Just returned from London after sailing thru the British Isles on the Golden Princess. The weather was great, almost heatwave temps. We spent 2 days before the cruise in London at a small B & B since the hotels offered by Princess were soon sold out. We boarded in Southampton very quickly and easily. The overall look of this ship was great.
The staff was friendly and we were happy to meet our Cruise Director Chris Nichol on board for the 3rd time and he as usual put on some great events. Lots of trivia games and lots of interesting things to do. The tours of the ship were not easy, required some stamina and we were very lucky to have had great weather. Main reason we booked this cruise was to see the famous Tattoo Performance at Edinburgh Castle and it was awesome, never to be forgotten.
Food was okay and we did have a nice room with a very good,attentive room steward. The only port we missed was Holyhead in Wales, due to high waves which prevented the tenders from the ship to shore. All in all, we enjoyed theamenities of being repeat and Elite passengers and Princess does a wonderful job at what they do. We are booked with our group for the Tahitian Princess for our second cruise there in October and still another for Christmas and New Years to Mexico for 11 days. We are partial to Princess!
Pre-cruise in London
We left home on August 6th for a 3-night pre-cruise stay in London. While we took our flight through Princess, we booked the hotel on our own and therefore saved $900 - which is not a bad thing considering how expensive London is!
Our British Airways direct flight was uneventful and we arrived at Heathrow at 9h30 on Monday the 7th. We had to wait for more than an hour to go through customs. Thankfully, the car I had reserved on the internet ahead of time was still waiting for us. The journey to city center took about 45 minutes and cost £39.
We stayed at the Jolly St-Ermins hotel. This hotel was built in the 1700s and was in fact a monastery. But it was converted into a hotel in the Victorian era, and is a great witness of the grandeur of that era. It was recently renovated, and some of the rooms are still underdoing restauration. This hotel was right across from New Scotland Yard, only a few minutes from Westminster and Buckingham. St-James Park tube station is literally around the corner, less than 2 minutes walkingdistance. Upon arrival, the concierge stored our luggage, as we were told that the room would not be ready before 2 pm. So we decided to buy tickets to the Hop On Hop Off bus which would be easy after an overnight flight and jetlag. We had a quick bite to eat nearby at The Albert pub, and then walked to Victoria Station to get on the HOHO bus (£18 pp - ticket valid for 3 circuits, and for 24 hrs). Weather was a bit cool and even if we had a few drops, we had a great afternoon touring the city. We got off at Buckingham and got back to the hotel where we could check in to our room. The hotel lobby is beautiful, with a sumptuous mezzanine and molded plaster ceilings from the best 19th century palace. Our room was spacious with two beds, a large bathroom with a nice bath, very efficient A/C, a small fridge, pant press, hair dryer. Everything we needed was there. The hallways were showing a bit of wear and tear, but everything was clean and I would go back to this hotel in a heartbeat.
After a welcomed nap, we had dinner on Victoria Street at Pizza Express (Roz from our roll call had recommended this place and it was indeed very good and reasonable). We then walked to Westminster. The street was packed with people! We crossed the bridge and listen to Big Ben ring 9 o'clock! The Parliament buildings and Eye of London are simply outstanding in the lights of the night!
London Day 2
Our included continental breakfast was typical of European breakfast buffet - breads, danishes and muffins, cold cut meats, cheeses, cold cereals, juices, jams, fruits and yogurts. The breakfast room was really beautiful - an old ballroom! Staffs were mostly Italians and were extremely efficient and friendly.
We left early for Buckingham Palace as we had seen a huge line-up the day before ... We got there at 9h15, and we only had a few minute wait before buying our tickets which were for the 10h00 entrances (£14). The waiting area is well organized under big canopies with long benches - so you wait sitting sheltered from sun or rain. We visited the Staterooms and had access to the special exhibition of the Queen's dresses and jewelry for her 80th birthday. We've visited several palaces and royal residences in many countries over the years, and I must say that we while this palace is not really impressive from the outside, it is impeccable inside. The furniture, textiles, mirrors, drapes, artwork, carpets, everything was well kept and in perfect shape. It is a beautiful palace. The special exhibit was also very interesting and we learned about the various designers that have dressed the queen over the years. I also spotted a group from our Roll Call (TXTraveler, jga, friends and family)! That was fun!! At the end of the tour we walked through the gardens toward the exit. It was very sad to see the totally burned grass and wilting flowers...
We got back on the HOHO bus to continue the circuit we had started yesterday. Some bus offers the multi-language earphones and some have live guides which can be a lot nicer.
Back in April, I had purchased tickets for the BBC Proms concert at the Royal Albert Hall. These concerts are offered every night of July and August and are a tradition that dates over 100 years. The particularity is that they remove all of the orchestra seats so that people can stand and walk in that area (hence the name Proms from Promenade). These standing tickets can only be purchased the day of the performance and are only £5! We opted for a bit more comfort, and got tickets in a private box (£18). This circular theater was built in the Victorian era and is a beautiful building. We had dinner in one of the Hall's restaurant and food was really good and reasonably priced. Not many tourists know about this event and we were amidst Londoners which was really fun. This was truly a great evening!
London Day 3
This morning, we visited Westminster Abbaye (£10 adult, £6 senior). This was a great tour. If these walls could talk... For more than 1000 years, every British sovereign was crowned here, and so many noblemen have found eternal rest here. Do not miss the Henry VII Chapel, Poet's corner, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots tombs, and also the museum which contains very surprising pieces. We also spent time in the cloister and its beautiful gardens where a brass band was giving a lunch concert. It was perfect for our lunch picnic.
We then bought a day pass for the Tube and Bus (£4.90). This allows you to get on any bus or tube after 9h30 for the whole day. We went to Piccadilly to do a bit of shopping at Fortnum and Mason, and then the inevitable Harrods! We then went on to the Victoria and Albert museum. All the museums are free in London, and this one is open until 10 pm on Wednesdays (not all rooms are opened, and it changes from week to week so if there are things you absolutely want to see, make sure you get there before 6 pm or you'll be disappointed). This is an unbelievable museum, it is absolutely fantastic! The building is not only beautiful but it contains incredible collections of ancient objects, furniture, clothing, decorative art, paintings, sculptures, etc. Full description and videos are available to help the visit, and you can take picture (with flash) of everything!!! I've never seen anything like it - can you image taking pictures in the Louvres or the Ermitage?? Well I tried and was almost kicked out of both... but you can here!! That night had two special events: a Jamaican reggae barbecue night in the central court, and a techno dance and cocktail event in the Raphael room! Cocktails and dance amidst the largest Raphael paintings in the world... that was absolutely bizarre, but Oh so much fun!! It was rather unusual for a museum, but again, attracted mostly locals and was an interesting event to partake. We got back on the double-decker to get back to the hotel where we had our last dinner.
