My family and I traveled on the Royal Princess for the British Isles cruise 7/8/2015 through 7/20/2015. For this review, I plan on focusing mainly on the logistics and “what you need to know” more than the port / attraction information as I feel that this has been covered in detail by other members. Also note that unlike some of the other reviews I have read here, this is not my multi-page forum to complain. Yes, there are issues and there will always be issues trying to accommodate several thousand people, each with a different set of needs and priorities. Overall the ship and the cruise are amazing. Relax, have a great time and enjoy your vacation. If you want to complain, call a friend. If you do have something negative to iterate, consider the tone and the try and be helpful.
Forgive me for the length of this information, I hope you find it helpful and it will also serve as a diary for my family in the future. I am an engineer by trade and as a result have a “how does it work” perspective Also forgive me if I bounce around between subjects a bit. Most of this is written as I recall different subjects to comment on.
My family consists of two adults, mid 40’s, one 14 year old boy and a 12 year old girl and we live in the mid-Atlantic of the U.S. This was the kids first trip to Europe, but their 4th cruise overall. My wife and I have been on 15+ cruises, generally choosing Royal Caribbean or Princess. This was our first cruise in Europe and our second overall trip to Europe, and first in 15 years. We visited Paris a few days and London a few days prior to going on the cruise. As you will see in my commentary, we tried to walk everywhere we could and always used the stairs. We are all fairly fit and wanted to stay so with all of the food available!
Money – Make sure you have a credit card with the “chip” in it. This is nearly required for everywhere you will go. Based on all of the research I did, it appears that the Capital One card is the best deal when it comes to transaction fees etc. Luckily, we already had one. American Express is amongst the worst deal as there are many fee’s imposed. My debit card (also from Capital One) did allow for “no ATM fee’s” assuming you used very specific ATM’s, but I found that this was negated by the exchange rate imposed at these ATM’s. It was also very useful to have the Capital One App on my iPhone as every time I made a charge, I received a text with the cost, converted into U.S. dollars. While I could do a rough guess on the conversion, it was nice to see it immediately to the penny. Keep in mind that France and Ireland (not Northern Ireland) use the Euro. Everywhere else on the trip uses the British Pound, including Northern Ireland. Be prepared for everything to be much more expensive than home. Even when you try and find a deal (See Glasgow below for an example)
Weather – Paris was hot. Just like at home. 90+ degrees and high humidity. Everywhere else (with the exception noted below) was very cool. Low 60’s, overcast to partly cloudy, windy. Pack accordingly; I know we did not pack warm enough clothes. We never saw more than a few sprinkles on the whole trip which was a real treat. When it did sprinkle, the weather forecast never called for rain and the clouds came in just as quickly as they left. It’s a cliché that the weather changes that fast, but we found it really does. In short, having to do it again, I would still bring my poncho and umbrellas, and I would have brought much warmer clothes and jackets. Also note that as you go further north, the sunset and sunrise times get later / earlier each day. It would be 10:30pm and still fairly bright out.
We chose Iceland Air for both price and schedule. Another benefit is that they allow you to check two bags for “free” and given that we were traveling for 19 days, the extra bag we took really helped. There was nothing significant about the flights other than mechanical issues on the way to Paris that caused a delay and missing connecting flights in Iceland. This was unfortunate, but not too significant.
We appreciated all that there is to see and do in Paris, but overall were not impressed. The people were extremely friendly, but the city was dirty and crowded.
Customs – We landed at CDG, disembarked, gathered our luggage and looked for our driver we had pre-arranged with AAA (which I highly suggest. 100 Euro for 4 people, 5 large bags etc which meant he needed a van and not a typical car. It would have been difficult to find a car ad hoc to accommodate all we brought). We literally walked out of the airport and never passed through any kind of immigration or customs at all. The driver explained that sometimes they just don’t do it. I’ll refrain from any political commentary here, but certainly could provide some.
Smoke - everyone on the street seems to smoke. And I mean everyone. Also, those cute café’s that you see on television showing people enjoying a coffee and people watching? They are everywhere, but what you don’t realize is that every one of those people are smoking and that smoke blows into the actual restaurant while you are eating your overpriced meal.
