, about 1.2 miles (2 km) round-trip. There is also a shuttle bus (2 GBP pp, round-trip) to the main section. There are two trails (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/giants-causeway/things-to-see-and-do/walking/) down to the rocks; both the Red and the Blue Trails start at the Visitor Centre. The Blue Trail follows the road used by the shuttle bus. There are interpretive signs and overlooks here and there to point out formations, such as the camel ridden by the legendary giant, Finn McCool. The main section here, the Grand Causeway, was supposedly built by McCool so that he could walk to Scotland, 15 miles away. This section is the iconic image of the Causeway: a wide swath of up-and-down polygonal paving leading into the ocean. This is not only a dramatic sight but also loads of fun to scramble around on. We tried to find the Wishing Chair but were not sure we sat on the correct grouping of columns. There is a gap in the rocks where they cross the beach—the Giant's Gate; that is where some of the tallest columns are located. Robert & Mary got some good photos of us risking our necks climbing down. John & I continued along the cove (Port Noffer) past the Giant's Boot (boot/boat shaped boulder) and the Giant's Organ (tall columns that look like organ pipes) to the next headland. The trail ends just after rounding the point; from there we had great views of the Amphitheatre surrounding the bay and the Chimney Stacks on the next point. We backtracked to the start of the Shepherd's Path—167 steep steps up to the top of the cliffs. From there, it is a fairly level walk back to the Visitor Centre; we encountered some rain on the return walk. After checking out the facilities at the hotel, we got ice cream cones at the gift ship and walked part of the Green Trail out to the point for more great views before it started to rain again. Back in the bus, we proceeded east along the Causeway Coastal Route past the ruins of Dunseverick Castle. Gary's commentary continued with Portbraddan, a hamlet beneath the cliffs on the west side of White Park Bay, which was an ancient salmon fishing station. Near the village is St. Gobban, often promoted as the smallest church in Ireland; the church (originally a cowshed) only holds five people. Further along is another scenic church, Ballintoy Church, reputedly the most-photographed church on the Antrim Coast. Our next stop was the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge (www.nationaltrust.org.uk/carrick-a-rede), which connects the mainland to Carrick Island and has been used by salmon fishermen for over 350 years. Gary said that by bringing their catch ashore on the island, the fishermen would avoid being taxed. As at the Giant's Causeway, entry to the site and viewing the bridge is free. Crossing the bridge normally costs 5.90 GBP pp; the discounted price for tour groups is 5 GBP pp. Gary expedited matters by collecting the fee from those of us who wanted to cross and giving us vouchers as we exited the bus. It is about 0.7 miles (1 km) from the parking area to the bridge. The first part of the path is fairly flat but later there are sections of steep steps down to the bridge; there are several viewing platforms and resting points along the way. The 65 ft (20 m) bridge is suspended 100 ft (30 m) above the water and only eight people can be on the bridge at the same time. Although all the promotional materials talk about how frightening it is to cross, we didn't think it was any big deal. Of course, we have crossed the Capilano Suspension Bridge in British Columbia, which is seven times longer and more than twice as high. Once across the bridge, there are a number of trails. It is a small island and doesn't take too long to explore. Nevertheless, it was fun to scramble around on top and the views of the coast were outstanding. After we had crossed back to the mainland, we walked along the cliffs above Larrybane Bay to the promontory on the other end. Here we had more great views including the Ballintoy Church and a disused limestone quarry. Near this spot was the location used for filming Renly Baratheon's camp in Season 2 of “Game of Thrones”. Continuing on the Coastal Road, we had views of Rathlin Island, Ireland's only inhabited offshore island. In 1898 Morse code was transmitted from Rathlin Island to Ballycastle, marking the first commercial use of radio. [Aside: Marconi's mother was a member of the Jameson whiskey family.] The tour itinerary called for an hour stop in Ballycastle (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ballycastle,_County_Antrim) but we had spent longer than scheduled at the Giant's Causeway and the rope bridge. The drive from Ballycastle south to Larne passes through some spectacular scenery with coastal views to the left and gorgeous glens (www.discovernorthernireland.com/causeway/The-Glens-of-Antrim-A38) to the right. Gary told us stories about the glens as we went along. In Larne there is a 26 ft (8 m) metal crown in a roundabout; it was erected to commemorate Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee. From Larne, we headed inland and back to Belfast for a 45-minute city tour, which included several political wall murals and the Peace Walls. Although the 40 years of “The Troubles” officially ended in 1998, the tension that still remains between the Catholic/Nationalist/Republican and Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist factions is palpable. Some houses were flying the Union Flag (official flag of the UK) but others were flying the flag of the Republic of Ireland (associated with the Nationalists) or the Ulster Banner (associated with the Unionists). The “Peace” Walls reminded me of the dismal Israeli West Bank barrier that we saw when we visited Bethlehem. I found this part of the tour profoundly depressing. Although Gary drove us past other non-political sights in Belfast, such as the Albert Memorial Clock and the Titanic Quarter, I am not anxious to return there. This tour was everything we wanted. We had ample time to take extensive walks at both the Causeway and the rope bridge. Gary was not a guide but a driver who provided facts about the sights. He was quite good at this and we thoroughly enjoyed our tour. This evening's production show was “What the World Needs Now”. That was followed by dinner at the Crown Grill. Even though the steaks and chops cannot be grilled over an open flame, it is still outstanding; we thought the food here was much better than at Sabatini's. CRUISE DAY 6: SUN, 08/30/15 GLASGOW (GREENOCK), SCOTLAND  7:00AM – 5:30PM When we docked at the Ocean Terminal in Greenock this morning, we were greeted by rain and live bagpipe music. On our previous visit, we had taken a tour offered by the Iverclyde Tourist Group (www.inverclydetouristgroup.co.uk/content/tours/) in the morning. They offer three different free tours (5 GBP pp donation suggested) in the Greenock area. In the afternoon, we took a ship's excursion to Edinburgh for the Military Tattoo (www.edinburgh-tattoo.co.uk). On this visit, the four of us had a wonderful private tour of a lovely part of Scotland with Clyde Coast Tourism (clydecoasttourism.co.uk). John arranged the tour well in advance through their web site. Catriona Stevenson replied almost immediately and based on our port times suggested a personalized itinerary that fit our schedule. The price for four was 250 GBP or 62.50 GBP pp, not including admissions. Because of the sites we would visit over the next five days, we each purchased a Scotland Explorer Pass 3 Day Concession (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/explorer) online for 24 GBP pp. The pass yields a significant savings over paying the entry fee at each included site and allows you to skip the line at Stirling and Edinburgh Castles. For example, the normal senior entry fee at Stirling Castle is 11.60 GBP, at Urquhart Castle is 6.80 GBP and at Edinburgh Castle is 13.20 GBP, for a total of 31.20 GBP. Independent tour guides are no longer allowed to bring their vehicles into the parking lot at the Ocean Terminal gate, so we met Catriona outside the gate and walked a short distance to her car. She was dressed in the Ramsay Blue Hunting tartan, which is her grandfather's family tartan. Then we were off to Stirling Castle (www.stirlingcastle.gov.uk), where Catriona gave us a detailed guided tour. Before we actually got to the castle, we stopped for some great photos of the castle and some shaggy “Heeland Coos” (Scottish Highland Cows). We had done some homework before this trip and so were constantly peppering Catriona with questions about the important battles (Stirling Bridge, Falkirk, Bannockburn) that had taken place in this vicinity. She was able to handle our inquisitiveness