London Day 4 - Transfer to Southampton & Embarkation
We woke up this morning to the news that a terrorist plot had been unraveled during the night, and being across from Scotland Yard, the hotel area was a bit hectic. So it took a while to get a cab. But our transfer to Southampton could not have been easier. Our cab ride to Victoria Coach Station took about 10 minutes (£8). We got there at 11 am and easily found the platform reserved for Princess (the last one #20). A Princess agent took our voucher and told us to bring our luggage to a truck unto which all luggage would be loaded and sent separately. We then waited inside about 45 minutes - not many seats were available and many people were standing. For some reason, the agent took us aside and took us to the limited mobility bus (still don't know why - he probably found my mom cute...) but ended up being great as we had lots of room on the bus. We left at Noon sharp and got to the pier in less than 2 hours. While it was an easy transfer, it is a bit pricy ($95CAD). One could easily get on the National Express bus from the same place we were, for about £6, and then take a taxi to the pier, but you'd have to deal with the luggage. So we opted for convenience, and frankly I have no regret.
When we got inside, the line seemed long, we in less than 20 minutes we were in our cabin!! Registering your information online ahead of time does make everything much smoother.
We had opted for an obstructed view cabin as we knew we wouldn't take advantage of a balcony on this cooler cruise. Our cabin E231 was on Emerald Deck 8. We were pleasantly surprised as we had a great view - we were between two tenders! We really enjoyed this location as we were really close to the forward elevators and staircase, which made getting around real easy - also, one deck down and we were on Promenade deck, and we could also get out onto Upper Promenade at the end of our hallway.
The cabin was spacious, with a wonderful open wardrobe. The bathroom was snug but we got used to it. Beds were comfortable, and we could fit all our suitcases under them. We didn't see our room stewardess until the next day... we found that very strange, but it was a foretaste of what our service was to be. Magaly did not speak English and it made her very uncomfortable, so she avoided any encounters with her passengers. The room was kept clean, and she did provide extra pillows and bathrobes, but she would never say hello when we saw her, and she would constantly enter the room without knocking even if I told her we were using the 'service room' card when we were out of the room. Often our room wasn't cleaned until 1 pm... This was definitely different than any other cruise experience we've had. But from other cruiser's review, many had a great service. We just weren't as lucky on this one!
Sail away and Cruisecritic Meet & Greet
At 16h15, we went for the muster drill at the Princess theatre. It lasted about 30 minutes. We had set-up our first CC Meet & Greet after the drill at the White piano lounge on Promenade... piano turned out to the black!! It was great. So many people turned out! Jga had graciously prepared name tags for everyone, so it was easy to spot the people we had spend months preparing this cruise with. Ourlol presented Bobwinters with the much talked about green thongs!! Our Roll Call group has been incredible and truly made this cruise very special!
Dining Room, Buffet and Room Service
We opted for Traditional 2nd Service which was at 20h30 in the Canaletto dining room. This dining room was difficult to access at first as it is on Deck 6 Aft, but can only be accessed by Deck 7, because of the Galley on Deck 6. We had requested and were granted a table for 6. Our tablemates turned out to be the best ever!! Our servers, Christian and Georges from Romania, were competent and friendly. Christian had a different story everynight, and even brought pictures of this wife and dog! Food was satisfactory - no longer 5 star gastronomy but as good as a decent restaurant, with some nights better than others. Meats were tasty (pork and veal better than beef), and lobster tails were excellent.
The Horizon buffet, which we used for morning and lunches, was adequate. Breakfast does get a bit monotonous after 10 days, but as someone else said, I'm not sure what else they could have offered! Lunch was varied - they offered sushis twice and had some ethnic specialties everyday. The grill and pizzeria had the usual offering, and while some people raved about the pizza, I found it overcooked most of the time. But there are enough options to keep anyone happy!
We only went to Tea at the Bernini dining room only once (with a group from CC). We enjoyed it. We were served sandwiches - smoked salmon's were delicious - then, we had scones with strawberry jam and whipped cream ... mmmm!
Room Service was very efficient. Even if the order card only had continental items on it, they obliged every other request we wrote on it. Same for the time of delivery - the earlier choice on the order form is 7h00, and we also asked for 6h00. We received it sharply at 6h00 everytime. We like having our breakfast in the room especially for the morning where we have early excursions!
Speaking of excursions, here is a summary of our port of calls and excursions:
Falmouth - tendered
The first tenders started early - they started giving tickets at 6h45. We had cancelled our planned Princess excursion and decided to go ashore with two CC fellows. We went to the Explorer lounge for the tender tickets at 9h30 and were promptly brought down to the tender. The tender ride was fairly long - about 20 minutes. We were greeted by the Falmouth Pride Ambassadors, a bunch of volunteers who gave us maps and brochures and told us about the two free shuttles offered by the city. One was going to Pendennis Castle while the other one went in the city center. We visited Pendennis, (£4.5) a forteress built by Henry VIII and used by the British Military until WWII. It was an interesting visit and we had a splendid view of the Fal estuary as well as the ship anchored away. We then took the other shuttle to get into town. It's a small town with a few stores, some pubs and a great church built by Charles II in memory of his martyr father, Charles I. Do not miss buying a Cornish pasty from Oggy Oggy Pasties - as great for your eyes as your tastebuds!! From the city center, you could get the ferry from Prince of Wales pier to go to St-Mawes, where you can visit another castle build in the same era as Pendennis. Onve in the city you can also easily go back to the tender pier by walking along the shore - it's a 20 minute walk, and you can also visit the Falmouth Maritime Museum along the way. The tender ride back to the ship took a little longer as we had to go very slow because of all the sailboats coming into the harbor for the annual regatta. It was pretty special to be amidst all of those sailboats! A quiet but very good day overall!
