This review includes information on our May 31, 2018, Fire & Ice Explorer transatlantic cruise on the Pacific Princess. We combined this cruise with the Pacific Princess’ June 18 Midnight Sun, Spitsbergen & Summer Solstice cruise; I have written a separate review for that cruise.
CRUISE ITINERARY: FIRE & ICE EXPLORER (18 DAYS)
Port Everglades, FL; New York (Manhattan), NY; St Pierre et Miquelon, French Overseas Territory (canceled); Reykjavik, Iceland; Isafjordur, Iceland; Akureyri, Iceland; Scrabster, Scotland (canceled); Dundee, Scotland (canceled); Belfast, Northern Ireland (added); Dover, England
We had previously visited all of these ports in 2009, except Scrabster and Dundee, on other cruises. Unfortunately, those two port calls and also the port call in St Pierre were canceled due to bad weather. Belfast was added to the itinerary to replace the Scottish ports; we had been there previously on a British Isles cruise in 2010. Our reviews of those ports can be found in these cruise reviews:
Isafjordur, Akureyri: www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=58425
Reykjavik, St Pierre et Miquelon: www.cruisecritic.com/memberreviews/memberreview.cfm?EntryID=58427
John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our late 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 would not need to acquire any flags.
We enjoy both cruises and land tours; often our trips combine the two. We have cruised to or toured all seven continents, primarily in the Americas and Europe. 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, with over 600 days cruising on Princess. We have also sailed with Celebrity, Holland America, Royal Caribbean, Costa, Viking River and Commodore.
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, private 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.
REVIEW OF THE CRUISE
WED, 05/30/18 IN ROUTE TO FT. LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA (FLL)
We flew non-stop to FLL on Southwest and stayed at the Crowne Plaza Ft. Lauderdale Airport/Cruise (www.ihg.com/crowneplaza/hotels/us/en/fort-lauderdale/fllhi/hoteldetail). This is a nice place to stay, with a free shuttle to/from the airport and a $8 pp shuttle service to Port Everglades. We called the hotel to alert them to our arrival and did not have to wait very long for the airport shuttle. A grocery and a wine store are within easy walking distance.
Even though it was only 9:50 a.m. when we arrived at the hotel, our room was already available. Check-in was very quick and we made reservations for the 10 a.m. port shuttle ($8 pp) on the next day. Although the staff was extremely pleasant and efficient, part of the reason may have been that it was a weekday in the slow season and the Pacific Princess was the only ship in port. The room was fairly luxurious, with a king bed, refrigerator, microwave oven and coffee maker. Bathroom amenities included hand/bath bar soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotion and mouthwash. Small samples of relaxation products were left in a packet on the bed. There was also free WIFI.
After dropping off our luggage, we headed out for a nice long walk to the beach. As we walked over the SE 17th Street Bridge across the Stranahan River (Intracoastal Waterway), it was strange to see Port Everglades devoid of any cruise ships. From the beach, we walked over to the Bahia Mar Marina in a fruitless search for slip F-18, where the fictional houseboat, the Busted Flush (home to Travis McGee, the hero of John D. McDonald’s detective novels), was docked. At one time there was a plaque marking this slip but the slips have been renumbered over the many years since the stories were published. We did find Pier F but that was as close as we got.
Although it had been raining for three weeks in Fort Lauderdale, today was sunny with a high of 86°F (30°C). As we headed back toward the hotel, sweating profusely, we decided that some cold beer was in order. We were passing the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina and saw that there was a bar and grill, Pelican Landing (www.pelican-landing.com), on a breezy, shady deck overlooking the Intracoastal Waterway and the yacht harbor. Once there, we decided to make lunch our main meal and have a small snack later in the evening. A specialty of the house is fish tacos, which were made with grilled mahi-mahi and an unusual red cabbage slaw topping. The service was quick and friendly and the food was excellent. We also enjoyed two local beers: a hoppy lager from Islamorada Beer Company and an IPA from Cigar City. It was fun to watch the boats going up and down the waterway, especially the large yacht that docked right next to the restaurant.
On the way back to the hotel, we stopped at a dive shop in the South Harbor Plaza shopping center to buy new dive logbooks. While at the dive shop, we realized that we had forgotten to turn “Map My Walk” back on after leaving the restaurant, so we turned it on then. In the Harbor Shops mall nearby are a Total Wine, where we bought some wine for tonight and two bottles to take on board the ship, and a Publix, where we bought a small brie for our evening snack. Estimating the distance between the restaurant and the dive shop, we walked about eight miles today.
THU, 05/31/18 FT. LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA (DEPART 03:30PM)
The forecast for today was a bit cooler—73°F (22°C)—and it was mostly overcast with scattered showers. While we were getting ready this morning, there was an announcement that a fire drill was about to be held, so we should ignore any fire alarms and flashing lights. Unfortunately, the drill was still going on when we tried to go downstairs to check out and catch the shuttle. The fire doors on our floor were stuck closed (!) and we had to call someone from the front desk to force them open.
We were the only people on the 10 a.m. port shuttle, which we were happy to see was operated by All Stars (www.ftlauderdale-airportshuttle.com). We have stayed at other hotels that use All Stars before and they are excellent (as opposed to our miserable experience with Fort Lauderdale Shuttles on our last cruise). Our driver was quite entertaining and we were quickly deposited at the new Princess terminal. Even arriving at the port so early, we were not the first—there were already some bags in the stevedores’ luggage cages.
Once inside the terminal, there were plenty of Princess personnel around but no other passengers waiting to check in. We were quickly ushered through all the formalities and directed to the Elite Lounge to await boarding. Passengers were allowed on the ship starting at about 11:30 a.m. and by noon we had dropped our hand luggage in our room and were enjoying a slice of pizza on the deck outside the Panorama Buffet.
While we were walking around the ship after lunch, we were a little concerned to see divers in the water around the ship. The last time we saw that (on this same ship!), a mooring line had gotten wrapped around the propeller and melted; we spent two days in Dominica until it could be repaired well enough to limp to the next port. Fortunately, this time the divers were merely inspecting and cleaning the hull.
We had originally booked a category BY obstructed balcony guarantee stateroom and, due to various promotions, were later guaranteed a category BE balcony. Six days before sailing, we were assigned a category BB cabin on Deck 7 starboard near the aft stairs/elevators. Back at the cabin, I called Room Service to exchange some of the items in the Elite minibar setup and request two wine glasses. After awhile, our luggage arrived and we met our cabin steward, Ivana from Serbia. We only have a few special requirements for our cabin steward: robes to use in the cabin, a top sheet for the bed (apparently now standard with the new bedding installed during the last drydock), and a steady supply of laundry bags and of bar soap for the shower. There was a note in our cabin that, due to the number of Elite passengers, we should expect the next day laundry service to take 72 hours. We had anticipated this delay with the laundry service and packed a few extra clothes.
Ivana returned later in the afternoon to bring the coupon books that were part of our booking promotion. We had hoped that those books would include a two-for-one offer at a specialty restaurant on embarkation night but they did not. On further inspection, all of the coupons had expired at the end of 2017. A couple of the coupons looked useful, so we decided that we would try to use them and complain to Passenger Services if they were not accepted.
One excuse for taking this cruise was to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary and we had hoped to have a table for two at dinner. Although the Princess Cruise Personalizer claimed that we were #1 on the wait list for that, John wanted to make sure; while I unpacked, he went down to the Club Restaurant at the time designated for dining inquiries. Dining inquiries were handled very ineptly, with only a few requests addressed in the 1.5 hours before it was time for the Passenger Safety Drill. The many people (including John) still waiting in line were told to come back at 5 p.m. and their previous place in line would NOT be honored. Although we were irritated at the time, we later learned that the reason for this slip-up was that the Maitre d’ was having health issues (he would later leave the ship mid-voyage).
After the Passenger Safety Drill (which no longer requires passengers to bring their life vests to the muster station), we went up to the open decks for the sail away. In the past, a cruise ship exiting Port Everglades was the occasion for a party in the apartment buildings along the channel to the Atlantic. Alas, the air horns, banners, waves and cheers seem to be a thing of the past; many of the apartments were already shuttered in anticipation of the start of Hurricane Season tomorrow.
We usually prefer Anytime Dining but that is not available on the Pacific Princess. Instead, we selected second seating (7:45 p.m.), which is later than we really like to eat but would accommodate the late port times on this itinerary. When we went down to dinner, we found that we were assigned to a 4-top with no sign of another couple. Our waiter was Tiwari (Tee) from India and his assistant was Simona from Macedonia. Quite some time later, after we had purchased a wine package and placed our wine and dinner orders, we were joined by an affable Australian couple. They had requested a table for two because the husband was ill. His cold was so severe that he had visited a doctor in Miami; we fervently hoped that we would not catch it. Tonight we tried some new dishes: John had Chef Curtis Stone’s pork belly as an entree and I had a roast pork dish with white beans. The wine was Oberon 2015 Merlot.