and expand on what were asking. She obviously cares about Scotland and Scottish history! The exhibits at Stirling Castle are very well done and give insight into how the Scottish nobility lived. In addition to the exhibits and furnishings, there are costumed reenactors who bring the history alive. From the ramparts, we could see the National Wallace Monument overlooking the scene of the Battle of Stirling Bridge and the flagpole marking the Bruce Monument on the Bannockburn Battlefield. Stirling Castle was so interesting that we spent more time here than originally planned. Next Catriona gave us a lovely drive on the Scenic Route (A84, A85 and A82) through the spectacular scenery of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park (www.lochlomond-trossachs.org). She said that the heather was blooming at least three weeks late but now it was blooming prolifically. Not far from Stirling we passed scenic Doune Castle, which is very popular with TV and movie production companies. It played many castles in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” and the fictional Castle Leoch in the “Outlander” TV series; it was also used as a location in the pilot for “Game of Thrones”. Along the way, we saw many Rowan trees with their clusters of bright red berries. Our next stop was at beautiful Loch Lubnaig; we didn't stop long because it was raining. We continued on to the Falls of Falloch (www.world-of-waterfalls.com/europe-falls-of-falloch.html), a lovely waterfall about 30 ft (9 m) high. This is Rob Roy MacGregor country and he is reputed to have frequented these falls. Now it was time for lunch at the Drovers Inn (www.thedroversinn.co.uk) in Inverarnan near the upper end of Loch Lomond. This is an authentic pub that has been serving excellent food and ale since 1705. The Inn was frequented by the Highland drovers (like Rob Roy) who used to drive their cattle down the side of Loch Lomond to the markets. It is a quirky little place with lots of stuffed animals, including a grizzly bear. John & I ordered the beef and the pork Sunday Roast at 7.25 GBP for the light version. Just be aware that their “light” lunch is by no means small; in addition to two large slices of meat, it included a boiled potato, a roast potato, carrots, snow peas and Yorkshire pudding. To accompany the food, we had pints of Caledonia Best (a bitter) and Drovers Blonde (a lager). As a bonus, we had views of the Beinglas waterfall as it tumbles into the River Falloch behind the Inn. After that very filling lunch, we were back on the road for more scenic driving. We stopped at Inveruglas for outstanding views of Loch Lomond. Unfortunately, we were running too far behind schedule to visit the new viewpoint that had opened there earlier in the summer. We were trying to reach the Auchentoshan Whisky Distillery (www.auchentoshan.com) near Glasgow before the 3:00 p. m. tour. We were a little late (probably because we kept asking so many questions!) but, since everyone there knew Catriona, we were able to join the scheduled tour. There was another Clyde Coast Tourism group there that was being lead by Catriona's grandfather. He was wearing the Ramsay (Red) plaid kilt and a sporran. It was interesting to compare the tour here with the one at Jameson. The best part, of course, was the opportunity to taste Auchentoshan's fine whisky! Robert bought a small bottle of whisky that had been bottled today; we all enjoyed that over the next few evenings. Throughout the tour Catriona supplied light snacks and water for us. At the end of our long day, back at the port, she also provided us with a wee dram of fine Jura Whisky to toast our excellent adventure! She is a superb driver, guide and hostess. We highly recommend Clyde Coast Tourism! The ship had offered a Scottish folkloric music show earlier in the afternoon but we returned too late to catch that. As the ship prepared to depart, a Highland band performed on the quay. Tonight's show was a tribute act, “Beatles Celebration”. The performers only vaguely looked like the Beatles but they sounded pretty good and it was an enjoyable show. CRUISE DAY 7: MON, 08/31/15 AT SEA The luncheon for the “Most Traveled” (top 40 in number of days) passengers was held today in Sabatini's; we had our photo taken with Captain Bob Oliver. There are not many Elites on this cruise, so John & I easily made the 356 day cutoff. In fact we were likely in the top thirteen because we were seated with the second in command, the Staff Captain. We later learned that the first place couple had 1030 days, second place had over 1000 and third place had over 800. As usual, the food was outstanding and the wines flowed freely. Unfortunately, our table was about half Brits and half Americans; the Brits wanted to know what we all thought about the presidential race, especially Donald Trump. Let us just say that some of us do not agree with his views on immigration, while others did. Politics and lunch do not mix. Tonight was the second of two formal nights on this leg. Dinner tonight was a favorite: Escargot Bourguignon and Broiled Lobster Tail with King Prawns. Before dinner we attended a production show, “Sweet Soul Music”, in the Princess Theater followed by an “Up Close and Personal” magic show with Master Illusionist David Cats in the Vista Lounge. CRUISE DAY 8: TUE, 09/01/15 KIRKWALL, ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND 7:00AM – 4:30PM This was our first visit to the Orkney Islands (visitorkney.com). The ship docked at Hatston Pier and the Port of Kirkwall offered a complimentary shuttle service from the pier to the city center. John & I had booked a tour with with Orkney Aspects (www.orkneyaspects.co.uk/royal-princess-2015/4571336801); the web site lists specific cruise tours for individual ships. Since this is small operation their tour choices are limited; however, they covered exactly what we wanted to see in the Orkneys so they were perfect for us. The only problem is that they limit their tours to 15 people. We needed to sign up quickly! The 15-person limit makes for a more comfortable tour; we were also able to spend more time at the sites than in getting on and off a large bus. Unfortunately, Robert & Mary booked their cruise after all the spots on this tour were taken, so they chose to take the ship's excursion to Skara Brae. Our guide was Anne, who was always engaging and quite knowledgeable about the history of the sites visited as well as the flora and fauna of the area. She seemed to know all the people working at the various sites. Our tour started with a visit to St. Magnus Cathedral (www.stmagnus.org) in Kirkwall. The church was built from alternating bands of local red and yellow sandstone and houses the relics of St. Magnus Erlendsson, Earl of Orkney (martyred around 1115). The brass bell from the HMS Royal Oak, torpedoed by a German submarine in Scapa Flow in 1939, is hung in one aisle; beneath it is a Book of Remembrance to honor those who died. The cathedral also includes a monument to Arctic explorer, John Rae. Rae was sent to discover the fate of the Franklin expedition that set out to locate the North West Passage; he was vilified when he claimed that the starving crew had eventually resorted to cannibalism. However, forensic analysis of bones found in 1997 finally vindicated Rae's assertion. Anne led us through the cathedral's interior and pointed out some interesting features of the exterior, such as the wooden doors with intricate metal hinges and decorative sandstone columns that are slowly being eroded by the wind and rain. She then gave us free time to explore further (or shop) and view the ruins of the Bishop's and Earl's Palaces across the street (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_032) from the cathedral. We then drove along Scapa Flow, the world's second largest natural harbor after Australia's Sydney Harbour. This was the main British naval base in both World Wars. Ann pointed out a buoy marking the resting place of HMS Royal Oak. After WWI, 74 German naval vessels that were interned in Scapa Flow were scuttled by their crews to keep them out of British hands. Although most of the German fleet was eventually re-floated, the abundance of those and other wrecks in the harbor makes it a popular spot for divers. Orkney is full of neolithic sites and we visited four highlights of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site. Our first stop was at Skara Brae (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_244), a 5,000-year-old Neolithic Village. This is a small site next to the Bay of Skaill. Visitors walk on paths and look down into the nine excavated buildings. The remarkable thing about this site is not only its state of preservation but also