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392 Princess Southampton Cruise Reviews

This was our first 'proper' cruise, having only ever been on a much smaller ship on the Red Sea. We were not disappointed. The Crown Princess was massive and it took a while to get our bearings and find our way round. CABIN: ... Read More
This was our first 'proper' cruise, having only ever been on a much smaller ship on the Red Sea. We were not disappointed. The Crown Princess was massive and it took a while to get our bearings and find our way round. CABIN: Our inside cabin was small but perfectly adequate with lots of storage/hanging rails and it was kept immaculate by the room steward and the bed was turned down each night with chocolates on the pillow. Each cabin was equipped with a safe, TV, fridge and hairdryer. FOOD: There was so much choice. Dinner was easy as we had opted for the second sitting at 8.15 in the Bottecelli restaurant each night. This was waiter/ess service and we always had the same table and waiter & waitress who were totally professional and a credit to the company. Nothing was too much trouble for them. You could have 3, 4 or even 5 courses if you wanted from the menu which changed daily (there were some regular items on the menu every day). The food was delicious and we could not fault it at all. You could have dinner in the self service restaurants if you wanted or pay extra to eat in 2 speciality restaurants onboard although we didn't see the point in paying extra so didn't try them. Breakfast & Lunch could be taken in the restaurant or in the 2 self service restaurants and there was always plenty of choice, in fact it was always difficult to decide what to have. Burgers, Hot Dogs & Pizza were also available 24/7. Did I mention the Patisserie where you could indulge in the fancy cakes & pastries and have a coffee or hot chocolate (this was the only place where you had to pay for hot drinks). We did hear complaints about the food but we found nothing to complain about at all and I'm a 'fussy eater' ! ENTERTAINMENT: There was so much to do. A newsletter (Princess Patter) was delivered each night to the cabin and contained all the activities for the following day. If you didn't want to sunbathe, swim or read, there was an open air cinema (latest releases), Mini golf, A gym that would put many onshore to shame, Theatre, Casino, Library, and Spa. There always seemed to be some form of entertainment taking place, whether it was a piano player, band, singers or comedian. Then there was the regular quizzes or lectures in the theatre. There was no time to be bored. EXCURSIONS: I cannot comment on the organised excursions as we made our own arrangements whenever we docked but the ship provided plenty of information about the places to visit etc (delivered to the cabins). The company were very good at providing all sorts of information to its passengers throughout the cruise including reminders to put clocks back or forward. DISEMBARKATION: This was very well organised, after all you cannot have 3000 odd people trying to get off the ship at the same time. The waiting areas were supplied with tea & coffee facilities and it was a very smooth operation from our point of view. GENERAL: We did hear complaints, one man complained that he was being treated like cattle but all we were doing was waiting for the dining room to be ready for us to eat (the first sitting hadn't quite finished) and there were moans about the lifts not responding straight away so having to wait. But this was down to the volume of people trying to move around the ship. Some people will moan about anything. We didn't have any complaints at all - oh just one - my pillow was too soft !!! Read Less
Sail Date October 2013
ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our early 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 ... Read More
ABOUT US John and I (Carolyn) are retired Mississippi State University professors in our early 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 be looking for flags from Portugal, the Canary Islands, Madeira and the Azores. 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, Australia/New Zealand, the Panama Canal, the Mediterranean/Greek Isles, Scandinavia/Russia, Hawaiian Islands, French Polynesia, South America/Antarctic Peninsula, the Far East, the North Atlantic (Greenland/Iceland), parts of the British Isles, the Norwegian Fjords, the Galapagos Islands and the Holy Land/Egypt. 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), Hawaiian Islands (Kauai, Maui, Hawaii) 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. 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 links to tourist sites and maps. Because we have sailed many times with Princess, we have seen many of the shows and performers; this cruise would also give us the opportunity to see most of them more than once. Thus we do not feel compelled to see a show every night, especially if we have had a long day or need to be up especially early the following morning. Although we booked this as a 26-day cruise, it was also marketed as a 12-day cruise to the Canary Islands and a 14-day Transatlantic cruise. This review includes information on our pre-cruise stay in London (2 nights) and Portsmouth (2 nights), the Canary Islands cruise and the Transatlantic cruise (which ultimately had 3 of the 5 scheduled port calls canceled). TOUR GUIDE CONTACT INFORMATION In general, we prefer DIY port tours, private tours with other Cruise Critic roll call members, or shared public tours. However, we will take Princess tours when the logistics or cost make that a better option. We took one Princess tour on this cruise because of the short time in that port and the lack of other viable alternatives. We also took two shared private tours and toured the other ports on our own. Although several port calls were canceled, I have included information about the operators we had intended to use. LISBON: DIY tour to Sintra by train (www.tripadvisor.co.uk/Travel-g189158-c146578/Lisbon:Portugal:Getting.To.Sintra.html) GRAN CANARIA: DIY tour by Cicar rental car (www.cicar.com/EN/gran-canaria-car-hire) TENERIFE: Shared private tour with Patsy Little (patricialittle@hotmail.com) LANZAROTE: DIY tour by Cicar rental car (www.cicar.com/EN/lanzarote-car-hire) MADEIRA: Shared custom tour with Daniel Madeira Taxis (www.danielmadeirataxis.com/cruise-ship-excursions.shtml) VIGO: Princess tour “Santiago De Compostela on Your Own” SOUTHAMPTON: DIY tour to Bath by train (www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk/Destinations/Top-destinations/Bath) LE HAVRE (CANCELED): DIY tour to Mont St-Michel by rental car (www.rentacar.fr; if your ship docks on a Sunday, email le_havre@rentacar.fr to reserve a car at the cruise terminal) VIGO (CANCELED): DIY winery tour by Avis rental car (www.avis.com/car-rental/location/EUR/ES/Vigo) LISBON: DIY tour using Lisboa Card (www.lisbonlux.com/lisbon/lisboa-card.html) AZORES (CANCELED): Shared private tour with Amazing Tours (www.amazingtours.se/uk/shoretours.htm) BERMUDA: DIY tour using public ferries and buses (www.bermuda-attractions.com/bermuda_000070.htm) REVIEW OF THE CRUISE 09 OCT (WED) IN TRANSIT TO LONDON, UK We flew American nonstop from RDU to LHR a few days ahead of the cruise in order to visit some new (to us) sights in England and to get over jet lag before the cruise. We booked the open-jaw, fully refundable flights using Princess EzAir during a special promotion; that saved us several hundreds of dollars pp compared to the best prices John had been able to find for nonrefundable tickets at other travel sites. It was really nice to spend the morning relaxing at home instead of getting up in the middle of the night to fly to and spend the day waiting in some stopover airport. Security at RDU was exceptionally fast and easy: we did not have to empty our pockets, remove any items of clothing or take anything out of our hand luggage; we didn't even have to walk through the fancy body scanners. We did have to go through the regular metal detectors and there was a security dog that sniffed each of us. We were not the only people surprised by this; the TSA agents were constantly stopping people from removing their shoes, belts, jackets etc. and taking out their laptops and plastic bags of tiny toiletries. I hope this means that the dogs are a more reliable way to detect safety threats with less inconvenience for travelers. 10 OCT (THU) PRECRUISE DAY 1: LONDON, UK Despite having tried to time-shift a couple of hours over the last few weeks, the difficulties of sleeping on the plane still left us a bit groggy when we arrived at LHR shortly after dawn. We passed through immigration, customs and baggage claim with no problems. John did notice that the cable tie on one suitcase had been cut, indicating that it had been opened and inspected by TSA. This was the suitcase with all the items that would not be needed until the cruise. Maybe it was the shoes or the travel surge protector that looked suspicious in the x-rays; at least TSA did not jumble up the contents noticeably. Once out of baggage claim, the first task was to obtain some pounds from an ATM. I later learned that all the ATMs at the airport are owned by Travelex, which explained the poor exchange rate. At least there was no fee with the debit card I used and we only needed a little cash for taxis and the like. Next it was off to the Underground station to add some value to the Oyster transit cards we had bought on our 2008 visit to London. During previous visits to Europe, we had been unable to use our US-style magnetic strip credit cards in ticket machines. Specifically for this trip, we obtained a new credit card from PenFed, which not only has the chip-and-PIN technology used in Europe but also has no foreign transaction fees. This card worked like a charm in the ticket machine and we were soon on the tube for Westminster. We emerged from the tube station to partially sunny skies and a view of Big Ben, then headed across the Westminster Bridge to the London Marriott Hotel County Hall. Although two nights at this hotel put quite a dent in our Marriott Rewards Points balance, it was worth it to be near so many major tourist attractions and transportation options. We were prepared to check our luggage but a room was already available. Even though we were staying with rewards points, we were given a room with an actual view (of the Jubilee Gardens and a section of the London Eye). The room itself was a bit small but had a comfortable king-sized bed and a separate living area with a small sofa, armchair, table, large desk with chair and small side table with stool. The main problem we had with the room was that the room safe did not operate properly; someone quickly came to reprogram it. There were other, minor problems: it took three requests to get a second bathrobe, the TV remotes did not always function properly and the water faucets and shower had some issues. Naturally, the more plush the Marriott brand, the fewer amenities; breakfast and wifi (6 GBP/hour!) were not included. However, the excellent location trumped everything else. After freshening up a bit, we had plenty of time to stroll over to the London Tourist Office (near Trafalgar Square) before it opened. There we exchanged the voucher for our London Passes (www.londonpass.com) and guide books. We had bought 1-day passes on our previous visit and were pleased with the amount of money we had saved over buying tickets to individual attractions and with the skip-the-line feature, which saved us a lot of waiting time. For this visit, we bought 3-day passes earlier in the year, when they were on sale for the same price as 2-day passes. These passes are also available with a transportation option, but we are avid walkers and the pay-as-you go Oyster card is more cost-effective for us. In the following, I will indicate by “LP” the attractions we visited using the pass. London Passes acquired, the next stop was Waterloo Railway Station to purchase return tickets to Windsor. The PenFed card again worked fine in the ticket machine and we were soon on our way. Fortunately for us, the Windsor and Eton Riverside station is the end of the line or we might have missed our stop. That was because the gentle rocking of the train combined with jet lag caused each of us to nod off occasionally. Nevertheless, we made it to Windsor and the chilly air temperature and brisk wind quickly perked us up. From the railway station it is a short walk uphill to Windsor Castle (LP) and there is a separate entry queue for LP holders. We got our tickets and map, passed through a security check and picked up the included audioguides for the self-paced tour. The Castle, one of QEII's official residences, is an impressive collection of buildings surrounded by a sturdy wall. The audioguide pointed out the many defensive features, such as the slots for firing arrows and the dry moat. Inside the Castle, the first stop was Queen Mary's Dolls' House, which holds her huge collection of miniature furniture, household objects, art, books and vehicles. Next was a display of drawings and paintings by past and present members of the UK's Royal Family (plus a drawing by da Vinci). Then it was on to the State Apartments –-- room after ornately furnished and decorated room. Some of these rooms are still used by the Queen for various official functions. Thankfully, the audioguide gives an overview of the main features of each room and leaves each visitor the choice of hearing more details if he/she chooses. Thus, we heard enough about the rooms to be interesting while being spared the information overload we endured on our visit to the Fontainebleau Palace in France. Our final stop in the Castle was St. George's Chapel, which is architecturally quite striking and contains the tombs of several British monarchs. After visiting the Castle, we strolled through Windsor (www.windsor.gov.uk/visitor-info) to Windsor Great Park and the Long Walk, a straight 3-mile long path. There are good views of the Castle from the Long Walk. We strolled away from the Castle until we could see the green dome of the Frogmore House Mausoleum, the tomb of Victoria and Albert, then turned onto a side path out of the Park and through Windsor to the River Thames. There were many swans, geese and ducks in the river and a company offering boat rides. We had thought to have an early supper of fish and chips along the river but the weather was not pleasant enough for al fresco dining. We returned to the main street via the Windsor Royal shopping mall, back toward the train station and over the bridge to Eton. From the bridge, you can see the walls and towers of the Castle looming over Windsor. We did not continue along the road to Eton College because no public tours were offered today. Instead we returned to the station and London, again fighting the soporific effects of the swaying train coach. We still had time for one more sight in London before calling it a day. Our hotel was across the street from St. Thomas' Hospital, home to the very small Florence Nightingale Museum (LP). Although most of the museum deals with her contributions to the nursing profession and to improving sanitation standards in hospitals, as a biostatistician I was primarily interested in her statistical activities. Unfortunately, there was only one display case that mentioned her work in that area but it contained a book with a copy of Nightingale's innovative “coxcomb” diagram (www.florence-nightingale.co.uk/images/contentImages/collection-highlights/coll_f11.jpg). This diagram consists of 12 adjacent wedges (one for each month), radiating from a common center. The radius of each wedge is proportional to the total number of troop deaths in a given month and colored bands on each wedge show the numbers of deaths due to various causes. The graph vividly illustrates the seasonal variation in the number of deaths and how the number of deaths due to infectious diseases vastly exceeded those due to combat injuries. If you are not a biostatistician or a nurse, you probably would not consider this museum a “must see.” 11 OCT (FRI) PRECRUISE DAY 2: LONDON, UK Still suffering from jet lag, we did not get a solid night's rest last night. Nevertheless, we were up early and in the queue for Westminster Abbey (LP) about 20 minutes before it opened. There were already about a dozen people in line and by opening time the line stretched for more than a block behind us. Admission to the Abbey includes an audioguide and there are also verger-led tours for an additional cost. The Abbey is a fascinating place, crammed with tombs and memorials ranging from simple slabs in the floor (Charles Darwin) to huge sculpture groups (Issac Newton) on the walls to sarcophagi topped by life-sized effigies of couples spending eternity together. Many other famous scientists are buried or memorialized there, such as Halley, Maxwell, Faraday, Kelvin and Watt. The “Poets' Corner” is devoted mostly to playwrights, authors, poets and actors. Naturally there is a large memorial to Shakespeare and the walls and floors were covered with names like Chaucer, Dickens, the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, Lewis Carroll –- too many to mention. I was happy to spot the stone for Sir Laurence Olivier, honored in the same building where some of the kings he portrayed are buried. After nearly two hours in the Abbey, we headed to the Wellington Barracks to see the inspection of the New Guard that takes place before the Changing of the Guard Ceremony at Buckingham Palace. During the inspection, a military band stands in a circle and plays various classical and popular tunes; they were playing “Thriller” when we arrived. After the inspection, the New Guard, led by the band, marched off to the Palace, passed through a huge throng of onlookers and entered the Palace gates. It was obviously not possible to get any closer to see the rest of the ceremony, so we remained at the edge of the crowd until the Horse Guard arrived. Then we headed through St. James' Park and back to the Westminster Embankment as it began to rain. At the Westminster Pier, we picked up our City Cruises' River Red Rover tickets (LP); these tickets are HOHO and good for the entire day. Our destination was Greenwich. During this 75-minute cruise, there is either recorded or live commentary pointing out sights along the river. We hopped off at the Greenwich Pier to tour the “Cutty Sark,” a tea clipper famous for her speed. Although this attraction is not included in the LP, there is a discount for those 60+. We had taken this same river cruise on our 2008 visit and toured the Royal Naval Observatory and the National Maritime Museum, but the “Cutty Sark” was under restoration and could not be visited. Now the ship is enclosed in a new museum (www.rmg.co.uk/cuttysark/) where visitors can walk through all three levels of the ship; there is also a small collection of ship figureheads on the level beneath the hull. The “Cutty Sark” is truly an elegant sailing ship and quite popular among model builders. John had once built a model (long gone) of her many years ago but resisted buying any of the kits on offer in the gift shop. We hopped back on the City Cruises boat and hopped off at the Tower Pier. It was still raining steadily and the strong wind was not kind to our cheap folding umbrellas as we walked over the Tower Bridge to the “HMS Belfast” (LP). The ticket here also included an excellent audioguide and the tour (9 decks!) was more comprehensive than that of any other naval vessel we have ever visited. John is a military history buff but even he had not considered the “Belfast” a high-priority attraction. However, we both found it interesting and well worth the visit. Then it was back over the Tower Bridge, where the wind further demolished our umbrellas. We had considered taking the tube to the British Museum, which we had only had the opportunity to sample on our previous visit, because many of the galleries are open late on Friday nights. By now we were starting to wear down and the rain was demoralizing, so we hopped back on the City Cruises boat, hopped off at Westminster Pier and returned to the hotel. 12 OCT (SAT) PRECRUISE DAY 3: LONDON AND PORTSMOUTH, UK This morning we checked out of the Marriott and made a quick trip to Waterloo Railway Station (more about that later). After that, we walked over the Jubilee Bridge, stopped to view Cleopatra's Needle and caught the tube to Kew Royal Botanic Gardens (LP). The gardens are large –-- 326 acres –- so we were only able to visit a few of the highlights. We arrived just before the gardens opened and first visited a huge glass conservatory, the Palm House. True to its name, it was filled with many species of palms and tropical plants. We even spotted a rubber tree, perhaps a scion of those plants that were smuggled out of Brazil to England, were nurtured at Kew Gardens and broke the Brazilian monopoly on rubber production. There was a balcony to allow views of the tree canopy and an underground gallery of aquatic plants and animals. Across from the Palm House was the much smaller Waterlily House, which was devoted to an attractive display of 75 varieties of pumpkins, squashes and gourds. Fortunately the weather was much nicer today and there were many families enjoying the exhibit, including one little girl repeating “Pumpkin pie! Pumpkin pie!” Another large glass house was home to the Princess of Wales Conservatory, showcasing tropical plants from around the world arranged by ecosystem. A feature we have not seen in any other botanical garden was the Treetop Walkway, a high boardwalk in a grove of trees. As we left the gardens, we were sorry that we had not allotted more time for them and promised ourselves a longer visit in the future. Back in Westminster, we visited the Churchill War Rooms (LP). This attraction also included an audioguide tour. The War Rooms, where Prime Minister Churchill and the War Cabinet led the British war effort and that sheltered them during the Blitz, have been restored to their appearance at the end of WWII; this part was extremely interesting. In the middle of the tour of the War Rooms, visitors are diverted to the Churchill Museum showcasing his life and accomplishments. Although this museum had many fine exhibits, the audioguide tour was a bit confusing because it was not in chronological order and the audioguide numbers were hard to spot in the displays. We were disappointed to find out later that we missed seeing an Enigma cypher machine. We still had time for one more attraction, so we decided to visit the Jewel Tower (LP), one of only two remaining complete buildings from the medieval Palace of Westminster. However, there was quite a line and no separate entry for LP holders, so we simply viewed the outside of the Jewel Tower and returned to the hotel to collect our luggage. The Waterloo Railway Station, where we planned to catch the train to Portsmouth, is only a 0.4-mile walk from the Marriott. South West Trains makes a special offer of discounted admission tickets to the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard if you buy the Dockyard tickets when you purchase the train tickets (www.southwesttrains.co.uk/portsmouth-historic-dockyard.aspx). Although the Dockyard tickets themselves are valid for one year from the date of purchase, we had not noticed that the vouchers the ticket agent sold us on Thursday were only valid for today. That was why we went to the station earlier this morning, to exchange those vouchers for ones that would be valid tomorrow instead. We had no problems making the exchange, but the ticket agent again refused to sell us the advertised Senior price ticket, claiming that the Senior ticket “was not in the computer system.” Oh well, we still managed to save over 9 GBP pp compared to the regular cost of the Dockyard tickets. And I will be complaining to South West Trains about their false advertising (for what little good that will do). It was a 1 hr 35 min ride to Portsmouth (www.visitportsmouth.co.uk/visitor-information). The George Hotel was only 0.3 miles from the Portsmouth Harbour station; the Dockyard was about halfway between the station and the hotel. The George Hotel (www.thegeorgehotel.org.uk) is very small –- only 10 rooms above the small pub and restaurant –- but comfortable and the rate included both free wifi and breakfast. John and I took advantage of the pub to enjoy a pint before attending Vigil Mass at St. John's Catholic Cathedral, which was just a few blocks up the street. Later, when we were trying to get to sleep, there were some problems with traffic noise and happy patrons leaving the pub; if you stay here, bring earplugs. 13 OCT (SUN) PRECRUISE DAY 4: PORTSMOUTH, UK This morning we were offered the choice of a cold (cereal, fruit, yogurt) or hot, cooked to order breakfast. We choose the Full English Breakfast, which was huge: two poached eggs, a sausage, two slices of English bacon (more like Canadian bacon than the US version), mushrooms, a broiled tomato, baked beans and toast. That was definitely a meal that would keep us going for a long, wet day exploring the Dockyard! It had rained during the night and was still misting as we walked the short distance to the Dockyard visitor center (www.historicdockyard.co.uk); the weather would only get worse as the day progressed. Although the attractions were not yet open, the visitor center was already selling tickets and making reservations for the timed-entry “Mary Rose” Museum. We exchanged the SW Trains vouchers for all-attraction tickets and got spots on the first “Mary Rose” tour. This site is similar to places like Colonial Williamsburg, where the grounds are open to the public but a ticket is needed to enter the various attractions. We splashed over to the “Mary Rose” Museum that just opened this year. The “Mary Rose” was Henry VIII's flagship and sank during a battle in 1545 with the loss of over 500 lives. The wreck was raised in 1982 and since then has been treated with polyethylene glycol (antifreeze) to stabilize and preserve it; this is the same method used to preserve the Vasa, which was recovered from the Stockholm harbor. While only about 40% of the ship remains, it is fascinating to view it from three levels. Galleries one each level display some of the myriad artifacts recovered from the ship as well as skeletons and forensic reconstructions of several of the crew who drowned in the sinking. Next we toured the “HMS Victory,” Vice Admiral Lord Nelson's flagship during the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. The “Victory” is the world's oldest commissioned warship and is still the flagship of the Royal Navy. John and I have read several nonfiction books about this period in naval history and are fans of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin novels, which take place slightly later in the 19th century. In preparation for this visit, we watched a movie based on O'Brian's books (“Master and Commander”) and a movie (“That Hamilton Woman”) and a BBC TV series (“I Remember Nelson”) about Nelson's life. On our 2008 visit to London, we had seen Nelson's tomb in St. Paul's Cathedral and the jacket he was wearing when he was shot (displayed in the National Maritime Museum). It was stirring to walk the decks of this historic vessel and see the famous painting “The Death of Nelson” marking the spot where the legendary hero died. Next we tried to take the harbor tour but the tour boat was temporarily not operating because one of the motors had gone out on the first tour of the day. Instead, we toured the “HMS Warrior,” built in 1860. This was the first iron-hulled ship in the world and could be propelled either by wind or steam. Built to counter French technological advances, she was so fast, powerful and intimidating that she never had to engage in battle. It is particularly interesting to compare the “Warrior” with the 100-year-older “Victory” to see some of these advances in the science of shipbuilding. When we checked back at the harbor tour kiosk, we learned that the motor had been fixed and the tours would resume in a few minutes. The 45-minute tour took us past active naval vessels, vessels built and undergoing sea trials for other countries and vessels decommissioned and being sold for scrap. The narration also pointed out interesting sights at sea and on the shore, such as the pub where Nelson reputedly drank his last pint before setting sail on the “Victory.” After the harbor tour, we walked to the far end of the dockyard to view (not open to visit) the “Monitor 33”, built for service in WWI; there are also two smaller boats at the Dockyard for external viewing only. Finally, we visited the two buildings of the National Museum of the Royal Navy. The first building had a nice collection of ship figureheads. One wing of the second building was devoted to life on naval sailing ships and the other to Nelson. This second wing contained memorabilia and items used by Nelson and Lady Hamilton (his mistress/common law wife). There was a statue depicting how Nelson is thought to have actually looked, based on scholarly study of contemporary portraits, drawings and descriptions. Interestingly, this wing was dedicated in 1995 by Nelson's and Lady Hamilton's great-great-great-granddaughter. Finally tired of braving the elements with our increasingly dilapidated and useless umbrellas, we headed back to the George Hotel for a traditional roast dinner and more ale. There was a choice of roast beef, pork or turkey (we got the beef) served with lots of gravy, roasted potatoes, boiled new potatoes, Yorkshire pudding, cabbage, peas and carrots. The meat was sliced very thinly and might have made a nice po-boy if the gravy had had some garlic in it. Overall, the meal was good but seemed under-seasoned to our New Orleans taste buds. 14 OCT (MON) CRUISE DAY 0: PORTSMOUTH AND SOUTHAMPTON, UK This morning, we decided to enjoy a slightly lighter version of the Full English Breakfast –- John omitted the baked beans and I left off the beans and the sausage; this was still quite filling. After relaxing a while and finishing packing, it was back to the train station for the trip to Southampton (www.discoversouthampton.co.uk/visit). There is a free shuttle bus from the Southampton Central Station to Ferry Terminal 1 (www.redfunnel.co.uk/travel-connections/bus-connections/citylink/); from there it is a short (0.5 mile) walk to the Ocean Terminal, where the “Crown Princess” was docked. The “Independence of the Seas” was also in port at the Mayflower Terminal. Check-in was quick but the security line was quite long. John's briefcase of electronics needed an extra examination. Despite the long line, we were in our cabin by 12:30 p.m. and had all our belongings put away by one o'clock. John made reservations for dinner at Sabatini's Trattoria ($25 pp) and I called room service to exchange some items from our mini-bar setup. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the ship. I forgot to mention that we had booked the lowest category balcony guarantee. However, we were assigned (only 6 days before embarkation!) a deluxe balcony midships on the Caribe deck. The reason these cabins are “deluxe” is that the balcony is about twice as large as standard balconies and they are partially covered, giving guests a choice of sun or shade. Very nice! As usual, the food at Sabatini’s was excellent; we had a window table overlooking the stern as we sailed away from Southampton toward Lisbon. This voyage offered the Princess wine packages but we were told that we could not carry unused punches over to the second leg of the voyage. We decided to buy the Gold 12-bottle package (see below) and used the first punch for a nice Barolo. Unfortunately, we learned that the sommelier position has been eliminated for the third time in the 20+ years that we have been sailing with Princess. After dinner, John and I skipped the “Welcome Aboard Showtime” in favor of resting up from our busy four days in London and Portsmouth. About the Wine Packages: 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 onboard account (no gratuity added) and your account receives a credit for either $29 or $45. 