Streets - We did enjoy the street performers outside many of the larger attractions and had reasonably priced meals in the Latin Quarter. The sidewalks are very wide and the architecture was very nice.
Hotel - We stayed at the Citadines Apart’hotel Saint-Germain-des-Pres which is an apartment hotel (literally the hotel rooms are small apartments) and it was great. Given our late arrival due to flight issues, we received a much larger room / apartment than we probably would have during normal check in hours. Internet was free, although it seemed to work much better in the lobby than in the actual room. Filtered water and coffee was free. They do not clean your room daily unless you are there for a week, but this was not an issue. It did have a small kitchen.
Eiffel Tower – For almost everything we did, we tried to get tickets online before leaving. However, we were too late for the Eiffel tower as they were all sold out. My wife called them ahead of time though and found out that they occasionally release additional tickets online. You just need to keep checking the website. Luckily just before leaving for the trip, additional tickets were released for 9:00am 7/5, the first appointment available. We showed up and were the very first people to the top.
Notre Dame – Don’t be put off by the long lines. They move very quickly and a must see. There are also many street performers out front, especially at night.
Champs-Élysées – Something you should probably do, but just a lot of people and shopping. If you’re a car guy, you can rent a Ferrari, McLaren or other supercar from vendors here. I think the Ferrari was 89 Euro for 20 minutes.
Catacombs – This was a “must do” for my daughter so it was the first stop the morning after we arrived. We got there before it opened to find a 3.5 hour wait, the line literally wrapped around the block. Given our time in Paris was already very short, and made shorter by the travel issues, we chose to skip this due to the line. However, later in the day, we took the subway back, arriving 10 minutes before they stop allowing entry and walked right in. Overall, it worked out, but this is probably an attraction I would skip if it were just me (it’s interesting, but also a little bit creepy).
Random thoughts – We were there on July 4 and although the city is full of American tourists, I only saw three people with red white and blue clothing. We only saw one pub celebrating the holiday. I am pretty sure this is due to concerns of American’s being targets for terrorist activities. Sad, but a fact of life I guess.
Train to London – We took the Eurostar right from Paris. I would suggest booking your tickets as early as possible to get the best price. We looked months in advance, but did not book them. We then went back a few weeks before the trip and the price had doubled. The train station in Paris has free Wi-Fi for 45 minutes (per device) however speedy coverage is a bit spotty.
Hotel – We stayed at the Holiday Inn Mayfair which was great. It was a very central location and the staff was very nice. If you sign up for their rewards program, you also get free Wi-Fi. What they don’t tell you is that is for a maximum of 4 devices (which we found common in general with “free Wi-Fi”, that is that although it is free, it is limited to a maximum number of devices). In this case though, asking the front desk for additional 24 hour Wi-Fi codes was happily granted.
Hop-on Hop-Off buses – We definitely took advantage of the buses. Note that there are many different companies with a variety of prices. We bought our tickets at a discount from the hotel and rode both the red and blue lines all around town. The red line was narrated by a person on the bus with you. The Blue line was a recording (but was actually better than the live person). A few tips…Check with the hotel for better pricing, check with the bus to see how late they operate (some go much later than others), check and see if there is a family package (this is true everywhere we went on most attractions. A family of 4 seems to be the perfect amount to travel with as most places offer a package for 4. I also suggest that if you can pay a bit more to bypass any lines, do it. The cost will be painful right up until you get to walk past that 3 hour wait at the London Eye). Check and see if you can get on an hour or two before they stop operating in the evening and not really start your “day” until the next day. Finally, riding the bus during rush hour (morning and evening) will greatly extend the amount of time it takes.
Cars – So, my son and I are “car guys”. London has every exotic car you can imagine. By the time we were done, Ferrari’s, Rolls Royce’s, Lamborghini’s and Bentley’s were so common, we hardly noticed them. We did see one Bugatti Veyron that did catch our attention ($1 million cars tend to do that).
