This review will be mostly geared towards giving tips to future cruisers going on this itinerary, and I will try to include pictures but keep the text as short as possible! You can contact me for more detailed info. Four stars are for the services from Princess, the tours I booked, awesome weather, and the relaxing experience as a whole with my DH! I took off one star for a variety of things that won't change but I feel is worth mentioning anyway as it affected our experience: there were some fellow cruisers who displayed general discourtesy at times, especially out in the countries we visited, which caused tensions among other cruisers and with locals. Also, I have noticed more of the Princess staff on board seemed less interested in their job/less agreeable than they used to be about a decade ago, though a good number of them show signs of honest enthusiasm. Could just be the luck of the draw this time, or maybe I'm paying more attention this time, but overall our trip was truly wonderful and we are both so glad we went! We wish we were retired and rich so we can do this more often! ;)
HEATHROW: The Heathrow “passport control” (customs) line for non-EU/UK/electronic passport holders on the weekend of our cruise was HORRIBLE, even according to people around us familiar with Heathrow. We got off our red-eye flight around 9 AM, and it took about 2-2.5 hr from there, through passport control, and to baggage claim. On the plus side, towards end of the line security people put out mini water bottles for us, and I accounted for the long wait and for the transfer time so that all the timing worked out. On the down side, we'd been in the line for so long that all our baggage was standing on the floor off the belt. One of ours was standing by itself at the wrong baggage area.
PRINCESS TRANSFER SHUTTLE: The Princess transfer people were pleasant and sympathetic to the line wait, and they made the process from there simple. We handed over our luggage tags when asked so they could staple it on for us, and waited a few minutes before getting called to board their bus.
TERMINAL CHECK IN: There was more sitting and waiting, but our excitement was building as we sat with the ship in view next to the terminal, and the terminal staff were pleasant and kind. Your passport is taken by staff and is returned to you on the morning on Dublin by your room steward, if you run into each other. Based on a tip from a former cruiser on this site, I printed out a copy of our passports and drivers licenses to carry around with me when going off the ship, and kept the actual passports in the room safe.
1) On ship there is a really nice, well-sized gym, which we didn't know about or we *might* have used it (but probably not!). A number of people did use it though!
2) If you're an adult, use the Sanctuary! People don't remember/realize it's there! It's quiet, and has a pool, a hot tub, and a bar.
3) I brought a 1 liter Nalgene water bottle and never used it. I ended up using plastic bottled water from airports/excursions and refilling by bringing a cup of water from the buffet to our bedroom or by using melted stateroom ice water or from bathroom tap. All are drinkable, though the ice water from the buffet and the room ice bucket can sometimes have a slight strange ice taste, and the bathroom tap smells mildly chlorinated. Totally drinkable tho.
4) I took a gamble and decided not to buy a sim card during the trip. I would have only used it to contact Overlord Tours in the event that we couldn't dock at Le Havre so I would get a refund. However, the weather forecast turned beautiful for almost everyday!
Day 2: Guernsey
PLAN: I booked nothing, on purpose! We ended up sleeping a solid 12 hours from exhaustion!
WEATHER: The captain said around 3 AM there was fog, but since it cleared up we were good to go. Our time there was perfect, even warm for a projected 60 degrees F! After we got back to the ship, we found that steady and increasing drizzle had developed.
MAPS: Princess provides maps in the Patter of places we dock at but for all of our excursions I used my printed out and self-marked-up google map with landmarks I wanted to note.
HORIZON COURT COFFEE: DH thinks coffee is very dark/burnt but not as badly as Starbucks. I don't drink coffee so I can't comment! We did not buy a coffee card or any beverage package, anticipating to be mostly off ship during port days.
INTERNATIONAL CAFE COFFEE: Not free but DH says it's better (i.e. less burnt) than the buffet's. Also, you can't take coffee or any produce/etc off the ship with you, DH found out the hard way and had to chug his coffee....
TENDER: At 11:20 AM, boarding didn’t take more than 20 minutes between waiting to be called and the tender boat starting to move away from the ship. The tender docks and leaves from Albert Pier. We lined up for return around 2:10 PM and the line was three people deep. The wait wasn’t too long though and gave me a chance to briefly check my email and respond to texts. Princess thoughtfully supplied free coffee along the line.