Holyhead - Sea Day!!
We were supposed to meet our CC group for a tour organized by Dawnprincess but at around 7h00 the captain announced that we were about two hours from Holyhead, and finally that he was aborting our stop because the sea conditions were unsafe to tender people to shore. Dawnprincess rapidly emailed the tour operator to advise him that we would not be there. After much back and forth with the manager, he finally agreed to reimburse 50% of the total tour cost, which everyone agreed was fair so each couple ended up paying £30 as a penalty. I felt terrible for Dawnprincess - she had worked so hard to put this tour together for us, and she and her DH were looking forward to this tour as they had previously missed it as well in a land tour!! Having an extra day at sea turned out to be welcomed as this was a very busy itinerary and we were exhausted from our pre-cruise in London.
The cruise director was quick to reprint a Patter with more activities for everyone's enjoyment.
The ship got into port at 2h00 am since we missed our Holyhead stop. We could be out of the ship by 7h00. We got out at 8h30 and were able to get on the Princess shuttle (5$ pp, per way, charged on your shipboard account). The shuttle dropped us at the corner of Nassau and Kildare street, close to Trinity College and Grafton St. From there, we got onto the HOHO bus (€12.50 pp - reduced price with our London HOHO ticket - regular price is €15). We went through the Georgian neighborhood of Merrion Square where Oscar Wilde lived, saw St-Patrick and Christ Church Cathedrals, Temple Bar area, we drove through Guinness city, then by the Liffey to Phoenix park, an immense urban park where the President of Ireland's residence is. We then drove up and down O'connell St. and we got off at Trinity College. We went in the courtyard of the College but as we were hungry, decided to not go in. We went to Grafton St. and had a Fish & Chips and Guinness lunch at a pub. We shopped a bit, and then went on to Nassau St. to look at House of Ireland and Blarney Woolen Mills. At around 5 pm we took the shuttle back to the ship.
The show tonight was a terrific performance from local artists - musicians and dancers that performed Irish folk songs and dances. This was a great way of ending our time in Dublin!
Last February, I had proposed our CC group to arrange a tour in Belfast. I contacted close to 17 companies, and Daniel Monaghan of Dial-a-bus was prompt to answer my inquiries, helpful in setting up itinerary and didn't charge any deposit, which is always great when setting up a tour for people you don't really know. We met our tour guide on the pier at 8h00. The 16-seater Mercedes mini-van was probably a little tight for 16 people, but we still had a great day. Drew, our driver-guide, advised us right away that the Bushmills Distillery was closed for two weeks but proposed to stop at Ballygally Castle to visit a supposedly haunted tower, instead. We took the coastal road of the Antrim Coast, and had a few stops along to way. At Carrick-a-rede rope bridge, we were told that the walk to the bridge was about 20 minutes, so a stop there would take about an hour and would take us the to Causeway too late and would probably mean that we wouldn't have time to see the city of Belfast. Even if some in our group wanted to cross the bridge we opted to continue toward the Causeway. It was probably a sound decision as a huge line or cars and buses were waiting to come in as we exited at 12h45! We had almost 2 hours at the Causeway. We watched the AV presentation, and then the more courageous walked down, as most of us took the shuttle. We had plenty of time to explore, then do a bit of shopping and have lunch at the cafeteria. We then went to Dunluce Castle and stopped there for about 20 minutes. We took the highway to get back to Belfast, and had a thorough tour of the city center, the harbour where Titanic was built, new water front, and also of the Troubles areas. Drew took us on both side of the Peach Wall to see the murals of both camps. It was a tremendous tour, much more complete than the ones offered by Princess for a quarter of the price... £270 (£17 pp or about 35$ pp compared to $145 for Princess tour that only went to the Causeway).
We returned to the pier at 16h30 after a great and complete day.
The ship was greeted by a bagpiper early this morning! What a welcome! Just outside the ship, a large tent was installed with many kiosk selling Scottish specialties and souvenirs. Volunteers were also greeting us with a ton of brochures and information on the region and Scotland. Free tours were also available - they had 3 different tours, some walking and some in a bus. They simply ask for a voluntary contribution at the end to support their organization. I think this is a wonderful initiative and really great for people not wanting to go too far.
We had reseved for a morning tour of Glasgow with Princess. We went to the Princess theater and were escorted out to meet our guide and bus. The unfortunate thing is that our escort was hurrying us up to get to the bus and we couldn't get our picture taken with the bagpiper... Our guide, Moira, gave us a good historical background of the area noting how important the sugar and tobacco trade had been. Evidently, after the US War of Independence, these industries suffered and became obsolete. We can still see the buildings that housed the sugar refineries, now being converted into condos. In 45 minutes we were in Glasgow. Our only stop was at the Glasgow Cathedral that we visited. We also saw the oldest house in the city built in the 1400s. It was a quick overview of this second city of Scotland. We were back on the ship at 12h30, which was fine as we wanted to have a bit of down time before our night expedition to the Edinburgh Tattoo.
Our Tattoo tour was called for 16h40 at the Princess Theater and we decided to go a bit early. We got there at 16h15 and were in the 13th bus!! So, if you want to leave a bit earlier, get to the theater ahead of time! Also not a bad idea to be there early as every bus stops at the same place for the 'pit stop' en route to Edinburgh. That was a long line for the the ladiesroom! Our bus left at 17h00 and we arrived in Edinburgh at 19h00. During the journey, our escort gave everyone their Tattoo ticket, and told us several times that we were responsible for our tickets - if we lost it, they could not give us a duplicate. Our bus parked close to the Georges IV Bridge, just steps from the Castle entrance. The show did not start until 21h00, and since we had reserved seats, there was no rush to get in. We had about 1.5 hours to walk the Royal Mile which was packed with people and street artist for the Fringe Festival. We went to a pub nearby and had a Guinness - this was just an excuse to use the bathroom before the show!! We also did a bit of shopping - just remember you have to carry it to the show!
The highlight of our cruise: Edinburgh Military Tattoo!!
With Edinburg Castle in the background, this show is a must see! 600 military musicians, with more than 100 bagpipers! Each tableau showed the extent of these military bands' skills in music, drill and even dance! The choreographies were all unique and original. The projections on the castles added to the magnificence of the event. Along with the Scottish Pipers were military bands from Switzerland, Chili, Japan, Nepal and New Zealand. The pinnacle of the event was the poignant performance of the Lone Piper on top of the castle! Unforgettable!