[Note: The wine packages offered were Silver (wines up to $31) 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 $31 or $45.]
FRI, 06/01/18 AT SEA
Our normal sea day schedule consists of waking up, showering and getting dressed, finding a spot to read that gets us out of Ivana’s way so she can make up the cabin, having a slice (or two) of pizza for lunch, relaxing and reading on our balcony (when it’s warm enough), enjoying an afternoon drink or ice cream, going to a show, having dinner and reading until it is time for a good night’s sleep. Occasionally we vary that busy program by attending a port or enrichment lecture, watching a movie, going for a walk or participating in some other activity.
This morning we attended a “Pop Culture” enrichment lecture by Mike Raick on “The ‘50s—the Decade of Elvis, Hula Hoops and 3-D Movies.” Most of the references to the early Fifties were lost on us but he did have some entertaining clips from TV comedies. His future lectures would touch on an eclectic assortment of topics, mostly nostalgia and outer space. In the afternoon, we watched an interesting movie, “Molly’s Game,” about a former Olympic skier who later ran illegal high-stakes poker games.
In the afternoon, we walked for a half-hour on the Pacific Princess’ tiny (13 laps equal one nautical mile) walking track. Later, while reading on our balcony, I saw a large fish (tarpon?) jump out of the water near the bow of the ship. John soon spotted some flying fish and we saw a surprising number of them after that.
This evening, the show was held before dinner for second seating guests. The performer was David Meyer, with his synthetic xylophone. He plays the instrument both with mallets and his hands and can produce a wide variety of musical effects. He also plays a bank of laser beams—when his hands interrupt a beam, a musical tone is emitted. Part of his act was accompanied by his wife, Dawn, who danced while twirling LED batons to create intricate patterns. This was an energetic and unusual performance.
Right after the show, we had reservations at the extra-charge ($29 pp) Sterling Steakhouse. Because the Pacific Princess is so small, three open nights at the Steakhouse alternate with two nights at Sabatini’s Restaurant (also $29 pp). Both of these venues feature floor-to-ceiling windows with excellent views of the ocean from all tables. The shrimp appetizer was very good but the Black and Blue onion soup was a little strange—it had a very thick bread cap and very little broth in the soup. The steaks (NY strip for me and rib-eye for John) were quite good, especially considering that they cannot be grilled over an open flame. The meal was accompanied by Hogue 2011 Genesis Cabernet Sauvignon and finished up with crème brulée for John and a chocolate peanut butter bar (one of Master Chocolatier Norman Love’s Chocolate Journeys) for me.
SAT, 06/02/18 AT SEA
When we checked our email this morning, we were surprised to see several posts on Cruise Critic by roll call members who would be embarking in New York. They had just been notified yesterday that the Pacific Princess would no longer be docking at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal at Atlantic Basin in Red Hook but instead at Pier 90, on the Hudson River at W 50th Street in Manhattan. This would affect about 100 people, who had to revise all their plans at the last minute. We later learned that at least one couple was in transit and did not get the message about the change. They went to the terminal in Red Hook and then had to make their own way over to Pier 90 at a cost of $450.
First thing this morning, we did another boring half-hour on the track. After getting cleaned up, we went to a talk on New York by the destination lecturer, Deb Fraioli. The lecture was moderately helpful in helping us adjust to our new docking location. She also had a couple of maps to share; Passenger Services made copies but those were hard to read. Later in the morning, we went to Mike Raick’s “Pop Culture” lecture about “America’s Journey to the Moon.”
While we were reading this afternoon, the Bridge announced that there was a pod of three orcas off the port side. By the time we got over there, they were gone but we later saw several groups of dolphins swimming quite close to the ship.
The evening entertainment was again held before dinner. It was a two-act “Variety Showtime.” The first act was a comedian, Tony Daro, followed by the synthetic xyolphonist and his wife.
The Australian couple did not show up for dinner tonight. John and I both ordered seafood dishes: his was rockfish and mine was diver scallops. We enjoyed those with a Hartford 2015 Chardonnay. Dessert was molten chocolate pudding cake.
SUN, 06/03/18 NEW YORK CITY (MANHATTAN), NEW YORK 7AM – 8PM
This morning, we got up at 5 a.m., just as the ship was passing under the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. We quickly dressed and went up to the open decks to enjoy sunrise over the city as we sailed past the Statue of Liberty and up the Hudson River. We even ate breakfast to fortify us for a day without a pizza lunch. As we approached the pier we saw the Norwegian Escape docked at Pier 88; next to her, the Pacific Princess looks like a toy boat. Also at Pier 88, just downriver from the Escape, was an Italian anti-submarine frigate, the Alpino. The Intrepid Air and Space Museum is at the next pier downriver. In addition to the aircraft carrier, the Museum features the Space Shuttle Enterprise, a Concorde supersonic jet, many other aircraft and the Growler, a cruise missile submarine from the early Cold War era.
John and I have visited New York (www.nycgo.com) several times before, primarily when we lived in Connecticut during the late 1970s. I had made extensive plans for our day here under the assumption that we were docking at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal. We kept part of that plan, expanded another part and abandoned the rest. Our son had emailed us an estimate of 2.6 miles for the distance from Pier 90 to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as information on the Intrepid Museum and the location of the High Line. (Thanks, Alan!) We decided to leave the ship at about 8:30 a.m. and take a liesurely walk in Central Park before the Metropolitan Museum of Art opened at 10 a.m. Although rain threatened all day, it held off and the low-to-mid 60s (°F, 15-17°C) temperature with cloudy skies made for perfect walking conditions.
When we went down to the gangway, we were surprised (lots of surprises on this trip!) that passengers still were not being allowed to disembark. However, we only had to wait a few minutes before we were on our way. We later learned that there had been an unannounced sanitation inspection but I am not sure whether that had anything to do with the delay. We were happy to hear that the Pacific Princess made an excellent score on the inspection.
In any case, we walked four long blocks down W 50th Street to 8th Avenue, turned left and walked another nine blocks to the Columbus Circle entrance of the Park. Along the way we saw a number of small blue-and-white floats that looked like they were part of a Mardi Gras truck parade. When we saw one up close, we saw that it was adorned with a Star of David and the letters UJA. We later learned that the floats were heading to the "Celebrate Israel Parade" on 5th Avenue.
Central Park (www.centralparknyc.org) was designed by Fredrick Law Olmsted, who also designed City Park in New Orleans. As expected, the Park was full of New Yorkers walking their cute dogs, pushing their darling babies in strollers, jogging and biking. There was also an enormous number of food carts selling everything from hot dogs to halal foods. We made our way past the Chess & Checkers House to the Dairy Visitor Center and bought a map ($2) to help us navigate the Park's 843 acres. From here, we wandered down the Literary Walk through The Mall to the Naumburg Bandshell. As we walked, we encountered an increasing number of people wearing race numbers on their chests. An enormous number of port-a-potties was lined up along the west side of The Mall and there was a concert going on at the Bandshell. We had stumbled on a five-mile "Italy Run" with a lot of people (7,983) participating! We had to go under the Terrace Bridge to avoid the tail end of the race and reach the Bethesda Terrace & Fountain .From there we ambled along the Lake and through the Trefoil Arch to the Conservatory Water. The Park is full of fountains, memorials and public art. Two of the statues in this area are Hans Christian Andersen and Alice in Wonderland. We continued on to the impressive Egyptian Obelisk, which is over 3,500 years old.
It was now time to head over to the entrance of the Metropolitan Museum of Art (www.metmuseum.org/visit/met-fifth-avenue) on 5th Avenue. A ticket ($17 pp, senior rate) to the Museum is valid for three days and includes the Met Cloisters and the Met Breuer. As part of my planning, I had downloaded a map of the Museum and marked the locations of artists we especially like and exhibits that are particularly noteworthy. Even with this approach, we could only sample a small portion of the Museum’s vast holdings in the 3.5 hours we were able to spend there.
Starting on Floor 1, we passed through the Egyptian Art section to view the impressive Temple of Dendur, saved from the waters of Aswan High Dam and reconstructed here. In the American Wing, we viewed two large semicircular paintings that form a “Panoramic View of Versailles” and the family room from a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Next we moved through a huge choir screen in the Medieval Art section into the amazing Robert Lehman Collection. The upper level of this collection included works by Raphael, Botticelli, El Greco, Renoir, Monet and Matisse that I had highlighted. However, we were especially pleased by the exhibition on the lower level, “Public Parks, Private Gardens: Paris to Provence” that included works by van Gogh and other favorites. This exhibition even featured a short black-and-white film of Monet painting in his garden!