Pubs – I had hoped to get my fill of fish and chips on this trip. What we found is that because we were in the tourist area, there were really only a couple types of pubs. Some catered to the business crowd getting a drink after work and no food (not what I was looking for with the family). Others were for tourists. The tourist pubs all looked very traditional and were convenient, but what we noticed was they all had the same menu and when you looked at the details, they are all run by the same company (Nicholson’s). This was true throughout Britain, not just London. We used Yelp to try and find some good places, but were pretty unsuccessful (this is how we found the pubs that only serve drinks). We also found that if you go right after the business day, they are generally occupied by a majority of men. My wife felt a bit uncomfortable in one pub for the first few minutes as she was the only women there. The hotel ended up being a decent resource for food recommendations and also just wandering a bit off the beaten path we found better choices.
Apps – Speaking of Yelp, we did use several apps to help us out. Check out the subway apps, currency convertor and of course Google maps which was very helpful. There are also apps that help you find free Wi-Fi. Google “best travel apps” for some specific names.
Data – Before we left, we called Verizon and told them to disable all but one of our 4 iPhones. This is called “vacation mode” and there is a $15 per line charge, but you are not charged while in this mode so if you’re gone as long as we were, it pays for itself. For my wife’s phone, we added an international plan (just for the month) which allowed her to use the phone for 100 minutes, receive unlimited texts and send 100 texts. Note that this worked in most places, but did not work in Guernsey. To make sure the kids did not “accidentally” turn their phones on while we were gone, we literally removed their SIM card and left it in the car at the airport in the U.S. (turning their iPhone into an iPod for the trip). We did find a lot of free Wi-Fi available (and I will try and mention it here), especially at Starbucks or Costa (basically a Starbucks) which is everywhere. In general though, the Wi-Fi we found was so slow, you could barely use it. As a result, in London, my son and I went to the Vodafone shop and purchased a SIM card and 6GB of data for $60 each (there are several plans, but this was the most generous). This allowed us 6GB of data, unlimited talk and texts (to each other but not international). This was supposed to work anywhere in the British Isles (according to the “in training” sales rep), but it didn’t. Obviously it worked in London, but is also worked fine in Scotland and Northern Ireland. It did not work in Le Havre France (which we expected), but also did not work in Southern Ireland or Guernsey. Regardless, this was a huge help in finding our way around, staying in touch with friends and family, researching and also allowed us to split up and still stay in contact. Note that if using iMessage on the iPhone, this does not use the SMS text network, it only uses data so we could keep in contact with anyone else in the world using an Apple device, including facetime. In general, the Vodafone network was very good, especially in the cities. In port, which is rarely in the city you are visiting, service can be spotty. Some of the time we had 3G coverage, sometimes 4G (Southampton and Liverpool), but mostly we had GPRS which is very old (and very very slow) technology. Once we got to the city we were visiting though, we did get decent coverage. Here is another strange issue we encountered that may also work for you. Royal Princess has a wireless intranet that is very useful. Once on the ship, connect to the wireless and go to http://royal.princess.com and create an account based on your name, room number etc. Very easy. Now, you can check what’s going on around the ship, check your stateroom balance and actually send messages to other people on the intranet network (which is great for keeping up with the kids). What also seemed to work, and I have no idea why, is the Apple notifications and iMessages, but only in port. For example, on my iPad which only has wireless (no cellular signal), I would get notifications of Facebook posts, CNN alerts etc. as long as I was signed into the Intranet. I could also send my family iMessages and receive them. There seems to be some kind of internet connectivity allowed, although very limited, and only while in port.
Southampton / Embarkation – We chose to use a Princess transfer from London to Southampton. You go to Vitoria bus station and wait until the buses are ready. This was one of the few times that things did not seem to be working smoothly. It was a long wait for a bus to be available and in general it was disorganized. Just find a Princess rep and obtain a boarding ticket and wait for it to be called. From there, it’s a couple hours on a coach to the port. Doing it again, I would consider a private transfer that takes you to Stonehenge en-route. Supposedly it’s not too far away and would be one more sight to see. Embarkation itself was a non-event. Our bags arrived very quickly and we started exploring the ship.