15 OCT (TUE) CRUISE DAY 1: AT SEA Today we slept in to continue our recovery from all the activity in London and Portsmouth. We did manage to pull ourselves together enough to attend the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet, which was held in Skywalkers Nightclub. At least 75% of the people who had been posting to the roll call showed up. We met the person who had organized a tour we joined for Tenerife and the couple who would be joining us in Madeira. The M&G conflicted with the port lecture for Lisbon and we never saw the lecture aired later on the Princess port lecture channel. John and I spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing; I also worked on this review. The ship would spend the rest of the day and all night traversing the Bay of Biscay. Later we heard people complaining about the rough weather and saw seasickness bags around the ship but we did not think the ship's motion was anything remarkable. Tonight was the first of two formal nights on this leg and the Captain's Welcome Champagne Waterfall. Earlier in the evening there was a party in the Princess Theater for the Gold and Ruby Captain's Circle members; there would be three parties on the second formal night for the Platinum and Elite members. After dinner, we attended the production show “Destination Anywhere” (anywhere means Las Vegas, London and Africa). The show made me wonder whether Londoners like being represented by West End prostitutes and Jack the Ripper as much as New Orleanians like being represented by Basin Street prostitutes and voodoo queens. Maybe if I put the proper gris-gris bag around the funnel of a toy Princess ship and stuck in a few pins, we could get some new shows? It might be worth a try. 16 OCT (WED) CRUISE DAY 2: AT SEA Another day to rest up, read and work on the review. We did go to the port lecture by Lyndon Jolley. This was a combined lecture on Gran Canaria and Tenerife and was repeated later on the stateroom TV. Mr. Jolley barely gave any information on Gran Canaria but his section on Tenerife was better. This evening the show was a vocalist/comic (Mike Doyle), which we did not feel it was essential to attend. 17 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 3: LISBON, PORTUGAL (8:00AM – 4:30PM) Today was Lisbon (www.visitlisboa.com/Home_UK.aspx?lang=en-GB), a new port for us. Although Princess often docks at the Alcantara Pier (near the Ponte 25 de Abril, which is described as looking somewhat like the Golden Gate Bridge), the “Independence of the Seas” was docked there today. The Celebrity “Eclipse” was docked at the Santa Apolonia pier; we docked at the Jardin do Tabaco. This pier is located midway between the Praca do Comercio and the Santa Apolonia train station, so it is much more convenient than the other two piers for passengers who want to explore the city on their own on foot. The small terminal building appeared to have no services except a rack of city maps and a few brochures. However, the main tourist office (Ask Me Lisboa) is on Praca do Comercio, only about 0.5 mile from the dock. There is also a tourist office in the Santa Apolonia train station. It was a beautiful day, so we decided to visit Sintra (www.cm-sintra.pt/default.aspx), a favorite summer retreat of Portuguese royalty and aristocrats, and save Lisbon proper for the port stop on the next cruise. We walked from the dock to the Praca do Comercio and through the triumphal arch, which commemorates the reconstruction of the city after the disastrous earthquake and tsunami of 1755 that killed over 60,000 Lisboans. This arch marks one end of the main shopping street, Rua Augusta. We followed this pedestrianized street, stopping at a bank ATM to add to our cache of euros, to the Rossio train station. We walked right past the station at first because it is cleverly disguised as a palace; the Starbucks should have been a giveaway. Once inside the station, we bought return tickets (4.3 euros pp plus 0.5 euro pp for the required rechargeable travel card) to Sintra and caught the train, which runs every 15 minutes; the ride takes only 40 minutes. The Sintra Hills, a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Landscape, consists of seven sites plus associated parks, gardens and forests (www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/). There are hiking trails that link all of the sites but our time was limited today. Instead, we took the #434 tourist bus that circles Sintra every 15-20 minutes; a full-day ticket costs 5 euros pp (pay in cash on the bus). We exited the bus at the Moorish Castle, built around the 10th century. Here we could purchase a combination ticket (25 euros pp) to the three sites that we planned to visit: Moorish Castle, Pena Palace and National Palace of Sintra. At the Moorish Castle, it was great fun to scramble along the walls and up the towers for panoramic views of the Sintra Hills, the coastline and the Pena Palace higher up the hill. There are also remains of the medieval inhabitants of the area, such as graves, dwellings and granaries carved into the lava rock. After touring the castle, one can wait for the #434 bus or make the short (about 10 minutes) walk to the entrance to Pena Park. From there, it is an additional 10-minute walk to the Pena Palace itself; for less keen walkers, there is a shuttle from the entrance up to the palace for 2 euros pp. Pena Park is 500 acres filled with plants from all over the world and crisscrossed with paths and trails. We would have liked to wander the park at length but had to keep an eye on the clock to obey the all-aboard deadline. The Pena Palace was built by Don Fernando II, the consort of Queen Maria II, in the middle of the 19th century. The last royal inhabitant was the mother of the last king of Portugal, whose reign ended with the founding of the Republic in 1910. The exterior of the palace is brightly colored in brick red and ocher. The various rooms are lavishly decorated with the painted ceramic tiles (Azulejos) typical of Portugal. Some of the rooms have intricate carvings that cover the walls and ceilings; other rooms are painted in trompe l'oeil to give the same effect. The furnishings were richly carved. Although this was obviously the residence of wealthy people, it did not display the sheer opulence of Windsor Castle. After we finished touring the palace, we were hurrying to catch the #434 when I stepped awkwardly on a cobblestone and twisted my right ankle. There was nothing else to do but soldier on to the last site on the schedule. The National Palace of Sintra is in the historical center of Sintra and is easily recognized by its two white, cone-shaped chimneys. Like the Pena Palace, its use as a royal residence ended in 1910. The original palace was a summer residence of the Moorish sultans and was rebuilt again and again until now the structure is a conglomeration of styles. The rooms feature the gorgeous multicolored Azulejos. A number of the rooms are named for the paintings on the wooden ceilings: swans, magpies, mermaids, galleons. The Stag Room ceiling also features over 70 coats of arms of aristocratic Portuguese families. After touring the palace, we checked out a few of the souvenir shops and I was able to find a Portuguese flag for my collection. We returned to Lisbon on the train with no problems except for a swollen and bruised ankle. We stopped at a Pingo Doce (local food store chain) near the station on Rua 1 Dezembro to check out the Portuguese wine selection. There were a number of wines in the 1-2 euro price range (maybe good, maybe swill);John picked a brand he recognized (9 euros). Then we walked down Rua Augusta to Praca do Comercio, where we stopped at the tourist office on the square to purchase a 1-day Lisboa Card. These cards include free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as transportation by tram, bus, elevator etc. (See the journal entry below for October 31 for more details.) We planned to use the card during our second Lisbon port call, on the next leg of the cruise. We still had a little time before we had to return to the ship, so we followed part of a walking tour of the Alfama (www.frommers.com/destinations/lisbon/749263), a section of the city that was not destroyed by the earthquake. The Alfama is a warren of narrow streets and stairways that covers the hillside below the Castelo de Sao Jorge. We walked past a couple of old churches, one of which is built over the birthplace of St. Anthony of Padua. We made a brief visit to the Se Catedral, which is quite plain for a European cathedral; its claim to fame is the font where St. Anthony was baptized. We continued further uphill to two miradouros (viewpoints) where we could see the white, red tile roofed houses spilling down the hillside to the water. One miradouro was outside the Santa Luzia church, whose exterior featured a blue and white, ceramic tile mural of St. Lucy holding a palm branch in one hand and pair of eyeballs on a plate in the other. Her eyes were plucked out during her martyrdom; thus she is the patron saint of those of us with poor eyesight and those suffering from diseases or disorders of the eyes. The other miradouro, Largas das Portas do Sol, also had nice views. From here, we simply followed the winding streets and stairways in a generally downhill direction until we reached the waterfront. Back at the ship, I iced down my knee, took some aspirin and kept my foot elevated until after the sail away; that helped a little. There were great views of Lisbon as the ship sailed down the Tagus River. After passing under the Ponte 25 Abril, there were views of the Belem section of the city and its major attractions: the Jeronimos Monastery, Monument to the Discoveries and the Belem Tower; we planned to visit those sites on the next leg of the cruise. To take my mind off my ankle, we decided to dine at the Crown Grill ($25 pp); food always helps. We had a salmon and crawfish appetizer and the black-and-blue onion soup. The waiter brought us a fork along with a soup spoon for the soup; he said it is much easier to eat the cheese and crouton crust with a fork –- what a good suggestion! Although the steaks (we had NY strip) were first-class and cooked exactly to our order, the taste simply does not equal that of meat cooked over an open flame. We also shared a portion of the grilled lobster tails (four very small tails) grilled with garlic butter. The finale was a dessert sampler with small portions of each of the four dessert options. After this delicious dinner, I decided to limp back to the cabin and rest my ankle instead of seeing the production show “Motor City,” which we had seen many times already. 18 OCT (FRI) CRUISE DAY 4: AT SEA Today was a chance to rest my ankle and also my left knee, which had decided to act up; perhaps I hyper-extended it in the same fall. I made it down to the combined port lecture on Lanzarote and Madeira; this lecture was repeated later on the stateroom TV. At the end of the port lecture, Mr. Jolley alarmed the audience by explaining how a landslide on La Palma island would cause a tsunami that would not only drown everyone on the Canary Islands but also devastate the entire east coast of the US and the west coasts of Europe and Africa. This gave us something pleasant to anticipate as a possible highlight of our visit to Gran Canaria island tomorrow. The Princess Grapevine wine tasting was held this afternoon in the Michelangelo dining room. As Elite Captain's Circle members, John and I received complimentary invitations. At one time the wines were the same at every Grapevine but in recent years there has been more variety. We were happy that all of the wines today were new to the Grapevine. Even the old reliable Errazuriz Late Harvest dessert wine was replaced by a Martini & Rossi Asti Spumante. This evening the show was a magician/sleight of hand artist (Brett Sherwood). He was excellent, putting a new spin on several old tricks and including some new ones that we had not seen before. We had carefully selected seats to avoid John being picked as an audience participant (he is a lodestone for magicians) and both of us enjoyed the show greatly. In the Princess Patter for tomorrow, there was the following announcement: “Spanish Government Value Added Tax (VAT) Please note that the Spanish government collects a 10% VAT to all food and beverage purchases made on all cruise ships in Spanish waters and ports. Items exempt from this mandate are tobacco products and promotional drink packages (i.e., Ultimate Soda Package, Coffee Cards, etc.) For your convenience, the tax will automatically be charged via your stateroom account.” I wonder whether other countries will start assessing this tax? 09 OCT (SAT) CRUISE DAY 5: LAS PALMAS, GRAN CANARIA, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (8:00AM – 10:30PM) Today we had a nice, long port day in Gran Canaria (www.grancanaria.com/patronato_turismo/EN.283.0.html). Our Cruise Critic friend, Bob (BobTroll) from the UK, had recommended renting a car from Cicar to explore the island. This was an excellent choice because the rental office was right outside the fence from the ship on the Muelle de Santa Catalina Poniente. The office was not open when we arrived shortly before 8 a.m. but an agent arrived about 8:10. Apparently we and a Canadian couple were the only people who had reserved a car in advance. Even with a reservation, all the paperwork had to be written out by hand. It was not clear where the cars were located, so we had to wait until the Canadians finished their paperwork for the agent to show all of us where the cars were parked; that was in a parking garage further down the pier. Once we found the car (a Corsa), we headed off but had a little difficulty finding our way out of the port. We had both our Garmin (with a European highways chip) and written directions from Google Maps. However, it was early in the morning and we were excited. We ended up going down a bus-only lane past a police station but no one noticed. We had to stop for gas (the car had about 1/8 tank and we were supposed to return it with the same amount) and my limited Spanish was able to extract directions to the highway we wanted. Once we were on the correct highway, the combined intellectual power of two PhDs was eventually able to determine that we were heading in exactly the wrong direction (the ocean was on our left when it should have been on our right). A quick U-turn at the next interchange had us on our way to our first destination, the Pico Bandama. Pico Bandama is a volcanic cone over 1800 feet high. It is not too far from the port and thus is included in some of the cruise ship excursions. Despite our false start leaving the port, we arrived there well before any of the buses from the ship and, more importantly, were on our way to the next site before we had to share the narrow road with them. The next stop was the town of Aguimes, where the Parroquia de San Sebastian is a Historical Cultural Monument. The church is considered one of the best examples of the Canary Islands' neoclassical architecture; it's worth a quick visit. Aguimes is a pretty little town with narrow streets, many of which are one-way and look like someone's patio. We had to circle the town center twice before we managed to find a parking spot in the plaza in front of the church. North of Aguimes lies the Barranco de Guayadeque. The steep walls of this ravine are over 400 meters high in places. In the Canary Islands, gases released during the volcanic eruptions formed large bubbles in the lava. As the lava eroded to form the canyon, these bubbles were revealed as “caves” in the walls of the ravine. The Guanches, the original inhabitants of the Canary Islands, excavated the soft lava rock to connect and enlarge those bubbles to create homes, storage facilities and burial chambers. Even today, people living in the canyon may have a home with a modern facade and an interior that is carved into the side of the ravine. The Centro de Interpretacion de Guayadeque (2.5 euros pp) is built this way. The Centro is small but has numerous interesting exhibits that explain the geology and ecology of the ravine as well as the lifestyle and customs of the Guanches. Our little Corsa struggled as it climbed up one side of the ravine on the way to Pico del Pozo de las Nieves, the highest point on Gran Canaria (1949 meters). Near the top, the road forks and there is a reconstructed pozo or “snow fountain.” A pozo is a deep pit where snow and ice were once collected in the winter for use during the summer months. The left fork took us to the viewpoint at Pico de la Gorra; the right fork went to Pico de las Nieves. There were a number of other tourists and a food truck/souvenir stand at the Pico de las Nieves viewpoint. From here we could see two noteworthy rock formations, Roque Nublo and Roque Bentayga, and Mount Teide on Tenerife. Roque Nublo is a finger of rock that is a symbol of Gran Canaria. It is also extremely popular. Even though there are one large and two small parking areas, cars still lined the road. We had to drive past the trail head three times before we managed to find a spot to squeeze the Corsa into that was safely off the roadway. From the road, it is a short (about 2 km round trip) hike to the base of the rock at 1590 meters. From here there are good views back to Pico de las Nieves and of Roque Bentayga. Topping out at 1800 meters, Roque Nublo is the second highest point on Gran Canaria. The next high point on our tour was Roque Bentayga; this fairly flat-topped monolith is the third highest point (1412 meters) on Gran Canaria. There were only a few other cars in the parking lot when we arrived; this site is clearly not as popular as Roque Nublo. There is a small archeological museum (free) that was closed; there are good views of Roque Nublo. There is a short (1 km round trip) trail to the base of Roque Bentayga. The trail passes several caves, ceremonial sites used by ancient Canarians and the remains of a defensive wall. Although all of the sites we had visited so far do not appear far apart on a map, we had already been touring almost 7 hours. John had prepared four options from Roque Bentayga ranging from one hour (return directly to the port) to four hours (drive along west coast for more viewpoints). We chose one of the middle options: a visit to the Cenobio de Valeron, the largest pre-Hispanic granary on Gran Canaria. Up until now, the Garmin had been agreeing more or less with the routes recommended by Google Maps. Now however, the Garmin kept insisting that we should take a “shortcut” off the main road. We turned down a street that seemed reasonable at first but quickly turned into tiny streets that ended at a car parked in front of a cinder bock wall. The Garmin kept repeating that we should continue on; apparently it wanted us to push the car aside, smash through the wall and drive down the side of a ravine. We may be stupid but we are not THAT stupid. We went back to the main road and followed it until we started to see signs that directed us to the Cenobio. We finally made it to the Cenobio de Valeron (1.5 euros pp, senior price) about 25 minutes before closing time. The time was adequate because only part of the archeological site is open to the public. Nevertheless, this was an outstanding site and we were pleased that we chose this particular route despite the complaints of the Garmin. The granary was carved from the lava rock over 500 years ago and consists of more than 200 caves arranged in a series of large galleries. These caves were used to store food (mainly cereals and seeds) and to protect it from theft. The site is very well done, with ladders and catwalks that allow a visitor to view the site without disturbing it. There are also some displays that give information about the caves and the lifestyle of the ancient Canarians. From here, it was about a half hour back to the dock. We only had one other heart-stopping moment, when the steering wheel locked and the car would not start. John figured out that the wheels were turned too sharply to the side. After putting the car in neutral and letting it roll forward a bit, the car started up again and we were off back to the pier. It was easier simply to follow the highway signs to the Muelle de Santa Catalina instead of the complicated instructions of the Garmin or Google Maps. We managed to find a spot in the parking garage even though many of the places in the Cicar parking area were taken up by the local dance troupe that would be performing a folkloric show later that evening on board the ship. I really wanted to see this show but we finished dinner too late for the first performance and the second was not until 9:30 p.m. We were tired from a long day of driving and hiking and had to be up early to meet our group for a private tour on Tenerife, so we did not go to the show. 20 OCT (SUN) CRUISE DAY 6: SANTA CRUZ DE TENERIFE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (7:00AM – 5:30PM) Today John and I, along with 21 other people from the Cruise Critic roll call, joined a tour organized by Pat (2Canucks). The guide was Patsy Little, who has excellent reviews on Cruise Critic and TripAdvisor. Unfortunately, there was some kind of communication gap between Pat and Patsy; Patsy was waiting with her tour bus right next to the ship but Pat hustled all of us onto the port shuttle bus and all the way out to the main street along the waterfront. By the time this got straightened out, we were more than a half hour behind schedule. Our first activity was a walking tour of San Cristobal de La Laguna. We started in the Plaza del Adelantado with a huge dragon tree in the middle. Dragon trees look a little like a palm tree but are not really trees; they are a type of dracaena. Once a flower forms and dies, the plant grows a triple branch from the scar, so the shape is very distinctive. Also, the sap is dark red and looks like blood. Patsy pointed out a number of other plants growing in the square. Next to the square was a building that was formerly the convent of an order of cloistered nuns. The roof of the convent featured an Arab-style latticed patio where the nuns could enjoy some fresh air without being seen. Much of La Laguna is a pedestrianized area with many Spanish Colonial mansions and palaces. We were able to view the patios in the Bishop's Palace and the History Museum. All the rooms open onto the patio or onto the covered balcony that runs around the second floor. That arrangement kept the house cool in summer and provided a private outside area for the residents. The museum patio had rings in the mouths of carved figures under the balcony eaves; the rings could support a canopy to provide shade for the patio. Our final stop in the town was the market, where all sorts of vegetables, meats, seafood, baked goods and cheeses were on display. A few of us had the time for a short visit to a nearby church, which boasted a beautiful silver altarpiece and silver pulpit. We were supposed to tour the Teide National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) before lunch, so we headed there, stopping at several viewpoints along the way. From some of the viewpoints we could even see the island of Gran Canaria. Because we had started late, we interrupted the tour at this point for a tapas-style lunch at Restaurant Bamby, which has a fine view of the volcano. The lunch (13 euros pp) was served family style. It included bottled water and both white (made from listan blanco grapes) and red (made from listan negro and negramol grapes) wine. We were first served small loaves of bread with a red and a green mojo (spicy sauce). The first dish was an island specialty –- papas arrugadas (wrinkled potatoes); these are potatoes boiled in heavily-salted water and served in the skin. Next we had a plate of cheese and cold cuts served with a salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, bell pepper and carrots. That was followed by chunks of fried fish, a garbanzo bean stew and a flan-type dessert. Because the group was so large, lunch took much longer than anticipated and we were now over an hour behind schedule. However, the original timetable called for us to be back at the ship two hours before the all aboard time, so there was no reason for concern. Finally we were off to see what John and I most wanted to see: the stark landscape around Mount Teide (3718 meters). Measured from its base on the ocean floor, it is the third highest volcano in the world (after Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea in Hawaii) and it is still active. We stopped to view the Roques de Garcia, 1000 meter spires that have eroded to show varicolored layers of volcanic deposits. Although the tour could only allow 15 minutes at this site, John and I had time to hike the short trail to the base of the rocks for some great views. The tour continued on to the interior of Teide's caldera at about 2300 meters altitude. There is a cable car to 3500 meters but reservations must be made far in advance. This tour did not include enough time to take the cable car and, because of the wind conditions, it was not operating today anyway. We drove around and stopped at a number of viewpoints. Before we left the park, we made another pit stop at Restaurant Bamby. Now that the lunch crowd had diminished, the feeders placed around the restaurant's outside deck were attracting a number of the birds now known as canaries. Factoid: The Romans called the islands “Insula Canaria” because of the wild dogs found there and the birds were named after the islands. The route back to the ship passed through the Orotava Valley agricultural region. There were huge banana plantations, divided into sections by stone walls to protect the plants from the wind. Grapevines were trained along a wire only a foot or so above the ground; the vines in a row are braided along the wire to keep them from being whipped about in the wind. Our final stop was to see the black sand beach at Puerto de la Cruz. This is part of the resort area of the island and the waterfront is lined with souvenir shops, eateries and hotels. Apparently no one there thinks of flags as a souvenir; I was told they are given away free at soccer games or I could buy fabric to make one myself. We tried some banana liquor at one of the shops. Pat seemed very anxious about the time but we returned to the ship with 45 minutes to spare. The original size for this group had been set at 12 and I did not know it had grown to 23 until almost the last minute. With such a large group, the price was very reasonable (25 euros pp, not including lunch) but the lunch took a long time to serve and it took extra time to get everyone on and off the bus at photo stops. That, along with the late start, forced Patsy to eliminate the scheduled wine tasting (extra fee) at the Wine Museum. Although this was a disappointment for John and me, about half the group was not interested in tasting any more wine. Nevertheless, Pasty was an excellent tour guide. She is full of interesting information and is very enthusiastic about showing off her island to visitors. Tonight we enjoyed an all-new show by the magician, Brett Sherwood. 21 OCT (MON) CRUISE DAY 7: ARRECIFE, LANZAROTE, CANARY ISLANDS, SPAIN (7:00AM – 3:30PM) The next port was Lanzarote (www.turismolanzarote.com/en/) where the ship offered a free shuttle bus between the ship and the Calle Juan de Quesada (near Charco de San Gines). We again rented a car from Cicar, which has a kiosk in the information center right on the dock (Muelle de los Marmoles). Passengers were not cleared to disembark until 7:40 a.m., which was no problem because the Cicar office did not open until 8 o'clock. We were the third and fourth people off the ship; a British couple, who also were renting from Cicar, beat us. Again the car (a slightly larger Corsa) was 1/8 tank full; the Cicar agent told us that adding 12 liters would be enough to drive all around the island and return it with that same level of fuel. He also told us the car took diesel fuel. This time we only had a little difficulty getting away from the pier. We were a bit confused about whether or not we were on the correct highway because there was a lot of road construction going on and the ramps that the Garmin and Google Maps were directing us to use were being replaced by roundabouts. However, we had to stop for fuel, so we got directions from the attendant. Between her little English and my little Spanish, it became clear that we were indeed on the correct road and even heading in the correct direction. We also learned that the car took unleaded, not diesel. It is a good thing there is a notice about the proper fuel near the gas cap (and that I know “sin plomo” means unleaded)! John was anxious to be off as quickly as possible to our primary destination, Timanfaya National Park, to beat the crowds from the ship's tours. Visitors are not allowed to tour the park in their own vehicles; you must take the 40-minute bus tour that is included in the entrance fee. We arrived at the park entrance 10 minutes before the 9:00 a.m. opening time and were the second car in line. By the time the ticket booth was ready to begin selling tickets (9 euros pp, cash only), there was quite a line of cars behind us. As we arrived at the visitor center for this section of the park, we were directed to a parking space and then to an area where we would be given some demonstrations of the volcanic nature of the area. First, we entered an area that had a hole in the middle that was about 6 feet deep. As we entered, the guide scooped up pebbles from the ground and filled our hands with them so we could feel how hot they were. Next we all gathered around the hole and the guide pushed a dry bush to the bottom. The bush quickly began smoking, then glowing in a few spots and finally it burst into flames. The next demonstration area featured several 6-inch pipes stuck in the ground. When the guide poured a bucket of water into one of the pipes, the water turned to steam in 2 seconds and erupted from the pipe in a geyser-like spout. The guide repeated this several times so we could all get a photo. The last demonstration was outside the restaurant (there is also a gift shop), where you can order food cooked by the heat of the volcano. There is a pit 5 or 6 feet wide and maybe 20 or 30 feet deep. There is a grill over the top of the pit and you can feel the heat coming out. Some potatoes in a pan were set out to bake on the grill but watching potatoes bake is not that exciting. By now, all of us who had arrived on our own were getting impatient to start the bus tour. Six buses from the ship and a number of other tour buses and vans had arrived. Fortunately, those people could tour the park in those vehicles but they all had to get out in order to see the demonstrations. Finally the independent tourists were allowed to board one of the park's tour buses and the tour began about 9:45 a.m. John had read that it is best to sit on the right-hand side of the bus (and we did) but that is not absolutely essential. The bus stops at numerous points of interest along the route, so it is possible to stand up and take photos; no one is allowed off the bus at the photo stops. The tour has taped narration in Spanish, English and German. The specific route through the park was laid out by Cesar Manrique, a famous local artist whose works pepper the island and who designed several other tourist attractions. Timanfaya National Park is a desolate yet beautiful place. Lanzarote is the newest volcanic piece of the Canaries and looks amazingly like the moon. Actually it looks like Hawaii and Iceland in some areas: all lava flows and cinder cones. As we left the park, the entire entry drive was packed with cars and there were even cars parked on the highway waiting to turn into the entrance. We left the park by an alternate route so that we could enjoy different views of the volcanic landscape. Our next destination was the wine area around Geria. This is an amazing place! Each grapevine is planted in a pit and surrounded by a low, semicircular stone wall; both the pit and the wall are to protect the vine from the wind. There are acres and acres of black fields studded with these pits and lighter-colored walls. John had selected the Bodega Stratvs (www.stratvs.com/index.php?lang=en) for a tasting but he did not reserve a tour because he was not sure when we would finish the tour at Timanfaya. When we arrived at the tasting room, however, we learned that we could have a private tour and tasting (12 euros pp) in English if we were willing to wait a short while. We decided to do this even though we knew we might have to omit a site or two later in the afternoon. While we waited, we looked around the tasting and sales room and grounds. There are also two restaurants on site. Our guide, Katja, turned out to be the person John had corresponded with about a tour. She took us to the vineyard, where there was a cross-section of the ground so that we could see the layers of lava ash, soil and rock. The soil is so shallow and the rock so hard that the grapevine roots can only grow sideways, not down. The volcanic ash collects dew and channels it to the plant; there is little rain and no artificial irrigation. The winery building is dug into the hillside and vines are planted on the roof. Inside, the winery is small but uses all the latest wine making technology. Down the center of the winery is a series of huge oaken casks, where some wine is being produced by the solera method, the way sherry is made. In this method, some wine is removed from the cask holding the oldest vintage and bottled, that wine is replaced with wine from cask holding the next oldest vintage and so on. Thus each wine that is bottled contains a fraction from all the previous vintages. After a thorough tour of the winery, we tasted three of the Stratvs wines (accompanied by cheese, bread and cold cuts) and they were terrific. We spent about 1-1/2 hours at Stratvs and decided to buy a bottle of the white Malvasia Seco to bring home with us. Several of the Princess bus tours were going to Mirador del Rio (entry fee), known for its beautiful view of the ocean and nearby islands. Our destination was the nearby Mirador Guinate (free), which has an equally beautiful view but was deserted when we were there. The easiest way to find this viewpoint is to follow the signs to the Parque Tropical in Guinate and continue on that road to the end. We had originally planned to visit Cueva de los Verdes, a 6 km-long lava tube. However tours are not offered on a regular schedule; visitors must wait until a group of 30 accumulates. It was getting late and we thought we might have to wait so long for a group to form that there would not be enough time for the tour. It was now that the Garmin gave out; the cigarette lighter hadn't charged it! Fortunately we could follow the signs to Cueva de los Verdes until we intersected the main highway and we arrived back at the dock with no problems. The Cicar agent was accurate about the amount of gas we would need but it felt odd following his instructions to leave the car unlocked with the key under the seat. Tonight we enjoyed the production show “What a Swell Party,” which is based on the music of Cole Porter. 