In the European Sculpture and Decorative Arts section, we viewed a room from the Paar Palace in France, as well as sculptures such as Perseus with the Head of Medusa and the tragic Ugolino and His Sons. Moving on, the Modern and Contemporary Art section yielded works by Picasso, Miro, Chagall and Matisse on Floor 1; Pollock, Kandinsky and others were on Floor 2. Also on Floor 2, the 19th- and Early 20th-Century European Paintings & Sculpture section included Picasso, Matisse, Cezanne, van Gogh, Renoir, Manet, Degas and Rodin. We made a quick detour into the Art of the Arab Lands section to view the Damascus Room (Moroccan Courtyard).
We worked our way back to the Floor 2 American Wing, primarily to see the actual gigantic “Washington Crossing the Delaware.” This section also included portraits by Stuart and works by Homer, Whistler and Sargent. The last big area we toured was the European Paintings 1250-1800. We particularly wanted to see the works by Vermeer and El Greco but also sought out Caravaggio, Goya, Rembrandt and an exquisite small Botticelli. Before we left the Museum, we used our last bit of energy to visit the Arms & Armor section.
By now suffering from museum knees (John) and museum back (me), it was great to get back outside into the fresh air. We angled toward the west side of the Park, passing ball fields full of Little Leaguers at play. Near the Turtle Pond (definitely full of turtles), we stopped to watch a father using a rope wand to create humongous soap bubbles, which his two children delightedly chased. We continued along the west side of the Park to Strawberry Fields, where the flower-strewn “Imagine” mosaic honors musician/composer John Lennon, who was murdered across the street in front of the Dakota Apartments. We angled back along the east side of Sheep Meadow so that I could see the early 20th-century carousel with hand-carved wooden horses. We exited the Park at 7th Avenue and walked down to Broadway before turning west and heading back to the ship. Along the way, we encountered many families apparently leaving the “Celebrate Israel Parade” and festivities.
Dinner this evening was open seating from 5:30-8:30 p.m., so we took the opportunity to eat dinner (starring Veal Cordon Bleu and Wild Horse 2016 Pinot Noir) early and be ready for the sunset sail away. The sail away was delayed by 40 minutes, ostensibly because a crew member was not aboard yet. That was actually an advantage because the city lights and the illuminated Lady Liberty were more impressive in the dark. As we left the shelter of the harbor, the weather conditions started to deteriorate and would only get worse over the next few days due to a low pressure system. During the night the ship’s clocks were moved ahead one hour.
MON, 06/04/18 AT SEA (EDT+1)
Even with all the stabilizers deployed, there was quite a lot of rocking and rolling last night. The skies were overcast and the temperatures had dropped into the 50s (°F, 10-12°C). The Promenade and upper decks were closed off and barf bags were placed prominently on the staircases and elsewhere around the ship. Fortunately, John and I have never (yet) been troubled by motion sickness.
Today was the date I had chosen to celebrate our 45th wedding anniversary, which actually occurred the weekend prior to the start of the cruise. This morning our door was festooned with a congratulatory poster and two balloons. We also received an anniversary card with best wishes from the Captain.
The “Pop Culture” lecture this morning was “Titans of Industry or Robber Barons? You Decide.” Although Mike Raick claimed to be presenting an unbiased (fair and balanced?) picture of John D. Rockefeller, he conveniently left out many unsavory details of Rockefeller’s life, like hiring thugs to beat up striking workers. Nevertheless, this was an interesting talk about the origins of the Industrial Age in the US.
In the afternoon, Deb Fraioli gave the destination talk on St Pierre et Miquelon. This was not very useful; her main piece of advice was to visit the Tourist Office. Many of her slides were about Newfoundland, Canada, and we weren’t even going there. She did say that the ship’s Zodiac shore excursion had been canceled because transportation could not be arranged to the starting point.
Ivana stopped by today to collect the expired coupon books (we had already used two of the coupons) and replace them with the 2018 edition. Those books DID include a two-for-one offer at a specialty restaurant on embarkation night. I called Passenger Services to explain that we would have gone to a specialty restaurant on embarkation night (instead of the second night) if these coupons had been delivered in a timely manner. After consulting with the Assistant Maitre d’, Roberto, we were informed that we could either take our coupon to one of the specialty restaurants for a $29 credit or use the coupon on our next visit there. That was a very satisfactory solution! In general on this cruise, we found whenever there was a problem, the crew always worked quickly to find a solution.
Tonight was the first of three formal nights and the Captain’s Welcome Aboard Party and Champagne Waterfall was held between the two dinner seatings. Apparently, this was held successfully despite the lurching of the ship (we saw the photos in the Photo Gallery). Reportedly, the Pacific Princess Dancers carried on valiantly during the production show, “Do You Wanna Dance?” We did not attend either of those events, choosing instead to celebrate our anniversary at Sabatini’s. (We had also had some Roderer sparkling wine with some salmon and caviar hors d’oeuvres this afternoon.) There was a special entree tonight, Veal Milanese, which we paired with a Giordano 2012 Barolo. We learned that this special dish alternates with Osso Buco, known to all readers of my reviews as one of our all-time favorite Princess dishes. The Restaurant Manager confirmed with the chef that the Osso Buco would be offered on June 14, so we made a reservation for that date.
The ship’s clocks were again moved ahead one hour during the night. These 23-hour days get to be a drag but they definitely beat severe jet lag.
TUE, 06/05/18 AT SEA (EDT+2)
The weather continued to get worse: the ship was experiencing 45 knot winds, with gusts to 55, and the Sea State was 8—30 to 46 ft (9 to 14 m) high waves. Today occasional showers were also added to the mix. The outer decks were still closed and the temperature was now in the mid-40s (°F, 7-8°C) I have noticed a lot of people examining the jackets and sweatshirts strategically displayed outside the on board shops; perhaps they did not realize how cold the weather would be in June at these latitudes.
This morning John went to a “Pop Culture” lecture on “Great TV Moments,” while I went to the Cruise Critic get-together in the Sterling Steakhouse to meet some of the people we would be touring with in Scrabster (we thought). Although we were not a very large group (30-40 people), five officers (Cruise Director, Hotel General Manger, Food & Beverage Director, Executive Chef and Executive Housekeeper) stopped by to welcome us aboard. As the meeting was breaking up, Captain Andrea Spinardi arrived and apologized for the rough ride.
This was another lazy afternoon: reading, finishing the Roderer and working on this review. The pre-dinner Cabaret Showtime was violinist Chris Watkins, “Fireworks on Four Strings.” He is Princess’ #1-rated guest instrumental musician and we have enjoyed his act on several other Princess cruises. Before the show, Captain Spinardi announced that we would skip the port call at St. Pierre, reduce speed and adopt a more southerly course in an effort to reduce the ship’s motion and improve the guests’ experience.
Tonight we were back in the Club Restaurant after two nights away; no Australians here tonight either. I hope that they simply got another table assignment and are not just too seasick to come to dinner. There was a bit of a contretemps at an adjacent table when a couple who had not come to the dining room for the first five nights arrived and found that their chairs had been removed; they were eventually moved to another table.
John tried a new entree of Austrian-style braised beef with red cabbage and I chose veal scallopini with mushroom sauce and barley orzotto; the wine was Vall Llach Embruix Priorat Grenache. Last night Tee had received a card about our anniversary and, over our protests, wanted to celebrate it tonight. However, he was very busy around the time that we finished our dessert and cappuccino, so we were able to leave without causing a commotion. John really does not want the singing and neither of us needs extra cake, so he hoped that Tee would forget about it by tomorrow.
WED, 06/06/18 AT SEA
The Cruise Director really had to scramble to come up with activities to replace the port call in St Pierre et Miquelon. We had visited here in 2009 aboard the Tahitian Princess and explored the downtown area rather thoroughly (www.spm-tourisme.fr/1/practical/brochures/). After our DIY walking tour, we had hiked several trails in the countryside; we had planned to devote this visit to hiking too (www.spm-tourisme.fr/1/things-to-do/nature/sentiers-de-randonnee-saint-pierre/). Although SP&M is not the most exotic port of call, I think those who have not been here before would have enjoyed it and I am sorry they had to miss it.
Mike Raick had a spare lecture to offer, “The Astonishing Computer”; there was really nothing new in it for us. After the lecture, the weather had improved enough that the upper decks and Promenade were opened. We bundled up and did our half-hour on the track, which felt good after two days of inactivity. We are planning to do a lot of hiking on the Norwegian Fjords cruise (immediately following this one) and we don’t want to get too much out of shape.
The Australians were again MIA tonight. This was Italian Night in the Club Restaurant. The menu was a bit different than in the past and the usual delicious Brasato (Italian pot roast) was absent. We had a light dish of scallops and shrimp in a garlic sauce, along with Siverado 2013 Chardonnay. Unfortunately, Tee had not forgotten about the anniversary celebration, so John had to endure the singing and attention. We had the cake sent to our cabin to eat sometime tomorrow.