Interesting fact: The word Tattoo comes from the Dutch - in the 17-18th c. when they were calling the Scots to combat, the piper would play while they told the pub owner 'Doe den tap toe' - Turn off the taps!
You can rent a cushion for £1 at the bottom of the bleacher - a great idea cause it's not only more comfortable but also warmer. There are portable toilets available at the Tattoo, but the lines are long - better do a pit stop at one of the Pub on the Royal Mile ahead of time!
Finally - take lots of film or memory cards with you!! I filled a 512 MB memory stick just for the Tattoo!
At the end of the show, we got back to the bus and left at about 23h30. We got back in Greenock at 1h15. Thankfully, the Horizon Court was still open and waiting for us. We joined the crowd for a quick bite before falling into our beds after a long but wonderful day!
A well deserved day of rest (and laundry!!). The sea was somewhat rough today as we made our way into the North Sea. The lack of sleep probably didn't help, but I felt a little queasy this morning (first time in 12 cruises) but I followed my Mom's advice and nibbled on some bread and sipped tea while watching the pool emtying itself for the greatest pleasure of the kids swimming in it!
Two of our Roll Call members (2Ladies and Suziecruise) had organized our CC Get Together at the Skywalker Disco. 2Ladies' great influence got us Chris Nichols, the cruise director to spend some time with us, and we even had champagne and mimosa!! A lot of people showed up and I think everyone agrees that it was very special to be able to spend time and exchange with the people we had spend months chatting and planning this wonderful cruise!
We then went for tea with TXTraveler's group and family. How lovely!! We had great smoked salmon sandwiches (no thanks to the waiter who thought they were tomato sandwiches...) and scones with jam and whipped cream!
After tea we had to get ready for this last Gala evening!
As Captain's Circle members, we were invited to the Captain's Cocktail party at 19h15 at the Vista Lounge. They served hors d'oeuvres and cocktails, and the captain went through the usual presentations and awards. They had such a past cruisers turn out (more than 1000) that they had to have 3 parties!!
After organizing the Belfast tour last winter, our Roll Call group was also interested in doing something in the Highlands. So I started my research back in February and found a great guide. I contacted the Blue Badge Guide of Scotland association and they referred me to Alastair Cunningham of Clans and Castles.
He was wonderful to deal with and helped built a great itinerary. I had to send him, through PayPal, a first deposit to secure a bus, and then a second deposit a few weeks before the trip to pay for the bus. Alastair was upfront about charges in case of cancellation and sent me a contract for all due services. I wasn't too worried as this was a docked port. He met us as promised dockside, wearing is family tartan kilt! Alastair was wonderful and I think every one in our group would agree, one of the highlight of our excursions!
Our first stop was in Beauly, a small village a few miles from Inverness where we visited of the Priory built in 1230. Beauly was named by Mary Queen of Scots who exclaimed when she saw the beauty of this village 'Quel beau lieu' (What a beautiful site)! Next stop was Urquhart Castle. Do not miss the AV presentation relating the history of the castle with a very realistic reconstruction of the castle. The show ends with the screen lifting up, and the curtains opening on a spectacular view of the ruins. We then had plenty of time to explore the ruins, admire Loch Ness with the brilliant sun that showed up just for us (Thanks Cass...) and also enjoy a quick bite at the Visitor Center.
Before getting into Inverness for a quick city tour, we stopped at Drumnodrochit, gateway to Loch Ness for a quick shop stop to get the famous and unavoidable Nessie! Nymue (Anne) was such a sweetie and bought me the cutest green monster - it even plays the pipes - as a thank you for arranging the tours! I was really touched by her thoughtfulness!
We then drove to Cawdor Castle for a visit. The dowager Countess of Campbell of Cawdor still lives in this castle which made the visit so much more interesting. The castle was originally built in the 1400's and got expanded in the 1700s. Each room is filled with rare and ancient objects, artwork, tapestries, and antique furniture, but also recent pictures, books, notes etc. It's lived in. The English and French-style gardens were also worth visiting as they were at their zenith! Alastair was full of historical anecdotes and made this visit very interesting.
We then stopped at Clava Cairns to view some pre-historical burial grounds. Clava Cairns has three large cairns (mounds of stones) dating from the end of the Neolitic Era (4400-2000 BC). This park was simply beautiful.
We ended our day with a stroll on the Culloden battlefields, site of the last Jacobite battle in Britain in 1746. All in all a wonderful day in the Highlands with a professional guide, Alastair, and a wonderful driver Jim! I would highly recommend Clans and Castles for touring this amazing part of the world! They got us back at the pier for 5h15, just in time to listen to the Bagpipers that came to wish us Farewell! The ship sailed to the last notes of the bagpipes, slowly being replaced by the sounds of the waves... unforgettable!
South Queensferry - tendered
We woke up to thick fog - we couldn't even see the massive South Queensferry Bridge under which we were anchored. Pea soup! The captain told us that he couldn't authorize the tenders to bring passengers ashore because of the low visibility. I had bought tickets for the HOHO bus and the Royal Yacht Britannia on the internet and was a bit nervous that we wouldn't be able to go. But at around 9h00, they announced that the tenders would start bringing people ashore. The captain also hired river cruise boats to accelerate the transfer of passengers. We rapidly got tender tickets from the Explorer Lounge and were able to be ashore at around 9h30. We got a cab, along with 4 people we met at the cab station, to get to Edinburg. They charged us £25 (for 6 people). The journey was about 30 minutes. We got off at Waverly Bridge where all the HOHO bus are stationed. We drove through the Botanical Gargens, and the outer areas of the city such as New Haven and Leith. We got off in Leith, were the Royal Yacht Britannia is docked. Having purchased our tickets ahead of time, we were able to go in front of the queue and start our visit right away! Built in 1953 for Elizabeth II the yacht was used by the royal family until 1997. We were able to see the Officers quarters, the sailors' quarters, the common rooms and pubs, the Royal family rooms, the reception rooms, kitchens, living rooms and also the engine rooms and other 'behind the scene' areas. The décor is simple but classy, very 50s and little has changed since it was created. The Queen's and Prince Philippe's beds are single 36 in beds ... and the nuptial bed, ordered by Prince Charles for his wedding to Diana is only 50 inches! The walls showcase the numerous gifts received during the various trips they made on the yacht as well as tons of family pictures. The entrance ticket includes an audio-guide (£8) which really enhances the visit. At the end of the visit, we can also see the Royal péniche. The yacht is docked at the Ocean Terminal, adjacent to a large mall. We had a quick bite to eat in on the restaurant on the dockside, alond the Jean de la Lune, Leith's own Tall Ship! After lunch we got back on the HOHO bus to finish our circuit. We got off on the Ryal Mile across from John Knox's house. We were hoping to do a bit of shopping, but the rain was getting the better of us, and we opted to go back to South Queensferry by train (£3.60). From Waverly station the journey lasted not more than 20 minutes (3rd stop - Dalmeny). From Dalmeny, you follow a small trail in the forest leading to the long 150 step staircase going down to South Queensferry pier. The trail is really beautiful (lots of blackberry bushes along the way!) but the stairs are in bad shape - especially slippery in the rain. But regardless, it took about 15 minutes to walk back to the tender pier. We got back to the ship safely using the Maid of the Forth boat instead of the tenders!
