We embarked from Southhampton, England on May 1st aboard the Caribbean Princess for a twelve day cruise of the British Isles. Ports of call included Guernsey, Cork, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Kirkwall, Invergordon, Edinburgh and LeHavre. The itinerary was the main reason why we chose the Caribbean Princess. The ship was docked an average of eight hours in each port, which allowed for a good overview of each destination. We used local tour companies for providing excursions rather than booking through the cruise line and all of our tours were booked several months in advance.
Caribbean Princess Overview:
The Caribbean Princess was adequate transportation for touring these ports of call. But, we did not leave the vessel with a desire to book another Princess cruise soon. We consider three things when rating a cruise experience; Itinerary, Hospitality and Stateroom. On a scale of 1 – 10, we’d give the Itinerary a 10, Hospitality a 4 and Stateroom a 7. Included in Hospitality is food preparation and wait service, and helpfulness of customer service staff. Included in Stateroom is comfort, cleanliness and timely attention. You can read my full review of the Caribbean Princess on Cruise Critique. This is a great venue for researching future cruises and for connecting to other passengers who will be sailing with you.
Our first stop was Guernsey, where we took a self-guided walking tour of the city including Candie Gardens, Victoria Tower, the Harbor and the quaint shops of the city. Guernsey has a colorful history, which includes fairy legends, witch tales and one very notable celebrity- the French poet, Victor Hugo who wrote Les Miserables during his fifteen year exile to the island.
We booked a full day tour with E-Coach where the main attraction of the day was visiting Blarney Castle. The gardens were in full bloom and we spent most of our time enjoying a beautiful spring day among the flowers. Although time allowed, we were not inclined to climb the steps of the castle and kiss the stone. For those who do partake of this tradition, legend has it that the “gift of gab” or more authentically, “eloquence” will immediately be imparted. Now, if it were longevity or wisdom, or generations of world peace, I would be all in. Fish -n-Chips in Kinsale followed by a drive-through of Cork completed the day.
The cruise line transported passengers by coach to the City Centre which was about a thirty minute ride. There, we got onto a Hop-on-hop-off bus that we had reserved in advance. In retrospect, this decision cost us precious time. The loop that usually takes about one and a half hours to complete took much longer due to construction delayed traffic. There were twenty-two stops on the route, but we chose our top four – Dublin Castle, Trinity College, Guinness and St. Patrick’s Cathedral.
We arrived in time for the first tour of the day at Dublin Castle and received one of the best tours of the entire trip. In addition to being a major tourist attraction, the Castle houses state government offices. The Great Hall still holds Presidential inaugurations and is most impressive. Our tour included a glimpse of the ancient castle ruins several feet beneath the one that stands today. The Chapel Royal, which sits within the Castle walls, was also included in the tour. The Viceroys and their families worshiped here and each family’s coat of arms is displayed in the stained glass windows and galleries. The massive organ of the small chapel seemed disproportionate in comparison and it was clearly the centerpiece.
We walked a few blocks to Trinity College in hopes of viewing the Book of Kells, but because of serious time constraints, we could not wait the ticket line and had to satisfy ourselves with a tour of the grounds.
Ditto with the Guinness factory. We jumped off the bus and made a quick walk through, but did not have time for a tour. We did however, hoist a pint or two in a pub in Scotland which was probably a more authentic experience! The unfortunate side-effect of being on a cruise ship is that you are forced to make difficult choices. The obvious up-side is that you cover a lot of territory in a short period of time.
After about seven hours of walking, bus hopping, touring and snapping photographs, we barely made it back to the city center in time to catch one of the last shuttles back to the port. This city was a true learning experience and we were grateful to have booked excursions for most of the trip. Even though we second-guessed our decision to book a HOHO bus, we have had very good experiences when doing this in the past and recommend it for a good overview of a new city. Overall, it was wonderful day, although hurried, and we left wanting more.
We had pre-booked a bus tour with Irish Tours that left on time (8:30 a.m.) from just outside the port. David, our driver was a pleasure, as he regaled us with fanciful stories as we traveled out of town and down the coast toward Giant’s Causeway. Our stops included the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, Giant’s Causeway (an UNESCO World Heritage Sight), and Bushmill Distilleries. We also took a ride through Belfast where David’s tone got a bit more somber as he shared the story of the “Troubles” as that time in history is referred to. Reminders were everywhere, mostly in forms of art, that peace is a fragile and continual process. Signs of prosperity and unity were abundant also, and Belfast is a thriving city, with much of it’s current economic success attributed to tourism.
Today we took a beautiful ride through Duke’s Pass with a stop for photos, followed by a brief stop at Loch Lomond and a visit to Stirling Castle. The ride was beautiful, but there was not nearly enough time to tour the castle fully. We joined a 45 minute walking tour, then added about 10 more minutes to run through a couple of rooms. Stirling was built in medieval times and reflects that austerity. We heard many references to Game of Thrones, Highlander and Rob Roy as all were filmed in Scotland and are based on Scottish history. Mark, with Viator did a good job with the history lesson and kept the pace comfortable.
Images of Stirling Castle
We booked a full day tour with Invergordon Tours that left the ship at 8:30. The scenic drive into the Highlands and along the shore had several stops which included Million Dollar View (Struie Viewpoint), Dunrobin Castle, The Falls of Shin, Dornock Village for lunch and Balblair Distilleries where we learned about distilling Scotch Whiskey. Our guide Gavin owned the company and served as the guide for our small bus of just 23 passengers. He did a credible job and we would recommend his service. The highlight of the tour was the Dunrobin Castle, which belongs to the Stewart family and is kept very much like a home. The Castle was built in the 1600’s and has received several additions throughout the centuries. It was filled with period pieces and portraits of the family throughout history. We did not see salmon jumping up the falls or sea lions close to the shore, as Gavin had hoped we might, but we did get very close to some Highland cattle, which have characteristically long hair and horns. We enjoyed the back roads charm of this entire day and highly recommend this tour. You can read my Trip Advisor review here, along with many others that recommend this tour.
Images from Balblair Distillery
We had a full day tour in Edinburgh (also booked through Viator) which included stops at the Official residence of Queen Elizabeth II in Scotland, the Royal Mile, the Royal Yacht Britannia and the Edinburgh Castle. We enjoyed touring the yacht but opted for admiring the massive Castle from afar. The entrance fee to the Castle is not included in the tour price and we did not think that there was sufficient time to tour it fully and still have time to explore the city. Having learned our lesson at Stirling Castle, we weighed our options and went with exploring the city. This is one castle tour that should not be rushed and we recommend it to any Scottish history buff.
The Royal Yacht Britannia Interior Images
Edinburgh was our last port of call on the Caribbean Princess. After one more day at sea we arrived at Le havre, France, where we left the ship and boarded a train to Paris.
Malcolm and I thoroughly enjoy the challenge of planning a highly intricate train or car trip, that allows flexibility. But, there is something to be said for the ease of cruising. You may not get to linger as long as you would like in all of your favorite places, and being spontaneous is rarely an option, but you simply cannot beat the comfort of a traveling hotel room. Unpack once and let the fun begin!
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