The after-dinner Comedy Cabaret starred comedian Dan Horn, who was quite funny.
THU, 06/07/18 AT SEA
This morning we were awakened by the romantic sounds of the fog horn. For the next couple of days, we would continue to have overcast skies and occasional showers as well. The seas had calmed somewhat and the temperatures held in the in the low 40s (°F, 5-6°C).
Mike Raick’s “Pop Culture” presentation was “The History of Early Rock & Roll.” This was interesting to us because most of our exposure to this era came from the movie “American Graffiti.” We were not really aware of rock and roll music until the very late 1950s and early 1960s, mostly starting with the Beach Boys.
Today was the "Most Traveled Passengers" luncheon in Sabatini’s Restaurant; as usual the food was great. We often say we are going to choose the fish option and this time John enjoyed the halibut; I was seduced by the meat dish, a very nice lamb rack. We were a little surprised we made the cutoff this time because 227 of the 643 passengers aboard are Elite members of the Captain’s Circle. Nevertheless, we scored table #5 out of eight and ended up sitting with the Environmental Officer, Elio Lucic from Croatia.
Going to the luncheon caused us to miss the port lecture on Reykjavik; we watched it later on the stateroom TV. Deb Fraioli is an OK lecturer but her presentations are not that well organized. How we miss such great port lecturers as the late Joe May—funny and full of useful information for the independent traveler!
Later in the afternoon, we put in another half-hour on the walking track. We spent the rest of the afternoon reading and completely forgot about the early show, comedian-magician Gary Carson, until it had already started.
Surprise! The Australians were still alive and showed up tonight for dinner! I guess our table-for-two days are over though. John and I were not very hungry after having a big lunch. I tried the Curtis Stone specialty, chicken and leek potpie, and John had cod. These dishes went well with Hartford 2015 Chardonnay.
Tonight the clocks were set ahead another hour.
FRI, 06/08/18 AT SEA (EDT+3)
As the Princess Patter says, another relaxing day at sea. The enrichment lecture was about “Chrome, Metal and Glass—The Great Automobiles of the 20th Century.” We trudged another half-hour around the walking track after lunch.
In the mid-afternoon, the Magician, Gary Carson, gave a Magic Workshop. He did some tricks and then taught us how to do a few for the amazement of our friends. We enjoyed this very much and really regretted that we had missed his show yesterday.
The pre-dinner show was a Production Show, “What the World Needs Now,” which featured love songs from the 1960s and 1970s. Shows in the Cabaret Lounge are much different from those in the Princess Theater on the larger ships. The experience is more like an intimate nightclub as opposed to a Las Vegas review. As usual, the featured female singer (Clarissa Spiller) was better than the male one (Matt Bauer) but he was pretty good too.
For dinner tonight we both had Coq au Vin with Estancia 2012 Meritage.
SAT, 06/09/18 AT SEA
This was a very busy day. The “Pop Culture” talk was on “The Space Shuttle, Space Station, Hubble and Other Awesome Telescopes.” After that, we upped our commitment to the walking track from a half-hour to 45 minutes. After lunch, there was a combined port lecture for Isafjordur and Akureyri, followed by the “Princess Grapevine” wine tasting. The five wines were: Asti Spumante, Rosemount 2014 Chardonnay, Duckhorn 2015 Decoy Merlot, Pacific Bay 2015 Cabernet Sauvignon and Giordano 2012 Barola.
This evening we attended one of two Captain’s Circle parties. Eight-nine percent (535/643) of the passengers on this voyage have previously sailed with Princess. The most traveled couple had 1,138 days and the 3rd most traveled couple had 707. Our cruise friends, Paul and Jeannie (paul929207) were not only the 2nd most traveled couple, with 737 days, but also were recognized for attaining 750 days on this cruise.
Dinner tonight featured Steak Dianne, which was a little overcooked because the meat was so thin; it had good flavor though and went well with the wine, Segheso 2015 Zinfandel.
Tonight the clocks were set ahead another hour; that would put us on the correct time for Reykjavik.
SUN, 06/10/18 AT SEA (GMT = EDT+4)
We had finally reached the last of seven straight days at sea. The winds had calmed somewhat and the temperatures were slightly warmer—in the mid-40s (°F, 7-8°C). The sun even broke through the clouds occasionally. It was much more pleasant spending 45 minutes on the walking track.
The entertainment lecture today was “Great TV Commercials”: some of these were truly hilarious. Later was a Matinee Showtime with another excellent, if short, performance by Magician Gary Carson. We were sorry to hear that he would be leaving the ship in Reykjavik. However, we were very happy to hear the Captain’s announcement that we would be arriving two hours early in Reykjavik.
Tonight was the second of three formal nights on this leg. The Club Restaurant served the traditional lobster tails, married with crab cakes. We paired this dish with a Simi Chardonnay.
MON, 06/11/18 REYKJAVIK, ICELAND 9AM – 6PM
We have visited the capital of Iceland, Reykjavik (www.visitreykjavik.is), twice before: in 2001 and in 2009. The first time was a one-night stopover during a flight to Copenhagen. We rented a car and drove the “Golden Circle”, stopping at the Blue Lagoon, Kerid Crater, Haukadalur Valley Geysers (home to the Great Geysir), Gullfoss and Thingvellir National Park. The second visit was on a port call, where I arranged a private taxi tour for us and three other couples from our roll call with Hreyfill (www.hreyfill.is/en/). That “South Coast Spectacular” tour took us along the coast of Iceland to the southernmost town of Vik. On the way, we saw lava fields, waterfalls, glaciers, sea stacks/arches, the Skógar Folk Museum and a thermal field in Hveragerdi.
On this trip, we decided to take a trip into the empty magma chamber of the dormant Thrihnukagigur (Three Peaks Crater) volcano with 3H Travel (insidethevolcano.com). The Pacific Princess docked in Sundahöfen harbor at the Skarfabakki cruise terminal, which is roughly two miles from the city center. We had to be waiting outside the terminal at 9:30 a.m. to be picked up by a Gray Line Iceland shuttle bus and taken to the bus station. There we boarded the “Into the Volcano” minibus for the 30-minute drive to Bláfjöll, the Blue Mountains Country Park.
Our first stop was at a visitor center, where there were toilets and rain coats for those who needed them. We were divided into three groups of six; John and I were in the second group. Then we hiked 2 miles (3 km) across the lava field to the base camp. Our lead guide was Bryndis, with Victor following up in the rear. The trail is narrow and rocky in places, so this activity is not suitable for people with mobility issues. During the walk, Bryndis pointed out several lava tubes and a crack where the North American and European Tectonic Plates are separating.
It took about 45 minutes for everyone to reach the base camp, which has toilets, WIFI and a gift shop. We were each given an “Into the Volcano” bandanna as a souvenir. There was a short safety briefing before each group, in turn, was outfitted with a hard hat (with headlamp) and a safety harness. From there it is a short walk uphill to the top of the crater. Bryndis went with the first group and stayed at the bottom to explain the features of the magma chamber. Our group followed with Victor, who then returned to the base camp to bring up the third group.
There is a narrow bridge from the lip of the crater to an open elevator, similar to the cages used by window washers, that is suspended from a crane. Before you walk across the bridge, your safety harness is clipped to a cable attached to the bridge; the clip is unhooked only after you are clipped inside the elevator. Then it is time for the 400 ft (120 m) descent, which takes about six minutes. It is not a straight vertical drop, however; there are wheels on one side of the cage that allow it to slide around a lava outcrop that is in the way.
Once we were at the bottom of the crater, Bryndis pointed out the tunnels where the magma had drained from the magma chamber. This is the only known volcano where the magma drained out, leaving the chamber empty; in other volcanoes the magma filled up the chamber and solidified. The walls of the chamber are not black but vividly colored by the minerals that were in the hot gases emitted by the volcano: yellow from sulfur, red from oxidized iron, green from copper. The only black places are where pieces of lava had fallen off the walls, long after the eruption. The chamber is illuminated and there are three trails for exploring its various parts; like the trail to the volcano, these are rocky and uneven in spots. We had about 30 minutes to explore the magma chamber and take lots of photos.
All too soon, we had to re-board the elevator for the trip back up to the surface. On the way up, the elevator operator pointed out additional features on the crater walls, such as different lava flows and white bacteria (the only life in the cave). We also noticed that the lava had solidified into some drapery formations, similar to those found in limestone caves.