WIFI: Free Albert Pier WiFi ("Free Guernsey WiFi").
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITY: It's fun to just walk around, even with all the hills. Btw, just get used to hills and winding streets.... I was ready to pay cash for Le Petit Train which was supposed to be at the Albert Pier, but it wasn't there when we got there. Many others seemed to have got to it at the right time though! Had a yummy snack and coffee at Cafe Delices.
TIPPING: Princess will give tipping guidelines for every port on the Patter, but it is still discretionary.
FORMAL NIGHT: You can go fancy if you like but I packed the dress that would fit the luggage the best, match most shoes, and would have the least noticeable wrinkles. :) DH had nice dress pants and a nice shirt.
Day 3: Cobh (pronounced "cove")
PLAN: Stay around Cobh and/or go to Cork. If I ever go back, I would try to spend all day to see the Ring of Kerry, or go to Kinsale/Fort Charles.
WEATHER: Cold and windy by the gangway but comfortable on land. Slight drizzle at one point but mostly just cloudy. Some breeze. Husband ended up only wearing his short sleeve shirt and was fine despite eventual high reported to being 64.
WiFi: Cobh heritage center WiFi actually needs a password, which I didn't have.
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITY: Walk around the town, visit St. Colman's Cathedral, visit the Centra out of curiosity (like a 7-11), shop, Cobh Heritage Center if you like history.... The Titanic museum is rated well but we didn't go, and found out that the Cobh Heritage Center has plenty of Titanic history in it too. If you have nothing planned, you can still pick up a taxi or join Great Island Tour and a walking tour. You'll find this to be the case at all the ports. We had so much time we could have gone to Cork but we didn't feel like it. We got a nice exercise by walking pretty far into residential areas uphill, haha.
DUBLIN SHUTTLE: In small print at the bottom of Cobh’s Princess Patter, it states you can prepurchase Dublin shuttle tickets ($8 pp, one way). Do this and save time on Dublin morning.
SAIL AWAY: Cheer on the small community wind band and Victorian dancers performing on the dock!
Day 4: Dublin
PLAN: Trinity College + Book of Kells tour (cash only), then green HOHO (pre-purchased online, slightly cheaper to do so), with food/pubs in between.
WEATHER: Partly cloudy, comfortable except on the HOHO upper level!
DUBLIN SHUTTLE (bus): Get to waiting area early. We arrived at Concerto dining room around 8:12 AM with 50 people already waiting. First shuttle was boarded around 8:40 AM but didn’t leave right away. A small crowd at this hour decided to walk but the first half of the walk will be VERY unpleasant due to a TON of construction going on, way more than seen on Google maps' street view. The shuttle ride took ~30 min due to heavy traffic and a freight train. It dropped us off at North Merrion Sq, approx 9:33 AM.
WiFi: Just at specific shops/restaurants.
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES: If you're interested in seeing the Book of Kells, go early. From Merrion Sq, walk immediately and directly to the Trinity College entrance, as there seem to be only locked gates along the side of the college, and go through the entry way to a very small wooden concession stand where you will find a college student wearing brown robes. The college tour was (surprisingly) really worth it and with the Book of Kells is a much better deal than the tour or Book alone. Our tour guide, Catie (sp?), was excellent. Most people will go through the long line outdoors for the Book of Kells but from 10:30 AM to even around noon it remained about the same length and the wait was probably 20 min. at most. Unless you have an e-ticket for the Book of Kells, you still have to wait in the long line but get to skip the ticket stand when you finally get inside. After a snack/drink at Hatch and Sons, we got on a green HOHO for the full tour, with a very knowledgeable and funny tour guide (Chris?), which is about 2-2.5 hours total. We had a late lunch at the Hairy Lemon, and walked around the shops. Around 5 PM we walked back to Merrion Sq for the shuttle back.
GAELIC FLOAT DANCING + MUSIC TROUPE (onboard): very entertaining but just FYI they pick four people from the audience to dance with them!
Day 5: Belfast
PLAN: Giants Causeway with Irish Tour Tickets
WEATHER: Sunny, breezy, becoming temperate after the cold morning.
BELFAST SHUTTLE: Complimentary.