22 OCT (TUE) CRUISE DAY 8: FUNCHAL, MADEIRA, PORTUGAL (9:00AM – 4:30 PM) Although the weather had been sunny and mild in the Canary Islands, it was raining when the ship arrived in Madeira (www.visitmadeira.pt/?language=c81e728d9d4c2f636f067f89cc14862c) and the forecast was for worsening weather as the day went on. In actuality, the weather got better during the day, although the clouds stayed with us. The ship offered a shuttle to the Marina Shopping Mall for $5 pp each way for those who wanted to explore Funchal on their own. The “Independence of the Seas” was also in port. John had prearranged a custom tour with Daniel Madeira Taxi (140 euros for a 4-person taxi). We were joined by another couple from the Cruise Critic roll call, John and Janie (boomerone). The ship had docked early due to a medical emergency, so passengers were allowed to disembark a few minutes ahead of schedule. We were hopeful that our driver/guide would arrive earlier than the appointed time of 9:30 a.m., so we scurried down to the pier. Alas, Marcelino (Daniel's cousin) was early but only by 10 minutes. Nevertheless, we were on our way well before the Princess tour buses. Madeira is a fascinating place! There is basically no level spot on the island. Our first stop was Cabo Girao, a high sea cliff. When we arrived, it was clouded over, so Marcelino suggested that we go directly to the Barbeito (www.vinhosbarbeito.com/en.html) winery for our tour and tasting; we could return to the cliff later when the weather might be better. Along the way, Marcelino stopped several times so we could view the terraced fields that seem to take up every square inch of the hillsides. The tour at Barbeito was very different from tours at other wineries. Most wineries are trying to limit oxidation, so the wines are aged under cool conditions. However, the characteristic taste of Madeira wines is due to oxidation, so the wines are fermented in heated tanks and aged under warm conditions; they are also barrel-aged much longer than other wines. The tasting was among the top tastings we have ever done. The shop manager, Leandro, pulled out all the stops; we lost count of the wines he brought out. The ultimate wine we tasted was vintage 1885 (not a typo!); the 1910 vintage was only a baby in comparison. All the wines were fantastic. We bought (could afford) a 10-year old Madeira to bring home. Then it was back to Cabo Girao, where the view was intermittently obscured by clouds. The miradouro is 560 meters above sea level. There is a glass-bottomed viewing platform where you can look straight down to the rocky shoreline. The next stop was Pico dos Barcelos (335 meters) for great views of Funchal. Marcelino stopped at several unofficial overlooks for great views on the way to Eira do Serrado. Eira do Serrado (1000 meters) offers fantastic views of the surrounding mountains and of Curral das Freiras (Nun's Valley). In the 16th century, the nuns would take refuge in this secluded valley to avoid the pirates who frequently attacked Madeira. Our last stop in the mountains was at Pico do Arieiro (1810 meters), the third highest peak on the island. This is a popular site because it is possible to drive almost to the top of the peak. Today however, it was almost deserted because of the heavy cloud cover; we could only see a little of the storied views. Nevertheless, we climbed the short flight of stairs to the stone marker at the very top of the peak. John had hoped that we could take a short hike here but the trail was closed. We were also starting to run a little short on time because we had spent more time at the winery (with good reason!) than planned. We headed out of the mountains back to Funchal. Marcelino stopped at Terreiro de Luta, where there is a small church dedicated to Our Lady of Peace. There were good views over the port and we could see the “Independence of the Seas” leaving. Further down the slope, Marcelino suggested that we climb to the roof of Igreja de Nossa Senhora do Monte, the patron saint of Madeira, for more great views. Then we had time for a very short visit to the Monte Municipal Gardens. Just below the terrace of the church is the starting point for Monte's famous toboggan rides. At one time, wine casks were transported in wicker baskets attached to two wooden runners. These days tourists can ride 2 km down the hill in those toboggans, which are steered by two guides dressed in traditional white flannels and straw boaters (20 euros for one person, 30 euros for a couple). BTW the ride goes down regular city streets, so the toboggans share the road with other vehicles; supposedly the toboggans have the ROW when they come to an intersection. John and I were not really interested in doing this but John and Janie were. We got some photos of them in the basket, then took more as we followed them down the hill in the taxi. This ride looked like something that was more fun in theory than in practice. Once we had John and Janie safely back in the taxi, Marcelino gave us a short tour of Funchal on the way back to the ship. At one point, he stopped by a market where I could hop out and buy a Madeira flag. This was a great tour and left us wanting to spend more time in Madeira. Tonight we set the clocks forward one hour to agree with the time zone (GMT+2) for Spain; this was the first time change that we had had to make. 23 OCT (WED) CRUISE DAY 9: AT SEA This morning we attended the port lecture on Vigo; it was repeated later on the stateroom TV. The rest of the day followed our usual pattern of reading and relaxing. Tonight was the second of two formal nights on this leg and three Captain's Circle parties for Platinum and Elite members were held. The Most Traveled passenger had sailed 2026 days with Princess. This is the first time in quite awhile that we have not made the cutoff for the Most Traveled (top 40) Passengers Luncheon, which was 507 days. Maybe the pins in the toy ship worked! Tonight we enjoyed a brand-new production show “Disco-Blame It on the Boogie.” 24 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 10: VIGO, SPAIN (8:00AM – 3:30PM) Most people who visit Vigo (www.turismodevigo.org/en) for the first time use it as the gateway to Santiago De Compostela (www.santiagoturismo.com), a destination for pilgrims since the Middle Ages. These pilgrims (pelegrinos) walk or ride bicycles or horses for hundreds of miles and many weeks (or even years) in order to visit the cathedral that houses the remains of St. James Major (Santiago). We had watched a movie about the pilgrimage (“The Walk,” staring Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez) before the trip. Despite Liza Doolittle's assertion that “The rain in Spain stays mainly on the plain,” the Galicia region is the rainiest part of Spain. Today was no exception as it rained steadily the entire day with only a few breaks –- another challenge for our poor umbrellas. Because of the short port time and the inconvenient train/bus schedules, it was not feasible to take public transportation to Santiago. Renting a car (with gas, parking and tolls) was slightly cheaper than a Princess tour for two. However, we would have had to allow time to pick the car up in downtown Vigo, return it to the rental point and return ourselves to the ship before the all aboard time. We finally decided that a Princess tour would give us the most time in Santiago with the least hassle. The tour we chose was “Santiago on Your Own,” which is simply transportation to and from Santiago with a little commentary along the way. We left the ship well before sunrise for the 75-minute drive to Santiago. Although it was too dark to see much, our guide, Laura, tried to point out interesting features of the area such as the oyster farms in the estuaries and the old stone storage buildings raised up on stone pillars. The bus dropped us off in the Juan XXIII parking lot. We followed Laura down Avenida Juan XXIII and Rua de San Francisco into Plaza Obradoiro (~10 min walk). As we walked along, storekeepers were touting their local specialty, almond cookies. Our meeting spot was under the arcade of the Pazo de Raxoi. We would have 3:40 h to explore Santiago on our own before reuniting there to return to the bus. John and I headed straight across the plaza to the ticket office for the Cathedral Museum, which is in the crypt under the double staircase leading to the main entrance. Admission to the Cathedral itself is free. However, we got the General Individual Ticket (4 euros pp, senior price) that gives admission to the Museum and the temporary exhibitions in the Gelmirez Palace. There is an audioguide available at additional cost that we did not rent. Laura had told us that if Mass was going on, we would have to enter through the Puerta de las Platerias on the south side of the Cathedral. Otherwise, we would be able to enter through the Obradoiro facade (the main entrance on the west side) and the famous Portico de la Gloria. However, the Portico de la Gloria is currently under renovation and no one is being allowed in through the main entrance; the Portico de la Gloria cannot be viewed without a museum ticket. John and I sloshed over to the Puerta de las Platerias and started our counterclockwise tour of the Cathedral. We walked past several chapels to the stairs leading to the statue of St. James that is above the high altar. Pilgrims traditionally embrace the statue at the end of their journey. Coming down the other side, we found the stairs down to the crypt where a silver casket contains the saint's remains; climbing up the other side brought us back up to where we started. We continued along the ambulatory behind the high altar, passing chapel after chapel and the Puerta Santa (Holy Door), which is only opened during designated Holy Years. The oldest existing chapel is Santa Maria de la Corticela, which was originally a separate church and is now attached to the transept; it is still a separate parish from the Cathedral. Under the Cathedral dome is the device for swinging the huge censer or Botafumeiro. The censer is more than 1-1/2 meters high and weighs about 100 kg when it is full of coal and incense. It takes a team of eight men to set the censer swinging until it is almost parallel to the floor at the height of its swing. The Botafumeiro is only used on certain feast days or when a substantial donation is made. Our port lecturer had shown a video of the Botafumeiro swinging and it is indeed an impressive sight (hwww.youtube.com/watch?v=mtxuvtZqOog). We continued around the Cathedral to the Museum entrance. The Museum has four levels; this level houses the Treasury in the Chapel of San Fernando, with an assortment of precious liturgical items. Across the hall is the Chapel of Relics, with hundreds of reliquaries including a bust containing the skull of St. James Minor. This chapel also contains the tombs of some kings of Leon and Galicia from the 12th and 13th centuries. Exiting out into the cloister, we found the Sala Capitular (Chapterhouse) with some tapestries and the Biblioteca (Library). The Library contains two Botafumeiros and a Museum worker showed two girls the padded wooden bar that is used to carry it (two men are needed) into the Cathedral. The Library is lined with ancient books and display cases of illuminated manuscripts and hymnals. From the Treasury level we climbed up to the top level, the Tapestry Museum. It houses a large collection of tapestries including some designed by Rubens and Goya. This level also provides access to a balcony that overlooks the Plaza del Obradeiro. Now we descended to the level below the Treasury. This level contains the Cathedral's art collection. There are three sections: art from the 13th through the 15th century, art from the 16th through the 18th century and art related to St. James. The lowest level of the Museum contains exhibits from the archaeological excavations under the Cathedral. The highlight of this level is the partial reconstruction of the elaborate stone choir, carved by Maestro Mateo in the 13th century and destroyed in 1603, replaced by a wooden choir that was removed in 1946. Although huge sections of the choir are missing, it displayed the kind of intricate designs and statues that we would see later in Maestro Mateo's Portico de la Gloria. This level also has an exhibit about Maestro Mateo. From here we had to go back to the Treasury level of the Museum to cross over to the Gelmirez Palace and view the Portico de la Gloria. The Pilgrim's Mass had started and visitors are not allowed to view the Portico de la Gloria during the Mass. We toured the temporary exhibits in the Gelmiriz Palace and then prayed during the last part of the Mass. When the Mass ended, we were almost the only people around the Portico de la Gloria; we saw many people who wanted to see it turned away because they did not have a Museum ticket. Although scaffolding obscured sections of Maestro Mateo's triple doorway with its 200 Romanesque statues, we could see the famous central column with Jesus on top, St. James below Him and Hercules below St. James; Maestro Mateo is at the bottom on the opposite side of the column. It is traditional for pilgrims to place their fingertips in the five holes worn in the column above Hercules' head and to bump heads with Maestro Mateo. However, there is now a railing to prevent anyone from touching the column and causing further damage to it. We could also see many of the other statues including the only woman, Queen Esther. Legend has it that her stone breasts were originally much larger and local leaders had them filed down to a more respectable size. The townspeople retaliated by creating Galicia's iconic tetilla cheese (titty cheese) in Esther's honor. That's the story anyway! Our final stop in the Cathedral was the crypt where we originally bought our tickets. The crypt, also built by Maestro Mateo, is dedicated to St. James Minor. The main features of interest are the huge columns supporting the weight of the Portico de la Gloria and the Obradoiro facade and the keystones of the vault that depict two angels bearing the sun and the moon. Today the crypt is the gathering spot for group tours but Museum ticket holders can be admitted on request. By now we had spent about three hours in the Cathedral and Museum and the rain was much lighter than earlier in the day. We had some time to walk around the old town. We stopped in at the Galicia tourist office to obtain maps and information on the wine routes for our scheduled (but later canceled) visit to Vigo on the next leg of the cruise. Next we walked over to the Paseo de la Herradura and up to the 12th century church of Santa Susana. The park has several viewpoints that provide classic views of the Cathedral. After that we walked around the Cathedral to see the other facades and met up with the rest of the group, huddled under the arcade of Pazo de Raxoi. Once back at the Alberto Duran Nunes Cruise Terminal, it was too close to sailing time even to check out briefly the large shopping center right next to the terminal. We did not depart on time though because several of the tours were quite late returning to the ship. I later overheard a person saying that his bus had waited 45 minutes for a couple and finally left without them; maybe they got on the wrong bus. Another woman's name was called repeatedly to report to Passenger Services. I hope no one was left behind in Vigo! Hint: Soaking wet walking/running shoes will dry overnight if you put them directly on top of the stateroom refrigerator (inside the cabinet). 25 OCT (FRI) CRUISE DAY 11: AT SEA This morning we attended the Culinary Show, which is always fun; it was especially entertaining today The show was a cooking competition between the Executive Chef, Jeremy Snowden, and the Maitre d', Francesco Ciorfito. Francesco made his famous Neapolitan Strudel –- uncooked flour and water dough filled with penne all' arrabbiata and topped with whipped cream, chocolate sauce and slices of fresh fruit. Francesco was dissatisfied with the outcome of the first vote and reminded the audience that he is the one who opens the doors to all the dining venues and can keep them locked too. In the re-vote, Francesco won in a landslide! This evening the show featured two acts. The first was a comedian (Johnnie Casson); he was evidently on board to cater to the predominately UK audience. Although we are learning some of the inside jokes (it always rains in Wales, people from Yorkshire are tightfisted with money etc.), what is it about people from Kent? Between the allusions and his slang, I guess we missed about half the jokes; the rest were real groaners. The second act was a singer (Spencer Robson), who did a Tom Jones tribute. He wasn't bad but wasn't Tom Jones by any stretch of the imagination. Both of these acts were well-received by the bulk of the audience though. Tonight we set the clocks back one hour to agree with the time zone for Southampton (GMT+1). 26 OCT (SAT) CRUISE DAY 12 SOUTHAMPTON AND BATH, UK (7:00AM – MIDNIGHT) Our turnaround day dawned dark and rainy –- very, very rainy. We received our new cruise cards last night along with a letter stating that in-transit passengers (1) could leave the ship with the first group disembarking in the morning and (2) would not be required to attend the muster drill before sailing this afternoon. This was tremendously good news because we wanted to make an excursion to Bath. Our Cruise Critic friend, Bob (BobTroll) from the UK, had warned us that, earlier this summer in Southampton, Princess was not allowing in-transit passengers to leave the ship until mid-morning and was requiring them to be back on board an hour before sailing to attend the muster drill. Bob knew that with such a short port day, there would not be enough time to enjoy Bath because off the long (1-1/2 hours each way) train ride. Nevertheless, Bob graciously took the time to provide us with the train schedules for a trip to Bath as well as for two alternative destinations (Salisbury and Winchester) that are closer to the Southampton. We were allowed to leave the ship at 7:05 a.m. By then the rain had stopped, although it would continue on and off all day. We quickly made the short (0.5 mile) walk from the Ocean Terminal, where the “Crown Princess” was docked, to the stop for the free shuttle bus from Ferry Terminal 1 to the Southampton Central Station. We had to wait for the 7:45 a.m. bus but the trip to the train station took less than 10 minutes. Now we were especially glad that we had acquired a PenFed credit card that has the chip-and-PIN technology used throughout Europe. The ticket office was closed and we needed to buy our tickets from a ticket machine. Our other credit cards would not have worked in this machine; however, the PenFed card worked just fine and we soon had return tickets for the 8:10 a.m. train to Bath Spa. There were some delays, so our train arrived late at Southampton Central and was about 20 minutes late arriving in Bath Spa. (Hint: Be sure that you purchase tickets with the “Via Salisbury” option; tickets for trains that go through London cost twice as much.) Our first sight in Bath (visitbath.co.uk) was Bath Abbey (2.5 GBP donation requested, www.bathabbey.org). This is a small Gothic church with gorgeous stained glass windows and fan-vaulted ceilings. We took the Tower Tour (6 GBP pp); there were only three of us on the 10:00 a.m. tour. This 212-step tour climbs up to the ringing chamber (where various machines currently and in the past used to operate the bells are on display) and the bell chamber. It continues to a spot atop the vaulted ceiling (where you can look through a peephole to the nave below) and to another spot behind the clock face. You also go out on the roof of the Abbey for great views of the town and to the balcony in front for views of the Abbey Church Yard. Our young guide, Holly, was very informative and gave us lots of fun facts and anecdotes about the ringing machines, the bells, the clock and the Abbey. We visited the Abbey first because we thought it would be hard to get tickets later for the Tower Tour. However, the primary sight we wanted to see in Bath was the Roman Baths (www.romanbaths.co.uk). Admission to the Roman Baths (12.75 GBP pp, senior price) includes an audioguide. There are also animated exhibits and live actors portraying Romans (think Williamsburg in togas). The Romans built these opulent baths over 2000 years ago and they were built upon and renovated over the following centuries. In the 18th century, Bath was THE place to be for the rich and famous and there were many bathhouses built to accommodate them; there were also “Assembly Rooms” for those who wanted to socialize without getting wet. There are various rooms at each end of the largest pool, the Great Bath: changing rooms, smaller pools of various temperatures and steam rooms. However, this complex was not just for bathing and socializing; it had important religious significance. Adjacent to the baths was a temple dedicated to the healing goddess Sulis Minerva. The water from her Sacred Spring (the only hot spring in the UK) flowed into all of the other pools. Portions of the temple pediment, altar and courtyard have been uncovered. The most impressive find is undoubtedly the gilded head from a statue of Sulis Minerva, which was discovered during the construction of a sewer in 1727. At the end of the tour, there is a fountain where visitors can taste (not awful despite the minerals) and touch the 46C water from the spring. Excavation is ongoing to find more artifacts and reveal more ruins of the baths/temple complex beneath the streets of Bath, so this site will continue to expand and change over time. Bath is also celebrated for its 18th-century Georgian architecture. The two most famous examples are the blocks of identical row houses, the Circus and the Royal Crescent, designed by the John Wood the Elder and the Younger, respectively. After walking past these buildings, we went to see the Pulteney Bridge. This is one of the few bridges in the world that is lined with shops. In fact, it is so completely lined with shops that, from the street, there is no indication at all that you are on a bridge. However, we crossed the bridge and descended to the Riverside Walk along the Avon River. From here it obvious that the Pulteney Bridge is a bridge and there are some nice views of Bath Abbey. We crossed back over the river at North Parade Road and enjoyed some views of the Parade Gardens. From there it was back to the train station for the 1:00 p.m. train to Southampton Central, the free shuttle bus to the ferry terminal and the short walk back to the ship. At 3:00 p.m., there were still a large number of people checking in for the cruise. Fortunately, our in-transit cards let us skip to the head of the long security queue. When we got back to our cabin, we found a letter from the Captain explaining that, because of the impending storm, we would not be departing from Southampton; instead, we would be remaining in port for 1-3 more days. The letter also mentioned that we would be receiving some sort of unspecified compensation. Thus it was likely that our cruise would be changing from 5 port days and 8 sea days to 2 port days and 11 sea days. I emailed to cancel our car rental for Sunday in Le Havre and to alert the wineries in Spain (which we had planned to visit on Tuesday) that we would probably miss our appointments with them. Later in the evening, there was an announcement from the Captain about the weather forecast. Apparently the wind would increase to hurricane force by Sunday night, accompanied by heavy rain; the storm would probably pass out of this area by Monday afternoon. In anticipation of the storm, the ship would be moved from the Ocean Terminal to a more favorable location at the Mayflower Terminal. That way the expected high winds would blow the ship towards the dock instead of away from it. The new terminal is much farther from the city center than the Ocean Terminal, so Princess would be providing a free shuttle bus. The “Independence of the Seas,” however, departed for parts unknown. During the night British Summer Time would be ending, so tonight we set the clocks back an hour to GMT. 27 OCT (SUN) CRUISE DAY 13: SOUTHAMPTON, UK Today we were supposed to dock in Le Havre, France, from 7:00 a.m. until 7:30 p.m. John had rented a car and we had planned to drive to Mont St-Michel, with a possible side trip to Bayeux. Instead, we caught the Princess shuttle to the drop-off point on Harbour Parade, opposite the West Quay Shopping Centre. The shuttle was to run continuously from 9:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. We intended to spend 3 or 4 hours in town, then return to the ship before the heavy rain started. As we left the port, we saw that the “Adventure of the Seas” was also docked at the Mayflower Terminal but closer to town. We walked over to the East Park to see the memorial to the “Titanic” engineering officers and the nearby memorial to the “Titanic” musicians. Then we walked across West Park to the SeaCity Museum (www.seacitymuseum.co.uk; 7GBP pp, senior price for museum and special exhibition). The special exhibition showcased works made from cut paper. The paper was found paper or from old maps, books, currency, shopping bags, etc. John and I particularly liked the flock of birds cut from maps and “Stellar Spire in the Eagle Nebula” by Andrew Singleton, a large composition of black cut out patterns and suspended forms that was inspired by Hubble Telescope images of nebulae. I wondered whether another work, inspired by the 2012 tsunami in Japan, might be a good symbol for this leg of the cruise. Because Southampton was the last port where she docked, the SeaCity Museum naturally has a large “Titanic” exhibit. There are a few artifacts from the passengers and crew but most of the artifacts are from the sister ships of the “Titanic.” An interesting graphic showed the amounts of various necessary provisions (coal, towels, shelled walnuts, oyster forks, celery glasses etc.) superimposed on an outline of the ship. Other good exhibits included a courtroom with audio dramatizations of testimony from the inquiry into the sinking and another that included reminiscences by survivors about the immediate aftermath of the sinking. The remainder of the museum deals with Southampton's history as a port city. After the museum, we walked to the Bargate, the medieval entrance to the city, and climbed some sections and towers of the old city wall. Then we went to the Tesco in the West Quay Retail Park to pick up some inexpensive wine (Buy 3 get 15% off!) for those long sea days ahead. Back at the shuttle pick-up point, we had a short wait to board a bus back to the ship. At the Mayflower Terminal, we were confronted with an immense queue of passengers trying to pass through the security checkpoint. It turned out that only one metal detector and one parcel x-ray machine were available to screen the 900 passengers who had gone ashore. The Port Authority was not expecting to deal with cruise ship passengers on this day which was a Sunday to boot! They eventually found more staff and another x-ray machine and the line moved a little more quickly. Nevertheless, it was over an hour after we stepped off the bus until we stepped onto the ship. At dinner, the Captain announced that the weather was not our only problem: we were supposed to refuel and take on 33 new crew members (23 would be getting off the ship) in Lisbon. Right now we did not have enough fuel to reach Florida and apparently there was not enough available in Southampton. It was still not clear whether we would be able to depart tomorrow afternoon or where our next port would be. I canceled the rental car in Vigo and emailed the wineries to cancel our appointments with them. 28 OCT (MON) CRUISE DAY 14: SOUTHAMPTON, UK (MIDNIGHT – 2:30PM) Today was scheduled to be a sea day, on route to Vigo, Spain. The storm did not cause as much property damage as anticipated, although up to 607,500 homes lost electricity and most transportation services would not resume before 9:00 a.m. Thankfully, we only heard about four deaths. The Captain announced that the ship measured a gust of 60 knots at 1:00 a.m. and another of 80 knots at 5:30 a.m.; most of the time the wind registered 30-50 knots. Our cabin is on the starboard side, facing Southampton, so we did not really notice any of the high winds. John thought that he felt the ship list around 5:30 a.m., so maybe he felt that 80-knot gust. The port was still closed and it was possible that some fuel would be available by noon; however, it would not be enough fuel to get the ship to Florida. The Captain did reassure us that we have plenty of other provisions on board for the crossing. It was a beautiful, mostly sunny day in Southampton and the shuttles would again be running to the city center. Passengers were required back aboard at 2:30 p.m. in case a decision had been reached about when we would sail and where we would be going. This morning the Cruise Critic Meet and Greet was held in Skywalkers Nightclub. The roll call for the Transatlantic leg was huge –- almost 300 people –- but only about a third showed up. Roll call members had organized a large number of private tours for Le Havre, Vigo and Lisbon. The M&G was a madhouse as people were trying to find each other and discuss new options. We met one of the two couples who had signed up to join us for a private tour in the Azores; we were all still hoping that the ship would call there. At 2:50 p.m. the Captain announced that we would finally be underway. The new itinerary called for us to sail directly to Lisbon and arrive there at 5:00 p.m. the day after tomorrow. We would spend 24 hours in Lisbon and then and sail directly to Bermuda, omitting the scheduled port call in the Azores. John and I would have preferred stopping in the Azores (we have never been there) and skipping Bermuda but we were not in charge. The “Adventure of the Seas” was still tied up at the Mayflower Terminal when we sailed out. This evening the show was a pianist (Maria King) who also told a few jokes. She seemed quite talented and I really enjoyed her performance of “Rhapsody in Blue.” Unfortunately, the Crown Princess Orchestra could have done better on their parts of the piece. Earlier in the evening there was a party in the Princess Theater for the Gold and Ruby Captain's Circle members. There would be three parties for the Platinum and Elite members on the second formal night. 