Ship – I don’t want to reiterate too much of what others have said about the Royal Princess, but I do want to be more specific. Most reviews I see just complain about the lack of center stairs and don’t really explain why that is an issue. So, let’s be specific. There is a full staircase in the front and rear of the ship. There is a staircase in the center of the ship that runs from deck 4 (the lowest passenger access deck where you will go to get tenders or visit the doctor etc.) up to deck 7 which is the center of the main passenger shopping / lounge area. From deck 7 up you will need to either use elevator, the front or the rear staircase. As we had a room on deck 12 towards the rear of the ship, we used the rear staircase a lot. But, here is the catch. You can only get from mid-ship to the rear of the ship on deck 7 on one side of the ship. The other side is blocked by bars, restaurants etc. It’s not terrible; it just takes some getting used to. I’m pretty sure Princess already knows the lack of mid-ship staircase is an issue because at the end of the emergency drill, they actually opened up the “crew only” staircase mid-ship for us to use to get back to our room. Another oddity is the lack of access to the front of the ship on the outside. Unlike every other ship I can recall, there is no deck that wraps around the front of the ship. Even on the upper decks you can only go so far forward. We also found that outside decks (for example on deck 7) were technically open, but you had to search for a door to them that was not blocked off. And only some of the deck was open, some of them were closed to crew only (not temporarily, this is a permanent condition). It was just a bit odd and different than most ships we have seen. Those issues aside, we found the ship to be well maintained, beautiful and very comfortable. We never felt crowded; we could always find a seat and generally the ship’s crew were all amazing. We never visited the casino as it was closed so much of the time and we are not gamblers. There is no arcade for the kids (and let’s be honest, for me too!). We did not spend much time at the pool or upper decks if only due to the cold weather. I felt bad for all of the crew that were working the bars (especially the bar on the back of the ship, deck 16) wearing their heavy coats, waiting for somebody to show up that they could serve.
Our room – We had a nice room with a balcony that had beds that dropped from the ceiling for the kids. Given a bigger budget, I would have certainly preferred to have a separate room for the kids or a suite. When the beds are down, there is almost no room to move around and only your stateroom attendant can raise and lower the beds. This means that when you’re getting ready in the morning, the beds are in the way. When going to bed, they are in the way. When you are out and about exploring the ports etc., the beds are put away and not in the way. Otherwise the room is a standard cruise ship room. The balcony was nice (and not as small as some others have said), but given the cold weather, we did not spend much time out there. There is a safe in the room and the closet is pretty big and has no doors. We asked for more hangers which was easily accommodated.
Dining – I have very few real complaints with the cruise and they are generally with the dining. With anytime dining, you’re always sitting in a different area of the dining room. As a result, there does not seem to be much ownership by the waiters in making sure you’re happy. Service was slow, very slow, orders were also wrong. On other cruises, the wait staff gets to know you; they have that soda ready for you before you ask for it and become part of the cruise experience. We have done both types of dining in the past and never had as many issues as we did on this cruise. Also odd is that the Symphony dining room (which is the anytime dining room) has two sides you can enter. One side often had a considerable wait, while if you just walked to the other side (60 feet away?), they could seat you immediately. Why the two sides did not coordinate, I have no idea. They do provide buzzers if you need to wait. At the Horizon café, there was a lot of choice and it was well organized. We could always find a seat and cleanup of tables was quick. A couple of issues: with four of us, there was often a variety of drink orders. Coke for some, Diet coke for others, maybe a water or two. At breakfast, different types of juice and since they are all so small, multiple glasses were needed and a hot chocolate thrown in too. The waiters never once got it even close to right. Some of it was a language barrier (designating a regular Coke and a diet Coke always resulted in everyone getting a regular Coke). I assume it was that they simply couldn’t remember that much of an order. I never saw anyone writing anything down which would have been helpful. There was often somebody at the entrance asking you to wash your hands. I also saw a senior chef double checking all of the buffet items and coaching the staff on how to better prepare the food which was nice. Food was always good from the buffet with the exception of scrambled eggs (which I admit are incredibly hard to keep fresh on a buffet). One hint is to search around the buffet for what you want. In general, both sides of the ship have the same food, with the pastry in the middle. However, I found that when making my salad, some stations would have red onion, some would have yellow. The taco station would have cheese, the salad station did not. Another section might have the olives.