that stone furniture (beds, dressers, seats) and hearths remain in place. Many artifacts are displayed in the Visitor Centre and there is a replica prehistoric house that you can go inside. Anne again walked us around and gave us free time. We ran into Robert & Mary, there on their Princess tour. If we wanted we could walk over to Skaill House (www.skaillhouse.co.uk) for a walk-through visit. We had to dodge bus loads of our fellow cruise passengers there but I was able to buy an Orcadian flag in the gift shop. Also included in our tour was “A Taste of Orkney”: a light lunch at the Birsay Bay Tearoom (www.birsaybaytearoom.co.uk) that featured only local foods. The owner is a noted baker and provided us excellent samples of her products. The lunch had both a savory and a sweet course. The savory course included ham, smoked mackerel, smoked salmon, three cheeses (smoked cheddar, farmhouse cheese, mature cheddar), three chutneys, oat cakes and a salad of local vegetables. The sweet course included bere (type of barley) scones, sultana scones, rhubarb jam, whipped cream, cake, tiffin (like a fudge) and flapjack (like a granola bar). Of course, we also had tea. I'm not sure why this is considered a light lunch! As we left Birsay, we passed the ruins of another castle used by the Earls of Orkney. Near the castle is St. Magnus Kirk. This church is built on the site of the church where St. Magnus was originally buried. When the cathedral was built in Kirkwall, his remains were transferred there. We also passed the Barony Mill, where the beremeal for our scones had been ground. Anne pointed out a stone tower that is a memorial to Lord Kitchener, Minister for War, who was on a mission to Russia when his ship, the HMS Hampshire, was sunk off the coast here in 1916. We also saw isolated standing stones scattered here and there in the fields. Our next stop was Maeshowe (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_205). This was a fascinating Neolithic chambered tomb that we were able to enter with a guide. This site has a limit on the number of daily visitors. From the outside, it just looks like a small grassy hill. We had to stoop down to pass through the 33 ft (10 m) tunnel to the central chamber, which has a standing stone in each corner. The walls of the tunnel and the floors, back walls and ceilings of the three side cells are each single, huge sandstone slabs. The walls of the central chamber are carved with runic graffiti and figures left by Norsemen who broke into the mound in the 12th century. Our guide offered translations (no doubt sanitized) of some of the inscriptions; this is the largest collection of runic inscriptions outside of Scandinavia. The guide also explained how the setting sun illuminates the back of the central chamber for three weeks before and after the Winter Solstice. After our tour, John & I climbed to the top of the mound; from there we could see the Barnhouse Stone (a standing stone that is aligned with the tunnel) in a pasture about 0.5 mile (800 m) away and the final two sites on our tour in the distance. The next site we visited was the Stones of Stenness (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/places/propertyresults/propertydetail.htm?PropID=PL_280). We were able to walk around (watching out for sheep dung) the stones both here and at the Ring of Brodgar; cruise tours typically just stop at these sites for quick photo ops. Anne even brought along a copy of the “National Geographic” issue with the Stones of Stenness on the cover (ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2014/08/neolithic-orkney/smith-text) so that we could take a photo holding the magazine where the cover shot was taken. The stone circle here is small, only about 100 ft (30 m) wide and only four of the 11 or 12 stones of the original ring still remain. It was surprising how thin these huge (19 feet or 6 m) stones are. The large circular ditch or henge that surrounds the ring is not visible today. On the way to the final site, we passed the active archeological site at the Ness of Brodgar, which was the focus of the “National Geographic” article. Unfortunately the site was closed for the season but Anne gave us some details of recent findings. The Ring of Brodgar (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertydetail.htm?PropID=PL_233) is more than three times as wide (341 ft or 104 m) as the ring at the Stones of Stenness and the henge is still evident. However, the 27 (of possibly 60) remaining stones are smaller, ranging in height from 7 ft (2.1 m) to 15 ft (4.7 m). The blooming heather here was spectacular and Anne pointed out the two different varieties. Although this tour seemed a little pricey at 128 GGP pp (about $195 pp) and was non-refundable, it included all entry fees and lunch and visited more sights than Princess' “Skara Brae & Skaill House” ($139.95 pp) and “Ring of Brodgar & Maeshowe” ($129.95 pp) tours combined. Moreover, it was impossible to take both of the Princess tours because of they way they were scheduled. We were never rushed on this wonderful tour and were able to experience the World Heritage Sites in great detail. Pat Stone is the owner and she always responded quickly to email questions. We highly recommend Orkney Aspects! Tonight's show was a new performance by the tribute act, “Beatles Celebration”--lots of good music! CRUISE DAY 9: WED, 09/02/15 INVERGORDON, SCOTLAND 7:00AM – 5:30PM Today the four of us risked our lives by renting a car from Ken's Garage (www.bannermangroup.co.uk/peugeot/rental/) and setting out on a DIY driving tour. Robert had some experience driving on the left, so he was the designated driver. Unless one is very experienced driving on the left with a manual transmission, it is a good idea to increase driving time estimates (e. g., from Google Maps) by at least one-third. Ken's has an office near the gate at the Admiralty Pier, where the ship was docked. We picked up the car there and were away shortly after 8:00 a. m. It took about an hour to drive to our first site, the Falls of Shin (www.fallsofshin.co.uk), near Bonar Bridge. There is a good viewpoint right by the falls and another further downstream along the trail. At this time of year, it is common to see salmon leaping up the falls to spawn upstream; however, we did not see any salmon today. We did see lots of tall, pink wildflowers here and all along the roadsides; we later learned that they were called rosebay willowherb. As we drove back toward Bonar Bridge, we noticed an interesting castle on the other side of the Kyle of Sutherland; we later learned that it is Carbisdale Castle. On the way to the falls, we had not bothered to stop at any of the viewpoints over Dornoch Firth because of the fog and low clouds. Now, however, the day was clearing and we stopped at the Struie viewpoint for great Highland vistas including more vast sweeps of purple heather. It took about 1.67 hours to drive to Urquhart Castle (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/propertyresults/propertyoverview.htm?PropID=PL_297) on a rocky promontory jutting into mysterious Loch Ness. Supposedly, “Nessie”, the Loch Ness Monster, lives in a cave beneath the castle but there was no sign of her today. From the Visitor Centre there is a sloped path down to the ruins of the castle; the path passes a replica of a wooden trebuchet. The majestic ruin is shaped roughly like a “B” with the two loops facing the loch; the views of the loch from the battlements of Grant Tower (in the upper loop) are terrific. We spent about 1.25 hours here exploring the various sections of the castle. We could certainly understand why this is one of Scotland’s most visited castles! Before we left, we visited the Visitor Center, where there were complimentary tastings of some Scottish products. We tried some 10-year-old Benromach, a Speyside single malt whisky. From here we drove about 1.75 hours along Loch Ness and then east to the Culloden Battlefield (www.nts.org.uk/Culloden/Home/). The Visitor Center here is not included in the Explorer Pass and the exhibitions cost 8.50 GBP pp (senior rate); parking costs 2 GBP and entry to the battlefield itself is free. We were only interested in making a short visit, so we simply parked and walked around the site for about a half hour. The 1746 battle was the final confrontation of the unsuccessful Jacobite rising, which attempted to restore the British throne to the exiled House of Stuart. The last hand-to-hand battle fought on British soil, it was a short (less than an hour) and bloody one; British casualties numbered around 300 and Jacobite (mostly Highlander) casualties are estimated at 1,500 to 2,000. This overwhelming defeat and laws passed after the British victory led to the