29 OCT (TUE) CRUISE DAY 15: AT SEA Today we were supposed to dock in Vigo, Spain, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. I had rented a car to drive to the O Salnes wine region and had made appointments for tours and tastings at two wineries (Pazo de Senorans and Martin Codax). Instead, we were enjoying a relaxing sea day on our way to Lisbon. The seas were fairly rough last night but diminished somewhat once we exited the English Channel. The movement of the ship was difficult for many passengers and there were barf bags placed strategically around the ship. The Promenade was cordoned off and probably the upper outside decks (we did not check those) as well. As usual, John and I were fortunate not to have any problems with the motion, although we are not walking in a straight line (and no, it wasn't because of all the wine). This morning we went to Lyndon Jolley's final port lecture; he is leaving the ship in Lisbon. Mr. Jolley spent an excessive amount of time talking about the ancient history of the Iberian Peninsula and barely mentioned more relevant topics like Prince Henry the Navigator and the Age of Discovery. He didn't give much information about sights in Lisbon either. Nevertheless, he did mention something that I had not turned up in my research on Lisbon: a series of two free elevators from the city center up to Castel de Sao Jorge. He wasn't very clear in his lecture exactly where the elevators were located so I visited him at his information desk later in the afternoon. Even with a map, he could only show me the general location but I think I can recognize the building; if not, we will just climb up the streets and stairways to the castle. The entertainer this evening was a singer/guitarist (Berni Flint) who also told some jokes. He was the longest-running winner of the British TV show “Opportunity Knocks” and sang several songs that were obviously quite familiar to some of the audience but not to us. Tonight was the first of three formal nights on this leg and the Captain's Welcome Champagne Waterfall. We stopped by after the show and all the champagne was gone. However, we got to hear the Captain explaining for the umpteenth time why we had to stay in Southampton instead of riding out the storm in another port (like Le Havre or Vigo or Lisbon) and why we were skipping the Azores instead of skipping Bermuda. I guess he'll never hear the end of it. 30 OCT (WED) CRUISE DAY 16: LISBON, PORTUGAL (5:00PM – MIDNIGHT) Today followed our usual sea day pattern: wake up around 7:00 a.m., shower and get dressed, find a nice place in Skywalkers Night Club (preferably the forward port corner) to read while the steward makes up our cabin, eat lunch (salad/grilled vegetables and pizza with some wine) on our balcony, read on balcony, eat dinner, go to the show (maybe), read in cabin, go to sleep. Occasionally we will add a walk, lecture, movie or some other activity to our busy day. Today John varied the standard routine by walking 3-1/2 miles on the Promenade. I planned to start walking again after our day in Lisbon. My ankle and knee were almost OK and I managed the seven flights up to Skywalkers pretty well; I vowed to take the stairs from then on. Tonight the entertainer was an excellent violinist (Michael Bacala) who also told some jokes. He performed both popular (“Eye of the Tiger”) and classical (“Orpheus in the Underworld”) works as well one where he made the violin produce sounds of various birds and animals. John and I hoped he would perform again later in the cruise. 31 OCT (THU) CRUISE DAY 17: LISBON, PORTUGAL (MIDNIGHT - 5:00PM) Today the “Crown Princess” was again docked at the Jardin do Tabaco pier. P&O's “Oceana” (formerly the “Ocean Princess”) was docked at the Santa Apolonia pier; the Celebrity “Eclipse” was docked at the Alcantara pier. There was small MSC ship docked upriver from “Oceana”. Today we planned to make good use of the Lisboa Card that we bought 2 weeks ago. These cards can be purchased in advance online for a miniscule discount or at any tourist office. The cards include free or discounted entry to many attractions as well as transportation by tram, bus, elevator, funicular and even certain trains. The cards are not very useful to cruisers docking at the Alcantara pier because there is no place within walking distance to redeem the online voucher or purchase the card. Those docking at the Jardin do Tabaco or Santa Apolonia piers can purchase the cards at the Santa Apolonia train station. Our savings with the card were: 24hr travel card (6.5 euros), Jeronimos Monastery/Belem Tower (10 euros), Monument to the Discoveries (30% discount = 1 euro) and Castelo de Sao Jorge (20% discount = 1.5 euros). The 1-day card costs 18.5 euros, so we only saved 0.5 euro. On the other hand, the card was convenient to use as a transportation pass and it allowed us to bypass the long queues at a couple of the attractions. Our first target was the Castelo de Sao Jorge because it opened at 9:00 a.m. We walked along Rua Alfandego and then up Rua da Madalena, looking up each cross street for the free elevators that the port lecturer had mentioned. We saw a sign for the Castelo, so we turned right on Largo do Chao do Loureiro. Continuing in that direction, we found the upper elevator (Elevador Castelo) just inside the entrance of a Pingo Doce supermarket (formerly the old Market Chao do Loureiro). That elevator takes you up to Rua da Costa do Castelo. [NOTE: After we returned home, we learned that entrance for the lower elevator is in a building at 170/178 Rua Fanqueiros, near Rua da Vitoria; the exit is at 147/155 Rua da Madalena in Largo Adelino Amaro da Costa (aka Largo Caldas).] Before the Castelo opened, we had time to walk around the surrounding neighborhood and view the buildings covered with colorful Azulejos. Suddenly we were startled by what sounded like some loud strange car or scooter horn. We looked up and saw a peacock sitting atop a wall and two peahens on a wall across the street; the peacock was making that grating squawk. As we strolled, we saw several groups of children being escorted to school; a few children were dressed in Halloween costumes. The hilltop that Castelo de Sao Jorge (www.castelodesaojorge.pt/?lang=2) commands was probably used as a fortress even before Roman times. The large grounds (which are well-populated with peafowl) include not only the Castelo but also a museum and an archeological site. Just past the entry, there is a large terrace with old cannons and great views of Lisbon. First we walked around the outside of the Castelo, then crossed the bridge over the dry moat and started climbing around on top of the walls and up the towers. Near the Tower of the Cistern, the route along the top of the walls leads to the Archeological Site; this area includes the remains of structures from the Iron Age (7th century BC), from the Moorish Quarter (11th – 12th centuries) and from a palace (15th – 18th centuries). We clambered around for about an hour until the Tower of Ulysses (the legendary founder of Lisbon) opened. This tower formerly held the Royal Archives but now (since 1998) is home to the Camera Obscura. The Camera Obscura is a periscope that projects an image onto a large white table lower in the tower. That offers a 360-degree view of the entire Lisbon area (except where blocked by the other towers of the Castelo). The tour guide gave us a bird's eye view of Lisbon, pointing out all the major sights, cars moving on the streets and bridges and even people touring the Castelo. We finished our tour of the Castelo at the Museum, which contains items uncovered at the Archeological Site. When we exited the Castelo, we caught the #737 minibus that runs back and forth from the Castelo to Praca de Figueira through the steep streets of the Alfama. From the Praca, we caught the #15E tram in the Alges direction to reach the Belem district of Lisbon. The #15E is a modern electric tram; it is supposed to run every 11 minutes and the ride to Belem is only supposed to take about 30 minutes. Something was wrong today and we waited over 20 minutes for the tram; we also stopped about 5 minutes for no apparent reason. In any case, it took almost an hour for the packed tram to reach the Jeronimos Monastery stop. We decided to follow the crowd and exit there too. The Jeronimos Monastery (www.mosteiriojeronimos.pt/en/) is one of two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Belem. The Monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for Vasco da Gama's successful voyage to India. Both the exterior of the building and the two-level Cloisters are covered with incredibly intricate carvings. The Cloisters alone make the Monastery worth the visit. Another interesting part of the Monastery is the Refectory (dining hall); its walls are lined with Biblical scenes rendered in beautiful painted tiles. There are several famous Portuguese poets entombed in the Monastery or in the adjacent church, Igreja de Santa Maria; Vasco da Gama is entombed in the church. The church is also filled with intricate stonework. From the Monastery, we walked toward the riverfront, through the Praca do Imperial with its Fonte Luminosa in the middle. The fountain was not working but I read that sometimes it is illuminated for an hour-long water show. We found the pedestrian tunnel under the busy highway and train tracks and arrived at the Monument to the Discoveries (Padrao dos Descobrimentos) The Monument to the Discoveries (padraodosdescobrimentos.egeac.pt) is designed to resemble the prow of a caravel, the sailing vessel used by the Portuguese explorers during the Age of Discovery in the 15th and 16th centuries. Along each side of the monument is a frieze depicting some of these explorers and other notables of the era. At the prow, where the two friezes meet, is a statue of Prince Henry (Henrique) the Navigator, who encouraged and financed much of this exploration. On the plaza in front of the monument is a compass rose with a map of the world; the routes of major voyages and the dates new lands were discovered are marked on the map. We took the elevator to the viewing platform on the top of the monument for great views of the area. The Tower of Belem (www.mosteiriojeronimos.pt/en/) is the other UNESCO World Heritage Site in Belem. The Tower stands near the spot where the caravels set off on their voyages of discovery. The lower level of the tower has gun ports and breech-loading cannons; the next level has a broad terrace from which other weapons could be fired. There is a very narrow, spiral, stone staircase to the top of the tower. The stairs are so narrow that there are electric signs directing the flow of visitors up and down. This system was only partially effective because some people evidently did not see the signs requesting them to wait their turn; those people wore confused/dismayed expressions when they encountered a long line of people moving in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, we eventually made it to the top of the Tower for more good views and back down again. We left the Tower and took the pedestrian bridge over the highway and train tracks to the Largo da Princesa tram stop. This tactic allowed us to get seats on the #15E tram two stops before the crowded Mosteirio Jeronimos stop. We continued on the #15E tram back to Praca de Figueira; this time the ride took about 45 minutes. One benefit of riding the tram was the opportunity to see many buildings along the route that were covered with the multicolored Azulejos. From Praca de Figueira, we walked to Rua da Santa Justa and the Elevador de Santa Justa. This elevator was designed by a student of Gustave Eiffel. The two cars of this black metal tower whisk riders from the Baixa (downtown) to the Bairro Alto (upper town) in 30 seconds. There is a viewing gallery on top of the elevator tower; this gave us our best view of the Castelo de Sao Jorge and of the roofless church next to the elevator. The walkway from the elevator passes alongside and under a buttress of the Igreja do Carmo that was devastated in the 1755 earthquake. This Gothic church has been left in ruins as a symbol and reminder of the quake; today it is part of the Museu Archeologico do Carmo. From here, we walked through the Bairro Alto to the Miradouro de Sao Pedro de Alcantara. The views from this large terrace are good but not as good as those from the top of the Elevador de Santa Justa. Our final destination of the day was the Solar do Vinho do Porto (www.ivdp.pt/pagina.asp?idioma=1&codPag=169&), right across the street from the miradouro in the Ludovic Palace. This small tasting room offers comfortable lounge chairs to relax in a bottle-lined room while enjoying a wide variety (supposedly 300 types) of ports by the glass. We tasted five outstanding ports, including a rose, a ruby, two tawny (20 and 40 years old) and a late bottled vintage 1988 colheita. It was sad that we could only spend about 40 minutes here. John felt that we should have come here first and spent the entire day tasting ports. To return to Baixa, we had planned to take the Calcada da Gloria, a funicular that runs between the Bairro Alto and the Praca dos Restauradores; it is just across the street from the Solar. However, the funicular was out of service and we walked down the sidewalk that runs alongside it. As we headed back to the riverfront, we decided to stop at the Pingo Doce on Rua 1 Dezembro to pick up a couple more bottles of wine. When we returned to the cruise terminal, there was a fairly long line but it moved quickly. The entertainer tonight was Jim Maltman, whose forte is “unique physical comedy.” Among other feats, he contorted his body through the frame of a tennis racquet and balanced an 8-foot stepladder on his chin. He juggled, caught hats on his head and also told some jokes. As our DDIL might say, this was not our favorite type of performance. 01 NOV (FRI) CRUISE DAY 18: AT SEA Today we were supposed to dock in Ponta Delgada, Azores Islands, Portugal, from 10:00 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. John had arranged a tour with Amazing Tours and we would have been joined by two other couples from our Cruise Critic roll call. Instead, we were enjoying the first of five relaxing sea days on our way to Bermuda. This afternoon we received a letter from the president of Princess Cruises apologizing for the change in itinerary. It also specified the compensation we would receive for this inconvenience. Passengers who booked this cruise as a 26-day voyage would get a cruise credit of 27% (7/26) of the price we had paid for the cruise; those who had booked the 14-day separately would receive a 50% (7/14) credit. That would be a nice down payment on a future cruise! Lyndon Jolley may be gone but the lecturers who replaced him are not very impressive. We saw part of one lecture on the stateroom TV; it was a review of crackpot stories about pre-Columbian voyages to the Western Hemisphere. Another lecture on offer was about investing. The onboard entertainment redeemed itself with tonight's show by a West End performer, Paul Baker. He sang some show tunes (“Can You Feel the Love Tonight?”, “Music of the Night”) and other songs; Josh Groben's “You Raise Me Up” (our DGD and her bone marrow donor's theme song) was the finale. The performance was almost an hour long; it was hard to imagine that he would be repeating it in 20 minutes and again later in the evening. We are looking forward to another performance by Mr. Baker later in the cruise. 02 NOV (SAT) CRUISE DAY 19: AT SEA This morning we awoke to a view of the main island of the Azores, which was about 5 nautical miles off the starboard side. The Captain tried to make us feel better about missing the port by pointing out the clouds and rain on the island. He also said that ships often cannot dock in Ponta Delgada because of the variable winds. None of that made me feel any better about skipping this port. Today John walked about 4 miles on the Promenade; I joined him for the last 2 miles or so. During our entire walk, we had a view of the Azores and numerous rainbows. As we rounded the bow of the ship, we saw a complete double rainbow over the ocean. Now that we were past the Azores, the wind was forecast to die down and the air temperature to be higher. It would be great to be able to spend more time out on our balcony. Tonight was the second of three formal nights on this leg and three Captain's Circle parties for Platinum and Elite members were held. The Most Traveled passenger had sailed 1078 days with Princess. Again, we did not make the cutoff for the Most Traveled (top 40) Passengers Luncheon, which was 461 days. Between dinner and the Captain's Circle party, we went to see the production show “Motor City.” This show has been around a long, long time but we still enjoy the Motown sound. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour to GMT-2. 03 NOV (SUN) CRUISE DAY 20: AT SEA This morning, we interrupted our morning reading session to view the partial solar eclipse. At the ship's location, about 45% of the sun was covered. John had bought special eclipse glasses that worked very well; a few other people had similar glasses. We watched from the Sports Deck and played a round on the Princess Links once the moon had obviously started moving away from the sun. Later we went to an enrichment lecture, “James Bond – the Ultimate Action Hero.” This was a little disappointing because the lecturer mentioned obscure TV and radio adaptations of Ian Fleming's Bond stories but did not seem aware that Sean Connery had stared in a Bond movie that was not part of the Broccoli-produced canon (“Never Say Never”). Also, she only mentioned a few of the “good” Bond girls and none of the “bad” ones. I gave this one a C+. In the afternoon, the Princess Grapevine wine tasting was held in the Michelangelo dining room. This time the Asti Spumante was served in a flute instead of a souvenir cordial glass. Also, the cordial glasses had logos that we had not yet collected: a compass rose and a starfish. After dinner, we caught the very end of the Saints vs. Jets game on MUTS (Movies Under the Stars); at least John didn't have to suffer too long before the Saints lost. We made it to the show just as it was about to start. This evening the performer was a “multi instrumentalist” (Oli Nez), who played the saxophone, clarinet, flute and EWI (electronic wind instrument). One of his numbers was “You Raise Me Up”. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour to GMT-3. 04 NOV (MON) CRUISE DAY 21: AT SEA Another relaxing day at sea. Tonight we had an all-new performance by the West End star, Paul Baker. He is one of the best singers we have ever heard on Princess. On one of the numbers, he was joined by one of the lead singers from the production shows, Josh Hamilton; on another, he was joined by Oli Nez, the saxophonist. 05 NOV (TUE) CRUISE DAY 22: AT SEA Today was John's birthday but he wouldn't let me tell anyone on the ship; now we were the same age again. During the night the seas picked up and were still a bit rough; the forecast called for chance of showers and it looked like it would be a generally miserable day. In the morning, we went to a lecture on “From the Amazon to Bourneville – The History of Chocolate and Cadburys.” The entertainment this evening was the Cole Porter production show, “What a Swell Party.” Tonight we set the clocks back another hour to GMT-5. 06 NOV(WED) CRUISE DAY 23: BERMUDA (WEST END) 8:30AM – 3:30PM For our port call today, I had contacted a West End SCUBA operator in hopes of doing a 2-tank wreck dive. However, they emailed me a few days ago that not enough people were interested for the dive boat to go out. The “Crown Princess” was the only ship docked at West End; John and I were probably the only people who wanted to dive. However, none of the dive boats may have gone out today; the water was still very choppy with a strong wind and we did not see any small boats leaving the harbor. Princess canceled all their small-boat snorkeling and sightseeing excursions. It rained on-and-off all day long. As soon as we could get off the ship, we bought an all-day transit pass ($15 pp) right on the dock; this pass is valid on both the buses and the ferries. Because it was now the winter season, the ferries did not run as frequently as in the summer. The ferry from the Dockyard to St. Georges does not usually run at all at this time of year but did today to accommodate the ship's passengers. We wanted the ferry to Hamilton but had to wait an extra half-hour for the first boat of the day. Once in Hamilton, there is a bus stop at the end of the ferry dock. Remember this stop for your return to the ferry dock but do not make our mistake and try to catch an outbound bus here. To get an outbound bus, it is best to walk over to the bus terminal, which is about 3 blocks away. There is a tourist information office near the bus stop where you can get a map of the bus stops and routes in the downtown area. We caught a #3 bus at the ferry dock but it went out of service at the bus terminal and we had to change to a #1 bus. Either #1 or #3 buses would stop right at our destination (the entrance to Crystal and Fantasy Caves) and take about the same time (45 minutes); the #10 and #11 buses are faster but require a short walk around a corner to the entrance. We arrived at Crystal and Fantasy Caves (www.caves.bm) and bought a combo ticket ($30 pp) for both caves. We were told that the next tour of Crystal Cave would start in 10 minutes. Our group of about 10 people had been called for the tour and were waiting at the cave entrance for our guide when two Princess tour buses pulled up. The cave management apparently decided to delay our tour until one of the bus groups could get off the bus, go to the bathroom and finally stroll leisurely down to the tour meeting point. These are not very big caves and our small group could probably have finished our tour by the time the bus tour was ready to join us. Thankfully only one bus load went on the tour with us and the other was held for the next tour. We have toured many caves and know that the best strategy is to stay as close to the front of the group as possible; that enabled us to hear the guide and see all of the formations that he pointed out. Some of those on the bus tour had difficulty with the 88 steps down to the cave and ended up spread out all along the floating pontoon bridge; the poor guide had to keep walking back on the outside of the bridge and repeating himself so that people would know what he was talking about. The crowding and jostling definitely diminished our enjoyment of this cave. Anyway, the interesting thing about the caves in Bermuda is that they are connected to the ocean and the water level in the caves fluctuates 2-3 meters with the tide (our visit was at high tide). Because the sea water is so warm, these caves are much warmer than other caves we have visited. Crystal Cave has an abundance of stalactites, including the delicate-looking soda straws. There are some stalagmites and columns, which indicate that the cave was dry at some time in the distant past. After finally making our way out of Crystal Cave, we had a short wait until our tour of Fantasy Cave. The bus tours did not include this cave so it was a much better experience. Fantasy Cave has more draperies and “bacon strip” formations than Crystal Cave and also has some “popcorn” formations not found in the other cave at all. This cave only has 83 steps and has a paved walkway instead of a pontoon bridge. With all the delay due to the bus tours, we were starting to get a little nervous about the time; the 2:00 p.m. ferry from Hamilton was the last that would get us back to the Dockyard before the all-aboard time. We decided to try to catch a #10 or #11 bus, which stops across from the Swizzle Inn (around the corner a short distance from the entrance to the caves); the #1 and #3 buses stop there too. A #3 bus was the first to arrive and we chose to take that rather than wait for a possibly faster #10 or #11. As we approached Hamilton, it seemed certain that we would miss the 1:00 p.m. ferry to the Dockyard. We thought that we would have a little time to explore Hamilton before taking the next ferry. John had been studying the map of Hamilton and saw that the bus stop at the end of the ferry dock was much closer to the ferry than the immediately preceding stop (by a large flagpole). A number of people from the ship got off at the flagpole stop but we continued on. When we got off the bus, it was after 1 o'clock but there was a very large line of people still waiting to board the ferry; we joined the end of the line. As people filed on board the ferry, it was beginning to reach its passenger limit. We could see the people who had gotten off at the flagpole bus stop running up to the ferry ramp but they were not allowed to enter the boarding area. John and I were the last people allowed to board. Because of our luck in catching the 1 o'clock ferry, we had an hour to stroll around the Dockyard. There are restaurants, pubs and shops as well as a Maritime Museum. We considered the museum but decided that we would be too rushed to enjoy it properly. Instead we dumped the remains of of our bent and tattered umbrellas in the nearest trash can and returned to the ship for a slice of pizza and a beer. The show tonight was a comedian (Steve Caouette), who was pretty funny. 07 NOV (THU) CRUISE DAY 24: AT SEA Today the temperature was warmer and it was quite pleasant to relax on the balcony until an afternoon shower sent us inside. None of the lectures promised anything interesting to us; one was about mind-body medicine and the other about royal scandals. The show tonight was “Disco – Blame It on the Boogie.” The show was halted twice when the Bridge called a response team to the Lido Deck and later told the team to stand down. It must be difficult for the singers and dancers to stop suddenly in the middle of a number and then have to start it all over again. 08 NOV (FRI) CRUISE DAY 25: AT SEA No interesting lectures were on tap for today; one was about yoga and the other about the Tudors. The Culinary Demonstration was also held but we did not feel like seeing that again. Besides, we needed to spend some time packing. The final performance in the Princess Theater was a variety showtime featuring a vocalist, Jennifer Fair. Tonight we set the clocks back another hour to GMT-5, better known as Eastern Standard Time, for our arrival in Florida tomorrow. 09 NOV (SAT) CRUISE DAY 26: ARRIVE FT. LAUDERDALE, FL For some reason, the disembarkation process went very slowly. We made it off the ship around 9:30 a.m. and spent almost an hour in the customs and immigration line. There were plenty of taxis available, even with four other ships (including the huge “Oasis of the Seas”) disembarking. We arrived at FLL with plenty of time to check baggage and go through security for our 12:59 p.m. flight to RDU (with a connection in CLT). Later that evening we were safely home and ready to start planning our next adventure.   Read Less
Sail Date October 2013
This was my forth cruise with Princess, the first on this particular ship. We sailed from Southampton which is usually a joy but on this occasion it was a nightmare , Ocean Terminal and three hours to get on the ship, all those green and ... Read More
This was my forth cruise with Princess, the first on this particular ship. We sailed from Southampton which is usually a joy but on this occasion it was a nightmare , Ocean Terminal and three hours to get on the ship, all those green and red colour coded cards, there must be a better way. Once on board at least the state rooms were ready, but the buffet at the Horizon restaurant was not up to the usual standard and we were a little disappointed, not the best start. Our stateroom (B249) was lovely as usual, spacious despite being the cheapest grade, with fridge, hair dryer, twin beds ( friends sharing), lots of hanging space and a very nice shower room, room safe, TV with a lot of choice and all the latest movies free ( unlike P&O). Always kept clean and well stocked by the steward , fresh fruit free but pay for drinking water ( I bring my own). Room service free, breakfast in bed available ( didn't have). The ship is I think quite old but clean and with a style that will be familiar to anyone who has been on The Grand Princess or the Caribbean Princess. On this cruise they were having problems with the public toilets , they smelt odd at first and then packed up altogether, not a disaster as the Stateroom facilities were fine, may have been inconvenient for older or disabled cruisers. The food was not as rich in variety as on other cruise ships we have travelled on, although still well prepared and presented we found there was less choice and slightly less quality, this may be Princesses new standard or peculiar to this ship, we can't know. I do know that as a person who does not ( medically CAN NOT) drink alcohol I was given a vodka based cocktail having ordered a non alcoholic one which made very unwell for 24 hours ( not good). However the service in the restaurant was excellent, making us feel like valued customers, a treat for us. Unfortunately we found the Spa ludicrously overpriced and the spa staff very pushy and felt we were being pressured into booking treatments we didn't want, we didn't buy any even though we usually do. The shore excursions were also totally over priced but fortunately we just got off the ship and made our own way. Rotterdam was a particular gem, a free tour bus takes you from the dock into the shopping area, with an informative guide giving interesting information along the route, it also brings you back and all free. They do not tell you about this on the ship. At Guernsey we simply tendered off (a minor miracle in September, when it is usually too rough) and had a nice few hours shopping ( even on a Sunday some shops are open, particularly good deals on duty free perfume, watches and jewellery), so our two ports were very enjoyable without the extortionate excursions. We enjoyed immensely the musical show in the Princess theatre, with an around the world theme, westend quality, superb. A band played for ballroom dancing, a comedian who was funny (not blue) went down well, and movies under the stars with popcorn, milk and biscuits, as many cosy blankets as you needed was a treat. Disembarkation was well handled and everyone waited in comfort, unlike recent experience with P&O. We enjoyed our cruise but felt perhaps a little of the shine has gone, replaced by a hard edged materialism, the sell sell sell mentality is unwelcome, bring back the relaxed service where the customer feels special not like a consumer. I will be cruising again with Princess but will be careful to watch them mix my cocktails and I shall gird myself ready for the on slaughter of hard sell. Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
this cruise was a last minute booking. of the cruise there were 9 days at sea. the booking in for us was fast and the cabin was excellent. Even the life boat drill being done inside was not labourious or time consuming. We elected for ... Read More
this cruise was a last minute booking. of the cruise there were 9 days at sea. the booking in for us was fast and the cabin was excellent. Even the life boat drill being done inside was not labourious or time consuming. We elected for anytime dining but took most of our meals in the Horizon buffet restaurant as you can select what you want and how much. although it was very busy at peak times as there were four seating areas we always found a table albeit sharing a larger table. we found the food very varied, hot and plentyful. the crew were hot on 'bugs' stomach type and there was always a 'guard' at the entrance to all the serveries to ensure passengers used the bacterial spray before entering so there were no reports of sickness. we had a lunch and a breakfast in our cabin by room service, you put out your selection card the night before stating what time it was required. It was free although we did tip the waiter. the service in the buffet restaurant was the best we ever accountered, the staff were friendly, very efficient and obliging. dirty plates dissapeared as if by magic and they were there when you first sat down enquiring to our requirements for drinks - non alcaholic. The next big plus were the entertainment staff, there was always something going on from big shows in the theatre to trivia quizes and we found that the sea days slipped by easily. One of our favourites we the games in the evening such as husband and wife (mr&mrs) majority rules (family fortunes)Liars Club (call my bluff)these were hilarious. Even the simply trivia Quizes were very popular as only a few took them too seriously. The night before Corfu the ship intecepted an SOS from a Syrian refugge boat and had to divert to pick up a pregnant women and helicopter her off to shore. This next morning meant we had to miss going into Corfu which did not pleas some passengers. After almost missing Koper(Slovenia) the captain thought it was too windy (14mph) despite another cruise ship going in before us, but we did go in eventually. After Dubrovnik which everybody liked especially the old walled town, it was the crown, Venice. As we had visited it before and the water taxy trips were 15GB we diced to walk in, it only took ten minutes to get to the start of the tourist area, although if you were walking to St Peters or the Realto Bridge it took a bit longer. we enjoyed this visit as it was the first time we'd seen Venice in nice weather - it was raining the last two times we'd been there. Malta was the next stop, here we took a tip from a previous review and walked along the side of the docks to a public life which for a euro would take you to the top of the cliff leaving a level walk into town. Where we found the Maltese very welcoming and friendly. The final stop was Cadiz theres not a lot to be said here as it was just a typical Spanish town, some people took the tour to Seville. So after an unusually calm Bay of Biscay crossing it was back to Southampton and a speedy disembarkation.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