Crooners – The staff at Crooners bar was great and quickly knew you by name. They offer a “buy one get one for $1” special between 3:00pm – 4:00pm (They also do this in the late night club between 11:00pm and midnight). On Sea days, the place was packed during this time. On regular days, it was certainly busy. Good selection of drinks and beer and excellent service. For every drink order, they give you a ticket that is part of a drawing for bottled wine prizes on the last day of the cruise.
Movies / Entertainment – We went to “Movies under the stars” a couple times. Even with the blankets, it was cold. They do have “nearly” first run movies and serve popcorn. They show the primary feature twice, around 7:00pm and 9:30pm. Otherwise they show concerts during the day. Once the movies are shown here, they will appear in your stateroom the next day or so which is nice. Speaking of your stateroom, there is a flat screen TV and there are lots of great movies and TV shows on demand. We even forced the kids to watch some episodes of The Love Boat. There are also reviews of all of the ports you will be visiting which we found were very helpful. We did not attend many live shows. I did go to the cooking demonstration which was OK, but a little goofy. It took a solid hour, but you did get a tour of one of the kitchens which was cool.
Kids program – We hardly used it. My daughter tried a couple times but was “chastised” for not telling them she was coming a day in advance (even though they had plenty of availability). She is 12 and was stuck with the younger kids. My son would have been with the older kids, but is not as social so he didn’t have a lot of interest.
Laundry – Laundry machines were available on each stateroom floor. Sea days and evenings were obviously busier than port days. Each laundry area is toward the rear of the ship and offers 4 washers and 4 dryers and 4 ironing boards with irons (which were free). Washers take about 30 minutes per cycle and dryers took about 45 minutes per cycle. There is also a TV and a few chairs in this area if you choose to stay for the cycle (we did not). The machines use tokens which are bought using your cruise card for $3.00 each (no need to bring quarters like we did). So, a full cycle, one wash and one dry is $6.00. If you need detergent, it’s also available but I am not sure of the cost since we brought our own (you can buy travel size Tide from Amazon and then just use dryer sheet, both which travel easily). The machines were well maintained and easy to use. Since the wash / dry times are not aligned, there is often “limbo time” while you wait for the dryer after your wash is complete.
Late Night dance party – We never attended. Given the average age on the ship, I would be surprised if it went too late or got too insane.
Excursions – We only took one Princess excursion due to the extreme cost for the four of us (See Cobh / Cork below). If you were to do one excursion at each port, the price would certainly approach or eclipse the cost of the cruise.
Tuxedo Rental – We chose to rent tuxedos / shoes so that we did not have to carry formal clothes around for 19 days. While not inexpensive, it was very convenient. We took measurements at home using a diagram they provided and reserved them online. They were delivered to our stateroom and picked up near the end of the cruise. Fit was not an issue and they did have a tailor onboard if you needed something corrected.
Alcohol – Princess allows you to bring one bottle of wine per adult onto the cruise. We chose not to do this if only for the logistical issues of baggage and fragile bottles. However, while in one of the first ports, we did find a nice wine shop and bought a couple of bottles. I put them into my backpack and when boarding the ship, they passed right through the security scan without question (or association to us or our cabin number). Later in the cruise, we bought a couple more bottles and did this again with no issues. I suspect that they only scrutinize the two bottles when you’re initially boarding the ship. Afterwards, I certainly could have brought in a couple bottles every day.
Refrigerator – There is a refrigerator in the room stocked with water and soda (for a fee). We removed what we did not need and kept our own drinks in there instead. Unlike some newer hotels, they do not electronically track what’s in the refrigerator so removing their drinks was not an issue.
Southampton – I am sure there are sights to see here, but we went straight to the ship.