destruction of traditional Gaelic culture and ways of life. Some of the monuments that we saw on the battlefield were the Memorial Cairn, stones marking the burial places of each clan and the Well of the Dead, where the Chief of the MacGillivrays fell. The old Leanach cottage, with a heather-thatched roof, survived the battle; it has been restored several times. This historic wind-swept moor is a sobering place to visit. From the battlefield, we drove for only 10 minutes (but 4,000 years into the past) to Clava Cairns (www.historic-scotland.gov.uk/index/places/propertyresults/propertydetail.htm?PropID=PL_067). This site (free and always open) is a small Bronze Age cemetery in a lovely wooded setting. The three large tombs here are different from others found in northern Britain, which usually incorporate standing stones into the facade or to support the central chamber. Here the standing stones are arranged in a ring around each cairn. A road passes through one of the rings, so one stone is in the fence surrounding the property and another is on the other side of the road. The arrangement of the stones and the passageways into the tombs appear to be oriented to the sunset on the Winter Solstice, like at Maeshowe. There is also a small “Kerb Cairn”, marked by a circle of boulders, and four other mounds nearby that are not open to the public. Although this is a tiny site compared to the ones we visited in the Orkneys, it is quite impressive and worth a visit if you are in the area. From the cairns, it was about a 20-minute drive to our final stop, Cawdor Castle (www.cawdorcastle.com). The self-guided tour here costs 9.50 GBP (senior rate) and includes the 600-year-old castle and the grounds. Although Shakespeare awards Macbeth the title “Thane of Cawdor”, the events in the play took place around 1040 and the first Thane of Cawdor was not appointed until abut 1180. Set on the stream of Cawdor Burn, the castle boasts a central keep and drawbridge and is still home to the Cawdor family. It is attractively decorated with 17th-century furnishings; no photographs are allowed inside. After touring the castle, we first visited the Walled Garden, which includes a holly maze and knot garden. After that, we strolled in the Flower Garden, where there were lots of plants in bloom and some outdoor sculptures. We spent about 1.33 hours here. Although we thought at first that this might be a tourist trap, Cawdor Castle turned out to be very interesting (but, alas, crowded with our fellow cruise passengers on ship's tours). It took about an hour to drive back to Invergordon. After filling up the car, we returned it to the dock around 4:30 p. m.; poor Robert had mastered Scottish roads and driven 160 miles. There is a nice gift shop right on the pier and we spent a little time there before reboarding the ship. [Note: The costs for our rental car included 70 GBP for the car plus insurance, 2 GP for parking and 15 GBP for fuel; that totals 87 GBP or 21.75 GBP pp. Adding the cost of Urquhart (8.50 GBP) and Cawdor (9.50 GBP) Castles would bring the per-person total to 39.75 GBP or about $60 pp. For comparison, Princess' “Loch Ness, Urquhart & Cawdor Castles” tour was $209.95 but included lunch.] We had told our Headwaiter, Leonard, how much we all enjoy escargot. Tonight, he arranged for us to have Escargot Bourguignon again as an appetizer. CRUISE DAY 10: THU, 09/03/15 EDINBURGH (SOUTH QUEENSFERRY), SCOTLAND TENDER 7:00AM – 6:00PM This morning, the ship sailed up the Firth of Forth and anchored near the Forth Bridge; this was our only tender port. The Forth Bridge (whc.unesco.org/en/list/1485) is a sight in its own right and we had good views from the ship and tender dock. John & I were planning to visit three literal high spots in Edinburgh while Robert & Mary (who are avid golfers) took Princess' “St. Andrews Home of Golf” tour for $79.95 pp. After tendering into South Queensferry at Hawes Pier, we walked approximately 0.5 mile (0.8 km) to the Dalmeney Station. To get there, turn left from the tender dock and walk up Newhalls Road a short way until you see the signs for the station pointing to the right. Keep following the signs up the infamous stairs (about 110 steps) and along a path to reach the station. The Dalmeney Station is on the Fife-Edinburgh Line; trains to Edinburgh Waverley run about very 20 minutes (www.scotrail.co.uk/sites/default/files/assets/download_ct/sr1505_edinburgh_-_fife.pdf). The trip takes about 20 minutes and costs 7.90 GBP pp round-trip. [Note: Princess' “Edinburgh on Your Own” tour costs $69.95 pp. A local company also offers a shuttle to Edinburgh for about 10 GBP pp round-trip.] We arrived in Edinburgh about 8:20 a. m., exited the station up the escalators to Princes Street, then turned right on Princes Street a short distance to the steps leading up to to the first high point on our tour, Calton Hill (338 ft or 103 m). Climbing to the top of Calton Hill rewarded us with a wonderful panoramic view of iconic Edinburgh sights such as Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Arthur's Seat. There are a number of interesting monuments on top, such as the National Monument (modeled on the Parthenon), Nelson Monument (shaped like a telescope) and the Dugald Stewart Monument (circular temple of nine fluted columns). There are also two astronomical observatories on Calton Hill. We retraced our steps back down the hill and followed Princes Street to East Princes Street Garden. You know you are at the gardens when you see the dark, Gothic Scott Monument, dedicated to Sir Walter Scott. Next to the monument is a statue of the African missionary and explorer, David Livingstone; there are many other statues of famous Scots in the garden. We strolled through the gardens to the West Princes Street Garden. That entrance is marked by an ornate monument to the poet Allan Ramsay. Along the stairs behind the Ramsay monument is the floral clock. Constructed in 1903, it was the first of its kind in the world; a new themed display is planted every year. The theme for 2015 is a tribute to Edinburgh's 10th anniversary as the world’s first UNESCO City of Literature. As in the eastern part of the garden, there are many memorials to famous Scots. Throughout our stroll we had great views of Edinburgh Castle (www.edinburghcastle.gov.uk), perched high on a volcanic plug, Castle Rock (430 ft or 130 m), our second high point. At the far west end of the garden, past the ornate cast-iron Ross Fountain, is a bridge across the railway tracks to the paths leading up to Edinburgh Castle. We followed the path to the right (above King's Stables Road), to Johnston terrace and then up the steps at Castle Wynd North to the Castle Esplanade. Here we encountered hordes of tourists waiting for the castle to open at 9:30 a. m.; people with passes and on organized tours were on the left and those who needed to buy tickets were on the right. A kilted tour guide did not like us being so close to his group, so he sent us and some others with pre-paid tickets up to the front of that line; fine with us! Once the stampede to the castle gates started, John & I took off and we were the first people to pass through the gates. Thanks to our Scotland Explorer Pass, we could head directly through the Portcullis Gate to the top level of the castle and the most popular exhibit, the Scottish Crown Jewels. The Honours of Scotland are the oldest regalia in the British Isle; they date from the late 15th and early 16th century. The crown, sword and scepter are suitably extravagant and there are some other items, such as a jeweled collar, on display. However, to me the most interesting item was the Stone of Scone, AKA the Stone of Destiny. For hundreds of years, the stone was used in the coronation ceremony for Scottish monarchs. Edward I captured the stone after the Battle of Dunbar and took it to Westminster Abbey, where it was built into the Coronation Chair. The stone was returned to Scotland in 1996. After visiting the Crown Room, we toured the Royal Palace and the Scottish National War Memorial, which honors all Scots who died in conflicts since 1914. Next was the Great Hall, which has a lot of swords and suits of armor. There were two Scottish Regimental flags from the Battle of Waterloo, on limited display to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle. We descended past the Half-Moon and Forewall Batteries. From here we had good views of Edinburgh, the viewing stands for the Military Tattoo and the growing ticket queue. Lower down was Mons Meg, a siege gun that could fire gunstones weighing 331 lbs (150 kg) for up to 2 miles (3.2km). On this same level is the oldest building in the Castle, St. Margaret's Chapel (1130), and a view of the Dog Cemetery, where