First, about the ship: My husband chose this cruise for his 60th birthday. We splurged a Window Suite, as Caribbean Princess is one of the few that has them. (very large room, all suite amenities, but no balcony makes it a price-point that is great.) The suite on level 6 was steps away from the piazza, shopping, front desk, café, theatre, etc. and we LOVED the location. Only a handful of cabins on the floor in a private corridor, it was incredibly quiet. Only occasionally could you hear someone moving a deck chair right above you (happened maybe three times in 12 days, and lasted only seconds.) In fact, the only complaint we had about the 341 SF room was that you could hear something (anchor maybe) when it docked. And the new duvets on the great beds was TOO HOT!
FOOD: Suite only breakfast in Sabatini's was awesome, with amazing service and peaceful. Food on the cruise in general was very good. We rarely ate outside of dining rooms, as the buffet is usually too loud and you have to find a table. A perk of being in a cruise is Club Class dining. They save one section of a dining room for this, with a separate entrance, and it is anytime dining for suites, elite status patrons, and some mini-suites. It is the same menu as the other dining rooms, plus a special entrée and usually a dessert. We had lobster 4 times on this cruise! There was always something amazing on the regular menu too, and the custom desserts by Love are not to be missed. So unless we had to have whatever the specialty was, we ate at our assigned table with 8 other people.
The burgers and the pizza poolside were very good too. We had never eaten at the Crown Grill before, even though this was our 6th Princess cruise, and we thought it was fantastic. Definitely worth the extra fee. We ate for free at Sabatini's on first night (suite perk) but I was less impressed with it. Still very good, but Italian seafood is really not my thing. You have to really pace yourself to make it all through the courses, and the dessert was a work of art. I actually skipped the pasta course, and that turned out to be a good decision.
ENTERTAINMENTt: with the exception of one crude comedian who insulted almost everyone in the theatre at one point in his routine, the entertainment was very good. We missed the big Princess show Bravo, but I heard that it was excellent. However, the cooking show with the head chef and the head maître d was hilarious! The ship brought on guest entertainers at many ports and they were all great. The group of musicians and Irish dancers that performed while docked in Dublin were awesome. The Scottish version from Edinburgh was said to be very good but we were on shore when they performed. Vocalist Glen McNamara did a Rat Pack and Michael Buble routine that was fabulous. We went to more shows on this cruise than any other we have been on. You just had to get there EARLY for the 8 or 8:30 show.
PORTS: Guensey: this is a small island in the English Channel very near the French coast. We only had a few hours in port and we didn't plan on even going ashore, as jet lag still hadn't abated, but it was such a beautiful day, we took the tender over to the port and just walked around the shopping area right at the bay. It was mostly clothes, banks and chocolate, but if you had your hairspray confiscated by TSA like I did, there is an drug store to get stuff you forgot. There are some things to do here, but we were trying to pace ourselves, as 9 ports in 12 days is A LOT!!!
COBH (pronounced "cove"). The ship docks within a few feet of the train station, which has a train every hour into Cork, and it is only 6 Euros to Cork. We were planning to take the train into Cork to catch the Jameson bus to Midleton for the distillery tour, but the ship was late docking (due to tides in Guernsey) so we missed the right train. Instead we hired a taxi to take us into Cork for 30 Euros (meter said is should have been 39 Euros, but he had quoted us and he was honorable.) Anyway, the taxi driver was also a tour guide, and he told us all about the area for the 30 minute trip into Cork. Since we were early to catch the Jameson bus, he insisted that we tour the English Market and then walk back to the bus. IT is GREAT! Pictures on the web do not do it justice. My husband wants to move to Cork just so he can do our grocery shopping there.
Next we made the Jameson bus, which is free and takes you straight to the front door of the Jameson Experience. This is not to be missed. We went on 5 distillery tours on the trip and this was the best. And after the 11am tour (we booked and paid online) we ate at their café, which was great. We had just enough time to finish eating before catching the bus back into Cork, arriving city center around 1:45. Then we just walked to the train station (maybe 1 mile away) and went back to the ship. The train schedule had added more trains when we were in port to handle the load, so we didn't need to rush after all.