Our last day was sunny but cool, ideal to relax before the hectic day that we were going to have for our return journey! We enjoyed time in the conservatory (mezzanine of the covered pool - our favorite spot) to read and write a bit. We ended up having the best seat to watch the Ice Carving demo at noon time. While we saw these demonstrations numerous times, it is always amazing to see how these guys create such delicate figures from a block of ice, in only 15 minutes!
The Princess patter stated that the majority of our luggage was to be out in late afternoon. So we spent most of the afternoon packing... it was somewhat more complicated than usual since no hand luggage was allowed on board.
We went to the early show at the Vista Lounge and had a lovely last dinner with our table mates. We will miss them!
Debarkation and Transfer from Southampton to Heathrow
We had Pink 2 tags, scheduled to debark at 8h40. We didn't need an alarm clock as they started the debarkation announcements at 6h00, and then continued with a new tag being called every 10 minutes. We had breakfast at the Horizon Court, and even if we had to have vacated the cabins before 8h00, it was not too crowded. We went down to the Atrium on Deck 5, just by the gangway to wait for our call. Again, it was surprisingly not crowded and lots of seats were available. We got off at 8h10. Debarkation is really smooth as there is no line-up for immigration or customs. We fetched our bags rapidly, even if I had to search for one because it had lost its tag. But when I asked one of the ladies there, she remembered seing our name on one of the 'lost' suitcases and had it waiting for us by the door. We got into the Princess transfer bus and left the pier at 9h00 sharp. This was by far the easiest debarkation ever!!
As for Heathrow, it was a different story all together... We had a 17h40 flight and were dropped at the airport by Princess at 10h30 ... We could not register our luggage until 14h30. We went up to the cafeteria on the 2nd floor where we waited until 14h00. Thank god we had met another couple from Quebec on the bus and were able to chat with them during this interminable wait. We then proceeded to the self-serve machine to print our boarding pass, and were able to use the Fast Bag Deposit. At that point, we were directed outside under the big tents where we had to wait for 3 hours before our flight was called. The line for security was about 45 minutes. After all this, we had NO time to stop by the Duty Free shops - which we could have done since we're Canadian and didn't have the restriction US citizens had - as our flight was boarding!
My only regret was to not have taken the excursion that ends at Heathrow offered by Princess. It cost $11 more than the transfer cost, and Nymue, whom we met at the airport, told us that it was great. They went to Stonehenge, then through Salisbury and Windsor, and New Forest where they saw wild ponies. They got to the airport at 13h30... which made the wait time much more bearable.Other notes and summary: - I wasn't able to get money out of the ATM in Dublin - which was bizarre as I never had problems anywhere else. - I was somewhat apprehensive to visit these ports on such a large ship, but was pleasantly surprised as we never were bothered by crowds or really long line-up - The ship was in good shape and our cabin was very satisfactory - Food was good, with some nights above average, and some under - Formal nights were Falmouth (first day after embarkation) and first official sea day (sixth day after embarkation) - Our cruise director, Chris Nichols, was great! He got many local artists to come on the ship for great performances (Dublin, Invergordon). Musicians and the band were very talented. We didn't really enjoy the production shows and the magician (Gaetano) was freaky... - The tour desk staff was awful and very unknowledgeable - that's a shame - Service in general is a lot less personal and friendly than what it used to be - of course there are exceptions but this is an overall statement. However, we had great service in the dining room. - The highlight of this cruise was the Edinburgh Military Tattoo - if you consider this cruise, try to plan it while the Tattoo is on. It is absolutely extraordinary and a once in a lifetime experiene. With the Frince Festival going on as well, August is the best time to see Edinburgh! Voilà!!
About us: 26th cruise, 4th with Princess 53/58 year old married couple, seasoned travellers , not especially picky.
Pre-cruise: Tried to book our hotel through Princess and was told repeatedly "call back six months out". So, I called at 6 1/2 months out - "too early", called the next week -same line, called the next week, "sold out, you should have called earlier". We did however find a decent rate (as London goes) at the Airport Hilton and decided to stay there since we really did not want to "do" London again - just rest. The shuttle left from the airport the next day so it was a good choice.
Shuttle: Got down to the greeting area about 8:30 and was on the first bus out by 9:30 or so. Two hour drive to the pier. No problems. NOTE: If you are flying in early and will meet the shuttle back at the airport : you cannot meet the shuttle at baggage claim as your voucher says, you meet at the "passenger greeting" area outside customs. No telling how long I would have wandered around baggage claim if I had notrun into a Crystal Cruise employee at breakfast and asked her for the exact location.
Embarkation: Arrived at the pier about noon, which should have been about boarding time but the ship had been an hour late arriving due to fog so we did not board til 1:00. Check-in itself took all of 3 minutes then we were off to the waiting area. Large room, plenty of seating although only a water cooler was available. Not a biggy but it struck me odd since some of the other lines have food service staff there with tea, coffee and cookies.
Cabin: We had an inside cabin on deck 10. Typical inside cabin. Contents were a refrigerator, hair dryer, safe, TV. There was plenty of closet space and loads of hangers. Soap and shampoo are of the old fashioned variety and not the wall mounted liquids.