soldiers buried their pets. We continued to descend past the Argyle Battery, which is just above the Portcullis Gate. Next was the One o'clock Gun Exhibition; a gun has been fired here since 1861 as a time signal to shipping in the Firth of Forth. Finally, we went to the Western Battlements for spectacular views to the west of Edinburgh from the ramparts. As we left the castle, we saw that the ticket queue was now staggeringly long; we felt sorry for those who had not bought tickets in advance. The Royal Mile (www.aboutscotland.com/edin/royal.html) links Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace. There are many historic buildings and monuments, as well as restaurants, souvenir shops and other attractions, along the Royal Mile. There were once several tollbooths (where taxes were collected) along this street; the site of one is marked by the Heart of Midlothian, a heart shape set into the cobble stones, and another by a clock that projects out over the street. I was happy to find a shop that sold flags and purchased a Flag of Ulster to represent Northern Ireland in my collection; I would have preferred the Flag of St. Patrick, which is slightly less controversial. At the end of the Royal Mile are the Holyrood Palace and the modernistic Parliament Building. It is about 1 mile (1.6 km) from the end of the Royal Mile to the highest (825 ft or 251 m) of the three high points on our tour, Arthur's Seat (www.walkhighlands.co.uk/lothian/arthurs-seat.shtml). There are many trails to the top; some are even shown on Google Street View. We started off along the wide paved path angling up from Queen's Drive, across the street from the parking lot behind Holyrood Palace. From there, we followed the path past the turnoff to St. Anthony's Chapel and up to the summit. While the distance is not that great, the climb is moderate to strenuous; it is more difficult near the summit. Once at at the top, the views are spectacular; we could even see the top of the Forth Bridge! In addition to a small marker at the summit, there is a plaque indicating the sights in all directions. It was extremely windy and it also looked like bad weather was coming. We had intended to climb down by a path that would take us by the Salisbury Crags. However, we did not want to be caught at a high elevation in a thunderstorm. Instead, we backtracked and took the side trail to St. Anthony's Chapel. The ruins of this small 15th-century chapel are more impressive from close up. We walked back to Waverley Station and caught the 12:41 p. m. train back to Dalmeney Station. The return ride was only 15 minutes but it was nice to get a brief chance to sit down. When we returned to the tender dock, there was only a short wait and we were back on the ship by about 1:30 p. m. The story was not the same for Robert & Mary. First, their afternoon tour was delayed because the same buses were used for both the morning and afternoon tours. At St. Andrew's, they were not able to visit the British Golf Museum because their guide told them to go there last, right before returning to the bus. However, the last entry to the museum was 45 minutes before the closing time, so everyone who listened to the guide was out of luck. Then all of the afternoon tours arrived back at the tender dock at approximately the same time and there was a horrendous queue to board a tender back to the ship. They finally made it on board at about 6:30 p. m. Robert & Mary's late return would normally not have been a problem, given our regular 8:15 p. m. dining time. Tonight, however, the four of us were scheduled to attend the Winemaker's Dinner at 7:00 p. m. We were all supposed to meet the rest of the group in Bellini's at 6:45 p. m. and proceed to the special wine room in the Concerto Dining Room. John & I went down and explained the situation, so a member of the dining staff was assigned to wait for Robert & Mary and bring them to join the rest of the group when they finally arrived. Fortunately, they only missed a few minutes of the introduction to the dinner. Why the Maitre d' scheduled this special dinner on the evening of a tender port is beyond my comprehension. The Wine Maker's Dinner ($40 pp) is a four course dinner, paired with two wines from one of three producers. For our dinner, the wines were both from Folio Fine Wine Partners, a company affiliated with Michael Mondavi: Donnafugata Anthilia and Petite Sirah Spellbound. The menu changes according to the inspirations of the Executive Chef and tonight's selections were outstanding. After dinner, we were treated to Errazuriz Late Harvest dessert wine and serenaded by a group of singing waiters. The only complaint I had was that (unlike at the Chef's Table) a specialty coffee commanded an extra charge; that seems a little chintzy to me. CRUISE DAY 11: FRI, 09/04/15 AT SEA This was a relaxing day at sea for us; Robert & Mary had to pack for their post-cruise stay in London. Before dinner, we attended a production show in the Princess Theater, “Spectacular”. That was followed by one of three parties in the Vista Lounge for Platinum and Elite Captain's Circle members. CRUISE DAY 12: SAT, 09/05/15 LE HAVRE, FRANCE 7:00AM – 7:30PM This morning the Royal Princess docked at the Terminal Croisiere on Quai Roger Meunier. The Costa Luminosa and the Azores were also in port today. Princess offered a shuttle service to downtown Le Havre for $16 pp round-trip. The drop-off point was about 2 miles (3 km) from the ship on Rue de Paris near the intersection with Quai George V. On a previous port call in Le Havre, John & I had visited the D-Day landing beaches. Today we would be touring Mont St-Michel and Bayeux with Robert & Mary. We were told it was necessary to bring our passports ashore with us. We had reserved a Category A car at the pier with Rent-A-Car (www.rentacar.fr) for 90 EUR. This location is supposed to accept credit cards but one must be prepared to pay in cash if the smart phone card reader cannot pick up a satellite connection. The rental counter is normally open only from 8:00-11:00 a. m. and 6:30-7:30 p. m. on days that ships call at Le Havre; because our all-aboard time was 7:30 p. m., the counter would be open longer this evening, from 6:00-7:30 p. m. There is no drop box, so if you return the car outside those hours, you will need to come back to the counter to return the keys and rental agreement. Be sure to have your passport as well as your driver's license! [Note: Reservations cannot be made for Sundays via the web site; email the location directly at le_havre@rentacar.fr instead.] Although the four of us left the ship at 7:45 a. m., there was already another group ahead of us when we arrived at the rental counter. We received a free upgrade to a Renault Clio, which is very underpowered. Although we brought along our Garmin GPS (equipped with a Europe chip), that was of almost no help in the dock area or the city of Le Havre because none of the streets there have street signs and because of road construction. It is best to listen to the rental agent's instructions: head straight out of the cruise terminal until you reach the water, turn left and cross a small bridge, go through a short tunnel, enter a roundabout and take the exit marked “Toutes Directions”. After that, you can follow the highway signs, your maps or GPS. We were finally on our way at 8:30 a. m. We tried following the ship's tour buses, most of which were heading either to Paris or to the Normandy landing beaches. Unfortunately, we got messed up at a roundabout and ended up in the middle of road construction in the Le Havre city center. We eventually spotted a “Toutes Directions” sign and found the toll highway heading south. After that, we did not have any problems except that the Corsa could barely make it up and over the Pont de Normandie. We were fortunate that today was mostly sunny. Even before we reached the Mont St-Michel visitor center (www.bienvenueaumontsaintmichel.com/en), we had dramatic views across the fields of the town and its famous abbey. The abbey is a three-level 13th-century Gothic extravaganza built atop a volcanic core, surrounded by the city walls and topped with the pointed spire of the abbey church bearing a golden statue of St. Michael the Archangel. The town and abbey are on an island connected to the mainland by a 1.6 mile (2.5 km) long causeway. In the past, the island was surrounded by water at high tide; because of silting, this now occurs only a few times a year. We arrived at about 11:30 a. m., parked near the visitor center on the mainland and caught the shuttle bus (included in the 12.50 EUR/car parking fee) to the end of the causeway and the town of Mont St-Michel (www.ot-montsaintmichel.com/index.htm?lang=en). Visitors enter through the Porte de l'Avancée (the main gate); the Tourist Office is on the left and the town's main street, Grande Rue is to the right. The Grande Rue is lined with souvenir shops, places to eat, a few hotels and a couple of other small attractions. After crossing through the Boulevard Gate (with arrow slits) and the King’s Gate (with the portcullis), we took the steps on the right up to the ramparts instead of continuing up the Grande Rue. We climbed along the ramparts and up the staircases to the forecourt of the abbey. Admission to the Abbaye du Mont St-Michel (mont-saint-michel.