Back at the base camp, we shed the safety gear and were served a bowl of traditional Icelandic lamb and vegetable soup (there was also a vegetarian version). When a new tour group started to arrive, those of us who had finished eating could return to the visitor center at our own pace. That was great news for John and me; we took full advantage of finally being able to walk briskly on land after seven straight days at sea. Once the rest of the tour group returned to the visitor center, we re-boarded the Grayline shuttle for the drive back to Reykjavik. We were taken directly back to the cruise terminal and the others continued on to their hotels.
The cost of the tour (ISK 42,000 pp, about $400 pp) includes round-trip transportation but some people drove to the visitor center on their own. At first I had a little sticker shock but this is a unique, once-in-a-lifetime experience. Also, there is a proposal to build a road to the base camp and drill a tunnel into the magma chamber so that it would be easier to visit. Although that plan is unlikely to be approved, personally I think that it would destroy this geologic treasure. Incidentally, one reason for the high cost is that all the infrastructure (crane, bridge, elevator) must be removed at the end of each summer and re-installed the next summer—all by helicopter.
We had dinner tonight at the Sterling Steakhouse, where John enjoyed a filet mignon and I had the double lamb chops. The wine was an Oberon Merlot. As we go further north, the nights are getting shorter. Last night, there were only 3.5 hours between sunset and sunrise; after tonight, the sun would not set again until after we left Akureyri.
TUE, 06/12/18 ISAFJORDUR, ICELAND 7AM – 5PM
Ísafjörður (www.westfjords.is/en/town/isafjordur), on the fjord Skutulsfjörður, is the largest town in Westfjords (Vestfirðir) region of Iceland. Although the town is surrounded by dramatic, snow topped cliffs, our prior visit was a bit of a disappointment. We had planned to hike in the morning and take a boat tour to Vigur Island in the afternoon. However, the weather was so bad that the boat tour was canceled and the steep skree slopes made the hiking trails hazardous in the rain. We walked around the small town in the hard rain for a short time before heading back to the ship.
This visit, John rented a car from Europcar Iceland so we could tour on our own and hike to some waterfalls. The car was supposed to be at the dock at 8 a.m. and it was a little late. Nevertheless, we were in a Škoda 4x4 Octavia at about 8:15 a.m. and headed to our first stop, Dynjandi waterfall, about 52 miles (87 km) away.
This being the Westfjords, there were naturally several fjords that needed to be traversed to reach the waterfall. This whole area is stunning in its dramatic natural beauty and would be worth viewing even without waterfalls! First we drove southwest along Skutulsfjörður on Road #61 and turned west at Road #60; there are a gas station and Bónus supermarket just before this intersection. As we drove towards the tunnel that connects the three fjords Skutulsfjörður, Sugandafjörður and Önundarfjörður, we could see a waterfall across the Tungudalur valley, above the golf course; we would visit it later. Here and elsewhere the roadsides and hillsides were covered with colorful wildflowers, especially the purple spikes of lupine. We also saw the omnipresent sheep and lambs, as well as some of the hardy Icelandic horses.
The tunnel is quite interesting; it starts out with two lanes in each direction and then becomes one-way when Road #65 branches off to fjord Sugandafjörður and the fishing village of Suðureyri. Fortunately, on the one-way section, there are many pull-outs so that cars traveling west can move over when they see approaching headlights. When you exit the tunnel, you are in the fjord Önundarfjörður. Right after the tunnel is the turnoff on Road #64 to another fishing village, Flateyri. At this intersection, there is a large bird nesting area and there are warning signs that the Arctic Terns attack the passing cars.
We continued on Road #60 to take the mountain pass over Gemlufallsheiði and down to fjord Dýrafjörður. We drove around that fjord to the town of Þingeyri. Here Road #60 turns left and changes from asphalt to gravel. The road climbs to the high pass (open in summer) over Hrafnseyrarheiði and descends to the fjord Arnarfjöður. As we drove inland along the north side of this fjord, we could see Dynjandi in the distance on the other side of the fjord. When we finally reached the turnoff to the falls parking lot, we almost missed the small sign! It took us 1.5 hours to drive to this point. There were a number of cars, small tour vehicles and a large tour bus parked in the paved lot; there are also flush toilets here.
Dynjandi is actually a series of seven waterfalls with a total height of 328 ft (100 m). The upper fall is the largest and is about twice as wide at the base as at the top, giving it a distinctive trapezoidal or wedding cake shape. There is a good trail along the side of the falls, with rock steps in some places and viewing platforms at some of the lower falls. We climbed up to the base of the upper fall where it is possible to get quite close to the cascade. We spent about 45 minutes here enjoying the waterfall before retracing our path back toward Ísafjörður. Before leaving the parking lot, we made the unpleasant discovery that the electrical outlet in the Škoda is not compatible with our Garmin Nuvii and the Garmin’s battery was almost exhausted. The Garmin was not absolutely necessary for today’s driving but we were concerned that we would not be able to recharge it for use in Norway, when it would be essential.
When we reached the intersection with Road #61, we turned left towards town but only for about 0.5 mile (0.8 km). We turned left again at the sign for the Tunguda river and headed to the parking lot for the falls on the Buna river in the Tunguskógur park. There are an information booth, flush toilets and signs showing the area trails. From the parking lot, there is a footbridge that leads to a paved trail along the south side of the Buna river. However, it looked like the small forest (skógur) blocked most of the views from that trail before the viewpoint at its end. We decided to take the more primitive trail (i.e., more of a sheep path) on the north side that ran right alongside the river and the falls. This trail was quite steep and muddy but it had excellent views of the falls. We climbed a bit higher than the base of the largest fall but finally became frustrated at the poor trail conditions and went back down. We spent about 45 minutes here.
We returned to Road #61 and drove north along the shoreline to the tip of the peninsula, the Arnarnes promontory. We continued a little further through the short (115 feet or 35 m) but scenic tunnel through Arnarneshamar, a large basalt rock protrusion; this tunnel was Iceland’s first road tunnel. We turned around and drove south on Road #61, almost to the airport; the small parking area for Naustahvilft is on the left.
Naustahvilft or the Troll Seat is a huge glacial cirque carved out of the steep mountainside across the fjord from Ísafjörður; it is a very distinctive and obvious landmark. There is a small sign that marks the start of the “trail” up; however, there is no real trail. Or rather, there are many trails that roughly follow the creeks that flow from the hollow. It took us about 27 minutes to climb the steep and muddy slope (elevation change 700 feet or about 200 meters) to the rock wall along the edge of the hollow. We found a metal box on the north side of the hollow that has a logbook inside to record one’s ascent. After taking in the fantastic views, we gingerly climbed back down. We spent about 70 minutes here.
Our last adventure of the day occurred when we tried to fill up the car at the gas station near the Bónus supermarket. We have a chip-and-PIN credit card specifically to use at fuel pumps and ticket vending machines in Europe. After carefully following the steps and getting a message that the pump was ready, we got an error message when we tried to pump the fuel. After trying twice, I asked a person in a Bónus uniform, who was arranging shopping carts, for help. It turned out that he was the manager of the supermarket and was not actually responsible for the fuel pumps. Nevertheless, he kindly came over to see what the problem was. While we were trying for the third time (and getting the same error) a women tried to use the pump and the other side and had the same problem. We tried the pump behind us and that worked for us but the pump on her side did not. Out of four pumps, only one worked! Finally refueled, we drove back to the ship with plenty of time to spare. John had driven for 3:40 hours and covered about 125 miles (207 km).
At dinner tonight, we enjoyed braised beef short ribs with a bottle of Ruffino Chianti Classico Reserva. During dinner, the ship crossed the Arctic Circle (we would later get a certificate) and Captain Spinardi announced the there were three icebergs in the distance off the port side. They looked particularly tiny but they were far away.
WED, 06/13/18 AKUREYRI, ICELAND 7AM – 4PM
Akureyri (www.visitakureyri.is/en), on the fjord Eyjaförður, was another port we visited on our 2009 cruise. Last time, I arranged a private taxi tour with Taxi 17 (taxino17.com/index.php) for us and three other roll call couples to lake Myvatn. In addition to Myvatn, we visited Goðafoss, Skútustaðir, Dimmuborgir, Hverir, the Krafla geothermal power station, the Víti crater, the turf farmhouse and the church at Laufás, the Akureyri botanical gardens and the Akureyri Cathedral. This was a very comprehensive tour!
The Pacific Princess docked at Oddeyrarbryggja. The day started out sunny for a change but rain was predicted for the afternoon. As in Ísafjörður, we decided to rent a car and strike out on our own. We had a long driving day ahead and were disappointed that the Europcar agent was so late; we did not get on our way until 8:25 a.m. Today, we had a Suburu Balena, which thankfully was compatible with our Garmin.
It was only a few blocks to Road #1, the Ring Road that encircles Iceland. Our destination was the most powerful waterfall in Europe, Dettifoss, on the River Jökulsá, which flows from the Vatnajokull glacier. Over the eons, the river has carved a deep canyon, Jökulsárgljúfur, through the lava fields. This area is in Jökulsárgljúfur National Park and there are other waterfalls and interesting geological features there. Along the way, we would pass by many of the sights we saw on our last visit.