The first thing to point out to anyone reading this is that this was our first cruise together so we do not have the advantage of some reviewers of being able to compare and contrast this cruise against other ships and or operators. ... Read More
The first thing to point out to anyone reading this is that this was our first cruise together so we do not have the advantage of some reviewers of being able to compare and contrast this cruise against other ships and or operators. However, from talking to other cruisers on our ship we tended to find that experience does not always bring happiness, and this seems to be reflected in some of the reviews I have read. We were repeatedly afflicted (particularly at the dinner table) with a certain species of cruiser who I would call the 'cruise moaner'. They have been on 10/20/30 cruises and nothing is as good on this ship as it is on P&O/Royal Carribean/Cunard etc etc. So if they are so experienced why have they chosen such a 'substandard' ship/line, and how did we end up sitting opposite them? OK I've got that off my chest, now for our impressions of this cruise. Some have criticised the time it took to embark. What they failed to point out was that this was due to HM Customs deciding to carry out a full ship inspection before anyone was allowed on board. Others have said it but it bears repeating - the staff were excellent. Nothing was too much trouble. Efficient friendly service - plates cleared away as soon as knife and fork put down, cabin towels changed twice a day, public areas always clean and tidy. Almost without exception we received a 'good morning' and 'how are you' from every crew member we met, even the technicians and backroom staff. I would contrast this against the often rude and surly attitude of some of our fellow passengers (almost all of whom were British). I did not experience any of the issues with the fabric of the ship or the food described by another reviewer. The ship was very clean and well maintained. Even the carpets in the lift were being replaced while we were cruising and they didn’t seem particularly worn. The sheets and towels were always pristine and crisp. I can see that for some passengers with limited mobility waiting for a lift would be a problem. At peak periods such as meal times and when going onshore there were waits although we didn’t see many signs of broken lifts and those that were seemed to be quickly fixed. The food was of an excellent standard and well presented. We tended to eat in either Da Vinci or Michelangelo dining rooms and never had to queue for more than 5 minutes. Of course if like a lot of passengers you were desperate to eat between 5.30 and 6pm you could expect to wait longer, but by 8pm it had calmed down and made for a more relaxed dining environment. Yes the service was a bit slow at times, but so what, half the fun was in meeting and talking with new people, and there were 3 shows a night so I don’t get the reviewer who talked about leaving the table early to catch the show (unless of course you wanted to be in bed with a mug of cocoa by 10 o’clock). We only used room service once. The choice seemed a bit limited and the hot water for the tea wasn’t hot enough. Always worked better to scoot along to the International Café and get a take out in the morning (free with the good value coffee card). Some of the entertainment was a bit underwhelming particularly the stage shows by the Princes Cruise Dancers. I don’t doubt the hard work and dedication but it was all a bit ‘passe’. There were some excellent game shows and Lisa and her team were tireless in injecting some fun into the evening routine. Some of the acts were better when they did a set in the smaller venues and Roger Wright was a particular hit although his show was sometimes quite difficult to get in to such was its popularity. I would agree with others that the shore excursions were expensive. We only went on two - to the Lipeca Stud Farm in Slovenia and to Seville. The first one was interesting and the tour guide on the coach was really informative about the area. As well as the farm there was a short stop on the way back to a medieval church with amazing wall paintings depicting the ‘dance of death’. We chose this tour because it wasn’t easy to do it yourself and we are unlikely to go back there, but at approximately £80 each it wasn’t cheap. Seville just involved a coach trip and then we went our own way. As Seville is a 90 minute drive from the port of Cadiz it would be difficult to get there under your own steam. We did Venice on our own and spent 1 Euro each on the monorail from the cruise port walking the rest of the way to St Marks Square before buying a ‘go anywhere’ Vaporetto ticket which we used to ride round the lagoon and went to Murano Island (where glassware is produced). Of course having saved money getting around my wife made up for it in the handbag shop the mask shop and the glass shop! One little moan which others have mentioned is the sometimes irritating attempt to sell things such as special coffees spa treatments and photos (especially photos taken with over enthusiastic members of the crew dressed in embarrassingly bad ‘local’ costume) as you disembark the ship. The photos are worst because short of pushing them in the dock, it is hard to get past them without being grabbed and pushed in front of a camera. On the plus side, when we chose to buy something, a watch, it was good value and we have since seen the same model locally for more than twice the price. In the general scheme of things these are minor irritations. You don’t have to buy anything (even the photos). We loved our cruise, we loved the places we got to visit, and we enjoyed the company of some interesting people. The ship and its crew were fantastic and we had a really relaxing time. It was an eventful trip we took a detour to help Syrian refugees and missed Corfu as a result (their need was greater than ours), we went to Cadiz twice the second time to drop off a sick passenger, and we watched as a very drunk passenger tried to throw himself into the dock at Gibralter and was rugby tackled by members of the crew. We will definitely cruise again and would recommend this ship, this itinerary, and this cruise line to others.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
We have only cruised once before, to Alaska on Sapphire Princess. This cruise sailed from Southampton so no flying involved. Embarkation was made very easy and painless, and when we entered our state cabin we were suitably impressed with ... Read More
We have only cruised once before, to Alaska on Sapphire Princess. This cruise sailed from Southampton so no flying involved. Embarkation was made very easy and painless, and when we entered our state cabin we were suitably impressed with the size of the room and the balcony. We went on a Princess excursion at the following ports of call; Bergen, Hellesylt, Olden, and Flaam. We did our own thing in Stavanger, the last port of call. We were glad we did as the Town is lovely and we enjoyed doing a bit of shopping and site seeing by ourselves. All excursions were handled brilliantly, no hanging around and arranged like clockwork. The excursions were expensive but were very good value. Some included lunch and wherever this was the case the food was always excellent. we were very impressed. The Norwegian guides spoke excellent English and were very informative. It also helped that the weather was very good, we only had rain on one shore visit. There was a presentation by a chap called John in the Princess Theatre prior to arriving at each port of call. John was very informative and gave useful tips on each place. One point; John asked me to email him regarding the video he used for his presentation, but I have lost his email address. I don't suppose anyone would be able to help with this? Customer service on the ship was first rate and the food was lovely. We really cannot fault it. The ship was not quite as spick and span as the Sapphire Princess, but that had just had a re-fit so it's hardly fair to compare. This was a great cruise and we thoroughly enjoyed it.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
This was our fifth Princess cruise, seventh overall, and it was one of the best. The ship and the staff were great and the scenery was spectacular. We spent 2 great days in London before the cruise and stayed at the Cherry Court Hotel near ... Read More
This was our fifth Princess cruise, seventh overall, and it was one of the best. The ship and the staff were great and the scenery was spectacular. We spent 2 great days in London before the cruise and stayed at the Cherry Court Hotel near Victoria Station. Although the room was tiny, this was a very nice, clean place for just under $100 in a great location on a very quiet street about 3 blocks from Victoria Station. We took the bus from nearby Victoria Coach station to Southampton for less than $20 and then about a $10 cab ride to the ship. Embarkation was very quick and smooth. We had a balcony cabin near the front of the ship on Baja deck. Everything worked fine in the cabin and service was great. Entertainment was very good, especially Whorbey and Farrell (not sure of spelling), 2 pianists who played the same piano together. That was one of the best shows I have seen on a cruise ship. We did anytime dining and although it was somewhat disorganized the first night when we had to wait quite awhile, the rest of the trip we never had to wait to get seated. Service in the dining room was outstanding. I require a gluten free diet, and Rui, the head waiter provided the best service I have ever had on a cruise. He took great care of me. The food in the buffet was also consistently good and I appreciated that they always had a gluten free dessert in the buffet every day. There were always plenty of activities and entertainment options during the day and night to keep us busy. The casino was never really too busy. The blackjack tables were never full (often emply) and roulette seemed to be more popular with this crowd. They had a $30 texas hold em tournament every day. I appreciated the low limit to enter the tournament and I participated a couple of times. My only complaint was slow internet service in this part of the world. It was frustrating to watch your expensive minutes pile up while the little clock kept spinning and nothing was happening on the screen. I think they should give you a break on the price when the service is super slow. The ports were all great and we had overall great weather. It was supposed to be pretty rainy in Norway in early September but we only had one day with semi-bad weather. Bergen was our first port and we docked a bit outside of the downtown area but the ship had a free shuttle which was convenient and easy. We looked around the Bryggen area in the morning while it was cloudy and we took the funicular up to the viewpoint when the sun came out later in the day. There was a bit of a line to ride the funicular, but it wasn't bad. It is nice up at the top with some great views and nice hiking trails. In Geiranger we took the ship's excursion to Mt. Dalsnibba and we were fortunate to have a beautiful sunny day. It is a scenic drive to the top and great views from there as well as the flyjuvet viewpoint along the way. The excursion took pretty much all of our time in port and we weren't able to do see much else of the town although there didn't appear to be a whole lot there. In Olden we took a shuttle from the Tourist booth at the dock for about $50 to the Briksdal Glacier and this was well worth it. Another very scenic drive and then we had 2 hours to spend at the glacier. It took about 45 minutes of pretty steady uphill climbing to reach the glacier itself, but the trip was beautiful. You could also pay about $20 to ride the "troll car" to get up the trail if walking wasn't for you. After returning to the port we had time to look around town and visit the 2 churches that are within walking distance from the ship. We had a full day in Flaam. In the morning we took the Flamsbana railroad up the mountain and back down again right away. Through cruise critic roll call, we joined a group of at least 10 that can reserve tickets in advance with about a 10 % discount on the cost and that worked out very well. Unfortunately this was our rain day which took something away from the views, but it was still a very nice trip. In the afternoon we took the ship's excursion to the narrow fjord. This started with a bus ride through one of the long tunnels into a beautiful valley and up to a hotel above the valley with great views over the valley. Then a boat ride from Gudvangen through the narrow fjord back to Flaam. This was an excellent excursion. The valley and the fjord are beautiful. When we returned to Flaam the local band was playing at the dock as the ship departed the port. Stavanger was another very pleasant port. The ship docks right in the downtown area and we spent the day strolling around this nice city. Disembarkation was very efficient. In fact our group was called about 1/2 hour before scheduled and we got off the ship and found our luggage very quickly. Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
I've been on a number of the Grand Class ships before but this one beat them hands down in most areas! It is so well designed: you never realise that there are so many passengers. Like other Princess ships, there are main dining ... Read More
I've been on a number of the Grand Class ships before but this one beat them hands down in most areas! It is so well designed: you never realise that there are so many passengers. Like other Princess ships, there are main dining rooms, speciality restaurants, bars, a club, theatres, shops and plenty of deckspace around the pools/tubs. What it didn't have was young people! My wife, aged 51, must have been in the youngest 150! In fact 150 could've been the average age! With such elderly cruisers the pace was slow and the music/PA seemed to be rather too loud ---for our ears. Most of the passengers were fellow Brits. This was a shame because I really enjoy meeting people from other countries. Still, the many trivia competitions were well attended and fun. We dined in Sabatini's for our breakfast ---the three waitresses in there were brilliant! For lunch we tried various locations and for our evening meals we went to the Crown Grill steakhouse four times (thanks Marius & George who looked after us so well), had room-service once and otherwise used the main restaurants. We did find the plague of photographers too much. The prices are so high as well. You'll sell more if you half the prices, guys. Yes, we did some ship's tours at some ports: Gibraltar: the dolphin watch. Great fun but no dolphins. I give it **** Corfu: missed because we helped some poor Syrians who were in a really bad way. Dubrovnik: Sadly I missed this because I had injured my leg playing tennis (!) Koper: ship's tour to Piran. So interesting---although some people found it too focused on history and culture! I give it ***** Venice: we did our own thing (ate at Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal---wow!) Valetta: I've never been to Malta before. We went on the ship's Hypogeum tour. It was absolutely amazing. If you are into history this is a great experience! ***** Cadiz: the ship's tour to see the Andalusian horses and taste sherry was one of our highlights. ***** Otherwise, the good and bad things: For me, the food in the main dining areas was disappointing. Also, the long queues that happen on such a huge ship. The luggage collection ashore once we had disembarked in Southampton was awful. The good things for me that I haven't already mentioned.... the crew were fab, some of the entertainers were so good (the Russian girls Lady Hit Trio who played their violins and accordion so well plus Chris Ricketts, the singer/guitarist who was so enthusiastic about sea shanties ----not everyone's cup of tea though. Would I go on this ship again? Yes. Would I go on this cruise again?...Probably yes. Would I change the time of year? Well, I just wish that there was a greater mix of passenger nationalities and ages.   Read Less
Sail Date September 2013
My wife and I boarded the ship on Aug. 16, and stayed on her until Sept. 14. We do not do "formal," and chose "Anytime Dining," and ate in the buffet for the entire time except one night in the Crown Grill. We could ... Read More
My wife and I boarded the ship on Aug. 16, and stayed on her until Sept. 14. We do not do "formal," and chose "Anytime Dining," and ate in the buffet for the entire time except one night in the Crown Grill. We could find nothing bad to say about the entire experience. I must say, reading the "down" reviews, that it seems people are really nit-picking. The food was fine, the coffee was good, and the service was outstanding. By simply being observant, we were able to see some really interesting things, such as a "Mola-Mola" sunfish on the surface near the Guernsey Islands, and a couple of whales near Iceland. As far as the ship was concerned, our cabin was very comfortable, and our steward was always at our disposal. A couple of times the toilets briefly didn't work, and we were told it was because somebody nearby had clogged theirs by putting something in it they shouldn't have. The entire crew down to the "black gang" and deck hands were polite and cheerful. The itinerary was fine - we saw a lot of places for the first time, and were charmed by Scotland and Ireland. It turned out that we retraced many of the steps of the Titanic, which I found fascinating. We did encounter a couple of storms, and the Captain made the right decision to stay in port at one point. We had 60 knot plus winds one night, but the ship was easily able to handle it.When we got to New York, it was a bittersweet time, as we had made some fast friends among the crew. We were told that if we stayed on the ship any longer, we would be drafted as crew! Disembarkation was incredibly easy. We had a train to catch at Penn Station, and so disembarked at 8 AM. Much to my amazement, we were on the curb looking for a taxi by 8:15! In summary, it was 28 days of great fun, and we plan to take more cruises in the future with Princess. Read Less
Sail Date August 2013
We booked this cruise as an excellent late deal price as we had never been to five of the ports of call in the British Isles despite having cruised worldwide for many years. We were pleasantly surprised that Princess has managed to ... Read More
We booked this cruise as an excellent late deal price as we had never been to five of the ports of call in the British Isles despite having cruised worldwide for many years. We were pleasantly surprised that Princess has managed to maintain their usual high standards apart from allowing people in shorts into the dining rooms on casual night dining! As Captains Circle Elite passengers we also benefited from all their perks (some of the best provided by any cruise line's loyalty programme) as well as on board credit. We like doing things on our own and not using the ship's excursions, which were horrendously expensive and we felt sorry for the majority of passengers who were American being fleeced in this way. We did our best to inform many of them we encountered of the do it yourself options available. Ports of call:- St. Peter Port Guernsey This was a tendering port and only a half day call which unfortunately was a Sunday. It was quite foggy early on so tendering also started late. It is normally possible to walk for about 15 mins along the front to get a bus which does a 2 hour circular tour of the island for £2 per person. There was a small food and craft fair on the front and also a timed hill climb for charity by a variety of cars which kept the menfolk happy. Some of the shops were closed. Cobh The ship docks alongside the railway station and it is possible to get a train (every half hour) into Cork for 7 Euros 60 per person and then a bus onto Blarney Castle if you wished. Cork is a very pleasant city and easy to walk around. There is time on your return to Cobh to go round the Heritage Centre near the ship and also to walk around the town. The weather was glorious as were all the flowers grown in containers round the town. Dublin The ship provided a shuttle for $16 per person but it is possible to walk into the city centre in about 40 mins. Turn left once off the ship to the end of the road and turn left again. If you are lucky the 53 bus from the ferry may go past and you can catch it into the city centre. If not carry on along the dock road to the end and at the T junction turn left and continue to the roundabout just before a bridge. Cross over the road turning right and follow the road along the banks of the Liffey until you come to O Connell Bridge and turn right here for the hop on hop off bus (18 Euros) or left to go to Trinity College and the Book of Kells. We opted for the hop on hop off bus as it started to rain quite heavily and actually went round three times. Our driver gave his own commentary which was very amusing but this is not always so on the hop on hop off buses. Liverpool If you get off early there are some free tours of the city on offer. The cruise terminal is not brilliant and you have to go in a roundabout fashion to get off the ship and onto the street. From there you turn right at the end of the short street, cross over the road and continue along til you see James Street. Follow this street into the centre for Liverpool One shopping and the Walker Art Gallery. If you want to go to Chester James Street station is close to the road junction and it costs £4.60 return after 9.30 a.m. Along the waterfront is the Liver Building, the Museium of Liverpool Life, Tate Modern and the Maritime and National Slavery Museum and the Beatles experience on the Albert Dock. Belfast. Free shuttles were provided by the city. If you get the first shuttle (9a.m.) you can then book a tour to the Giants Causeway for £16 when you get off the bus as you are accosted by various people selling trips. If not going on one of these City Hall is straight ahead of you and they run free tours which are very interesting. The timings are by the door and it takes about an hour. There is also the Titanic Experience which you can see across the dock from the ship but to get there is a long roundabout walk around the dock or take the shuttle into the city and a bus back out or a taxi from the ship. Greenock A 20 minute walk from the ship takes you to the railway station and it is less than £10 per person and takes about half an hour. It is as well to print off a map from the internet as the tourist information office is a way from the Central Station. A hop on hop off tour is worth while here. The return train is the Gourock train. Invergordon This was a Sunday again but there were some free local tours available if you got off the ship before 9 a.m. and other tours were available including Inverness and Loch Ness for £15 per person. ALternatively there was a local bus 25 from near the ship and it cost £11.50 per person for a day rider ticket and you can connect in Inverness to a bus going past Loch Ness. The bus takes an hour and it is a very scenic route but remember you need to get the 15:25 bus back to get back to the ship on time. Inverness had many shops open from 11 a.m. and a walk up to the Castle (albeit offices now) is worth it for the view. There is very little in Invergordon itself. South Queensferry The ship anchors by the Forth Road Bridge and tenders in. Beware the jetty can be slippery due to the tides. There are various tours on offer and a shuttle into Edinburgh by local firms for £10 per person. If you wish to take the train turn left at the end of the jetty, cross the road, walk for 5 mins to a path singposted station and be prepared for a hike up many steps to get to the level of the Forth Bridge where the station (Dalmeny) is. It costs about £5 each return to Waverley and when you go through Haymarket station look up to get a view of the Castle). On arrival you are in the centre of Edinburgh with a 10 minute uphill walk to the Castle. The return train is the Cowdenbeath one. Le Havre We have been here before and instead of taking the ships shuttle at $16 per person we walked into the city. The walk is well signposted and very flat. There are a few things to see such as Notre Dame Cathedral and the Shipwrights House. A taxi into the city is 8 Euros and they charge 30 Euros per hour if you want a tour and it is 70 Euros to go to Honfleur. Paris is two hours away by train but you would not get much time there. I hope this helps others. It is also worthwhile finding somewhere on board to watch the sailaway as in many ports it involves sailing down a firth or lough and the scenery is magnificent. We rated this cruise as in our Tope Ten Best Cruises and we have done more than 100 with various cruiselines but be prepared as it is 10 ports in 12 days, it can be extremely tiring if you try to fit in as much as we did. We averaged 3 miles walking a day!   Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
We were on the July 8-23, 2013 British Isles trip on board the beautiful Caribbean Princess. This was our third time on this ship and it is my favorite. We had absolutely no problems on this cruise with the ship or crew. The weather for ... Read More
We were on the July 8-23, 2013 British Isles trip on board the beautiful Caribbean Princess. This was our third time on this ship and it is my favorite. We had absolutely no problems on this cruise with the ship or crew. The weather for our trip was incredible. It was very warm for almost the entire trip. Cobb, Dublin and Paris use Euros and all other places use the British Pound. I hope you find this summary helpful. I know I counted on the previous cruise critic reviews to help me plan our trip. LONDON: We arrived in London two days before the cruise. We took the tube from Heathrow to the stop close to our hotel. We stayed at the Crowne Plaza St. James. The location of the hotel could not have been better. We walked from the hotel to Westminster Abbey, past much of the government buildings, Calvary Museum, over to St. James Park and to Buckingham Palace. The next day we walked over to the Westminster Bridge to catch the River Thames boat ride and saw both Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament. We took the river boat down to Tower of London. You could spend an entire day here but after about 4 hours we walked (yes, walked) down to St. Paul’s Cathedral. Would highly recommend walking up the 528 steps to the top. What a great view of London. You are higher than the London Eye. We than walked (yes, walked) back to our hotel. Walking does allow you to take in all of the sights and do some people watching. There are plenty of opportunities to ride the bus, which are everywhere. We did purchase the London Pass with the transportation included. It allowed us to skip many of the ques. Transfer to the Ship: We had International Friends take us from the Hotel to Southampton via Stonehenge. The bus driver that we had was TERRIBLE. Very scary. He cut off numerous cars and would zoom up on the back of cars he was following. Stonehenge was ok, it was one of those things that you go see to say that you saw it. Guernsey, Channel Islands: This is a tender port. We booked a walking tour with Annette Henry Tours. (www.annettehenrytours.gg) Annette lives in Guernsey and knows so much history on the island. She makes it fun, does some role playing and takes you places that would be missed by other tours. Make sure you walk to the actual town which is behind those building you see from the port. It is a beautiful town. The tour was about 3 hours long and I think it was 10 pounds each. We tipped her very good. Cob, Ireland: We did the Princess Excursion: Rock of Cashel, The Vee & Lismore. This tour was pretty good. We were able to see a lot of the countryside. The Rock of Cashel was interesting. We were there on a very warm day, close to 70 degrees and we were very lucky that our bus had air conditioning. There were two other buses in our group and both had problems with their air conditioning. There may be better tours offered than this one. Dublin, Ireland: We took the Princess Shuttle $8.00 per person each way to town. When we got to Dublin there were people there waiting to sell us HOHO tickets. Be careful!!!! Not all buses are the same. The green bus-which we purchased had only a couple of buses. They go in one direction around the whole town so if you want to go backwards you walk. Plus there was a big wait time between buses. Go with the RED HOHO bus. Our bus was €18 each. We did not do any excursions. We planned on doing the Trinity College walking tour but too many people showed up and you couldn’t hear the guide so we went out on our own. We walked around Trinity College, went to St. Patrick’s Cathedral (on a Sunday morning between masses) and then went to Guinness Brewery €16.50. Buy your ticket in advance and they have a will call. Otherwise you will stand in line. The best meal on the entire cruise was at the Guinness Storehouse restaurant. Little place that offered a couple of items on the menu, you order at the bar. But their Irish Stew was Fantastic! If you are going to buy things to take back home-Dublin is the place to do it. They have a ton of shops with good prices. This was a hopping town. Greenock (Glasgow), Scotland: We booked a tour with Discover Scotland Tours, the Highland Lochs, Glens & Castles Shore Excursion 40 £ a couple. Our tour guide was Bobby Toner and he was fantastic!! (www.discoverscotlandtours.com) It probably helped that we are of Scottish decent. He was very interested in teaching us about Scotland. We went to the small village of Luss and what a picturesque little place. The flowers were just beautiful outside the homes. Got a lot of history of the region. We then went to the Inveraray Castle. Looks like a Cinderella castle. Look it up on the internet. It has been used in some of the Downtown Abbey show. The castle fee and lunch is not included in the tour. Actually had to pay to use the bathroom in a town on the tour. Stopped at a small church, he took us on some back roads with beautiful scenery. You don’t go here on a big bus. Our little bus carried 16 people. Bobby will give you lots of history and interesting story telling. Highly recommend! Belfast, Northern Ireland: We booked a Tax Tour with Belfast City Tours 125 £ a couple. There were just the 4 of us with a cab driver. At first, we weren’t sure about this tour. We were picked up at the dock and RUSHED to the Northern Coast. The good thing is that we beat all of the tours so when we got to the Carrick-A-Rede (7 £ each) there was not anyone there. Good for us! We paid our entry fee and proceeded to walk all the way down to the rope bridge, walked over to the island and WOW was it ever beautiful. Well worth the walk. But it is a long walk. Then our driver, William, took us over to the Giants Causeway (8.50 £ each). This is another site worth seeing. From the welcome center down to the causeway is a long walk. However, if you ride the bus be prepared to stand in line at both ends because the road only allows one bus at a time. We rode down but decided to walk back up. Watch your step on the rocks as they can be wet and slippery. We then headed to the Bushmills Distillery (8.50 £ each). We went on the tour and got our free drink. Up until this point William did not have much to say. We told him we were interested in seeing the city and learning about the conflict. William took us to both sides of the Peace Wall and explained the history about the conflict. This was very interesting. None of the sites were included in the price of the tour. Would recommend Belfast City Tours and William! (Belfast City Tours TD Taxis Booking TJ Doyle) Kirkwall, Scotland: Tender port. We did not book any tours. We took the shuttle (free) to town. Cute little town. We walked to St. Magnus Cathedral (free) and Bishop’s and Earl’s Palace (entry fee). We looked around for tartans and there are some nice shops. The wind was blowing so hard at this port that our captain had to have Tugs sent in from hours away to pull us away from the dock so the boat would not be damaged. We were over two hours late leaving port. Very light up here since it is so far north. Inverness, Scotland: We booked a tour with George Munro of Munro Highland Tours. George@munrohighlandtours.co.uk (195 £ a couple) This was not a typical tour in that we want to a lot of back road places that only a small vehicle could go. Nature walks, waterfalls, beautiful flowers, herds of deer. We drove through historic Beauly and we give a short guided walk around the 13th century priory (free entry) Stunning hilltop drive through crofting communities to Loch Ness. We took the 30 minute boat trip to Urquhart Castle £18.50 per person for this including the castle entry. The boat trip is nothing special in itself, but avoiding the queues and seeing the castle from the water makes it more than worthwhile. This was a good trip and George knows a lot of history. He also does distillery tours. It was a bit pricey. We did not see the Loch Ness monster! South Queensferry (Edinburgh): This is a tender port. Based on what I read on Cruise Critic I figured out how to get where we wanted to go. You walk up from the tender across the street and follow the people to the stairs. Straight up all 139 steps. Then you turn left and follow the path along the chainlink fence to the Dalmeny Train station. Take the train (£9.60) to Edinburgh. When you walk up the stairs from the train be ready to be wowed! Edinburgh is beautiful!!! We could spend a week here. Get a HOHO ticket and travel around the city. The HOHO starts at 9 am for $22. We took the bus through the city two times. We pre-purchased tickets to go see the Edinburgh Castle which was smart because the ques were VERY long. The Castle is worth seeing. Then we walked the Royal Mile and city streets. There is a great shop the Tartan Weaving Mill & Exhibition on the Royal Mall. Very interesting. The one thing we did not do but was highly recommended is going to see the St. Mary’s Close. Le Havre (Paris, France): Princess Excursion: Paris City Drive & The Louvre Museum with lunch at the Restaurant in the Eiffel Tower. Very interesting day. We visited Paris on Monday the day after the Tour de France race finished in Paris. Monday is also the day that one of the other major museums in Paris is closed. So EVERYONE was at the Louvre! It was packed. First, make sure you go to the bathroom on the bus. Because the lines are so long for the bathroom that you will lose your tour group. We saw the big three-Venus de Milo, Mona Lisa, and the Winged Victory of Samothrace. Can take that off my bucket list-Oh, that’s right, it wasn’t on my list. My brother-in-law went to the top of the Louvre to take pictures of the pyramid on the outside (you arrive via bus in the basement). Well, he got locked outside (no receipt for re-entry) and we were all separated and lost from our tour group. The four of us finally got back together and were reunited with our group which did an ovation for us when we finally got on the bus. Went to the Eiffel Tower-extremely crowded, and went to lunch in the restaurant. Great view from up there. The food was not great at the restaurant. Then we headed back to the bus. It was about 2.5 hours each way on the bus. I would not recommend this expensive tour. Also, no chance to buy any souvenirs on this tour. Did see some pretty sights of the city including the Arc De Triomphe Etoile. Hope this summary helps someone plan their trip. I know I received lots of good tips from Cruise Critic!   Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