Ship: We had been on the Grand in April so orientation did not take long. The ship was in very good repair and had a pleasing decor. No neon like Carnival and not quite as stark as NCL. There is an enclosed pool area, with retractable canopy, which was nice for the cooler days and evenings. This is a family pool as is the main pool midship. There is an adult only pool at the rear of the ship and outside of the spa. Those two areas were not highly used and made great get aways.
Skywalkers Lounge is at the top of the "shopping cart handle" and seemed to be the most underutilized place onboard. The disco did not open until 10 p.m. and it was occasionally used for private group parties but other than that you can grab a drink and head up there to have the whole place to yourself for sailaway.
Dining: I'm not going to say alot about the food because it is such a subjective matter. I found it fine. Not gourmet, but none of the ships with thousands of passengers can offer fabulous food so I was not disappointed. There are two dining rooms for any time dining (our preference) and one for traditional. I was told there was a waiting list for traditional dining but I think that is typical. Service was friendly and efficient. Wine service is by the waiter, not a wine steward. We typically dined between 6:00 and 7:00 and chose to share a table with others so we never waited at all. We ate one night at the steak house and food and service were superb. The buffet was actually a little better than usual, I thought. There were two omelet stations each morning which fortunately were not in the middle of the serving line. My only beef with the buffet is that Princess offers only coffee and tea. Lemonade would be a nice addition. And yes, the coffee is wretched, horrid, yuk.
We only used room service for morning coffee. It comes from the dining room rather than buffet and is marginally better . You will have a door hanger menu you can put out each evening and ours was always delivered promptly. Room service tipping should be done when delivered.
Ice cream is served at the buffet each afternoon for free, but if you want it otherwise it's $3.95 at the ice cream shop. Don't know why this bugs me but it does. I was told there is a pre-paid punch card program for the shop that was buy 10 get 1 free, but that didn't seem like much of a deal to me.
Grill: They had hamburgers, vegetarian hamburgers, hot dogs, brotworst, knockworst and chicken breasts available. There were always fries and occasionally onion rings. My husband was thrilled that they had hot saurkraut for his hot dogs and if they'd have only had chile he'd have been in heaven. And the hot dogs were the nice big fat ones not those anorexic little skinny things.
Pizza was pretty good and they usually had three varieties. The grill and pizzaria are only open until 7:00 which was a bit disappointing for days when our excursions didn't get in until 6:30 and we just wanted a simple little dose of junk food.
Entertainment: We did not make any of the regular shows as we prefer to dance and gamble. The one we did make in Dublin was a local dance troupe and band. The early show was a group of young people doing Irish folk dance and they were cute. The band was good and the show enjoyable. I believe the late show was a more professional group of dancers but I can't speak to that personally. There were two very good dance bands. One played in the Explorer's Lounge and the other just down the way at the Wheelhouse Bar. The atrium each evening was filled with music from either the string quartet or pianist. Very nice. Later the piano man showed up at the martini bar and he had quite a following. It was a bit loud for me, but if you sat on the floor below it was enjoyable. Oh, I should clarify that this bar borders the atrium, it's not really loud enough to hear on an adjoining deck!
Casino: Good variety of slots penny through $5. Payout seemed about typical and I came out about $50 down which wasn't bad for the amount of time I spent there. Usual table games. Hubby plays blackjack and pretty well paid for the cruise, so certainly can't complain there. Friendly and efficient staff. Unfortunately the slots still pay out in coins and haven't gone to the paper tickets yet. The casino was closed for Dublin as we did not depart there until after midnight.
Bar service: There was the usual drink of the day although I must say, Princess seems to push their fru-fru drinks less than any other line. Being a simple woman, I just drink simple things. Prices for a single Dewars and soda was $3.85, smirnoff martinis were about the same. I know some have complained about the high price of drinks on cruises but I didn't see it on the Golden, unless of course you were drinking doubles, premium brands or fru-frus. Room set ups were available but we didn't availe ourselves of them this time so don't know what the prices were. There was not a wine program such as NCL s buy 5 get a sixth free program. Soda cards were available at about $4/day. Guiness is available onboard but only canned, not draught.
Spa: Didn't partake of services but the usual array are to be had at what seem to be ever escalating prices. There is a steam room and sauna for both males and females (separate, in case that isn't clear) but they are not inside, they are poolside. So much for wearing just a towel in the sauna. The spa showers are the same size as those in the room which was disappointing because that's my husband's trick - showering in the spa where they have normal size showers. Oh well - suck in that gut and get in the shower!
Odds and Ends: Changing money can be done by two machines on decks 5 and 6. One will convert various currencies to British pounds, the other to euros, or vice versa. There was a $3.50 service fee which isn't bad if you're doing a lot, so do all your money at once. You can always change it back. You will need pounds in every port except Dublin where you will need euros. Everywhere we went took plastic so we only used cash for incidental items.
Laundramats: What a friggin' disaster. I don't usually do laundry onboard but I did need to do one little load. Between decks 8, 9 and 10 there were 8 irons. 2 worked and 1 had a bad hot spot. The money changers and soap dispensers had lower pay out odds than the slot machines and the dryers are not very warm. Took two cycles (30 minutes each) to get 1 small load of whites to the damp stage. Every woman who came into the laundry picked up the phone to call and complain but to no availe. They did send one poor little guy up to face the angry horde and all he did was fiddle with things and left them no better than when he arrived. Moral : do not count on having an iron to use. Plan on bringing either a steamer, de-wrinkle spray or both. Better yet, do what I did, call from the laundry and ask the purser's desk to send up a round of drinks.
Captain's party: pretty well done in the atrium. They had the usual assortment of beverages plus beer and in case you don't know, you can always ask them for a special drink and they will get it for your. I don't think the captain showed for the early party which made no difference to me.
Captain's Circle party: Was in the Vista Lounge and had the typical band, and drinks. See above comments. The captain was busy taking us out of port so could not be there but did address us by the PA system. They said this set a record for the Golden - 1,600 repeaters on board and three couples doing a triple back to back. Wow.