Le Havre – This is an industrial port but does have a nice downtown area not too far away. It’s certainly within walking distance. There is a welcome center that offers free Wi-Fi and a very knowledgeable information desk that is staffed with English speaking personnel. There is a rental car agency there, which I tried to use before we left for the cruise, but they only speak French and the website is only in French. Alternatively, I chose to use Enterprise Rental car which was not as convenient, but only a 15 minute walk into town. You can technically see if from the ship if you know what you’re looking for (it’s in the first strip mall in town). We rented a Diesel mid-size sedan with GPS for 110 Euro. Unlimited mileage. Pickup was 8:30am and drop-off was 6:00pm I believe. U.S. based insurance does not cover you so I bought basic insurance from Enterprise (12 Euro) and anything else would have been covered by my credit card insurance. This seems to be very common based on the research I did. Otherwise they want to charge you hundreds of Euro for full coverage. We chose to drive to the American Cemetery in Normandy which is about 90 minutes away. There are many tolls en-route and all accept credit cards (just make sure you go through the line with an attendant working…and not always is this obvious). The cemetery is absolutely amazing with a great welcome center and gorgeous grounds. We also walked on the beaches and really appreciated the locals flying American flags on many of the homes. The beaches are huge and you can easily find remaining gun mounts etc from WWII. I cannot recommend this highly enough. Taking this same tour with the ship for the four of us would have been well over $700. Including tolls and gas, we spent less than $200. We did talk to some people that went to Paris with the ship excursion. They had fun, but it was a long day for them (Paris is 2+ hours away). Make sure you get on the ship before these tours return if you can help it. They all seem to return at the same time and the queue for security gets very long. We were very lucky in that the Tour de France was in Le Havre the day we were there, so we came back early to catch the riders pass by. I doubt I will ever see the Tour de France in person again.
Sea Days – Lots of activities on board. Normal cruise stuff. Just don’t plan on sitting at the pool given the chilly weather.
Edinburgh – A great city to visit and walk. This is a tender port. We took a short walk up a decent hill (it has steps and a path that is guided with signs) to the train station and took the train into town. I don’t recall what the cost was for the four of us, but it was moderately expensive. The train was 30 minutes or so and drops you right into town. We walked the Royal Mile and checked out the castle. There are lots of restaurants and places to buy Cashmere scarves. There are also lots of great street entertainers which the kids particularly enjoyed.
Invergordon – We chose not to do an excursion to Lock Ness here as the Princess tour was expensive to go see an imaginary sea monster. We walked the very small town and did not find much. There is one restaurant with Wi-Fi (The Purple something, I cannot recall). It was Sunday with most shops closed. The local churches were very inviting if you wanted to attend. Cell signal was terrible. In speaking to others, the best bet here would be to tour the countryside if you don’t want to see Nessie. We also saw a Land Cruiser driving around offering off road adventures (it was a professional company so you can probably find it on Google). Some other people caught it before we could. That would have been fun.
Glasgow – Glasgow is a very modern city. Once again we took the train into town after a fair walk across town to the station. This was “peak” time and the tickets were pretty expensive. Greenock, the town you dock in, is pretty nice and does have a mall and plenty of shops if you need incidentals. We visited the Cathedral here, walked the streets, walked the tourist shopping district and did some shopping. We happen to see a “Five Guys Burgers and Fries” and my son asked if we could eat lunch there. I will have to say, it’s identical to what you will find in the U.S. Idaho potatoes, free Coke refills, same burgers etc. However, for 3 small burgers, one large fry and 4 sodas, it was $47. This was not atypical.
Belfast / Northern Ireland – This port was definitely in my top three of the whole trip (along with the American Cemetery at Normandy and Liverpool). We chose to do a private tour with Alister from City and Causeway Tours (we found many reviews of his service on CruiseCritic and he was amazing and cannot be recommended highly enough). He picked us up in a new, large Mercedes van and drove us throughout the coast visiting many sites and ended the day (around 5:00pm). This included a tour of Belfast and the peace walls. He knew all of the best places to stop for both the history and for photos. We went on many roads that cannot be traveled by the coaches and therefore had a much more personal experience than being bussed around. He is very personable and really loves his country. We were very lucky with the weather and were able to get some amazing pictures and could see a lot of sites that are often covered in haze. If you’re a fan of “Game of Thrones” you can also customize your trip to focus on the sites used for filming as much of the show is shot in Northern Ireland. Check out the other more detailed reviews on Cruise Critic, Trip Advisor etc. for more details. You won’t be disappointed.