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/) is 9 EUR pp and includes a guided tour. Most of the tours are conducted in French and the next English tour did not work with our time frame. However. there is an excellent audioguide (4 EUR for one or 6 EUR for two) that gives a thorough but not excessive explanation of the main features of the abbey; those who might want more detail are invited to press more buttons to hear further specifics. There is also a free brochure-guide, available in 10 languages. Visitors enter the abbey through the Salle des Gardes (Guard Room) and proceed up the Grand Degre (grand staircase) to the West Terrace on the top level; there are wonderful views from here. Below the terrace, to the north, is the abbey garden. The tour proceeds into the Église Abbatiale (abbey church), which was built on the rocky tip of the volcanic core. It is a mixture of styles: the nave and south transept are Norman Romanesque, while the choir is Flamboyant Gothic. The visit continues into the north wing of the abbey, known as La Merveille (the Marvel), a three-story collection of rooms and passageways. The top level consists of the Cloître (cloister), with 220 delicately carved arches in double alternating rows, and the Réfectoire (dining hall). The other two levels of La Merveille are directly under those two rooms. A stairway takes you down to the middle level. On a landing, a carving depicts the Archangel Michael touching the forehead of St. Aubert, the bishop of Avranches in the 8th century. According to legend, the Archangel appeared to him three times with the command to build an oratory on what was then called Mont Tombe. Aubert did not pay attention until the third visit, when the Archangel used his finger to burn a hole in Aubert's skull. The remains of the oratory were found in the chapel Notre-Dame-Sous-Terre (not on our tour) in the late 19th century. Directly under the refectory is the Salle des Hôtes (Guest Hall), a reception room for distinguished guests, which has two enormous fireplaces. The tour continues through the Crypte des Gros Piliers (Crypt of Huge Pillars) whose 10 columns, 16 ft (5 m) in circumference, support the choir of the abbey church. The next room is the Chapelle de St-Martin, which supports the south transept of the church. Next is the former Ossuaire (monks's ossuary), which now houses a large wheel that was used to hoist supplies for the inmates when the abbey was used as a prison in the 19th century. The prisoners would walk inside like hamsters in an exercise wheel. That is followed by the Chapelle de St-Etienne, the chapel used for funeral services. Stairs lead up to the Galerie Nord-Sud (covered walk). The walk leads into the Mont's grandest chamber, the imposing Gothic Salle des Chevaliers (Knights' Hall). Built to hold up the cloister, this was where the monks worked and studied. Stairs lead down to the Aumônerie (under the Salle des Hotes) on the lowest level. The monks gave alms to the poor and welcomed pilgrims in this large columned hall, which marks the end of the tour. At several places on the tour we saw huge parts of a golden dragon: talons, eagle head, serpent tail; I have not been able to find out whether this is some sort of artwork or just a prop for the after-dark tours that are held in the summer. We walked back down the Grande Rue and returned to the car around 1:30 p. m. Next we headed to Bayeux (bayeux-bessin-tourisme.com), arriving via some particularly narrow French lanes about 3:00 p. m. The tourist information web site says that there is free parking at the Parc Michel d'Ornano. However, that is a bad translation: “free” means “available”, not “at no charge”. However, our short stay in the lot only cost 2 EUR. The parking lot is only a short distance from the Bayeux Cathedral and several museums. The primary reason to visit Bayeux is to view the famous Bayeux Tapestry (actually a work of embroidery) that tells the story of events leading up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and the conquest of England by William the Conqueror. The 226 foot (69 m) long and 20 inch (0.5m) high tapestry was embroidered on four joined panels of linen fabric. The Bayeux Tapestry Museum (www.tapsserie-bayeux.fr/index.php?id=3) was specially constructed to preserve the tapestry and enable visitors to view the entire length at eye level. The 9 EUR pp admission fee includes a fantastic audioguide that talks the visitor along the length of the tapestry, explaining the meaning of each of the 58 scenes and pointing out important details. (One detail of special interest to us was the scene showing the appearance of Halley's Comet, interpreted as a bad omen for King Harold.) This approach keeps the visitors moving along at a slow but steady pace so that one can see and appreciate each scene without being rushed or blocked by other visitors. After viewing the tapestry, visitors can go to a gallery upstairs that has exhibits on the history of the tapestry and how it was produced. Mary & I both enjoy embroidery, so it was interesting to learn about topics such as the dyes and stitches used. There are also exhibits of weapons and body armor. Although small, this is a very impressive museum. We kept marveling that here we are literally two feet away from this justifiably famous and gorgeous work of history and art. Bayeuex's cathedral, Notre-Dame de Bayeux, is another exuberant mixture of Romanesque- and Gothic-style spires and statues. After viewing the elaborate exterior, we went inside (free). However, we only had a few views from inside the entrance because there was a wedding in progress near the main altar and we did not want to cause a distraction. By now, it had started to rain lightly. On the way back to Le Havre, it rained much harder but it eventually slacked off and we were rewarded with a beautiful rainbow. When renting a car for a DIY shore excursion, we always plan to return to the pier about 1.5 hours before the “all aboard” time to allow for unforeseen contingencies; it was now about 4:30 p. m. and we expected it to take about a 1.5 hours to drive back to Le Havre, refuel the car and return it to the pier. Before leaving the US, I had identified a gas station just off the toll road and on a street leading directly back to the port. However, when we got there the station was locked up tight and there was no pay-at-the-pump. Fortunately, the Garmin was able to locate another station a few miles away; we found that station and refueled. We made it back to the dock at about 6:15 p. m. just as all the tour buses were returning. The lines to reboard the ship were gigantic and kept getting longer as new buses arrived. Although this was merely an inconvenience for us, it must have been a real hardship for those with difficulties walking or standing for long periods of time. Tonight we enjoyed our last evening with Robert & Mary. They would be disembarking tomorrow to take a National Express bus to London and spend a few days there before flying home to Virginia. John & I would be going home the easy way—we were staying aboard for the 15-day transatlantic voyage to Ft. Lauderdale, followed by a short flight from FLL to RDU. We celebrated the conclusion of this wonderful cruise by starting our meal with a bottle of sparkling wine. After seeing mussels advertised at a number of restaurants in France, Moules Marinieres were on the menu tonight! During dinner, the four of us vowed to travel together again soon—maybe on a river cruise through central Europe. In any case, we were sure we would be getting together again in the near future back home. TURNAROUND DAY: SUN, 09/06 SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - ALL ABOARD 4:30PM On a previous turnaround day in Southampton, we had taken a DIY excursion to Bath by train (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/Destinations/Top-destinations/Bath). This time, we planned to make a DIY tour of Winchester (www.visitwinchester.co.uk). A full description of that excursion can be found on Cruise Critic in my review of the transatlantic leg of our cruise. The British Isles is an outstanding (if a bit exhausting) itinerary and we were happy with all of our shared and DIY excursions. We were also pleased that we could entice Robert & Mary into sailing with us and sharing this fantastic experience. Outside of some minor issues, the only real disappointment was missing the port call at Guernsey. However, we did get to call at Orkney, which is another port often missed due to bad weather. Although there have been many negative comments about the Royal Princess made on Cruise Critic, the only major issue for us was the lack of midships stairs connecting the upper decks to the Piazza. We thought that the food (especially Alfredo's and the immense variety in the Horizon Court) and entertainment were equal to or better than we have experienced on other Princess ships. Certainly there are many differences between this ship and the older Princess ships; each person must decide for him/herself whether the pros outweigh the cons. How boring it would be if every ship were exactly the same and no innovations were ever introduced! Read Less