DISEMBARKING: By now we knew to be ready early, as crowds can cause delay. There were no instructions on disembarking but people lined themselves up anyway today.
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES: Giant's Causeway, hands down!! This was my favorite excursion (Le Havre was a close second). I have a TripAdvisor review up for the tour with Irish Tour Tickets. I highly recommend them. The value is excellent and the tour is very well done. If you go and the weather is good, I highly recommend walking around the Giant's Causeway area as much as your time will allow (we had about 2 hours). From the Giant's Causeway we went up the 162 steps to the Cliff Walk and back to the entrance, but I could've gone much further if there was more time! It's so beautiful. The weather was PERFECT and all timing was PERFECT, as we clearly missed the biggest crowds on our way out. Only had two elderly couples delay us by 15 minutes due to confusion about bus location.... The coastline and hills are unbelievably gorgeous. We arrived at ship just shy of 6 PM. Definitely looked forward to sleeping in the day!
Day 6: Greenock
PLAN: Free local Inverclyde tour (sign up in person only; https://www.inverclydetouristgroup.co.uk/content/tours/) and/or walk around and/or stay on ship
WEATHER: Mild/warm, breezy, partly cloudy
GLASGOW SHUTTLE: None but there are taxis outside the port for 35£ per hour.
WiFi: Free at port terminal, but everyone is using it too so it gets slow.
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES: If you're interested in Glasgow, definitely go, as everyone who had gone seemed to have really enjoyed it. I had considered booking a Loch Lommond tour either with a private group or with Princess, but I was concerned about scheduling too many activities and also I wasn't fully convinced of the appeal.... We ended up going into the Greenock terminal building, using their wifi, and signing up for free Inverclyde tour to Gourock at 1 PM. The port terminal staff were very friendly, with little stores, cultural interests, and Inverclyde Tourist Group people ready for visitors. The town of Greenock itself seems a bit depressed, definitely not a tourist hot spot, but does have a bit of important history. I would read Emily's entertaining review on the area for more info (https://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=1652129&page=10). There are clear efforts to make the town more modern and family friendly, like a very large water fitness center and a lovely boardwalk (the Esplanade). Unfortunately our tour got cancelled because the buses that they received were unfit for use. I felt really bad for them, as they rely on others' generosity to continue what to provide what their services. We ended up buying some snacks/gifts from a vendor in the terminal and just went back to wander/read on the ship.
SAIL AWAY: A large local band including bagpipers and drummers played, while a huge creepy + hilarious Hagrid-like costumed person jumped around with the too-tall head lolling around.
Day 7: Sea Day + second formal night, which we skipped by just eating in the buffet!
Day 8: Kirkwall
PLAN: T11 bus tour (pre-purchased online) and walk around Kirkwall
WEATHER: Sunny turning to cloudy and breezy/cool then warming up slightly. Definitely wear a long sleeve shirt and a jacket---a fleece too if you're sensitive to cold. Waiting outside in line was a chilly experience even in bright sunshine. I'm soooo glad it didn't rain.
KIRKWALL SHUTTLE: Complimentary, thanks to Kirkwall.
WiFi: Becomes free around 9 AM at the tourist center when it opens, but loads of people are using it too.
T11: If you are at all interested in this, buy it online (12£ pp) when you're still at home. This is a fairly new tour offered by Kirkwall but is essentially just a new bus line, so it is only transportation; do not expect commentary. We were on the first shuttle into Kirkwall from the ship (around 8 AM), and walked around the empty town until it got closer to 9 AM. There were TONS of people waiting in line, with more coming in busloads, to try to buy it in person by 9 AM when the single booth opens. If you bought it online, definitely be there before early to get called up and put at the front of the bus line! Only about 10 of us had these, and many people were turned away. For T11 there were only two double deckers that would hold about 100 people each, and the second bus was open air on the second level! With even partly sunny weather and no rain, it was too cold! People from that bus eventually crammed into our bus, even just using standing room, leaving no open seats.
If you have trouble buying online, refresh your page or try another day. Several people have had trouble despite trying weeks in advance to buy. Because of this trouble, one couple we'd met got on the first shuttle (same as us) from ship to visitor center and waited there until the ticket booth opened to buy tickets!