John had estimated that it would take 1.5 hours to reach his first way-point (the town of Reykjalið) and another hour to reach the Dettifoss parking area on the east side of the river. We reached Reykjalið 15 minutes ahead of schedule, so we felt optimistic that we would have time to see the waterfall. Shortly after crossing the one-way bridge over the river, we turned north on Road #864, a gravel road, for the last 18 miles (29 km) to the turnoff to the parking area. The entire trip took 2 hours and 15 minutes. Although there is also a viewing area on the west side of the river that is closer to Akureyri, the hike to the fall is longer and the views are not as good because of the spray from the fall and a large rock that is between the viewpoint and the fall. We had some concerns about the condition of the road on the east side but, while bumpy in places, it was generally in good condition.
When we reached the parking area, we were surprised to see at least 40 cars there; this is obviously a popular sight despite the difficulty in reaching it. The trail down to the edge of the canyon is somewhat primitive and would be difficult for anyone with mobility issues. Once down, there were many places to get excellent views of the fall; it was even possible to walk close to the river above the fall and watch it thunder over the brink. Detifoss’ flow rate is estimated to be between 200 and 500 cubic meters of water per second, depending on the season; the falls are 328 ft (100 m) wide and have a drop of 144 ft (44 m). We spent about 35 minutes here. We would have liked to take the trail to another much smaller waterfall, Selfoss, that was 0.87 mile (1.4 km) away, but felt that our available time was just too short.
Instead, we drove a short distance (about 5 minutes) downriver to another waterfall, Hafragilsfoss. This 89 ft (27 m) high, 298 ft (91 m) wide fall is visible from the parking lot but there is a short trail down to the edge of the canyon for better views of the fall and of the deepest part of the canyon, downstream from the fall. Following the trail a little ways downstream leads to several splatter cones. We were only able to spend 15 minutes here before we had to be on our way.
It was an hour from Hafragilsfoss back to Reykjalið and another 45 minutes to Goðafoss, which we had visited on our 2009 trip. From the drive out, we know that it was about 30 minutes from the Europcar office to Goðafoss; we still had 2.25 hours until the “all aboard” time so we decided to stop there.
Goðafoss is famous as the waterfall where Thorgeir Thorkelsson destroyed the statues of the Norse pagan gods when Iceland converted to Christianity; that event is depicted in a stained glass window in the Akureyri Cathedral. This waterfall forms a horsehoe 370 ft (113 m) wide and falls 39 ft (12 m) into one of the biggest rivers in Iceland. The viewing areas on either side of the falls have been greatly improved since we were here before. There are even steps down to the river at the base of the falls. We spent about 20 minutes here.
After leaving Goðafoss, we drove back to Akureyri, stopping at several viewpoints over the Eyjaförður for photos of the gorgeous scenery. With those stops and one to fill up the car (no problem with the pump this time), it took about 50 minutes to return to the Europcar lot, with an hour to spare.
The before-dinner show tonight was a male vocalist, Andrew Merry, who performed a medley of “Rat Pack” songs. Dinner featured Surf ‘n’ Turf, filet mignon and prawns, which we paired with Ancient Peaks Merlot.
Tonight the clocks were set ahead an hour for the last time on this cruise.
THU, 06/14/18 AT SEA (BST = EDT+5)
The weather had deteriorated again during the night due to a low pressure system (Storm Hector) to the northwest of Scotland. The Promenade and upper decks were closed due to high (45 knots) winds and spray. During Mike Raick’s lecture on “Eclipses, Solar and Lunar, and Other Cosmic Fascinations,” the Captain interrupted with an announcement that the two port calls in Scotland were canceled and we would have another day at sea and before making a substitute port call in Belfast, Northern Ireland, on Saturday. Princess would be giving each passenger a refundable $250 on board credit to apologize for the disruptions in the itinerary.
Tonight was the last of the three formal nights and the Captain’s Farewell Party was held between the two dinner seatings. The Club Restaurant would be serving one of our favorite appetizers—escargots. However, we had a date with Osso Buco at Sabatini’s. We had been asking Tee when escargots would be served, so he knew we would be sorry to miss them; he personally brought two servings to Sabatini’s so that we could enjoy them there. Perhaps he is also the one who told the Sabatini’s staff that we were celebrating our anniversary on this cruise? John had to endure another round of singing and we got another cake, which we again had sent to our cabin. Despite all the commotion, the escargots and Osso Buco were both outstanding; they went nicely with Frescobaldi Rosso di Montalcino.
FRI, 06/15/18 AT SEA
Today we were supposed to call in tiny Scrabster (www.scrabster.eu/scotland/), the northernmost port on the Scottish mainland. Although there is not much there except the docks for the cruise ships, ferries and the fishing fleet, there are some interesting sights in the area. We had joined an independent tour organized for 14 people from the roll call by returncruiser and paul929207. The tour (www.shoreexcursions.co.uk) was to include a visit to the Castle of Mey, (www.castleofmey.org.uk), Canisbay Kirk, John o' Groats Dunnet Head and the Old Pulteney Distillery (www.oldpulteney.com). Alas, we spent the day at sea instead.
Once again, the Cruise Director and his staff had to scramble to put together a program of activities for the day. This time, however, the Shore Excursion office also had to scramble to arrange tours for Belfast. We had visited Belfast previously and had few ideas about what new things we might do, so once again we turned to our son, with his fast Internet connection, to look up some information for us. (Thanks again, Alan!) We finally decided to use some of that on board credit to book a half-day walking tour of historic Belfast.
We attended the enrichment lecture on “More Great TV, Laughter Abounds. Great TV Moments, the Sequel,” in the morning. The decks were again opened, so we walked 45 minutes after lunch.
Later in the afternoon. There was a destination presentation on Belfast. This was a little more helpful than the others and some B&W maps would be available at the lecturer’s desk. We also learned that there would be a free shuttle to the downtown Information Centre, across the street from Belfast City Hall.
For dinner, we both had a new dish, seafood stuffed trout, with a bottle of Chamisal Stainless Chardonnay. The trout was good but the stuffing would be better with more (or any) seafood and less mashed potato.
SAT, 06/16/18 BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND 7AM – 5PM
John had planned our day in Dundee (www.dundee.com/visit): a hike to the top of The Law (an extinct volcano) and visits to Discovery Point (www.rrsdiscovery.com), the Verdant Works (www.verdantworks.com) and the HMS Unicorn (www.frigateunicorn.org). Unfortunately, that plan would have to wait for another visit. Although this was a disappointment for us, it was a real problem for a couple on the role call who had planned to disembark in Dundee to return home.
Two of Belfast’s (visitBelfast.com) big industries are linen manufacturing and shipbuilding; one of the most famous ships built here was the RMS Titanic. There is a Titanic Belfast museum (titanicbelfast.com) that opened in 2012; it is about a 2.5-mile walk from where we tied up at the Pollock Dock on the River Lagan. There is a monument to the Titanic victims on the grounds of the Belfast City Hall and inside there is a free exhibit about events in the city’s history, including the building of the famous ship.
On our prior visit, we took a shared group tour with Causeway Coast Tours (irishtourtickets.com/cruise-ship-shore-excursions-belfast/) that included the ruins of Dunluce Castle, the fantastic Giant’s Causeway, Carrick-A-Rede Rope Bridge, a drive along the Antrim Coast and a panoramic city tour. In addition to the usual type of city landmarks, the tour included a drive through the Catholic/Nationalist/Republican and Protestant/Unionist/Loyalist neighborhoods. There we saw the “Peace Walls”, erected to separate the neighborhoods during “The Troubles”, and many of the political murals the celebrate those who died in the turmoil of those times.
Today’s “Walk Through Historic Belfast” avoided those areas and concentrated on the more everyday sights that are familiar to locals but perhaps never noticed by tourists. On our way to the Cabaret Lounge to meet for our tour, we saw that some local tourism people had come aboard and had maps and other information for independent travelers. We picked up a map in case we would have time to explore Belfast on our own after the tour.
Before we could leave the ship, we had to go through a UK immigration inspection. When the official checked our passports, he remarked on our Irish surname. I told him that my genealogical research indicated that John’s great-great-grandfather had emigrated from County Donegal (now part of the Republic of Ireland) to New Orleans in the 1830s. He replied that the agent sitting next to him was from Donegal.