14 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
Pacific Princess was amazing. Clean, friendly ship with very, very good food. We took a "mini suite" because it was us and 2 kids - the bathroom was spacious by cruise standards and the shower pressure amazing! We enjoyed the ... Read More
Pacific Princess was amazing. Clean, friendly ship with very, very good food. We took a "mini suite" because it was us and 2 kids - the bathroom was spacious by cruise standards and the shower pressure amazing! We enjoyed the informational lectures, the excursions were well run and organized (if you can, do the Menhenhall Glacier helicopter tour and dog sledding one, you won't be disappointed!!). From embarkation to disembarkation, we had a great experience. We got on ship and were greeted by our very courteous and friendly room steward, who brought us champagne and kept our ice refilled nightly. Couple of points - Sabatini's (specialty restaurant) was good but not great, however the Crown Grill (steakhouse) was amazing, some of the best steak I ever had. Loved the pizza ovens by day and waffle station in the morning. Food was plentiful and excellent, best on any ship I have ever had. The port excursions were wonderful. Children's clubs were good. One thing to keep in mind -the ship has a self service laundromat! Had I known that, I would have packed less. Despite it being August, take a down jacket and even a lap blanket if you want to enjoy the balcony. All in all, an amazing vacation!!! Read Less
17 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
We went on a seven day cruise to Alaska that departed from Seattle on the Ruby Princess. I just thought I would share my thoughts both good and bad on the experience. • Embarkation/Disembarkation procedures – I have to admit that ... Read More
We went on a seven day cruise to Alaska that departed from Seattle on the Ruby Princess. I just thought I would share my thoughts both good and bad on the experience. • Embarkation/Disembarkation procedures – I have to admit that Princess does a very good job of making the boarding process as painless as possible. When boarding they move you from area to area in a fairly quick process especially given the thousands of people they are trying to get on board in a very tight window. We chose to handle our own bags leaving the ship and it afforded us the opportunity to be some of the first people off the ship, which to us was much better than sitting around for hours waiting to disembark. • Cruise Ship/Staff - The cruise ship is large, clean and the staff as on most cruise lines are very attentive and display a high level of customer service. • Cabin - We were in mini-suite D501 (Dolphin Deck) which is conveniently located near the middle of the ship. We did this in an attempt to cut down on any turbulence we might experience, but unfortunately my wife still got sea sick due to gale force winds that swept in for a few days. Again, this is not the fault of Princess Cruise Lines in any way. One thing to note is that this specific room is directly across from the storage area used by the room stewards. There was a probably bit more noise due to our close proximity, but I would not say that it impeded upon our holiday in any way. I am simply identifying this in case it might be an issue with someone else. • Days at Sea - Over the 7 day cruise we spent over 3 days at sea. Given that you are in Alaska it is not quite as fun to be “at sea” as it is on a Caribbean cruise with warm weather and plenty of “pool activities” to keep you busy. Of course the cruise line offers the obligatory trivia contests and bingo games, but you can only do this so often before boredom sets in. Again, this is not the fault of Princess Cruise lines but it might be something that people would want to consider before booking an Alaskan vacation. • Ketchikan - The first port we arrived at was Ketchican and I booked a salmon fishing trip. It lasted about 4-5 hours and we caught a few salmon and rock fish. The highlight of the trip was when the captain asked if he could use one of the rock fish to try and attract a bald eagle to come close to the ship. He began waiving the fish in the air and within 30 seconds, two majestic bald eagles circled the boat. The captain threw the rock fish into the water and one of the bald eagles swooped in and carried it away. This alone was perhaps worth the price of the excursion. Unfortunately, my wife does not fish so she spent the day attempting to sight see around Ketchican and this is where the disappointment began. Sadly, this port (and the other two Alaskan ports we visited) are nothing but the typical tourist traps with very little to see other than jewelry stores, t-shirt/gift shops, and or bars/restaurants. You can walk the entire town of Ketchican within 15 minutes if you are not into perusing the same souvenir shops from port to port. I cannot state this emphatically enough... There is nothing much to do in any of the ports so I strongly suggest that you book an excursion that will give you some unique sense of nature. Whale watching, dog sledding or bear watching are all recommended because they are things that you will have a hard time doing anywhere else. Simply relying on a visit to the port towns will probably be a disappointment to anyone who has cruised or traveled extensively. • Tracy Arm Fjord – You don’t dock here and simply sail about the area to see the glacier for four hours. This should have been one of the highlights of our cruise, but again, through no fault of the people at Princess Cruise lines someone got ill on board which forced the captain to bypass this part of our trip and head directly to port in Juneau. I do not think that any reasonable person could fault the captain for making this decision, but it certainly removed one of the most important and potentially beautiful portions of our trip. • Juneau – The biggest port that you will see that is nonetheless covered with gift shops, jewelry stores and a few bars and restaurants. We went whale watching and it was incredible. We must have come in contact with 20-25 whales some of which were bubble feeding and we were lucky enough to see one breach, or in common parlance, leap out of the water. Again, given this experience and the lack of anything truly interesting to do in Juneau it just reinforces my feeling that any person going on cruise to Alaska should budget enough money to go on unique excursions that encompass the local flora and fauna. • Excursions - Please make sure to review the excursions and associated pricing in advance. The excursions offered range from just under $100 per person to well over $1,000 per person. As you can imagine you can spend a lot of additional money to get the right experience, but this is the same situation you would face on any cruise line. I am simply pointing this out if you have never cruised before. • Skagway – This town has perhaps the most “old world” feel to it that you might be expecting if you have never visited Alaska before, but it is still mostly populated by the obligatory jewelry and souvenir shops. Additionally, unless you are very old or infirmed I would NOT recommend that you take the White-Pass railroad excursion or the other railroad trip that is offered. In all honesty, there is nothing much to experience other than sitting on a slow moving train for a few hours as it meanders through some hills covered in green trees. There is nothing offensive about the trip, but you should expect that the area will be covered in fog and that it will be difficult to see anything. The tour guide offered to sell us a DVD showing a video from a previous trip which in his words “was taken on one of the few days in which the mountain was not covered in fog”. My advice is that you spend your money on something else as this excursion was a major disappointment. • Victoria BC – I am not even sure why this port is included on a cruise to Alaska. It is a nice, clean city that is typical of many in Canada, but there is nothing much to see other than an old ornate hotel called “The Empress”. The cruise ship does not arrive into Victoria until 7:00 PM on the last night of the cruise and it departs again somewhere around midnight. Again, this gives you plenty of time to see anything you might want in Victoria, but due to the limited options it is a port that could easily have been skipped. If you look at it on a map you will see that it is just across the bay from Everett Washington and that it is also very close to Seattle. It seems to me that it is not much more than an afterthought and that it was added simply so that the cruise line could claim that you had another port to visit. Other Comments In No Particular Order: 1. Ports of call - Realistically, you only have three ports of call in Alaska on a seven day cruise which in my opinion is not enough, especially given the price you pay for a cruise. 