But even if you don’t get the T11, catch other buses, as a whole lot of people were doing instead, taking the X1 or something. Just know that the bus stops you'll then have to wait at after you get off can mean just standing in the road at an intersection, quite a distance from the site you visited. So again, if it was raining, I can’t imagine how horrible the experience would be. The T11 bus waits for you at the scheduled stops at Skara Brae and Ring of Brodgar.
GENERAL NOTE: It's important to remember you're a visitor in someone else's homeland and to be kind to each other! A number of site staff people, especially at Skara Brae/Skaill House, looked and sounded stressed and harassed by some impolite tourists who didn’t abide by clear rules or who didn’t exercise basic courtesy. Despite that, they definitely did their best to serve and answer customer questions. I’ll give them kudos for that. Can’t imagine what it is like to have 4000 foreigners vomited in waves onto my small neighborhood for most of the day.
Day 9: Invergordon
PLAN: Nothing! Go to Inverness if we feel like it.
WEATHER: Beautifully sunny and warm afternoon in Invergordon/Inverness which turned to chilly cloudy windy weather when we arrived back in Invergordon.
INVERNESS SHUTTLE: None...
INVERGORDON: ...but the locals who set up an information booth and provide a small shop and toilets are nice. I feel kind of bad that Invergordon gets overlooked as tourists head to Inverness to spend their day and money. But Invergordon does its best with upkeep, and it has mostly clean and quiet streets, with flowers along the sidewalks, and history-depicting murals. The Invergordon Church also apparently offers cruise crew free tea and coffee, WiFi, Bibles, and other things as a gesture of fellowship and kindness. I only found that out from a booklet a volunteer at the port end gave me.
TRANSPORTATION to/from INVERNESS: On High St. you can take the 25X bus or the train next to St Joseph's church. I recommend the bus, as it is far more regular than the train, and also check the schedules while you're still at home, which I astonishingly had forgotten to do. The 25X fare was 13.40£ (cash only unless you use their other official forms of payment) for two people round trip to/from Inverness, NOT 11£ as described online at whatsinport.com. However, I'm not sure what's better to take back to Invergordon.... With an all-aboard call of 5:30 PM and a 45 min ride back, we decided to head to the bus station around 3:30 PM. There was a growing crowd at stance 5, with a tense mix of tourists and locals. This is where things from Inverness and tourists were handled poorly. Inverness did not account for enough buses for the massive influx of tourists for today. Thankfully after a tense 20 minutes of some bickering and muttering among locals and tourists, a bus that pulled into stance 6 or 7 that was not in service got pulled into servicing just the cruise tourists so we could go straight to Invergordon. This was a good thing. Tourists were being quite obnoxious in their anxiety about not getting a seat and there was a disgraceful amount of shoving as people surged towards the bus. I’m afraid locals will have a very bad impression of tourists if they haven’t already, and that even tourists will have a bad feeling towards other tourists.
CROWN GRILL: I normally balk at spending extra when I know everything we need is already paid for, but relented because DH wanted to dine here because it is a good deal compared to private steakhouses. The service was great, and the rib eye steaks we ordered were delicious. I would recommend it if you want real steak---I had been a little disappointed with the beef in the main dining rooms for the entire cruise because the texture of the meat seemed really odd. My guess was that it had been preserved or brined or...?? I have no idea why it looked like that but it still tasted fine.
Day 10: Edinburgh
PLAN: Edinburgh Castle + Royal mile (same as everyone else) but would’ve loved to do Arthur’s seat if I felt confident about the timing.
WEATHER: Supposed to be a high of 79-81 degrees F but husband turned on TV around 7 AM and saw it was still only 53. In Edinburgh it was cool and humid in the morning but became quite warm and sunny, beautiful weather in the late morning/early afternoon. By late afternoon though the ship was shrouded in cool fog.
TENDER: We were waved down to deck 4 just before 7:15 AM where the first tender was waiting. The tender arrived at Hawes Pier around 7:33 AM, and the pier was slick with slime and water.
EDINBURGH SHUTTLE: Two Lothian X99 double decker buses (in great condition!) waited on the road with friendly drivers selling tickets at 6£ per adult for round trip (we paid in cash). The last returning bus was 5 PM but otherwise runs every 20 min. The bus left around 8 AM, as scheduled. Two extra X99s were waiting just beyond. These buses were provided specifically for cruisers, like the Kirkwall shuttle buses are. I found this system very efficient with constant tenders and plenty of these new buses, superior to the transportation at Invergordon. After 45 min, we got off the bus north on St. Andrews Sq.