Our “fine, soft day” (translation: mostly rainy with occasional sunshine and downpours) started in the Cathedral Quarter at the neo-Romanesque St. Anne Cathedral (Anglican). Our guide, Christine, first took us to a small park (Writer’s Square) across the street where we could get a good look at the façade of the Cathedral and its controversial glass and titanium “Spire of Peace”, which takes the place of a traditional tower. There is also a small bust in the park dedicated to those from Belfast who fought in the Spanish Civil War against the fascists. Inside the church, a docent from the Cathedral gave us a 45-minute tour, pointing out the major features and symbols. He explained that the earth under the Cathedral is a type of clay (gley) that is subsiding under the weight of the building, as evidenced by the undulating main aisle of the nave. If a traditional tower had been added, the Cathedral would have collapsed under its weight, therefore, they used the ultramodern spire. As we walked away from the Cathedral, we could view the largest Celtic Cross in Ireland, which is on the outside wall of the transept.
Next we walked down Donegall Street for a brief stop at St. Patrick Church (Catholic). At the time it was built, non-Anglicans could not own property, so the land was leased from the wealthy Donegall family. After that, we viewed Clifton House, the Old Poor House, which was built in the 1700s and still houses a few “indigent gentlefolk.” Throughout our walk, we would see many murals with themes designed to promote community. Meanwhile, Christine regaled us with local history and pointed out many landmarks and architectural styles. For example, Christine told us about the cage around the front entrance of the Sunflower Pub; patrons were once screened to keep out troublemakers.
We retraced our steps to York Street and Royal Avenue to visit the area around Banks Square. This neighborhood developed on a sand bar along the banks of the River Farset, which runs into the River Lagan but is now mostly paved over. There is a fun sign here with the former and current names of the streets, such as Squeeze Gut Entry. Also located in this area are Belfast’s oldest Catholic church, St. Mary’s Chapel, and one of its oldest pubs, Kelly’s Cellars. The oldest surviving place of worship is the nearby First Presbyterian Church, also built on land leased from the Donegalls. We made a brief stop at at the ornate Merchant Hotel, where we could enter in small groups to view the elaborate chandelier and lobby.
We turned onto Hill Street to reach our final destination, the Duke of York pub. Here John and I enjoyed a pint of Guinness stout, while others chose India Pale Ale, wine, hard cider or soft drinks. At this point, we could choose to return to the ship on the tour bus or to explore Belfast further and return on the shuttle. John and I decide to seek out some of the sights that had been included in the destination lecture.
Heading down Waring Street, we reached the riverfront and the “Big Fish” statue. We walked past the Albert Clock, Belfast’s own leaning tower, and zigzagged over to the Grand Opera House and the Crown Liquor Saloon, a famous Victorian gin palace. Finally, we returned to City Hall to check out the Titanic Memorial, the grand entry hall and part of the history exhibit. After about an hour of touring on our own, we decided to catch the shuttle back to the ship.
Tonight was again Italian Night in the Club Restaurant. For dinner, John had the shrimp and scallops with a garlic sauce and I had grilled sea bass with a cream sauce. Tonight’s white wine was LaRocca Gavi.
SUN, 06/17/18 AT SEA
Today was another gloomy, foggy, overcast day; at least the seas were slight. This morning, we went to the Culinary Demonstration and took the Galley Tour. After lunch, we attended the “Pop Culture” lecture “Comedy on TV III.”
In the afternoon, we packed up the items in the drawers to be moved to our new cabin while we took a day trip to Canterbury. Just before diner, the Captain announced that, because he had to slow the ship’s speed in the fog, we would dock in Dover 45 minutes to an hour later than scheduled. Dinner tonight was mussels in a white wine and cream sauce; that was enjoyed with Seignurie de Aureo Spirito Chablis.
MON, 06/18/18 DOVER, ENGLAND 6AM – 4PM
Despite the fog, the Captain was able to make up some of the lost time. “In transit” passengers were able to leave the ship at 7:25 a.m. and we had walked the 1.7 miles to the Dover Priory train station by 7:55 a.m. There was plenty of time to catch the 8:15 a.m. train (£9.60 pp round-trip) to Canterbury East and we arrived there about a half-hour later. [Note: For those who want to explore Dover, there is a local shuttle bus (www.ymstravel.co.uk/blue-bus-company) that stops at the cruise terminal, the town center, Dover Castle and Dover White Cliffs. An all-day pass is ₤5, €7or $8 (cash).]
The Canterbury East train station is only a short walk across a street and over a pedestrian bridge to the top of the Old City walls. The Romans erected the first walls around Canterbury (www.canterbury.co.uk) between 270 and 290 AD; small fragments of those walls can still be seen here and there. In the Middle Ages, the walls were rebuilt atop the ruins of the original Roman walls. Large sections of the Medieval walls still remain, along with one of their original eight gates and 16 of their 21 towers.
We started walking along the top of the walls in a counterclockwise direction and very quickly came to a ramp leading up Dane John Mound. In Roman times, this mound was a burial site. Later, it was the location of one of the first fortifications built by William the Conqueror during the Norman invasion. Judging by all the empty beer and liquor bottles, the mound is now obviously a favorite party spot; it was also desperately in need of a good mowing. Nevertheless, the short climb to the top gave good views of the town and the Canterbury Cathedral (complete with the scaffolding that obscures most historic buildings that we try to visit).
We descended from the walls at St. George’s Street and walked to St. George's Tower. Many buildings in Canterbury were heavily damaged or destroyed by a German air raid in June, 1942. This clock tower is all that remains of the Medieval church where playwright Christopher Marlowe was baptized. We continued on a few blocks and turned right on Mercery Lane. This street boasts a number of historic timber-framed houses with typical overhanging upper floors; many of these buildings predate Queen Elizabeth I. There are many more of these picturesque houses scattered throughout the pedestrianized area of the Old City.
Now we could see the Tudor turrets of the main visitor entrance to the Canterbury Cathedral Precinct, the early 16th-century Christ Church Gate. The gate is highly decorated with heraldic symbols and angels. A modern brass statue of Christ stands above the entry arch; it replaced the original Medieval one, which was damaged by Parliamentary troops during the English Civil War. There is a charge (£11.50, 65+) to enter the Cathedral and its grounds but the ticket allows visitors to come and go throughout the day. When we arrived shortly after nine o’clock, we learned that parts of the Cathedral (Choir and Trinity Chapel) would be closed until 11 a.m. for a special service. We decided to see what we could now and return to see the rest later, at the end of our walking tour.
Canterbury Cathedral (www.canterbury-cathedral.org) is one of England's largest cathedrals and the seat of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Church of England’s highest-ranking prelate. The Cathedral was established by St. Augustine of Canterbury in 600 and, like other European cathedrals, the original structure burned down long ago. The core of the present cathedral was built in 1174 and has been altered and restored many times since then, resulting in a mixture of Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance styles.
We threaded our way through a construction zone to the southwest entrance and into the Nave, with ornate ribbed vaulting and cluster pillars defining the aisles. Walking down the main aisle, we passed the baptismal font and the pulpit to reach the magnificently-carved stone choir screen.
As the Choir was still off-limits, we turned right and followed the signs to “The Martyrdom” in the Northwest Transept. The Kings of England and the Archbishops of Canterbury did not always see eye-to-eye, with perhaps the most famous examples being Henry II and Thomas Becket in the 12th century and Henry VIII and Thomas More in the 16th century. The “Altar of the Sword's Point” marks the site where Henry II’s knights murdered Becket in 1170; the sword that delivered the death stroke (cutting off the top of his skull) broke due to the force of the blow. Allegedly, the knights took Henry’s exasperated comment, “Will no one rid me of this turbulent priest?”, as a direct order to terminate Becket with extreme prejudice. After his martyrdom, the shrine of St. Thomas Becket (located in a different part of the Cathedral) became a major pilgrimage site, attracting thousands of pilgrims such as those immortalized in Chaucer’s “Canterbury Tales.”
From the transept, there is a stairway down to the large 12th century Norman Crypt, the oldest part of the Cathedral; no photos are allowed in the Crypt. St. Gabriel’s Chapel is decorated with remnants of 12th-century murals, the oldest Christian murals in the country. There is also an interesting exhibit about how the Medieval stained glass windows from the Cathedral were removed and hidden prior to WWII.
We emerged from the Crypt into the Southeast Transept. From here we could peer into St. Michael's Chapel, the location of many 15-17th-century tombs including those of some of the Cathedral’s Archbishops. Particularly interesting is the large triple tomb in the center, topped by the effigy of Lady Margaret Holland; the effigies of her two husbands, the Earl of Somerset and the Duke of Clarence, lie on her right and left.
We had now toured all of the Cathedral that was open, so we exited from the Southeast Transept into the Cathedral Precincts. As we began our stroll, we encountered groups of students from the King's School, who were headed to the special service in the Cathedral. King's School claims to be the oldest school in Britain, based on the fact that buildings from St. Augustine’s abbey (founded in 598) lie within the school's grounds. However, the current school was established by Henry VIII in 1541.