Fellow cruisers: Primarily white Americans middle aged and slightly older. Less than 20 wheelchairs and 3 of those were children. There were maybe 100 children under 18 on board. All of them were well behaved. This is not an itinerary for those with disabilities due to lack of handicap accessibility in castles, palaces and many of the coaches. Most of these people were seasoned cruisers and were more interested in the ports than partying. By 10:30 most evenings the place was pretty quiet. But of course, the excursions were pretty tiring and many began early.
Tendering: we tendered at 3 ports (or was it 4?) and each time it was done with the ship's life boats. Each day they used 3 boats which did not seem adequate for early morn and late afternoon.
Reboarding: Terrible. Although they used two gangways to disembark folks in the morning for excursions they only used 1 for reboarding each afternoon. In Inverness there was a line of 450-500 people at one time waiting to board. Took over an hour for some folks since they likewise were only running 1 scanner.. Not happy campers. They didn't seem to learn from this experience as the cruise went on either.
Photos: Very few, which is fine with me but unlike many cruiselines you had to search out the phtographers if you wanted photos. They did however clog up numerous stairways on formal nights which I found aggrevating. At least they weren't in your face every time you had a mouthful of cheesecake. Who needs the evidence - I have my thighs!
Meetings on board: There was a combined meeting of Friends of Dr. Bob and Bill W. each day. Not every day but frequently was a GLBT Rainbow meeting as well. There was a Masonic meeting one day and a service club meeting. My hubby's favorite is always the Veteran's meeting and this time there were two gentlemen who were POWs from the Batan death march. They told amazing tales and everyone there was deeply touched.
Intenet service is 35 cents per minute. There are about 18 computers in the cafe and 3 more in the library. Frequently one third would be out of order.
Golf: First night out we had dinner with a rabid golfer. He told us all the golf tours had been cancelled and two weeks prior to sailing he had scrambled to arrange his own games. There was a group of 8 who seemed to play almost daily as I'd see them lugging their clubs past the bar. So, if you are taking this cruise to golf your way through Scotland and legendary courses you may want to double check with Princess as there were some mighty disappointed people on this cruise.
Religious Services: Friday evening services were held for those of Jewish faith. A Roman Catholic group was onboard and their priest held mass several times and all were invited. I do not know what provisions, if any, would have been made for mass otherwise and I do not recall seeing any notice about protestant services.
Excursions: Let me do the ports we did on our own first.
Edinburough - we hopped a cab (18 pounds per cab which seated 5) to the castle. Our delightful cabby dropped us near the ticket office. Tickets to the castle were about $20 each and they take Visa and MasterCard. We toured the castle, walked down the main drag to the palace. Several cruisers who were exiting the palace said it wasn't worth the admission price and si nce we were tired we grabbed a cab back to the ship. Lots of interesting places to eat and drink along the miracle mile (although it is a bit longer than a mile) and very, very easy to do on your own. The castle is well worth seeing and you could easily spend the entire day there.
Belfast - a free shuttle is available at the pier and drops you downtown at the tourist information center. There we bought tickets (with plastic) for the hop on/off bus. You can buy your tickets from the driver at any stop but then you must pay cash. We had a lively guide who talked extensively about the troubles and while the tour was interesting, let's just say, nobody was pulling the call cord to hop off until we were nearly done and arrived at the botanical garden of Queen's College. I was astounded by the Peace Wall and how divided, literally, the city still is.. The gardens are beautiful and it was a nice respite to wander about them. Back onboard to the beginning and a sampling of a few pubs, where we met one of our favorite bartenders from the ship having a Guiness on tap! Tickets for the bus were $18 I think.
Invergordon - Highland Castles and Loch Ness. This is a very long trip. Covers 1 castle with beautiful gardens, lunch (which took waaay too long) and tours of castle ruins on the banks of Loch Ness. Lots of walking, steep incline at the ruins, Very tight squeezes on the road to the ruins which was an excursion in of itself.
Glasgow - The Scottish Experience, Landscapes, Lochs & Sheepdogs. Another very long trip.. Hour and a half or more trip to Loch Katrine where we boarded a steam powered boat to cruise the loch - very pretty. The boat was 45 minutes late so we stood on the dock waiting without a working vending machine or bathroom to be had. Cruise was about 45 minutes and we were back on the bus off to lunch. Didn't take quite as long as the day before but still too long by my standards. I think the cruise lines would be better off sending nice box lunches rather than doing formal sit down affairs that drag on forever. anyway . . . off to the Wool Center for a demonstration of sheep dogs. This was hugely disappointing. We have always had Shetland Sheepdogs and while this was nice it was not what I expected. Most of it was in an auditorium and the only herding that we saw was a very brief demo outside where the border collie herded six Chinese ducks into a pen. Local law will not allow them to transport sheep for the exhibit like in the past, because of the epidemic of hoof and mouth disease several years ago. There was nice shopping I suppose, but I'm not a shopper so we wandered about eating ice cream.
Holyhead - Caernarfon Castle. This was my husband's favorite castle. This is a warrior's castle. No girly tapestries on the wall, no sissyfied petit point chairs, just dungeons and tunnels and turrets and well - you get the point.. Nice tour, but once again, you spend a lot of time getting there.
Dublin - Malahide Castle and Irish Pub. Malahide was a very nice castle, although one fully furnished and made liveable. Then we were on to a pub for an Irish Coffee. You could actually order something else if you wanted. This was a neat place and there were fabulous flowers all over the little village. We had a good time but again. . . . long way there and back. Do you see a pattern emerging here?
So, that's it. We had a jolly good time and would do it again.
Oh - if you have an outside cabin be prepared for sunsets at 10:00 p.m. and sunrises at 5:00 a.m.
My husband & I chose to stay in Puerto Rico for 5 nights after our wedding & then cruise home from San Juan to New york. The golden Princess was a great ship from start to finish. The check in was quick & easy, once we waited outside for about an hour. Upon entering the ship the staff was very friendly & welcoming. We were able to tour the ship & see our room. Our luggage arrived quickly & our cabin stuart was fantastic. He worked so hard everyday & night. He was so very accomadating & accessable.
My husband & I chose the freedom of choice for dinner. We were able to get a table every night w/a very minimal wait in all the restaurants. The service was ok, but the staff was extremely over worked. They had no time to take w/the passangers. Hurry & order. The exception to this was the restaurants you paid for. There were 2 that we were aware of. The italin restaurnt was excellent service fantastic & food awsome. Worth the extra $20 we paid. There was sooo much food at this restaurant thatwe couldn't eat our last course. The ship itself was beautiful. The shows were excellent. We looked forward to the shows nightly. The excursions were nice. Would travel again w/Princess lines. Highly recommend this ship. The only thing we weren't impressed with was the photography staff. Most were not very nice but there were alot of people on this ship.