Just returned from a two week cruise on the Crown Princess visiting Norway, the North cape and Longyearbyen. The land of the midnight sun, we had daylight for 8 continual days We had state room L209 on deck 15. A good location for the ... Read More
Just returned from a two week cruise on the Crown Princess visiting Norway, the North cape and Longyearbyen. The land of the midnight sun, we had daylight for 8 continual days We had state room L209 on deck 15. A good location for the pools and the front viewing area, the buffet restaurant etc. The downside is you need to use the lift as the stairs are exhausting also being at the front of the ship you feel the movement more, however the bed does face forward and so it’s not completely unpleasant Pros. Lisa the entertainment director, she really came across as an approachable genuine fun loving person and we really enjoyed the daily wake up show, it even became a “must do” every day! Lisa appeared to be involved in every aspect/detail of the daily entertainment programme. I’ve no idea how she finds the time or the energy for one day never mind seven days a week! The entertainment was fantastic with great shows and guest entertainers. I think princess have got it just right with the three nightly 45min shows in the theatre. We didn’t have to queue once for a seat and usually just turned up a few minutes before the start of a performance. Loved the back stage tours. We found it difficult at times trying to fit everything in We had a few cold days and the entertainment could be altered to suit the weather conditions outside. Guests requests were listened to and acted upon wherever possible Got seats in the explorers lounge on most occasions. Loved the piazza mini shows. Good service and meals from the dining rooms and met some lovely people Good ports of call the tendering service well executed (although I would have appreciated being told to have my passport on me before sitting in the theatre in the middle of a row of people and having to run back up to the room to get it, and it not asked for once on shore!) Fantastic value for money overall Debark was seamless Now the cons. My biggest daily gripe was the Horizon Court dining area, it’s a complete bun fight! We really struggled to get seated for most for the cruise. One morning for breakfast we (with a cup of tea in hand) walked around for 40mins trying to get seated and then gave up and sat by the pool, this was at Longyearbyen ( 500 miles from the north pole) and it was freezing cold. Another two mornings in the cold by the pool, and we really don’t mind sharing a table! We found people were (especially at the window tables) using the dining area as a viewing platform and just not moving on after they had eaten, a little unfair on the passengers who need to sit to eat. Also, not that it bothered me too much but I ended up sourcing cutlery and drinks myself on most occasions, mostly because as soon as a seat became free you had to jump in quick and the previous peoples dishes were still piled up on the table. One evening we had fresh drinks on the table and left to get our meals only to return to the table to find we had been cleared and others sitting in our seats, we then with meals in hand started the walk of shame around the dining rooms trying to find seats, finally got some seats, by then the food was cold and had to be thrown and replaced, ruined our evening completely. The staff seemed pleasant and seemed to be hard working though. We ordered breakfast in the room on several occasions because of this (this choice is quite restricted). The formal breakfast room stops service at 9.30am and especially if you are going out for the day just takes up a lot of time I agree with a friend of mine that cruised with Princess previously on a similar trip to this one that the ship is not really ideal for this type of cruise. We’ve been on the Caribbean Princess (same layout)in the Caribbean and it was great, no problem. However this time because of the destination the pools etc. are all exposed to the elements and largely cannot be enjoyed as it’s just too cold. Maybe a ship with a covered pool area for the cold parts of the world would be an idea? The only technical problem was our shower would suddenly go to scolding then freezing. We didn’t report as we didn’t want the shower room taken apart, we just pointed the shower head at the wall and moved very quickly Embark was slow we queued for over an hour, thinking it was our fault for turning up at peak time, but chatted to others on the cruise and found they had similar difficulties at different times. The Mayflower terminal is an uninviting area with little facilities We booked excursions in each port and found the Princess excursions very expensive. We used Cruise excursions for four of the ports and they cant be faulted and at a fraction of the cost of the Princes excursions! Overall we had a fantastic cruise and appreciated the hard work of the crew. We have already put the deposit down for our next cruise with Princess, that gives us on board spend and will be returned if don't choose to use   Read Less
Sail Date July 2013
Background: We arrived in London on 2 June for a little sightseeing before our cruise set sail on 5 June 2013. There were eight of us in our group and we took the opportunity to visit London, Windsor Castle, and Stonehenge. We had ... Read More
Background: We arrived in London on 2 June for a little sightseeing before our cruise set sail on 5 June 2013. There were eight of us in our group and we took the opportunity to visit London, Windsor Castle, and Stonehenge. We had pre-arranged transportation for pick-up at Heathrow and at our Hotel for the trip to Southampton. Transportation requirements took place without a hitch Southampton Hotel: We stayed at the PremierInn Southampton Quay; we booked this hotel based on previous Cruise Critic recommendations and we're not disappointed; clean and comfortable hotel, friendly staff; reasonable price; good location, and close to cruise terminal. The hotel arranged two taxis for our group and the cost was about 8 British Pounds per taxi. I highly recommend the hotel if departing from Southampton. Ship Info: This was our 4th Princess Cruise and first time on the Caribbean Princess. The ship layout is basically the same as other Princess ships in the same category and we are very comfortable with that. We like the ease of access to food by the pools such as pizza and hamburger bars. The ship sails with approximately 3100 people, but one never feels crowded. Embarkation: We arrived at the terminal around 11:15am from our hotel, the trip was short and very smooth. Baggage porters we're standing by to take our luggage and they also reminded us to ensure we had all our travel documents in our handcarry bags and not packed in suitcases, we we're very impressed with this. The terminal wasn't too crowded at the time; but they weren't ready to start processing passengers yet. A receptionist handed out Health Forms and Check-in Letters based on your Cruise Status; Elite (Green) or Non-Elite (Orange). We waited approximately 45 minutes before our letter was called; I venture to say it took no longer than 5 minutes for us to have our room key in hand and head towards security. The security line was crowded and long by the time we got there. One factor that slowed things down was that "Elite" passengers who arrived late we're allowed to go to the front of the line to go through security. We we're on board and dropped our handcarry luggage in our room by 1:00pm. One of the things Princess has always impressed me with is the fact your room is ready for you by the time you board; in fact on this trip, our luggage was already at the door waiting for us. State Room: We stayed on the Aloha Deck; Room A705; we like this ship location, the deck is quiet and close to the elevators; which take you right to the Horizon Food Courts. Dining: We had Traditional Dining in the Coral Dining Room. Although we had requested and had been approved a 6:00pm seating time, our room keys stated 5:30; we spoke to the head waiter and our time was adjusted. I personally didn't have one back meal in the Coral; food was plentiful, tasteful, and very good. Our waiters Alberto and Jorge did an Outstanding Job; the eight in our group all submitted "Impressive Employee" Cards on them and all gave them additional gratuity at the end of the cruise. One thing I noticed about our dining time was the amount of empty tables. I am assuming people had reserved them, but 95% of the time they remained empty while we ate dinner; plus there was a waiting line of "Anytime" Dining passengers waiting to get in. We normally ate breakfast or lunch at the Horizon Food Court; nothiing special here; service was good for the most part; the food was plentiful, but the same as other Princess cruises we've taken. We still like the Pizza and Hamburger bar; our friends did have one bad experience with the burger bar when orders Brats; they said they we're awful. However, my wife and I never experienced this. Services: Our room was always clean and ready for us, although our cabin steward was very quiet and preferred not to interact with us unless necessary; we are okay with this; as long as the room is clean we're happy. The mattresses in our cabin need replacing, but plentiful for storage space. Shore Excursions: We only took one Princess excursion and that was the visit to Normandy for the 69th Anniversary of "D-Day"; feeling it would be quite crowded that day; we felt more comfortable traveling with the ship excursion. The excursion did not disappoinit and lunch at a very nice golf course (included) was included. We had booked 3 private shore excursions and had no problems; they were always ready for us when we arrived in port and ensured we returned to ship ahead of the required time. We had purchased entry tickets to attractions such as Edinburgh Castle, Blarney Castle, etc on line and before departing for the cruise; this was a big plus and I highly recommend it as the lines to purchase tickets we're very long; we simply bypassed the line and went right in. Entertainment: My wife and I are layed back and don't expect too much in the way of entertainment; we we're very happy and content with the shows on this cruise. The lounges had trivia each night and we really enjoy that type of entertainment. Zumba, Bingo; Dancing, was all available and all suited our needs. Smoking: I enjoy a good cigar and the ship does have a Cigar/cigarette lounge.....Churchills. It was never crowded and service was good. There was one evening when a couple came in wanted to watch the French Open and complained about the smoke; the bartender reminded them this was a "Smoking" Lounge and they left, but not without fussinig. Disembarkation: Smooth, with a minor customs delay. Our appointed time to meet was at 6:55am in the Coral Dining Room; our number wasn't called until 7:40; our flight wasn't until 12:35pm from Heathrow, so we had ample time. When we arrived in the terminal our bags we're ready for us; the terminal was arranged by the color of your disembarkation tags and easy to find. We walked out the terminal and the buses for the Princess Transfer to the airport was waiting for us; luggage was loaded and we arrived at Heathrow by 9:30am. Sleamless process. Summary: My wife and I really love sailing on Princess and have very little to complain about; we understand servicing 3,000 people has its challenges; a clean room, good food, drink and entertainment is all we look for and Princess has yet to disappoint us.   Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
This was our second cruise with Princess. Two years ago we were on the "Ruby" in the Mediterranean. We are two young active senior citizens 62, and 65 from CT. Caribbean Princess is Ruby's sister ship, only a bit older. So ... Read More
This was our second cruise with Princess. Two years ago we were on the "Ruby" in the Mediterranean. We are two young active senior citizens 62, and 65 from CT. Caribbean Princess is Ruby's sister ship, only a bit older. So we had no surprises when we booked. The ship is beautiful, but some of the furniture is worn and faded. Some carpeting has been replaced while some has not. Some bathroom tile showed some black mold, and the bathroom mirror was spotting with age. These signs of maturity did not take away from the experience. The Caribbean Princess' mechanicals were fully operational, meaning she got ua from port to port and elevators and toilets worked just fine. We were most impressed by the friendly, helpful, genuinely nice staff. We loved Kelvin Joy, the Cruise Director, and his Deputy Cruise Director (Sorry...forgot your name.) who were funny, and informative. In the Island Dining Room, Randy and Almira worked hard to keep us happy by giving us food suggestions and accommodating our special requests. (We did notice the food quality declined from two years before, but we never went hungry.) The shows were good and very entertaining. We always went to the 7:00 one. We liked that we always got a seat, because there were 3 shows and we liked the shorter versions. Also when I ordered a diet coke in the theater (or anywhere for that matter)using my soda card, I was giving quick and respectful service equal to anyone ordering an expensive drink. The very best show was not at night. During our last "Sea Day," we went to the "Cooking Show". This was much more than we expected with cooking, comedy, and entertainment by the staff. DO NOT miss this one. We spent many afternoons in the Piazza drinking coffees, hot chocolate, eating too many cookies or at Vines drinking wine and having sushi. Our cabin steward was efficient and was always available when needed. He fixed a broken light bulb, and called someone to help us with a testy safe. He kept the bed made, gave up plenty of towels and toilet paper and always left us candy on the bed. We only did Princess excursions and enjoyed the time given. These excursions delivered what they promised. A couple of times we had to choose between shopping and a part of the attraction. (For instance, stand in line to kiss the Blarney Stone or shop at the Woolen Mills....It was DH's turn and we kissed the Blarney Stone. (Bring antibacterial wipes for the stone :) Princess excursions might be a bit costly, but they were well planned, and stress free. The all day excursions with lunch included, had the best food served, and was better than what was served on board the Caribbean Princess. The local tour guides were always knowledgeable and eager to please. Princess... should know the Caribbean Princess Staff always take good care of their cruisers. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
After 4 days in London with constant sightseeing, we transferred via a Princess bus to Southampton. Bus transfer a bit chaotic but passable. Embarkation and later disembarkation at terminal good. We have been on this very ship 4 times now ... Read More
After 4 days in London with constant sightseeing, we transferred via a Princess bus to Southampton. Bus transfer a bit chaotic but passable. Embarkation and later disembarkation at terminal good. We have been on this very ship 4 times now and each time we very very satisfied. The food was very good, if not excellent, although we have seen the more expensive items disappear from the menu over the years( e.g. lamb chops)Service in the dining room was excellent but the average length of time in the dining room was over 2 hours. That would interfere with getting to entertainment. One of the section maitre d's, Toma, overheard me ask about escargots. He saw to it we got escargots the next evening. Each day when we returned from a shore excursion, we had a snack at the international cafe, which had good sandwiches and very good soups which were quite welcome since the weather around the British Isles was often cool and windy. The room service was excellent. We had breakfast in our room every day to save time since we always had an early excursion. It was always on time and we were brought things we ordered that were not even on the menu. Pizza and hamburgers by the pool were excellent. The cabin itself, an oceanview with a balcony, was trouble free. The steward, Ron, was excellent. All features of the cabin worked well including plumbing, climate control, fridge, TV, & comfortable queen bed. The entertainment was excellent. It was varied and enough of it. The cruise director and his staff were wonderful, except for one woman whose attitude regarding one of the trivia games was unacceptable. The cruise staff often has wrong answers to trivia. This woman insisted the American flag has 13 red stripes. This was on July 4 th no less. I was insulted. But this was more than made up for by the fantastic cruise director, Kelvin Joy. In 10 cruises, he is the best one we've ever had. Tons of personality, talent, good sport (and a great bum which he flashed at the end of the crew show), very friendly and easily accessible. The ports of call were a great selection and that's why we chose this cruise. Only Guernsey should be replaced since little to see or do.As for these ports, make arrangements on your own. The ships tours are not as good and are considerably more expensive. We took a tour of Cork with some friends we had met on an cruise 5 years ago and among other things they got us to the Blarney Stone ahead of the lines. Can't you tell I have the gift of gab?In Dublin, we took a free walking tour of the city which was interesting but too rich in history. In Liverpool, we saw two good museums and the Cavern where the Beatles got their start. On to Belfast, for a tour of the Giant's Causeway and the swing bridge at Carrick-a Rede, both worthwhile natural wonders. In Glasgow, visited Loch Lomond, and Stirling Castle which was over rated. Inverness included a tour of Loch Ness among others and was great because of the great guide, Gordon Pearson of Wow Scotland. Edinburgh, next, very colorful and St Giles church not to be missed for its stained glass windows. Last port was Le Havre and an hour and a half car ride thru Cruise Excursions.com (Not the ship)and an excellent guide(Florian) We went to the 2 American beaches of the D Day landing, the American cemetery and several other related cites. It was extremely emotional and we don't even know people who died there for our freedom. One of our friend's father fought there but survived. In all, a marvelous cruise, taking into account the ship itself and the ports of call. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
This was our sixth Princess Cruise. Booking last minute we found an incredible bargain ($1329 for a $3799 balcony; interior cabins were sold for $599). We are Platinum members, and hence boarding was very easy, as was disembarkation. Our ... Read More
This was our sixth Princess Cruise. Booking last minute we found an incredible bargain ($1329 for a $3799 balcony; interior cabins were sold for $599). We are Platinum members, and hence boarding was very easy, as was disembarkation. Our Cabin was R718, aft on the ship, but perfectly comfortable and convenient. Good things: We've always had pleasant experiences with crew, dining hall staff, stewards, and this was true on this cruise as well. Crew worked to be very attentive and helpful, with only one invisible exception I'll mention later. Always found if we are courteous and respectful of crew, they'll be likewise to us. We have liked Princess for social dancing, more floors and venues, space in general for dancing than we have found on Carnival or Royal C. That said, often live bands played very short sets (30 to 45 minutes) and then were wisked off to another venue. The ship has four dance venues. They make generally poor use of the Skywalker Club at the top of the ship, and the objective there didn't seem to be dance but selling drinks.. They kept a band in Wheelhouse Bar regularly most evenings capable of a wide selection of music. Only problem there was length of time between selections, waiting for computers to pull up their music. Explorer's Lounge was underutilized for dancing, bands starting late and leaving early so one of the over-done cruse staff games could be shuffled through, and those well worn performances were eternal, never ending. Club Fusion was mostly DJ music,and often slow without much being offered for dance, just an empty room. It is used some, but could be used much more effectively without huge overhead. I've read some downer reviews on food. In regular dining rooms, two things helped for anytime dining. First, don't ask for a table for two or you will wait a long time. Be willing to mix with others, and you are seated quickly. This cruise was very international, and we always enjoyed meeting others, Brits, Israeli's South Africans, many Asians, Aussies and New Zealanders. One of the great aspects of the trip was only about half of of the guests were American. The second thing that helped was to ask the waiter for a recommendation. A couple of times I went on my own, a steak, or a seafood item I had attraction too. Usually, if it was an every night available or if it was beef, it tended to be a bit ordinary. When I followed wait staff recommendations, I always got a good entree. On desserts, creme bulee is always a good choice. We found food to generally be a bump better than Carnival or RC. Some of the Excursions on this cruise were a mistake. Getting the more expensive excursion where you depart in the morning and meet the ship at Geiranger was a mistake. . Lots of down and wasted time, and the best sites can generally be seen from the Geirnanger side. We opted for a rental car in Bergen, a mistake (use Hop On Hop Off bus). For Flaam, buy railway tickets in Bergen the day before and save a few bucks. Stavenger is a walk on your own city, everything in good proximity of the ship; called that one right. Use public transportation in Tromso (we walked too much).. We were generally disappointed in the shows. Couple of weak entertainers, a magician and comic who brought no energy to the show and the audience was unable to generate any either. Because there were 3 shows each night (limitation of seating in theatre), shows were short, about 45 minutes. On this cruise, four or five times 45 minutes was actually enough. Sameness about them, lack of creative choreography. If not for midriff and sexual inuendo, there wasn't much else to carry them. Nice string group that was used in very limited capacity. A good group where most of the band was from Barbados, but again they were under utilized. My disappointment came in the Admin officers and his staff to help correct an error I made. I use a CPAP machine at night. In packing it, I had inadvertently left the silicone portion of the mask behind, the piece that sits directly upon one's face. I realized my error on the plane before landing at LHR. As soon as I boarded ship, I went to the Purser's desk and asked for an address to have the missing portion of the mask shipped too. We were in Bergen, Norway's second largest city following a day at sea, and I was told that if it were shipped there it would be delivered to the ship. I was provided an address, we called home and my daughter was off to the UPS Store with the address provided within the hour. She paid UPS Global $140+, had them box the item ship it out on overnight delivery. Upon returning to ship, an hour and a half ahead of departure, I asked if the package had arrived. At second request, a call was made to the port agent, who said he hadn't received the package. I was told there would be an effort to get the package traced, and they were certain it would be delivered possibly at North Cape, but certainly by either Tromso or Stavenger. I went by the Medical Office. Staff there was wonderful. We tried to take a regular oxygen mask, which cost about $200, and amend it to work. Good effort, but unfortunately it was $200 down the drain. Doctor there and staff were very responsive and polite. We checked in every couple of days to see if Admin officer had located the package, and answer varied as to whether the mask was in Oslo or Bergen. It never showed up. Six days into the cruise, UPS called my home phone in the states and left a message that they didn't have a deliverable address. UPS offered to ship the package back to my home address for another $170. Upon returning to the states, and running tracking info, there had only been one inquiry with UPS (other than the two I made by internet), and outside of about three crew packages, I don't think any other packages shipped to passengers could have ever happened given the lack of address, and the poor communication between crew and the largest American shipper. I tended to be more angry about this problem with UPS. My wife was more upset with Princess, as she felt there was no link or possibility for success put in place by Princess. With 1300 Americans on the ship as passengers, it seems to me that Princess should have in place a probablilty for successful delivery of a package from the states on a twelve day trip. They clearly did not. I would still recommend this cruise, and taking it with Princess. Holland America typically runs the same route, perhaps a day longer every summer. While a Princess fan for most of the past 20 years, I'll tell you we have generally had good cruises with Carnival, one great cruise on Pride of America in Hawaii, and we are giving RC Liberty of the Seas a shot next month. Our only terribly disappointing experience in cruising was with RC ten years ago, and their fumble made me reluctant to return and had Princess not been screwing up pricing and mismanaging their website this February, my wife would still not be open to returning to RC. Our view is for the money, Carnival offers a good cruise; Food not quite as good, unless one uses pay dining. The ships are gaudy, but crew nice and a fun experience. RC likes big ships, tends to herd passengers around like cattle, lots of unique on ship activity sometimes difficult to access and good shows, but from mid management up service is terribly lacking. Norwegian tends to have fewer frills, but good service; lots of not bad on NCL from my conversations with their cruisers. Hear very good reports on Disney and Cunard, but neither have offered a cruise to the right place and the right price for me. All the older people I know love Holland America, one couples' comment the hubby says "they have the nicest suites and most comfortable beds on the seas," but wife commented, "yeah, but you always walk around the ship feeling like you are going to trip on somebody's oxygen line." In short, if one goes with a good attitude, not aiming to be critical, and makes no mistakes on their end, you can have a good cruise at a reasonable price with a half dozen companies. Each has a target niche. . Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
This was a last minute cruise purchase. We had and have so many various commitments that any holiday had to be taken within a short three week window so, quite honestly, we would have gone anywhere (well, nearly anywhere) if there was ... Read More
This was a last minute cruise purchase. We had and have so many various commitments that any holiday had to be taken within a short three week window so, quite honestly, we would have gone anywhere (well, nearly anywhere) if there was immediate availability and an acceptable price. Find, agree, book, pack and arrive at Southampton for embarkation, all within five days. It was the best deal we could find but we did have some anxiety about our choice. Would the inside cabin be claustrophobic, would the Fore location be choppy, would the Princess Theatre one deck below Emerald prove intolerably noisy, and, finally, would the Norwegian weather be so grim that, coupled with the feared seasickness, we would, on the whole, rather prefer to be in Bognor! All fears proved without foundation and we have returned with wonderful memories. The inside cabin was perfectly adequate for our needs. It did have wall mounted bunk beds which didn't impinge upon us at all but we thought the space might feel uncomfortably cramped had we had two children sharing the cabin in addition to ourselves. We absolutely loved the fore location. It had none of the disconcerting vibrations associated with the aft area though I appreciate that this is a personal preference and some people prefer the vibrations to the rocking of the ship.For us, the gentle movement at night was soothing and enjoyable. The sea was never more than moderate and, although the side table drawers would occasionally and unexpectedly slide open this was no more than an amusement to us. Prior to embarkation, in those few fevered days of preparation I had posed the question of whether there was access from the fore of the corridor on Emerald Deck outside to the Upper Promenade. I can now definitively answer this question with an unambiguous "Yes". There are numerous doors from the Upper Promenade into the ship and it is certainly true that the majority of them bear the sign - Crew Members Only. However there are doors which don't bear this sign and one of them is just a few steps away from E112. From the inside it says Emergency Exit but not Emergency Exit Only. Opening the door gives you the advice to mind your step and watch out for high winds. A great way to get outside quickly and a great way to get back in after a walk. The Theatre is one Deck below and near the location of the cabin and we were prepared to hear a great deal of noise. We heard nothing. However, we spoke to some people two decks above us on Dolphin and they suffered a great deal of noise from the Theatre. We were completely puzzled by this though in no doubt of their truthfulness. We were then very surprised to hear some sound walking back to our cabin along the corridor on Emerald Deck. I then looked more carefully at the corridor. Some of the Ocean view cabins do not face other doors when they open their door but a blank wall. These cabins are around the 200's to the 230's and this is the area where I could hear the Theatre. I then remembered that the people on Dolphin had also had a cabin with similar numbers.Could it be (though I absolutely stand corrected if I have misinterpreted the situation) that the Theatre extends in height through a number of Decks and that this blank wall is the wall of the Theatre? In E112 we were well forward and with a number of cabins between us and this area and we didn't hear a thing. It was also very quiet as very few people needed to walk this far to reach their cabin. Oh dear, I've just thought, maybe now that I have encouraged all comers to access that very convenient door just beyond E112 there will be hordes of enthusiastic walkers marching onwards outside the door! Finally, don't be wary of this area. We loved the location and would certainly chose it again. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