Liverpool – As mentioned before, Liverpool is in my top three destinations on this trip. The ship docks right in downtown next to a huge walkable shopping area (about 1 block into the city), a very nice museum and a historic area. It was very clean, modern and easy to get around and generally a great place to visit. Of course, if you’re a Beatles fan, there is also plenty to see and do.
Dublin – Dublin is another port where you dock in the commercial shipping area and have to get into the city. We did make the walk, but it’s a pretty industrial area you have to walk through, then down a major road which ultimately leads to a nice boardwalk area that looks like it never quite finished its revitalization. We walked around town quite a bit and enjoyed all of the nice bridges and architecture, but after a while, it just felt like one more pub after another. We did have a nice lunch at the Temple Bar. Many of the other bars were going pretty hard with bands and customer / tour participation, even early in the day. We were there on a Friday so maybe that helped the festive atmosphere.
Cobh / Cork – This is the only stop where we took a Princess excursion to see Blarney Castle. We were off the ship early, onto a coach to the castle. You do have a guide on the coach who does a good job of telling about the area and also makes sure you get into the castle with no issues. It takes about 40 minutes and the quicker you can get there the better as the lines to kiss the Blarney Stone can get very long. We didn’t make out too bad and waited maybe 25 minutes. The stone is at the top of the castle which means you must go up a set of stairs that gets steeper and tighter as you go up. No, they don’t sanitize the stone between people, yes, the line moves very quickly and you are expected to sit, lean back, kiss and move on. There is a camera to take pictures and you are given a claim check if you want to buy them. There are also railings to hold onto and a guide to help you get into place correctly. The steps down are not nearly as tight as those going up. The grounds of the castle are beautiful and there is a private estate house that you can tour for around 5 Euro cash. It’s a short walk to a few small shops and a small pub in the town of Blarney. There is free internet in the outside sitting area, but it is extremely slow. We were entertained by some locals who were doing Irish Step Dancing and Organ playing. We took the coach back to the ship and walked around Cobh. This is where some of my Wife’s grandparents left Ireland years ago and there is a genealogy area in the welcome center you can visit (for a fee). The welcome center does have free Wi-Fi however once again it was painfully slow. The town is very nice, albeit a bit hilly. Plenty of shops and restaurants overlooking the water. It’s also the final stop of the Titanic before it left for the U.S.
Guernsey – To be honest, we did not know much about this port other than some of my family originated from nearby Jersey. This is a tender port and the first thing you will notice is that it is considerably warmer than the rest of the ports. Upon arrival, we noticed a lot of boats driving around the ship and thought it was just general interest in the ship. While tendering in, we then noticed that there was a professional boat race taking place and what we saw were the race officials. Once at the pier, we then found out that there was a full festival going on! Boat racing, remote control car racing, a complete car show and motorcycle racing, all right there on the main road next to the marina. Ferrari, Lotus, Lamborghini, even WWII vehicles all were well represented. We looked at all of the cars, watched the motorcycle time trials and walked the town. The girls were certainly disappointed as it was Sunday so most shops were closed, and worse we wanted to look at cars instead. Turns out that Guernsey is part of the U.K. but does not have the VAT that the rest of the U.K. has so many of the wealthier citizens live and vacation here (as was obvious by the very expensive cars, shops and boats / yachts in the marina). Be careful if you do shop here as they happily accept the GBP but you may or may not get change in the local Guernsey currency. We enjoyed this port both for the warmth and for the ability to see how the “other half” lives.
Guernsey was our last port to visit. We were back to Southampton by 4:00am or so. A quick breakfast and then we waited for our color to be ready. Our baggage was collected very quickly and we were on another coach to Gatwick Airport. This was during the Monday morning commute hour so we did encounter a fair amount of traffic in the 2 hour ride, but it was not too bad. One final thought…take note of how many pickup trucks you see on this trip. Given how prevalent they are in the U.S. I was surprised by how few we encountered. The few we saw were for the road crews and they were certainly not full size trucks. Just a fun tidbit.
Best of luck and I hope this information has helped you in some way. Read Less