We passed a large Baobab tree (!), planted in the 1820s, on our way to the small, walled Kent War Memorial Garden. The octagonal pillar, topped by a cross, in the center of the lawn once honored those who died during the “Great War” but now memorializes the fallen from both World Wars. From here we walked around to the north side the Cathedral. The 12th-century octagonal Water Tower was built to ensure a clean water supply for the priory; some of its piping still functions. The Romanesque tower is supported by a series of interwoven arches and there is a large basin and a fountain in the center. Next to the Water Tower is a small Herbarium, planted with medicinal herbs used by the Medieval monks.
Also on the north side of the Cathedral are the colonnaded 14th-century Cloisters. The early 15th-century Chapter House is in a separate building, accessed from the Cloisters. Although the Chapter House was closed for a private function, we could peek in at its Medieval stained glass windows and barrel-vaulted ceiling; it is the largest chapter house in England.
Next we walked to the Green Court, which is surrounded by the buildings of the King’s School. In the north corner is the covered Norman Staircase. This is the oldest structure in the Cathedral Precincts and dates from 1100. The staircase is part of the Poor Pilgrim's Hall that once provided lodging to pilgrims.
We retraced our steps to the Kent War Memorial Garden. There is a door on one side that leads through the city walls to the Queningate parking lot. The former Quenin Gate was named in honor of the Catholic Queen Bertha, spouse of King Ethelbert of Kent; in 597, they welcomed St. Augustine and the monks he brought with him to convert the Britons to Christianity. We crossed over to Lady Wootton’s Green, a small park with modern statues of the royal couple.
Beyond the park is Fyndon Gate, the original gatehouse of St. Augustine's Abbey. The current gate dates to the early 14th-century, although it was damaged by bombs in WWII and had to be rebuilt. With its two crenelated towers, it looks more like a castle than the entrance to an abbey. We walked down Monastery Street and turned left on Longport to reach the Abbey’s modern entrance. The original Abbey, now in ruins, was a burial place for kings of Kent and the first archbishops of Canterbury. The admission price (£6.20 senior rate) includes an audio tour and exhibition that cover the history of the Abbey from its founding through modern-day archaeological excavations. However, we decided simply to view the ruins at a distance from the area outside the visitor center.
From the Abbey, we walked back along St. Paul Church Street to the Christ Church Gate. Turning right, we head down Sun Street to Palace Street, part of the King’s Mile. Number 17 Palace Street is the Conquest House, reputedly the place where Henry’s knights met before heading out to murder Thomas Becket. Now an art gallery, its half-timbered facade is beautifully embellished with carvings. Further down, on the corner of Palace Street and King Street, is the 17th-century “Crooked House” (www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=3357), which tilts lopsidedly in several directions.
Continuing along The King's Mile along the Borough, we came to St. Radigunds Street, site of the former Northgate and the Church of St. Mary. There is a small garden behind the church where you can see a section of the original Roman wall; parts of the wall were also incorporated into the church’s rear wall. Near the park stands the 15th-century Parrot public house, the oldest pub and one of the oldest buildings in Canterbury.
We continued along St. Radigunds Street to the Millers Arms Pub; across the street is a small park, Abbot’s Mill Gardens. Here we could walk over the Millers Arms Sluice and along the Great Stour River to the modern Marlowe Theatre. Between the theater and the river is the mask statue (Bulkhead). Also next to the theater is the Friar's Bridge. The view from the bridge towards the High Street Bridge is quite attractive, with the old houses lining the river and a glimpse of a Medieval ducking stool. We walked around the block to the Old Weavers House (1-3 St Peters Street), next to the High Street Bridge. This photogenic, half-timbered building stands on the River Stour; the ducking stool juts out from the rear of the house over the river.
From here, we went in search of the Greyfriars Chapel and Franciscan Garden (6a Stour Street). The entrance looks like a driveway for the Greyfriars Lodge, but there is a small sign to let you know you are at the right place. A stream runs through the small garden, which is surrounded by brick walls. A small chapel sits across the stream, supported on two arches. The chapel is the only remaining part of a Franciscan friary established here in 1267; it was the first Franciscan monastery in England. It’s worth making the effort to find Greyfriars, though; its a lovely medieval building in a wonderful setting.
Returning to High Street we walked to the Westgate Towers Museum and Viewpoint (www.onepoundlane.co.uk/westgate-towers/). The 14th-century Westgate is Canterbury’s only surviving city gate and the largest surviving city gate in England. Entrance to the viewpoint (£3 pp, senior rate) is via The Pound Bar & Kitchen, which formerly was the city gaol (jail) and gaoler's house. There are excellent views of Canterbury from the 60-ft (18 m) Tower’s battlements.
After descending from the Tower, we continued through the West Gate and down St. Dunstans Street. We passed the 13th-century half-timbered coaching inn, the House of Agnes. This building is named for a character in “David Copperfield” and several scenes from the novel are set here. A little farther down St. Dunstans Street is the Roper Gate (at #31). This Tudor gateway is all that remains of Place House, home of William Roper and his wife Margaret, daughter of St. Thomas More.
St. Dunstan Church has links to both of Canterbury’s famous St. Thomases. In 1174, Henry II stopped here to don penitential garments and remove his shoes. He then walked to the Cathedral, where he was scourged by the monks as penance for St. Thomas Becket’s murder. After St. Thomas More’s execution in 1535 on the charge of high treason against Henry VIII, More’s head was placed on a spike on London Bridge. Margaret Roper secured the release of her father's head and interred it in her husband’s family tomb, the St. Nicholas or Roper Chapel. The chapel is to the right of the church's main altar; the Roper family vault is beneath the chapel floor, to the immediate left of the chapel's altar. Features of the chapel include three stained glass windows and plaques on the walls that relate to the life of St. Thomas More.
We walked back to the bridge over the River Stour. There is some unusual public art here: two female figures (Alluvia) lying horizontally on the riverbed. They are very hard to spot with all the river grass, but there is a plaque on the end of the bridge nearer town and closer to the Westgate Gardens. Tower House stands at the north end of the gardens; the early Victorian building houses the Mayor's offices. The Gardens, along the banks of the River Stour, follow the course of the Roman city wall but there are no traces of the wall here today.
We walked through the Gardens and then through the painted underpass to Toddler's Cove, a playground. We continued to follow the river until we came to a small bridge with a signpost directing us towards the Norman Castle. We crossed the river and followed the signs to the Castle. Along the way we passed through Tannery Field. There is another sculpture here—the Canterbury Bull—constructed out of rusted railroad rails. The Bull commemorated the Tannery rail line that once took workers to their jobs in the tanning industry.
William the Conqueror’s original fort at Dane John was eventually replaced by a stone fortress, the Canterbury Castle (Norman Castle). This new fort was started by William’s third son, William II, and completed by his fourth son, Henry I, around 1120. The site is closed to the public due to the danger of collapse; the ruins can only be viewed from the street. From here, we walked back through town to complete our tour of the Cathedral.
Now that the special service was over, we could walk around the Ambulatory and visit the Choir. There are a number of ornate tombs in the Ambulatory, holding the remains of archbishops, cardinals and deans of the Cathedral. One of the most interesting is one with two effigies of the deceased: the upper one shows him in his robes of office and the lower one, his naked corpse. Other famous tombs are in the Trinity Chapel; these include those of Henry IV and his queen, Joan of Navarre, and of the “Black Prince,” the eldest son of King Edward III.
Trinity Chapel once held an ornate tomb containing the remains of St Thomas Becket. However, Henry VIII ordered the shrine to be destroyed in 1538, all the tomb’s gold and jewels were taken and Thomas’s bones were burned. Now a candle marks the former site of the shrine. The small chapel at the east end of the Cathedral opposite Trinity Chapel is the Corona or Becket's Crown; it once housed a reliquary containing a fragment of the saint's skull. The walls on both sides of the Trinity Chapel hold late 12th- and 13th-century stained glass windows known as the Miracle Windows. These are the subject of the exhibit in the Crypt and are considered the most important Medieval stained glass windows in England.
The final stop on our walking tour was the 11th-century Old Palace on the Canterbury grounds, which is not open to the public. This was and is the archbishop’s residence although it also housed Parliament during the English Civil War. Before returning to Dover, we stopped at the Tesco in the Whitefriars shopping mall to pick up some wine and a couple of other items. The cost of our DIY tour was £24.10 pp or about $35 pp; Princess offered a “Canterbury Cathedral & Town” tour for in-transit passengers at $89.95 pp.
We caught the 1:22 p.m. train, which is an express train, and were back in Dover about 1:40 p.m. We made a brief stop at the Barclays branch on Market Square, where I had made arrangements to exchange some expired pound coins and notes. Then it was on to the ship for the next leg of our cruise! Read Less