Joined the ship on Friday the day after Kate, the Princess of Cambridge had named the ship and many of the crew were happy to share their excitement of seeing her on-board.The public spaces are certainly a well thought out and a definite ... Read More
Joined the ship on Friday the day after Kate, the Princess of Cambridge had named the ship and many of the crew were happy to share their excitement of seeing her on-board.The public spaces are certainly a well thought out and a definite improvement on the rest of the fleet, we particularly liked the Seafood Bar, good value and a real treat. The entertainment is better planned than previously on Princess- we are elite members so have sailed on a good few of their ships - in the one evening we managed to see 4 acts - a great acrobatics show in the atrium, close up magic in the new (princess live) tv studio venue, the main show in the princess theatre (the lighting is fantastic and 'colours of the world' show well produced and performed) and a terrific violin act in the visa lounge (sorry can't remember his name) but worth seeing.The food and restaurant service as good as ever, and the new buffet layout in the Horizon Court a great improvement.Some teething problems, the spar booking system managed to double book our treatments, and one of their reception staff was more intent on answering the phone (twice) than dealing with a guest inconvenienced by the booking system, standing in front of them but eventually the manager did the right thing. This poor customer service was a shame when otherwise we found everyone happy to go the extra mile and they all showed a great pride in their new shiny ship.We failed to get ashore in Gurnsey but that the fault of the weather and the sea day was well managed. Overall we want to go back and enjoy more. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
I felt that after reading the reviews given so far it didn't paint a proper image of the Royal Princess for future cruisers, so I will give an accurate overview from an experienced cruiser who normally travels with Princess, Royal ... Read More
I felt that after reading the reviews given so far it didn't paint a proper image of the Royal Princess for future cruisers, so I will give an accurate overview from an experienced cruiser who normally travels with Princess, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity. Overview:-Stunning ship from outside and interior. The atrium must be the the most impressive centre point of any ship I have seen and princess have done well to make it a destination of its own full of bars, restaurants and eateries, all of which are beautifully designed. The entire ship was sparkling (as it should being a few days old )Embarkation:-As quick an easy as any other cruise line. With a grand entrance to the piazza. Public Rooms:-Princess have done a great job with integrating bars and restaurants to compliment each other. E.g. Wheelhouse and crown grill. Sabatines and vines. The show lounges look great and I have to agree with other reviewers that the main theatre looked pretty small but I loved having the vista lounge back instead of club fusion which featured on other recent ships. Princess live is interesting but I didn't really attend anything in this area so hard to give a review on, I must say I liked the explorers lounge and feel I will miss having this area to the ship. Club 6, the new lounge/late night entertainment venue is stunning. Well designed and a great idea to bring it closer to the atrium area. I do feel that it was a miss not to have an dedicated observation lounge which I think princess passengers would have enjoyed being of the older clientele . The shops look very similar to other princess ships, just more spread out and the casino looked as to be expected. Bars:-So many bars to choose from you will not be disappointed. Crooners looks great but very similar to how it is on other ships. Other bars include Bellini's, wheelhouse, vines, lobby bar and sea view bar. Have to say I was a little disappointed in the sea view bar. I think they could have made more of this in terms of using it as a mini indoor observation lounge, but still a great idea. Restaurants:- again, very similar to other ships in terms of main dinning rooms but these have been enhanced and are truly stunning with spacious seating and more tables for 2 than ever before. Sabatinies has been expanded and located to near the piazza. Looked fab. As does Crown Grill. Both of these restaurants have a reasonable fee of $20-25. Alfredo's the new pizzeria is great. Amazing food , atmosphere, menu and its fee free. The sushi bar in the main atrium looks beautiful and food delicious but never got a chance to try. Main difference on this ship is the horizon court/bistro. This area has been majorly expanded and Princess have taken this to another level dividing it into a bistro for a quick bite, and court for a substantial buffet meal including indian, Mexican, Chinese and others. They have also incorporated the crab shack and fondu in this area-for a small fee. Top deck:-Fantastic top deck with the largest pools I have seen at sea. Movies under the stars has been expanded and the screen is double the size. I feel princess could make more of this at night by putting a few movies on instead of one or two. The adults only area is wonderful, especially the sanctuary and pool area. Stunning and the best in the industry! Cabins:- We had a standard balcony cabin on caribe deck. Very comfortable cabin but I was slightly disappointed with the shower curtain coming back. Think the way other cruise lines have gone with the glass door is the way to go. TV is great as is the new entertainment system "movies on demand" Crew:-Excellent and friendly crew who seem to be getting to ropes with the new ship. Give the staff a few weeks to settle in and this will be up to scratch. Overall, great 2 day cruise. We have booked in September which we are very excited aboutAnd feel the little niggles will have been sorted out by the. The ship as I have previously stated is wonderful, a huge improvement to other princess ships with the azing piazza, expanded pool deck and fabulous dinning options. Royal Princess is now a real contender in its industry. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
We chose to take the inaugural sailing on the Royal Princess for the novelty of an inaugural cruise. We came with open minds, understanding that any large construction project, be it on land or sea, can face deadline challenges. We were ... Read More
We chose to take the inaugural sailing on the Royal Princess for the novelty of an inaugural cruise. We came with open minds, understanding that any large construction project, be it on land or sea, can face deadline challenges. We were well-prepared for some things to not be available or completed. In fact, we were very surprised how ready the ship and her crew were. Boarding was delayed somewhat at Southampton, but proceeded efficiently once it began, with the staff using a color and lettering system to call passengers to the counter in groups. Because so many of us upper-tier Captains Circle members were onboard for the inaugural, the standard Preferred Check-In area and process went out the window. Instead, Preferred passengers were called in groups and in order from the afore-mentioned letter system, followed by general passengers. Boarding itself was a breeze, as Princess funneled passengers into three separate and adjacent chutes to scan cards and photo-ID passengers. The new entry way, through an elegant portal adjacent to the new Facets on the Promenade Desk, made the entry and arrival experience classier and with an opportunity to gain one's bearings in the Piazza. Speaking of the Piazza, it is absolutely stunning, with much more space and quite elegant lighting touches throughout. In fact, we loved how the ship and its interior spaces seemed much more bright and welcoming than her sister ships. I am pleased that the Fitness Center has been separated from the Lotus Spa and instead incorporated into a larger aggregate sport activities area, including a large outdoor running/walking track, much larger basketball court than other Princess ships, and the usual putting range/virtual driving range combo. The Fitness Center had tons of machines and never a wait. Our two favorite enhancements introduced on the Royal Princess are the Concierge Lounge on the Riveria Deck (for the use of suite Guests), and the incredibly upgraded Horizon Court. The Concierge Lounge is an elegant, quiet area combining a lounging and reading space, a complimentary refreshment area offering gourmet coffees, juices, and an assortment of finger foods, and a dedicated representative from the Passenger Services desk. Not having to wait on the phone or travel eight floors down to have your questions addressed was so handy. We were steps away from the lounge in one of the Penthouse Suites also on Rivieria Deck, so the lounge quickly became a favorite haunt of ours. Back to the Horizon Court, the biggest improvement is in the amount of circulation space. There is tons of room to roam and decide what you want - no more waiting in line first for a plate, then for the sequence of serving stations. Plus the food presentation is far more appealing than in older Horizon Courts. This location is a home run for those of us who like the convenience of the Horizon Court, but felt that quality and service could and should have been improved. Another nice new perk is the fact that the fountain area up on the Lido Deck doubles as a kids water play area (interactive popping water jets and sprays). This will be a big hit with families when the Royal sails into the Caribbean this fall. What a nice new amenity! If there is one glaring opportunity, it is with internet access and speed. It truly was the slowest of all the Princess ships I've sailed on, and am certainly hoping it is a temporary issue. It seemed odd that my question about the speed, which when posed to the representative from the Internet Cafe, was met with, "Well so many people are using it right now." The problem was, it was slow at any time of the day, never once matching speeds I am familiar with on other Princess ships - and I would have expected if anything I would have enjoyed better service. The absence of a mid-ship staircase serving the upper decks at first seemed odd, but the elevator capacity mid-ship was fine and was easy to adjust to. Plus we knew we always had the option of staircases at the front and back of the ship, conveniently serving the Princess Theater and Vista Lounge. It was an east adjustment. Our family has unanimously ranked the Royal as our new favorite, and have booked an 11-night cruise on it for summer 2014. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
This was a multi-generational cruise to celebrate my mom's 85th birthday. Travellers were mom - 85, her sister - 83, myself - 47 and my daughter - 14. Having sailed on maiden voyages before, we all knew that a positive attitude and a ... Read More
This was a multi-generational cruise to celebrate my mom's 85th birthday. Travellers were mom - 85, her sister - 83, myself - 47 and my daughter - 14. Having sailed on maiden voyages before, we all knew that a positive attitude and a go-with-the-flow attitude would be key to a great time. I have to say that I was very impressed with nearly everything. As others have noted, the lack of a mid-ship staircase is a pain - those elevators get crowded. However, for my daughter and I it simply proved an added incentive to take the stairs and keep those extra pounds off! We sailed a 2-night preview, the 7-night from Southampton to Barcelona and the 12-night from Barcelona to Venice. We didn't do any ship excursions, so I won't comment on those. Cabin - we were in a BZ obstructed balcony on the Marina deck - this turned out to be a bargain as the "obstruction" - a solid railing - disappeared during construction. One minor glitch was the fact that the cabin was sold as sleeping 4 - upon arrival, we quickly determined that it only slept 2 - this was fixed before Mom arrived for the second leg and actually worked to her benefit - she was upgraded to a mid-ship mini-suite on the same deck. This cabin would have been crowded for 4 adults, so I was happy the deck plans were wrong! Small balcony, but not an issue - room for us to sit out and enjoy the view. Service - top notch! You could certainly tell that Princess had chosen the best of the best to be on board their new ship. Never had crew pass by without saying hello or good morning. All the cruise director staff were out and about, visible and approachable. The staff at the passenger service desk should all get raises for how professionally they dealt with some of the passengers...complaining about dust on your mirror and wanting to move? Seriously???? Food - again top notch. Had one or two meals that were just ok, but over 21-day period, more than acceptable. We did anytime dining and never waited more than 5-minutes for a table - even if we wanted to be just 4. Also ate at Alfredo's pizzaria - top notch, and used the buffet for breakfast. My one food complaint would have to be about the lack of fresh fruit - by mid-cruise, the bananas were black, kiwis had disappeared and there wasn't a berry in sight! Ordering a bowl of berries from room service for breakfast solved that problem. Chef's table - we were fortunate enough to experience this the night after my mom's birthday and it was amazing. The Head Chef, Sean Condon (sp?) is probably the most personable chef I have ever met on a ship - all the courses were amazing and we left full but not uncomfortable. The surroundings are stunning and in my opinion this was definitely worth the upcharge. Ultimate Ship Tour - not done on the 7-night, but I was fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to be chosen to be part of their trial run on the 12-night sailing. It was complimentary, so no robe or apron, but we did still receive the photos and the stationary. We were unable to visit a couple of locations due to logistical reasons (the laundry and behind the scenes of the theatre) but it was still an interesting tour. The bridge is quite large and something to see - but the highlight had to be the mooring room - a massive place and the size of the anchor...wow! Embark and debark - both were painless - minimal waiting and if you followed the instructions on debark, you were off in no time. Kids club - my daughter really enjoyed the teen club the first week, but due to being under the weather for a couple of days, missed getting to know folks on the 12-night so didn't go for that leg. That being said, the facilities were amazing and she had a great time - so much so that she's asked to sail the Royal for our spring break next year instead of Disney! Platinum photo studio - definitely a unique experience. We went to try and get a photo for the grandmother who wasn't sailing with us and ended up with much more. It is a real photo shoot, with proper lighting etc. The finished product is amazing (I am NOT photogenic) but is not inexpensive. If you are looking for a special memory of a family trip, I would highly recommend this - I wish we had discovered it sooner and done it with my mom, instead of just my daughter and I. Entertainment - while I only went to a couple of the shows in the theatre, I absolutely loved the variety of entertainment in the Piazza - jugglers, acrobats, musicians, you name it, it was there. Easily accessible and could be viewed from all 3 levels - if you didn't like it, you moved on. Many things also took place in Princess Live - its a bit awkard as there is only one entrance but a great venue for shows such as the Magic show currently on board. It is also where the film the wake show each day. Miscellaneous - fountain show was fun, but the highlight had to be when they turned them on for the kids to play in on a really hot day - nice touch. Lots of seating around the pool and on the upper decks - sun and shade - plus the adult area is quite spacious (although it is windy being at the front) Used the gym - tried the TRX classes - what a hoot. Staff there are great and the place was always busy. Had a pedicure in the spa - expensive, but it lasted the whole trip and is just now ready to be changed (30 days!) Overall, I would give the Royal 4.5 out 5. We had a great time and are very glad we were fortunate enough to be among the first to experience her. Read Less
Sail Date June 2013
What a great way to see the whole of the British Isles in 12 days! Loved cruising with Princess. Met a lot of wonderful people via doing the anytime dining and asking to share a table. Thought the two wine tasting offerings during the ... Read More
What a great way to see the whole of the British Isles in 12 days! Loved cruising with Princess. Met a lot of wonderful people via doing the anytime dining and asking to share a table. Thought the two wine tasting offerings during the days at sea were terrific. We visited 8 ports: NORMANDY/HONFLEUR , FRANCE: We had arranged with another couple to hire Pierre Doublet as a guide to Normandy. He did an excellent job and I felt my head fill up around 3:30pm - info overload. As a treat, at the end of the day, he took around Honfleur. EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND: We tendered into South Queensferry and walked up the stairs to Dalmeney train station. It's a 10-minute ride (8 pounds cost) into Edinburgh Waverley station. We visited the castle and then went to the National Scottish Gallery. What fun. INVERNESS/LOCH NESS, SCOTLAND: I tried to be really smart and take the local bus from the port to town. We had booked a tour of Loch Ness with Jacobite Tours. I wish I had taken a cab! Because of the bridge work being done in inverness, traffic is horrific and we missed the tour time. Jacobite was very generous in allowing us to cancel. We did take a bus to Nessieland and got a ride on a boat on Loch Ness for an hour and saw the Urguhart castle via the boat. Boat owner has pictures he took to prove he saw Nessie! We did cab ride it back to the ship (65 pounds). The scenery was quite lovely. Take a lot of british or scottish pounds and take the cab (or try to share one with someone). ORKNEY ISLANDS/ KIRKWALL Amazing - not to be missed. This was my favorite port. Took a tour with Orkney Aspects. They picked us up at ship and took us all over. Cannot believe we saw so many archaeological sites. Wear warm clothes - don't forget your gloves! GREENOCK/GLASGOW, SCOTLAND: Took the local train into Glasgow and then did the hop on and hop off bus around the city. What a treat. I wish we had more time to explore the city. Did take an hour to see the Glasgow Museum of Transport. We found this facinating. Wish I could have gone to the Botanical gardens. BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND: We took a cab to the the Titanic Museum. The cab driver did not put on the meter... so it cost us a bit more than what had been quoted. We paid 10 pounds. The museum was amazing but I really loved the tour of the pump house and the dry dock. We traveled into town to check out the city of Belfast and found a great pub. DUBLIN, IRELAND: Took the ship's shuttle into Dublin. Got on the Dart transportation (Pearse station) and headed out to Bray. What a beautiful seaside city. They have a Bray Swan Sanctuary. There is this ocean cliff walk that is spectacular. We took the Dart back to town and went to see the Book of Kells and Trinity College. We did have time for a pint at the Gueness bar on Kildare Street! CORK/COBH, IRELAND: Took the train into Cork and got the bus out to Blarney Castle. We did kiss the stone and walked through all their lovely gardens. Got a picnic lunch at the local supermarket and had a picnic in the park. Made it back to Cobh to explore that lovely village! Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
We recently returned from our cruise around the British Isles on theCaribbean Princess and then several more days in the Englishcountryside and London.The cruise itself was fantastic! There were sooo many ports -- part ofour plan was to ... Read More
We recently returned from our cruise around the British Isles on theCaribbean Princess and then several more days in the Englishcountryside and London.The cruise itself was fantastic! There were sooo many ports -- part ofour plan was to see the major sites and decide which we wanted toreturn to on a separate land trip. For the first time we took the Princess air as we were allowed to select our airline and flight times and evenseats. The deal was excellent. The AA site was showing $1250-1500 forour dates and Princess sold it to us for $780!! Also, we were allowedto lower our stateroom cost twice when I saw it online for less!Princess itself also saved us $$ by not opening the casino for 5 or 6of the days . . . hmmm, we didn't know that until a week before thecruise. That meant no Bingo, either. But, there was TRIVIA! And, welinked up with a young couple from Bristol, England. We won or tied atleast 6 times, Yea!The weather was VERY changeable, and for us cold; however, it reallyonly rained twice (once as we sailed and again the morning part of ourDublin outing). In one day, it could be sunny, overcast, misty, thenwindy, and always chilly. It was strange seeing John in long pants, notshorts, for almost 3 weeks! He went through withdrawal the first fewdays. I had boots (Uggs), my down jacket, a wool scarf and gloves, anddancers' leggings for when I wore my tennis shoes. You KNOW we live inCalifornia for a reason.First stop . . . GUERNSEY, England . . . Sunny but windy. We had halfa day here and found on the internet that the Victor Hugo House MIGHTlet you in if some spots in it's small tours become vacant thruno-shows. We were there when it opened, and made it onto the 10:30 (2nd tour). I really think we were one of the VERY few cruise passengers to see this odd home of the renowned author of "Les Miserables." Totally worth it!!Then, we made it out to the castle just in time to see them fire thecannon and get our eardrums blown away. No castle visit here, but backto the ship with a short stop at a gift store to pick up some berryjams for which Guernsey is known. The town is totally walkable. Theline for the tender was huge, but it moved and eventually everyone madeit back to ship. Guernsey is also the only part of the British Islesthat was occupied by the Germans in WWII; but, the POW camp was out oftown, and we opted for the Hugo House.COBH (CORK), Ireland (for Blarney Castle and "The" Stone) -- Eventhough people (and Rick Steves) said "why bother" to this overcrowdedtouristy venue, we were in Ireland and HAD to do it. Took the first train to Cork ASAP after getting off the ship. The station is right next to the dock. Then planned the 10 min. walk to the bus station to catch the #224 toBlarney. Fortunately, we ran into our young TRIVIA partners from lastnight. We followed them at a walk/run to make the 10 minute trek tothe bus. Unfortunately, the bus left in 9 min. We missed it by oneminute. With the next bus an hour away, we decided to take a taxi toand from Blarney with our new friends. £20 total EACH way for the halfhour ride, but we got to set our return time to Cork to give us timeback in the little village of Cobh. Blarney Castle is surrounded by beautiful green grounds and the castle is just a shell, but we loved it. We climbed to the top, ready for the lines . . . . and found maybe only 10 peopleahead of us. "Kissed the Stone" and got the "gift of gab" as you cansee by the length of this email already. The castle and gardens wereso worth it. We're glad the others did not discourage us from thissite. Also, we noted that the ship's tours kept saying "maybe therewill be time "to kiss . . ." By doing it on our own, we were therebefore any large tours, lines, and a slobbery stone. The Woolen Millsdirectly outside of the castle are just a set of gift shops where wesaw stuff we would see many more times. Once back at the station weran for the hourly train and jumped on 30 seconds before it left. Cobhwas the last port of call for most emigrants when they left for the US. After reaching Cobh, we found a small and noisy pub (Murphy's) and had our first (of many) ales . . . Smithwick is my choice. John had the first of his two Guinnesses here. Guinness is NOT his favorite. The town was veryquaint and all the people and a band came dockside to send us off.DUBLIN, Ireland -- Rain then clear. Took the city shuttle bus fromthe ship into town (€5-8) and walked over to Trinity College. It was POURING rain! Had learned that the students led hour tours here every half hour. We got there early, booked the first one, and saw the beautiful campus with a very cleverand funny girl guide. It stopped raining, so we caught a historicaltour that we knew met right outside the gate of the college and paid onthe spot. It was led by a professor who gave us a two hour walk andlecture on the history of Ireland and the buildings of Dublin, endingin the student quarter (and now chic) Temple Bar area. Walked to St.Patricks cathedral, but didn't go in. Returned to Temple Bar where wefound a pub (certainly not too hard to do), called the Auld Dubliner,and had a chicken sandwich, fries(chips), and a couple of pints. Thenwe wandered back to Trinity College to line up to see the Book of Kells-- the oldest illustrated manuscript in Europe? The line looked long, but less than in the morning, and it moved quickly. Maybe 15 minutes -- and the price was already included in the student tour.BELFAST, Ireland -- Sunny, cold, a little breezy. Got a late start aswe had bought timed tickets online to the new Titanic Museum (11:00 AM). We found that a taxi was the only certain way to get to the museumalthough it WAS very near the ship. Visited the interactive museum forabout 2 hours (They did an excellent job on it.) From there we askedseveral people to be sure, and took a public bus to the center ofBelfast (10 min. and just a very few Euros!). We were on a mission tofind John's friend's hotel and pub. To clarify that, his friend ran amarathon here 2 weeks prior, and had a few recommendations for us.We quickly located the Crown Bar pub across from the Europa Hotel."Bellied up to the bar" (mostly standing bars in the British Isles) andthe tables and booths were all occupied. Here John did have aGuinness, for sure. He said it tasted better in Ireland than at home.A local next to us began the conversation which lasted half and hour. The Irish (and the Scots) are filled with stories. After he left, a rather drunk, old manmoved in, and we made a fairly quick exit. Going next door to Robinson's, wegrabbed another chicken sandwich (each pub has their own twist onthese) to sustain us on our return. We must say at this point, ALLthe people, no matter the setting -- on the street, in a store, in acab, everywhere -- were happy to see us and very, very helpful. Such adelight! Having checked before we left the dock, we knew where theships shuttle waited so we found it (paid) and returned to the ship.We had wanted to do the Giants Causeway, but it was 2+ hours there and2+ hours back, and we weren't sure if the Titanic exhibit would honorour timed tickets so late. Our young friends did the Causeway bypublic bus, so it is do-able. In retrospect, we're happy we hungaround in town and got a flavor of the city.GREENOCK, Scotland (for GLASGOW) -- Very sunny, almost warm. Glasgowwas an hour away by train, so we decided early that would not be for us. Big city,etc. So for this port I tried and tried to get an internet grouptogether on Cruise Critic to copy 2 of the ship's tours for half thecost. Found a driver/guide who agreed to do it for an acceptable pricebut we really needed 3 couples (had 2). As the day approached, hefinally said he'd adjust his price for the 4 of us -- GREAT! Then the othercouple would not contact me back. Had to tell the guide "no" as it wasjust too much for just John and I. We left the ship early, proposeditinerary in hand, hoping to land a driver. Finally, after a wait, wegot a guy to give us 5 hours for the price of 4. Still it was morethan we wanted to pay, but off we went. We drove through the beautifulScottish Highlands to Loch Lomand and the town of Luss (tiny, tiny,tiny . . . and not just for tourists), then we went up to InveraryCastle, which was really just the personal castle (BBQ on the patio andall) of local royalty and open to the public. And guess what? . . . aUS TV crew was filming for "Grand Estates" and the Duke was "inresidence." So we met (well, kind of met) the Duke of Argyll -- likethe socks -- trying to work the cash register in the gift shop . . . you know, to try toaugment the family fortune. The town of Inverary was also very smalland typically 17th Century style. On the way back, the driver droppedus at his favorite in-town spot so we could do some more pub research.Then we made the 15 minute walk back to the ship.ORKNEY ISLANDS, Scotland -- Sunny and cool. The terrain here remindedus of the Falkland Islands -- windswept and barren, not many trees, but tons ofsheep. Here we had booked online with a private company, OrkneyAspects. It was a small group (14) all day tour and cost half of whatthe ship offered. First we visited the Cathedral in town and burialspot of Arctic explorer John Rae. The church is now city owned andopen to folks who feel they want to come in to get out of the weatheror simply read the newspaper -- a very pragmatic approach. Then we setout for the islands neolithic sites: Skar Brae, a 5000 year oldsettlement; Mae's Howe, a tomb in a mound; Stones of Stenness and Ringsof Brodger, much like Stonehenge. The tour was fantastic! Lunch wasat a local farmhouse B & B overlooking fly fishermen in search oftrout. Back to the ship right on time -- very professional. It wasamazing to visit such ancient ruins and that we had full access to thesites.INVERGORDON, Scotland (for INVERNESS and LOCH NESS) -- Again cool butsunny! For access to Loch Ness we needed to get to Inverness. We could have takena ship's tour, the ships car/driver, a bus, or a taxi. Worried thatthe last bus back would be too crowded, we prearranged on the interneta 9:00 AM taxi for 8 people I found on Cruise Critic. It cost us £15each for the 45 minute ride and dropped us right in front of thestation where I had purchased on the internet a Jacobite Tour of LochNess by boat and Urkhart Castle. The castle was very cool . . . weclimbed in, out, and on the remaining structure and walls. The boatride was so-so (couldn't understand the narration) and sadly Nessie wasnapping, so you won't see our names in the record book for havingsighted her. Once done with the tour, we had 2 hours or so in the townof Inverness to continue our pub research. Went to the first where a"hen party" was in full swing (I believe, that's a bachelorette party .. . in costume). One of the hens keeled over, passing out straight onthe floor in front of us. We couldn't get to her or around her. AnAmerican woman (doctor/nurse) attended to her until she came to. Itdidn't appear to be alcohol related . . . but still 999 (there) wasnever called and the pub owners seemed unruffled, kind of steppingright over her. After we finished our wings with jalapeno BBQ sauce(an 8 on the hot scale and a 2 on taste), we left for the spot nextdoor. Much quieter and no "hens" or "roosters?" in sight. Finally, wedropped by Hootenanny's (yes, like in Arkansas) where others from ourgroup were going. It was very crowded; we didn't see them, but the"hens" had moved over here. We left before there were anymoreincidents. At 4:00 we all met back at the taxi and were dropped at theship. In all, it was a lovely country drive.EDINBURGH, Scotland -- Cool and sunny (Does this sound repetitive? TheIrish and the Scottish are loving it.) Outside the ship there was a city shuttlewaiting. Hooray! No stair climbing to the train