DUBLIN: the ship is in port from early morning till 11pm, so if you have that much energy, Dublin is the town to do it in! We were here on a Sunday, so the hours for many museums, etc, were very short (but free) so we just did the very reasonably priced HopOn HopOff bus, leaving the ship after the crowds and had lunch. The ship provided FREE buses from the industrial port to a square in town. Once off the bus, you will be swamped with people trying to get you onto their HOHO, as there are 3 companies in town that do this. We took the yellow one, and if we were beer drinkers, it would have been an incredible deal as they had coupons for free beer in 2 pubs, pretty much covering the cost of the HOHO. Instead, we just rode around on the top deck, (another gorgeous day) and listened to the guide. After a complete circuit, we got off near Grafton Street, had a snack at a local hangout, and went shopping. Grafton Street and surrounding streets were mobbed, but a very festive atmosphere. Then we just walked back to the bus drop-off location and went back to the ship. At dinner, the waiter asked if we were going back out!
BELFAST: Once again a free bus into the city. Again we did a HOHO, which again was excellent value. We got off at the Titanic Experience, a new museum that is excellent. It has great, modern visuals, holograms, a ride, etc. It only opened in 2012 on the 100th anniversary of the sinking, so it is really state of the art. It was built on the dock where the Titanic was built. We arrived at lunchtime so ate at a burger place off a side street that was very good. Then we went into the museum. Unbeknownst to us, it was a national holiday, and the museum was packed with school kids. But we still managed to tour the place in about 90 minutes. If you had a reason to read all those captions below all the pictures, etc. you could spend up to 4 hours in there, but it was too crowded and we didn't have any relatives who had worked on the ship, so we sort of skimmed through. It was still very good. When we got back on the HOHO, our tour guide told us about all the horrific happenings in Belfast that only officially ended 20 years ago. The numerous murals around the city have guys holding machine guns, etc. Between the murals, the still active gates within the city, and the graphic description from the tour guide, we were pretty depressed by the time we had finished the HOHO circuit and couldn't wait to leave the city.
GLASGOW: We didn't want to do any of the excursions from the ship or any I could find from regular tours, so we hired Duncan McNab of Edinburgh Day Tours to take us where we wanted to go out of Greenock, the port 27 miles from Glasgow. Duncan was awesome, and would have been a great steal if we had had a full van. He was 360 pounds for the day, from 2 to 6 guests. With just the 2 of us, it was reasonable, and he was great. We went to Stirling Castle, (arriving before the buses), to a woolen mill that also had a herding demonstration using geese!, and to see the Highland cow (long-haired longhorns) before we ended up at Auchentoshen Distillery. Absolutely lovely day.
KIRKWALL: the Orkney islands at the top of Scotland seem to have excursions to 5000 year old artifacts, but we were interested in Highland Park Distillery, a world renowned Scotch manufacturer. So we took the free bus from the port into the tiny town (6 minutes away) and walked the shopping district, which was very nice. Then we made it back to the port to be picked up by a Highland Park rep (they offered when I emailed them months before) and whisked us to the distillery for the Connoisseur Tour. So worth the price. Of all the distillery tours we took, this was the most informative as far as sampling whisky. After the tour and tasting, another rep took us back to the ship. At the dock, there is a small building that had tables set up for vendors. We bought the most amazing homemade shortbread cookies and whisky marmalade, but there was also lots of homemade wool yarn products and other crafts to buy. Do NOT miss stopping in and supporting the local people. And cheap!
INVERGORDON: After internet searching, I found Invergordon Day Tours and booked them because of the price and itinerary. So glad I found them! Gavin is a 34 year old exuberant guide who set up the business after traveling the world a few years. He grew up in Invergordon and created tours that he would take his own visiting friends on. His half-size bus is great, holding about 25 people. Instead of trying to spot Nessie, we went the other direction and after stops at a scenic waterfall and lookouts, went to Dunrobin Castle, which is fully furnished, still in use, and in excellent condition. But the highlight is the falconry show in the immense gardens. (also owl and hawks). Then he took us to Royal Durnoch, a very old village with a historic cathedral and golf course, to find our own lunch and shopping, before going to Glen Morangie Distillery for a tour. He was VERY conscious of the time, and we made it back 40 minutes before All-aboard. His cost for the entire day, including the castle and distillery entrance fees, was only 70 pounds! Lunch was on us, but he told us the best places to go, and since it wasn't really a tourist town, it was very reasonable. Just awesome day!