2. No Balcony Necessary - I hope people believe this, but it is not worth the extra price to pay for a balcony. While sailing on the inside passage you will see nothing other than open sea; or green, rolling hills as you travel up and down the coast of Canada and Alaska. We did not see one eagle, whale, or bear along the way. As cited above, we were not able to visit Tracy Arm Fjord which probably would have been great to see from a balcony, but that portion of the trip was only to last for four hours. Given the extra expense you pay for a balcony or mini-suite it might be wise to save the money and simply go up on deck for the four hours you will be visiting Tracy Arm Fjord. Trust me, there is nothing extra to see from a balcony during any other part of your cruise. 3. Internet – In room internet access using your own device is extremely expensive. It costs $73.00 for 120 minutes to $253.00 for 1,100 minutes. The do have an “internet cafe” on board, but I NEVER saw anyone using any of the computers. I do not know what the charge is for that service but I imagine that it must have been fairly hefty since no one on board was taking part. 4. Phone Service - I have a Verizon iPhone and the Princess website indicates that you need to set up a separate service with a Maritime provider if you want to be able to use your phone on board. I went through this process, but I was always on “roaming” while on the ship and sometimes I was even without service. I cannot guarantee how things will work for you, but my phone did get a Verizon signal while on land in each port. 5. Non-alcoholic beverages – Sodas and non-alcoholic beverages are not free on board. I believe that they charge about $2.00 per soda unless you pay for a separate service that gets you unlimited soda and non-alcoholic beverages. The cost per person is $7.00 per day and they put a little sticker on your electronic room card to identify that you have paid this fee. Believe me…you cannot get a free soda without them checking for this sticker and it almost felt like we were dealing with the soda police for some reason. We frequently ate at the on-board buffet and the irksome thing is that it does not appear that they have any soda stations in the confines of the buffet dining room. Once you get your food and go to your table the server takes your drink order. Where they actually have to go to get a soda in unknown to me, but invariably it took them so long that I would be more than halfway finished with my dinner before they returned. Forget about getting a re-fill as you will most assuredly be finished with your desert by the time it arrives. Iced Tea and water are offered free of charge, but this $7.00 daily fee for soda seems punitive, restrictive, and in my opinion it exists for no real reason other than to boost the profits of the cruise line. You can get coffee in restaurants and buffet areas for free, but they have an on-board desert and coffee shop and at that station you have to pay for the coffee. I guess they consider this to be “specialty coffee” so they feel justified in applying an additional charge. Strangely, the desert at this station is free, but the coffee is not…UNLESS you pay another fee that covers your “specialty” coffee for the week. (This is above and beyond the one you may already have bought for the soda!) 6. Shopping Expert – There is a cruise ship employee on board that has been specifically set up to help you “shop” while you are in port. The cruise ship encourages everyone on board to visit with this person to get his expert advice and to even schedule private shopping experiences with him while in port. They assure you that this person will help you "get a great deal". Certain stores in the ports you will visit will be very frank and tell you that they are expected to pay the cruise line some sort of “commission” payment in return for the cruise line steering passengers to their facility. I am quite confident that it must be fairly lucrative endeavor for the cruise lines, but for some reason this blatant push on the part of the cruise line to work with their “shopping” expert bothered me. Perhaps I am being too picky or jaded or whatever you would like to call it, but being herded to those shops that pay the highest commission (some may call it kickbacks) to the cruise lines stinks. 7. Nickel and Diming – Perhaps this goes back to my issue with having to buy separate “stickers” in order to get soda or specialty coffees, but it seems like you are getting “nickel and dimed” at every turn. At nearly every dinner in the buffet a person walked around pushing a beverage cart with wines and alcoholic beverages trying to convince us that the wonderful wine they were selling would be a great complement to what we were eating. As another example, we decided to play Bingo one afternoon and gladly paid the associated $20.00 fee for three cards covering four games. Having to pay $5.00 for a $.79 cent highlighter, however, seems to be a bit excessive. Coupling this with the exorbitant internet fee, the soda fee, and the coffee fee just left a bad taste in my mouth. The ship also has a separate section set up to meet with Cruise Specialists that will help you book your next Princess cruise and take deposits at a reduced rate. Obviously, adding this area to the ship is a business decision on the part of the owners of Princess Cruise lines but it seemed to bother me that they were already trying to sell me on my next cruise before I had even finished my first one with them. The Ruby Princess is a beautiful ship with nice employees and with the exception of the “nickel and diming” that goes on you get everything that is listed on their website. Perhaps my expectations were too high, but I did not find it to be the “dream” vacation I had envisioned. Nearly everyone I had ever spoken to told me that their Alaskan cruise was one of the best vacations they had ever been on, but I am unfortunately unable to make this statement. Was it a nice trip? Yes. Was it one of the best vacations of all time? Sadly, no. I hope this helps and that my comments do not come across as too curmudgeonly. I am only trying to give you a fresh perspective from someone that just returned from an Alaskan cruise. Read Less
2 Helpful Votes
Sail Date: August 2015
Having been on Princess before I expected more! The dining room food was okay. We ate most of our meals in the dining room, had one dinner in the Crown Grill, which was nice! Did not eat the buffet except on the first day. We traveled ... Read More
Having been on Princess before I expected more! The dining room food was okay. We ate most of our meals in the dining room, had one dinner in the Crown Grill, which was nice! Did not eat the buffet except on the first day. We traveled with family so we opted for an inside room because we knew we would be together on the ship elsewhere most of the time. The room was fine. We were most excited about Tracy Arm however because of a medical problem we were not able to do that part. I heard a lot of passengers complaining that day! It is very disappointing to book a cruise and not get what you expected. The ports of call were Ketchikan, Juneau, Skagway, and Victoria. We did our own excursions except for Skagway where we did the train. I thought the Mendenhall Glacier was the best of all the things we did. We took a bus and explored on our own. I probably will not do another Princess cruise. I felt that the service was not as good as before. Read Less
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