or expensive taxiride . . . but we were prepared in case the shuttle really didn'texist. I say this because the Princess Excursion Desk people were mostuninformative. We know that's because THEY want to do all the selling;but honestly, here, no passengers could ascertain whether there wouldbe a shuttle or not. Usually, SOMEONE knows what to expect. Manymixed messages from the ship's "experts." Other than thetransportation in (we tendered here), we had planned for Edinburgh. Ihad bought castle tickets and tour tickets online. Once at the shuttledrop-off point, which was a 20 minute WALK to the sites. Edinburgh isbreathtakingly beautiful. All of the buildings, shops, and streetslook like they're straight out of an 18th Century novel. We made ourway to Real Mary Close (That's a small street where a plague-orientedunderground tour starts.) I had heard of this tour the day before fromone of our taxi riders who did this cruise last year! As we wereearly, we went to a Starbucks closeby. I learned online that the firsttour starts at 10 AM, so we were there! Unfortunately,we did not luck out this time; all tours were sold out until 1:00, sowe booked it and set out uphill for the castle. Our castle visit wastime stamped, but they let us in early! This castle is totally intact(rebuilt, of course). We met one of the castle guides for the nexttour (they go half-hourly). He gave us a 45? minute overview; then weheaded back to see the high points of St. Mary's Chapel, the CrownJewels, the prison cells, Great Hall, and the cannon. The view fromthe castle walls is phenomenal! After leaving the castle we walked DOWN the Royal Mile back to the Real Mary's Close. On the way we saw MORRISON's Kilt Shop. Closed, but we knew they had our pattern, whereas the other shops were "out" of the Morrison clan plaid. (Finally, I got a Morrison wool scarf :) Becausewe had about 45 min., we stepped in to a pub "The Filling Station." TheL.A. people will get this as there is a bar/restaurant with the samename near our house in Culver City. However, city law says no alcoholbefore 12:30. We ordered food and waited for the pint. By the time wegot everything (a small flatbread pizza), we had 8 min. to eat and makeit next door for the tour! The Real Mary's Close tour was of the (now)underground homes occupied during the plague by the less fortunate. Itwas all done by costumed guides and was very small and interactive.We're happy that our taxi mate turned us on to this, AND that we could fit itin to our other prearranged activities. As soon as that tour ended, wewent to our Mercat tour "Secrets of the Royal Mile." This was an hourand a half walking tour of the area. The guide was super, and she hadmany unusual and funny stories of Edinburg and it's history. We hadpaid for this on the internet, and it began promptly at 2:15 just asmentioned in Rick Steve's book. It ended at 3:45 and we needed to beback at the shuttle for the 4:30 (last bus). Whew! We made the 20min. walk to find the line for the bus. They had brought in a largerbus, and everyone got back in plenty of time.LE HAVRE, France-- Sunny, windy, sometimes cool. This was the stop togo to Paris or Normandy. We didn't care to spend so much time (andeven more money than the tour we had selected) to get to Paris to spendjust 3 hours. We had been there before. Anyway, we knew from thebeginning that we wanted to see the D-Day beaches. I booked the ship'stour and tried for a few weeks to book a private, small group tour ofthe landing sites, but everything was filled. We were there on June4, and the yearly commemoration is on June 6, too close to the bigcelebrations! So we held on to our ship's tour although it was $197each! It was a full day tour, and it was excellent! We went to 3 ofthe 5 beaches and to the American Cemetery. All of it was mindboggling and very moving. Every stop brought to mind all the movies ofthat significant day in history. We could envision the invasionmoment-by-moment. It was very meaningful to see the WWII veteransthere in uniform recollecting and being interviewed by various TVcrews. Lunch was at a farmhouse in the nearby countryside of Caen. Itwas an amazing course of chicken in mustard sauce and an array of wines. . . and the bread, the bread. Yummmm! After the 2 hour drive back,we concluded our 10 hours in Normandy . . . worth every minute. Ourcruise ends in the morning.SALISBURY, England (for STONEHENGE and the Cathedral) -- Sunny, warm andcool, windy. Once we disembarked with luggage in tow, we checked outroutes to the train station. We knew the train to Salisbury was£8.70 and a half hour ride. No walking path to the station so we got acab. Ports are like that in big cities, very hard to get out of unlessin a vehicle. Once on the empty train, the just-off-duty engineer cameand sat with us just to "have a chat." He was on his way home toBristol. When the ticket conductor came thru the car, she says, "Hey,who's drivin' the train?" (Their daily inside joke :) Once inSalisbury we asked the idle ticket seller in the booth how to get toour inn. She PRINTED out a map. We said these people were really nice. . . but oops, this map was the car route and not the direct walkpath. Didn't discover this error until 15 min. down the road. A fewmore helpful people got us rerouted. Our hotel The Crown and Rose wasan old stagecoach inn built 400 years ago. The route to and fromalways crossed the grounds of the magnificent cathedral. After dumpingour stuff, we headed to the closest stop for the Stonehenge Bus Tour(purchased online). This bus gave an audio narration and also woulddeliver us to Old Sarum, the ruins of the original site of the city ofSalisbury. Once at Stonehenge our bus ticket also included the audiofor the visit. Many people, again, told us not to bother withStonehenge. They we're wrong. We were mesmerized by the tall circleof stones. The park had been set up so that viewers looked up at it. This took othertourists out of your camera shot. Also, there were benches and grassto picnic here if one had planned ahead. Even though you cannotapproach the stones any longer (except on special "Inside the Circle"tours offered only 1-2 times a week), we were thoroughly satisfied withour Stonehenge visit; besides, we had "touched" the Stenness stones inOrkney. After a lunch at a B & B near the Old Sarum bus stop (spicychicken sandwich this time), we headed back to the Salisbury Cathedral.I especially wanted to visit this cathedral town because I thought(perhaps, mistakenly) that this was the construction on which KenFollett's "Pillars of the Earth" was based. Our first impression washow used the church grounds were . . . students studying, kids playingsports, people picnicking. Once inside we see that we are just minutes from the evensong performance. We did NOT sit in the choir, becausewe would not be able to leave once the performance had started, and ourplans were to see the supposedly "better" one at Wells the next day.ERRRT! We were wrong; this was a children's choir presentation, andthey were absolutely beautiful!! After about 15 min. John was freakingout with so much church-ish ritual, so we left to look for The MagnaCarta located somewhere on the grounds. We found the room, but it wasclosed until 9:30 AM. Hmmm . . . that would possibly derail ourquick-exit-to-Wells plan. We'll see. Left for the Inn. It was a lovely place with an English gardensituated on a small river with swans and their cygnets swimming up anddown. However lovely the hotel was, it meant a walk thru the villageand back and forth across the cathedral grounds to eat or shop, etc.Had dinner outside in a pub garden (The New Town Inn), where we wereentertained by some locals having a "team meeting" (we think) beforedinner. That night we checked about trains to Wells via Bath to findthat the old internet special I was counting on was no more. A ticket for anhour train ride would be £32!! "No way, Jose . . ." We checked thebus schedule and "Voila!" . . . an hour and a half ride, for £15. IF WE HURRY, there will be time to see the MC and make it to bus station for the only non-stop bus.WELLS, England -- Cool, sunny, some wind -- Made it to the Magna Cartaat 9:30. Had a chat with the curator while we waited to get in (himtoo!). Four copies (of the original 25 or so) exist. The LondonMuseum has 2, but the BEST copy is here in Salisbury. I wish I stilltaught Government because there was so much usable info here. I wasWOWED (again) by looking at this ultimate piece of the democraticinstitution. . . . Then, back to the inn, taxi to the bus station,bought the tickets with 10 minutes to spare . . . . good timing! Oncein Bath, a city EVERYONE said we SHOULD GO TO, we were happy we didn'tplan a stay here -- way too big for what we'd become used to. The busto Wells was a local and took about one and a half hours on roads sonarrow the bus and cars had to back up every so often to let the othersby. In Wells, the driver asks us where we are staying and drops us offpractically in front of the place. This is the Ancient GatehouseInn, and not only is it ancient (1425) but it adjoins one of the citytoll gates! Our room was (oh no, again!) up a few sets of stairs andthen up a STEEP, uneven, narrow, circular staircase leading to ourturret. This room was not up to snuff, but what can I say -- Iwanted "character." I think it was last redecorated in theRenaissance; oh no, that's too modern. To make up for the climb, aseparate wash basin next to the bed, and a few baby flies, the viewfrom the little window was directly of the cathedral. Wow! I scoredagain. The hotel itself was once housing used for visiting friars andreligious guests, and it had a back entrance and sitting area thatmerged straight onto the church green. Went to a pub for lunch . . .the local kind (sing here) "where everybody knows your name." Had achicken sandwich on country wheat bread and a pint (of course). Took awalk along the walls and around the cathedral grounds. Again, the"park" in front of the church was totally in use. Next to thecathedral was the Bishop's House with a moat and swans! It was hereJohn ran into an older lady on a stroll. She greeted him and asked if hehad any questions. In the conversation, she informs him she was Mayorof Wells in 1988-89. He says, "Oh, should I call you MayorESS?" Shesays, "No, no. Mr. Mayor will be just fine [what wit!]." . . . .again, we meet royalty . . . well, almost royalty. We enter theCathedral and evensong is just about to start. This was wherewe PLANNED to watch it, but having been spoiled by the children ofSalisbury, we passed when we heard the adult voices. We returned in anhour to take the do-it-yourself Rick Steves/Eyewitness tour of theinterior. The highlights were the two clocks (one on the exterior) withreal action figures. This one wooden knight kept bopping the peasanton the head each time around. Quite comical. Shortly after, westrolled the town some more looking for a dinner place, decided on thesister inn right across the street and later shared a huge salad and athin pizza. ABOUT FOOD: We are very light eaters so we shared stuff2-3 times a day. Once off the ship, we found that everywhere the "sidesalad" was huge and fresh. So much for what I remember about "nolettuce to be found" in GB. And here in Wells, we finally had a"proper English breakfast." Yummy -- soft scrambled eggs, semi-crispbacon, and toast with marmalade. Tomorrow we leave for London; hopethe logistics work out.LONDON (Day 1) -- cloudy, maybe rain, colder than usual -- Walk to the(9:40) bus back to Bath (and it's crowded), walk 100 ft. to the trainstation, catch the 11:40 to Paddington (only non-stop route to London), in at2:25 buy an Oyster Card and switch to the tube. OOPs, our first (well,maybe 2nd or 3rd) big mistake no elevator or escalator. Did the tagteam "bag carry" up and down 3 sets of stairs and then AGAIN (. . . oh,no) at Victoria. We made the decision right there and then: Cartransfer to the airport, no questions asked! Made the 10 minute walkto the Grange-Rochester Hotel and were quite pleased with the locationand the room. Decided on the 5th floor room, as the 1st floor optionwas across from the hotel bar. The only problem here was that theelevator only went to the 4th (. . . oh, no again). Note for anyonereading this: The Grange-Rochester only has air conditioning on the5th floor. As we had made our London plans on the train there, westarted right off on our itinerary. Grabbing a guess what (chicken)sandwich at Pret-a-Manger, we used our Oyster Card again to jump righton the tube to Embankment where the 2 for 1 show tickets are. By theway, the Oyster Card is like a Starbucks Card. For a £5 deposit youload it with cash and swipe it before and after each ride, addingadditional cash if you need to once the card is empty. When you'reready to head for home, you may go to a booth where you get yourdeposit back PLUS any unused credit . . . more than fair. I decidedthat we had to see "Spamalot." John hates shows, movies, concerts ingeneral; but I remember he laughed so hard at the Tony's when it won abunch of awards that he would have no choice. We got our tickets forthe next day's matinee and headed to the meeting point for the "Jackthe Ripper" tours. I saw this in the guidebook; and, it WAS a walkingtour -- our preference. But, before the tour, we HAD to get somethingto eat. Our first pub stop had a such a popular happy hour that it was4 deep at the bar. Forget that. Walked a few more blocks and found amore upscale place (all "suits") and grabbed a table. A pint, a glassof wine, a salad, and a chicken sand. . .no! . . .chicken SATE.Delicious! Back to the meeting point for the "Ripper" tour. There were about 50other people. No problem, the guide was an expert on JTR and an actor,so we had no difficulty hearing him. We had a great evening tour!LONDON (Day 2) -- sunny, windy, cool -- First on our agenda was AbbeyRoad. We hadn't done this before, and I wanted my picture along witheveryone else who had headed to this cross street. NOTE: I did NOTtake off my shoes like many of the others. Then we headed toNottingham Rd. for the Portobello Market. Let's see, can you fit abouta million people in a half mile street? You certainly can. I boughtmy little porcelain box (made in China? -- the silver ones were WAYoverpriced), and we headed off. There and gone in 45 min.! Made itonto the right platform and then heard "delayed." After many nervousminutes, the train came, and we made "Spamalot" with time to grabanother (guess what) sandwich at a take out cafe. Oh, we had our first DietCoke over ice in 2 and-a-half weeks. Beautiful! We both loved the show, and we were sooo close -- 8th row. After the show, we needed a walk and headed to Big Ben, Parliament, and Westminster Abbey. Stopped for a pint and a snack -- big mistake.Really weird nachos. Then we headed back to the hotel area (on foot)and found a pub nearby for a pint. Then took another little walk to find a place for dinner before going back to the hotel. We came out again for "dinner." (It stays light 'til 10 here in June.)Being in London, we had to have a meat pie. We decided on, no surprise, a chicken pot pie. It was not too good -- salty, salty, salty. Back at the hotel had a glass of wine and hit the sack.LONDON (Day 3) -- cloudy, even cooler, perhaps rain -- Today we headedto the Globe Theater. Caught the 10:30 guided tour. Very, veryinteresting. Again, I wish I were still teaching; there was so muchhere to take back to my English classes. The size of the Globe wouldcertainly surprise most Angelenos who are used to venues that holdten's of thousands of people. And, the theater itself was socolorful! From there we tubed it over to the Churchill War Rooms whichhad been recommended by a fellow educator. To see how the PrimeMinister holed up in this underground labyrinth was most informative.Again, I wish I were still teac . . . (you heard the rest) And,actually, no I don't wish that. We are HAPPILY retired. We spent anafternoon hour in Churchill's Red Lion pub conveniently located aroundthe corner from 10 Downing St. There we had a couple of pints and ac--k--n sandwich. It was fun but crowded. From there we found wecouldn't actually walk on Downing St. as we had when we were herebefore. Then we took our last tube ride, cashed in our Oyster Card,and headed out. Noticing that Buckingham Palace was just minutes away,we took a quick jaunt over to wave to the Queen . . . and she wavedback :) We took a different route back to our hotel and discovered adifferent pub where we sampled their goods and decided on fish andchips there for dinner. Returning later, we ordered and were servedthe hugest piece of fish we've ever had on one plate. It wasdelicious! (You've gotta eat this fried stuff once every 5 years, orso.) Tomorrow it would be car transfer to Heathrow and home. And, weowe a BIG "thank you" to the city of London for painting "look left" or"look right" directly on the crosswalk pavement. We did make it home inone piece . . . although we had a few close calls.Our entire trip was absolutely wonderful! Please excuse so manyreferences to "pints" . . . many of these were shared :| And besides,didn't someone say ". . . and don't drink the water." :) Also, thanks to DeLorean Girl on Cruise Critic for giving us many of our planning details AND for her great enthusiasm in general. Although we spent many, many hours researching on the internet, we're ready to go back already! This time for the "land (but no car) version." We had aPERFECT Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
Embarkation was very easy. Although our advised check in wasn’t until 3pm we arrived at 11.30am without a problem. The queue was long but with so many staff working at the check in desks we were at front and collecting our cruise cards ... Read More
Embarkation was very easy. Although our advised check in wasn’t until 3pm we arrived at 11.30am without a problem. The queue was long but with so many staff working at the check in desks we were at front and collecting our cruise cards within 15 minutes. To my surprise we didn’t even have to wait in the lounge we walked straight onto the ship!Cabins were ready so we dropped off our hand luggage and headed to the Da Vinci restaurant on deck 6 for a three course lunch with waiter service. We hate the buffet on embarkation day so the fact that Princess have a main dining room open straightaway is a real treat. We purchased a coffee card (which can be shared as it has a limited number of punches for tea and coffee, plus unlimited filter coffee) and two UKP drinks packages (which gives unlimited hot chocolate, milkshakes, mocktails, frozen drinks, juices and sodas). After lunch we headed back to our cabin and most of our luggage had already been delivered. Our cabin was an outside cabin on deck 5 which was a superb location as it was only five metres away from the International café and Piazza.Our steward provided us with extra hangers and as the wardrobe had no doors it was surprising how many clothes we were able to hang up. Above the hanging space there was a shelf where the life jackets were located but there was still ample space for storage. In addition, there were two bedside tables with a storage space and two drawers, the vanity table had two shelves in a cupboard on the right and by the wardrobe there were shelves on the side wall from floor to ceiling which was also the location of the combination safe. The fridge was located to the left of the vanity unit and was large enough for the ice bucket, a box of wine and a bottle of fizz. The children slept in bunks above our beds which were lowered at night when the beds were turned down and then put away in the morning when the room was made up. The bathroom was tiny. The shower had a shower curtain and there was not a lot of space so dropping the soap ended up being quite tricky! Large towels, hand towels, flannels and pool towels were provided. There were also bottles of shampoo, conditioner and lotion provided plus many bars of soap. The bathroom had three little shelves on the left so there was room for all our toiletries despite the small size.After unpacking we collected treasure hunt cards and had fun exploring the ship and getting stamps at each named location. This was an excellent way of getting to know the ship and we had great fun. We also filled in the spa raffle cards and after our muster drill we headed up on deck for the sail away party. The live band were really good and to encourage people to dance they gave out raffle tickets for every song for people who were dancing which was a great idea. Then they drew cards from the treasure hunt. The prizes were very varied from dinner for two at Sabatini’s (specialty Italian restaurant) to a glass of Martini. Next was the sail away raffle and having danced every dance we had loads of tickets. I won a bottle of fizz and our son won a Princess drinks bottle. We then went off to the Spa raffle and I won $150 Spa voucher!The Crown is a beautiful ship and we had a fabulous time from the moment that we stepped onboard.The Art Gallery just outside our cabin was quite extensive and had a good variety of art which would appeal to most tastes. The International Café was open 24 hours a day and served a variety of complementary pastries, salads, sandwiches and cakes depending on the time of the day. It also sold ice cream for $1.50 for three scoops on a glass plate. This was also the location for specialty teas and coffees. On the opposite side of the Piazza was Vines the wine and sushi bar. We did a Champagne tasting on the last night at Vines which was really enjoyable even though they did serve a Californian fizz as one of the Champagnes and our host was relying on notes rather than her own knowledge. The Piazza was the location for a variety of entertainment including the Champagne waterfall on the first formal night, the balloon drop on the second formal night, a string quartet, singers and a body balancing act. Deck 5 was also the location for the Internet café and future cruise sales. The future cruise sale rep was not available for the majority of our cruise but there was a drop box for future deposits and on board credit.The Passenger Services desk on deck 6 was always well manned. There were also two self serve machines for print outs of your on board account. In addition there were machines for foreign exchange currency. The shore excursions department was next to Passenger Services. There was a drop box for excursions (just outside the Casino) for passengers who wanted to book or cancel shore excursions when the desk was closed. Deck 6 (and 7) is the location of the Princess Theatre which had three shows a night so unlike some cruise ships we’ve been on we were always able to get a seat. The entertainment was generally good. The singers and dancers were excellent and the comedy impressionist Gary T Thompson was hilarious on his first show but the comedian on the first night was terrible and the second show by the Gary didn’t live up to the first.Deck 7 was the Promenade deck and a good deck to walk from aft to forward indoors as not all decks are accessible from one end of the ship to the other. Similarly deck 15, the Lido deck, was handy when heading from the Spa forward on deck 16 to the kids’ club aft on deck 16.The pools on deck 15 were heated and the children were surprised just how warm they were. There were also two additional adult only pools. Forward at the Spa next to the Sanctuary and aft at the back of Café Caribe. There was a large movie screen above one of the pools which showed films daily.There were self-service Laundromats available on decks 5, 8-14 which although not needed on our 7 day cruise would have been a extremely valuable on a longer cruise and Princess is the only American cruise line that we have found this service.The food on the Crown was outstanding. We loved lunch in the main dining room and were disappointed that it was not open on port days. As anytime diners we had the choice of eating in either the Michelangelo Restaurant or Da Vinci restaurant so if there was a queue at one we just went to the other. As we were crusing in Europe the busiest time was 7-30 to 8-30 with early diners able to walk in without a queue no problem. They did have a pager system so if you wanted a table for 2 and not share but there wasn’t a table available you could take a pager and enjoy a drink in the Piazza while waiting. The Botticelli restaurant (aft deck 6) was fixed dining only. Our dining highlight was Chef’s Table which I can’t recommend enough. We were treated like VIPs for the entire evening, given the guided tour in the working galley on deck 6 with the Maitre D before savouring amazing canapés with Champagne each one made by the executive chef himself. We were then led down to Michelangelo restaurant for a gastronomic extravaganza all accompanied by fine wines, candle light (yes real candles) and great company. The main course was flambéed in the restaurant before our eyes which was really spectacular. The evening ended with a rose and group photo for the ladies and a Princess recipe book for the gents.There were two specialty restaurants open in the evening, the Crown Grill for steaks and lobster and Sabatini’s for Italian cuisine. Although we didn’t eat at either we met so many people who raved about the Crown Grill.All food we found on deck 15 was complementary including hamburgers, hotdogs and fries at the Trident Grill , the Pizzeria made fresh pizzas in visible ovens which were huge so a slice of pizza barely fitted on the plate. Both eateries were by the pool and extremely popular with swimmers and sunbathers on deck. This was also the location for the complementary ice cream bar served in either a cone or a tub from 11am to 11pm.Inside, Horizon Court buffet served a very limited lunch which did not meet our expectations of Royal Caribbean or Celebrity. This was probably why the International Café was so popular on deck 5 as the salads and pastries always looked so tempting. Café Caribe at the back of Horizon Court was a bit of a non event with only continental breakfast served there from 5am-10am.The staff on Princess were extremely conscientious and friendly. The waitstaff were always attentive but never rushed us, the drinks staff were alert to a nearly empty glasses which meant we never had to go without a drink at dinner while we waited for another. The daytime staff were equally superb at their jobs. We played Win, Lose or Draw (that’s Pictionary to you and me), did a couple of quizzes, played and won champagne hoopla, played the golf chipping challenge, watched a film in the theatre, took part in flashmob and attended the Champagne art auction. We were lucky that there was always going on we were spoilt for choice and never made it to the mini golf course, Casino, the bingo, the aerobics studio or gym.Our children both went to Shockwaves, the kids’ club for 8-12 year olds. They were able to sign themselves in and out at sea, but needed us to sign them in and out when in port. They both had a great time and came home with t-shirts, hand made jewellery and a decorated picture frame. Our daughter especially loved making things while our son enjoyed the playing games and the competitions. Unlike most cruise lines the children were not given a muster bracelet. Equally we were not given child life jackets from our steward despite asking. When we mentioned it to one of the officers she was absolutely horrified and we got the impression that our steward wouldn’t make the same mistake again.We had intended to take the Princess excursion to Bordeaux but our son wasn’t feeling well that morning. I went to the Shore Excursion desk to find out whether we would be able to get any money back and they were fantastic and told us that it was understandable that people get ill especially as it was very rough that night and gave us a full refund without penalty on return of our tickets. I was so impressed as this was superb customer service by Princess.Disembarkation was easy and hassle free. We put our suitcases out the night before and walked off with our hand luggage easily finding our suitcases in the baggage collection hall. A couple of days prior to disembarkation we were asked what time we would like to get off and got our requested time. All passengers are given coloured and numbered labels for cases to indicate disembarkation time and then the luggage in stored in coloured and numbered zones so need to panic at the thought of 3000 passengers trying to find their suitcases at the same time !Our ports of call were La Coruna, Bilbao (free shuttle provided), Le Verdon (free shuttle to Soulac sur Mer or excursions to Bordeaux) and Guernsey which was a tender port. All ports were very easy to do DIY and walk around. The tides were causing issues with the gangways and at times one of the gangways was closed for repositioning. Wheelchair users were warned that they may not be able to disembark at Guernsey but we saw several getting back on the tenders with wheel chair assistants at the ready.We thoroughly enjoyed our cruise and walked off the ship desperate to book another one. Princess is certainly a quality cruise company and their staff made every effort to ensure that we all had an amazing time. Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
This was my very first time on a cruise and I booked the Western Med knowing something about the countries but my main aim was to see if I liked the idea of cruising. I did, loved it but this was my first and now acts as a benchmark for ... Read More
This was my very first time on a cruise and I booked the Western Med knowing something about the countries but my main aim was to see if I liked the idea of cruising. I did, loved it but this was my first and now acts as a benchmark for what I look for in the future. First of all the very positives. Princess Cruises for me are first class for cleanliness, food, staff attitude entertainment, drinks and for the whole experience. Yes they are trying to empty your wallet with sales etc but that is up to you. I took advantage of the jewellery and duty frees, but my partner helped me to keep within my limits ...ha ha.. There was plenty to do if you wished, plenty of relaxing if you didn t.I loved that, I like dressing up and "going out" it was the perfect holiday. Formal night, ... I think its really the men who have issues here with the Tuxedo etc, but hey they looked great!! and if you don t want then there were plenty who did n t bother. It seemed to confine itself to the restaurants,shows and bars and the Atrium ( a fab area for people watching and decent coffee).There were many who were just dressed "smartly" and went to the buffett . So I needn t of stressed over that. The ports of call ..well... I was a bit disappointed there, but its where I chose to go. Its a big ship so it has to go where it can. Barcelona, ... nice enough city, Monaco, did n t fancy the choppy sea on a lifeboat in the rain...Livorno. ok ...Civviatchio or Rome, Florence... and Naples ..Yuk!! If I hadn t of been to Italy these ports would of put me off going.. However, there are opportunities to go on tours, which we did a couple of times. Loved Corsica and Gibralter. But like I said it was the cruising experience that was paramount for me this time. Its great stopping at all these different places, just will be more choosy over my stops next time. Now the downside. I wanted to go from Southampton so I could be there without flying and not have to weigh in my suitcases. Although some people moaned at the queues.. Get a life, !!! It were n't that bad,there were a lot of people to embark onto the ship. I shall probably be shouted down for my next winge...but ... some times I felt I was in a care home. For some reason there were more people in wheelchairs, with walking sticks and zimmer frames, that people that were able to get about on their own two legs. Why this was I can only put down to the fact there seemed to be super disabled facilities onboard and it was going from Southampton.Their needs are not mine, and more than me and my partner remarked on this. Just leave it that their holiday has different requirements to mine and I did get a bit fed up of being pushed aside by the big wheeled chairs, being squashed in lifts, tripped up by walking sticks and walking snail pace everywhere and having to give way to some people who just expected it. Although it did n t really bother me that much, not having a window in our stateroom left us sometimes wondering what time of day it was. Also, it could of been an escape from the wheelchairs and zimmers, or just a place to chill if we had of had a balcony. But again, this was my first time. The final consideration for next time is the Bay of Biscay. The journey back was horrible, and it was almost 3 days of rocking and rolling and feeling queazy. So there you have it.. Next time I know what to look for, and yes I will do it again. Read Less
Sail Date May 2013
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