EDINBURGH: The ship does not have a free bus into the city, but right off the tender pier is a bus that takes you from there into Edinburgh for 10 pounds, 15 Euros, or 15 dollars round trip. The last bus leave Edinburgh at 5pm, but we were ready to leave by then, as walking in the very hilly city is exhausting.
We got off the bus at Charlotte Square, which isn't too far from Edinburgh Castle, but we were headed for Holyrood, so after walking to a main street we caught a taxi down there (7 pounds) and went to the Palace. I had checked online before leaving to make sure that Queen Elizabeth would not be in residence, as it is closed to the public when she is. It was a beautiful, warm and sunny Saturday, so it there was a pretty long line to get tickets, but the Palace didn't seem crowded at all. You get a video guide that tells you about each room as you enter it. Unless you want to hold the walkie-talkie type thing up to your ear the whole time, like we did, bring your earbuds. The palace is in great shape, and the commentary was excellent. After the Palace, we walked uphill the whole way to the base of Edinburgh Castle, stopping for random shopping and lunch. We had a 2:40 reservation for a tour at The Whisky Experience, which is at the top of the Royal Mile just before the gate to Edinburgh Castle. We were early so went shopping at a unique 3 story atrium store across the street. The Whisky Experience is a collaborative owned by all the distilleries in Scotland, so their take on things is more about how and why, versus just focusing on individual whiskies. It has a barrel ride as part of its tour, which is very entertaining, but if I had not already been other distillery tours, it would have been a little confusing as to the making of scotch. After the ride, there is an almost panoramic movie about the 5 regions of scotch making, and the differences between them, with beautiful, National Geographic style photos. Then you select which region you want to taste a whisky from. That is the Silver Tour. The Gold tour has the addition of sitting in their tasting bar in lounge chairs, and getting samples of whisky from 4 regions. If you want to taste anything else, then that is additional, but they have just about everything. Their gift store is pretty amazing too. A little tipsy, we speed-walked back to Charlotte Square to catch the second to last bus back to the pier. The last tender wasn't for another hour, so we checked out the gift shops across the street from the pier, where we bought some tweed stuff and a pewter sculpture. You can spend days and days in Edinburgh, so we will be back. My husband bought a couple St. Andrews polos in a gift shop, and they turned out to be WAY cheaper than buying them at St. Andrews, we found out.
LeHAVRE: Last port of the trip is at the mouth of the Seine River, but it is a 3 hour bus ride into Paris, and we had been to Paris several times before, so we were going to take a Princess excursion into Rouen (medieval town where Joan of Arc was burned). I wanted to see the architecture there, but once we got onboard and got our excursion tickets, we discovered that the bus didn't even leave till 1:15, returning at All Aboard time, 7:30. Since this was the last day of the cruise, we had to pack. Plus it was my husband's birthday, so we didn't want to miss dinner with our table-mates. So we cancelled the tour and just took a bus into LeHavre for the day. The bus was NOT free, (16 Euros round trip for a fairly short ride) has overcrowded, and hot! Then once we got into the city it was pretty much deserted! It was another national holiday, and there wasn't so much as a café open. So we walked around to very eerie post modern city, (the city was leveled on D-Day and entirely rebuilt in the next decade, so the whole city is 5 story apartment buildings with retail on the ground floor), checked out the museum (that turned out to have NOT Impressionists but had an contemporary exhibit that was X-rated) and were back on the ship by 1pm. Really disappointing. Most we talked to that evening went to Normandy, which they said was great.
Overall, we had such a great time that we are considering doing the exact same itinerary in a couple years. So much to do in every port! I actually lost weight on the cruise because of all the walking we did. (and NOT eating in the all-you-can-eat buffet). In hindsight, the only things I would have done differently was go on a different excursion in Belfast and in LeHavre. Next time.... Read Less