RECOMMENDED ACTIVITIES: If you want to go to Edinburgh Castle, go early. From St. Andrews Square, we immediately walked back down to the Scottish National gallery, up The Mound, stopped at the Cafe on the Mound (because of its funny sign and our need for breakfast), up Mound Place around 9:10 AM, then Ramsay Lane, which ended abruptly at the end of a line of people already waiting for Edinburgh Castle to open! At 9:18 AM they let us into the first gate but in the area where the tattoo is held, we then split up into two lines: left side for people with online tickets and right side for people needing to buy. Both are long but needing to buy is longer. There were already a whole lot of people there. Thanks to our ticket and my research from other people's experiences, we were literally the first people at the Crown Jewels exhibit. To get here, take the stairs on the left after you turn in your ticket and enter the castle grounds. At the top of the stairs there is a building labeled something like "Crown Jewels and History" but go to the right side entrance of the building instead to see the Crown Jewels directly. For those unfamiliar with the significance of these objects though, do the history part first. ;)
Holyrood Palace was closed through July 7 due to the Queen being inside it.
Arthur’s seat looked absolutely fantastic from the ground on this beautifully sunny day. I would recommend hiking this if you have plenty of time!
We went to the interesting Museum of Childhood, shops, restaurants.
At the tender line back to the ship, Princess staff offered cool wet hand towels and drinking water.
Day 11: Sea Day
BREAKFAST: Finally got to try the Allegro experience. It's less busy than the buffet, and the pancakes and eggs are made to order.
Day 12: Le Havre
PLAN: Overlord Normandy and Bayeux tour (option 9B on their website)
WEATHER: Beautiful!!! But by the ocean definitely windy/cooler.
LE HAVRE SHUTTLE: I believe this was $8 pp one way via Princess.
TOURS MEETING PLACE: There was a surprising amount of confusion about the private tours' meeting place. Nothing was labeled and even a French port worker gave us the wrong info. On the other hand, there were TONS of Princess tour buses in main parking across the street from the terminal. If this is what you've booked, just follow most of the crowd where these buses are. It turned out that private buses and vans met across the street too but in the smaller parking area to the left of the Princess bus tours when you exit the terminal building. Then there are also buses to take disembarking passengers, which were sitting right outside the terminal exit.
OVERLORD TOUR 9B: I'd been really looking forward to this excursion since booking it. We only had 15 people in our group though this tour can take up to 50 or so. Our smaller van/bus came around just before 8 AM, though we were waiting around for a good thirty minutes already, confused before we found others in our group. There were even smaller private Overlord Tours meeting there too. Our tour guide was the very friendly and knowledgeable Yannick, who took us to the Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, then Bayeux where we got to have a lunch at a place he recommended and then see the tapestry and local cathedral, spend an hour at Honfleur, and return back to the ship around 6 PM. He gave us lots of history and personal stories of the men (and women!) sacrificed their lives in the war. It was an extremely sobering experience, and I consider myself blessed to have been able to hear the stories and pay my respects to the thousands upon thousands of people who sacrificed their lives for our freedom. I recommend visiting Normandy, and signing up with Overlord, to anyone. I also recommend seeing the Bayeux Tapestry, a remarkable piece of history. It only takes about 30 min and an audio guide is included.
Finally, back on the ship, around 8:15 PM or so we watched as the port workers prepared the ship to leave port, and the last gangway was literally about to be lifted off the the ship when in the distance we saw a black sedan gunning it into the port, past the gates, and drive right up to the ship! A lady leapt out of the car and ran to and up the gangway to the cheers of her friends watching on the upper deck. So glad she made it! Don't be the one the ship leaves behind! *shiver*
Day "13": Disembarkment
Disembarking was fairly seamless, no surprises. Heathrow was very busy, but the lines kept moving. I'm thankful that the workers there are still friendlier than the ones at JFK, though for the first time ever in my travels through JFK, a female TSA worker at JFK gave us a big smile and welcomed us back to the States. Someone give that woman from Terminal 4 a raise! Read Less