Princess Cruises Golden Princess by m.canino Southern Caribbean November 26, 2005 This was a fun ship and also very relaxing, the rooms were the right size,the food was great and the service also,we had no problems getting on and off the boat this was fast.
They can do better with their in room tv programs and the room service needs a lot of improvement. Also,the pools and gym room are great plus the steam room..the music was not as good as rccl but it was ok.
In February 2005 I wrote a largely positive review of a Mexican Riviera cruise aboard Diamond Princess. We hadn't been on Princess for some little while before that trip, and the good experience led us to book a 14-day repositioning cruise aboard Golden Princess that left Southampton on August 20 and arrived in New York on September 3.
What a difference six months can make!
There was nothing tragically wrong with the cruise, but there were so many little problems and service lapses that the decline in quality of the Princess brand was literally Topic "A" among the frequent cruisers aboard. As somebody said to me at one of the cocktail parties, "Do you know how to spell Princess? C-A-R-N-I-V-A-L." Even though there are many fans of Carnival, I took his point. Under monopolistic owners, the brands are beginning to melt together.
When you look in the leather notebook in your Princess stateroom, you'll see a page that carries a set of principles and values that all employees are supposed to embrace. It's mostly the typical "good customer service" party line. Included is a statement that each employee "IS" the company when they dealwith guests, and what they do (or don't do) says far more than all of Princess' advertising, public relations and good works combined.
Nice sentiment. Unfortunately, on our cruise, much of the staff either hadn't gotten the memo, or corporate policies prevented them from providing the good customer service they're pledged to give.
--When a man next to me at the beverage station in the buffet restaurant asked a waiter for a straw for his iced tea, he was told he'd have to get one at the bar. The man asked why the waiter couldn't get some, he was told, "Company policy. Straws are only available at the bars. Nothing I can do."
--When I asked the Captain's Circle host why we weren't receiving an Elite benefit that we'd received in the past, she cited company policy. When I pointed out in detail how ridiculous that policy was, she became impatient and told me curtly that there was nothing she could do. I reminded her that while she may not be empowered to solve the problem, she was nevertheless the Circle Host, and she was the only logical person I could discuss this with. "At this moment, you are the company," I said. She looked at the floor.
--When late in the cruise I asked the same employee which lounge would be used as the departure lounge for Select and Elite passengers, she said there would be none. She said that US Immigration was using all available lounge space and that the Chief Purser had ruled that no space would be given over to Select and Elite passengers. When I pointed out that she was now "zero for two" with me, she again reverted to the "It's not my fault" mantra, and told me to go complain to the Chief Purser if I didn't like it.
--Our room (a mini-suite) received uneven attention from our room steward. In a few instances, "clean" towels in the bathroom were obviously soiled, and requests for simple services went unfulfilled.
--We opted for personal choice dining, and again service was spotty. Some servers were exemplary; others were about the worst we've ever encountered afloat. We're still waiting for our after dinner tea from one waiter. It was also especially annoying to be interrupted during dinner by people selling wine tastings for the next day.
--Although the cruise director, Richard Joseph, was a real pro, other members of the cruise staff were sometimes indifferent, aloof, and even rude. They were also often lacking in simple common sense. As a group, they did not put a good "face" on the Princess brand.
In all, it was a cruise that failed to hit the mark for service. Yet it's still true that unless you're aboard the Titanic, no cruise can be really bad. With that in mind, here are some of the high and low spots.
We flew to England four days before the cruise, went to Southampton and rented a car for day trips to places like Winchester and the New Forest. We had a great time for these few days, then took the quick taxi ride from our hotel to the pier at about 11:30 on embarkation day. We'd obviously beaten all the shuttle busses coming in from the London airports, and we're Captain's Club Elite, so embarkation was very quick and very easy. Cruisers we talked to who arrived in England on sailing day and took Princess shuttles from the airport universally reported chaotic scenes at both Heathrow and Gatwick, with long waits for busses and much confusion in the ranks of the Princess ground staff. We left Southampton more than an hour late, waiting for tardy busses to make it down the highway.
The bus problems aside, we were astonished that such a large proportion of passengers flew in on the day of sailing, especially since an overnight flight and a serious time change were involved. Plus, we had a port-intensive itinerary for the first week that brought us to six ports in the first seven days, with only one sea day in the middle of the week. Those who came to England even one day early and relaxed in Southampton the night before embarkation did themselves a big favor.
After boarding we took a quick spin around the ship, and I was struck by the plethora of people selling things. Now, there's always some of this on sailing day, but somehow this time the ship felt like a small-town fair. Maybe it was just the intensity (are they on commission?) of the sales pitches for soda cards, spa sessions, wine tastings, wine with dinner, cruise videos, specialty restaurants, computer classes and God knows what else, but it all felt decidedly honky-tonk.
We'd been on the Diamond Princess recently, so we knew pretty much what to expect on the Golden. Our mini-suite was roomy and pleasant, and having a full-size tub was a nice upgrade over the tiny showers. We were about five doors aft of the midships elevator lobby, so the cabin couldn't have been more convenient.
The ship was full, and for the first time in our experience on large ships, it felt crowded much of the time. There seemed to be an especially large contingent of disabled passengers, and I think that all the wheelchairs, electric carts, walkers and canes added to the feeling of crowding and slow movement around the ship. This problem was compounded by balky elevators, with at least one car in the midships bank out of service much of the time.
With a few notable exceptions, the food was mediocre and uninspiring. The upstairs buffet was the least appetizing. We try to stay away from buffets, but for some reason on this cruise it was just more convenient to go there than to the downstairs dining rooms for lunch. Part of this is because some of the regular dining rooms were not always open when they were supposed to be - some sort of "work" being done. Or as some of our new Brit friends put it, "The pits are a bother at lunch, so we usually just head for the trough." And at times, "trough" was exactly the right word for the Horizon Court buffet. Cost cutting means that each cruiser gets a big plastic oval platter instead of a tray with standard dishware. All manner of stuff is typically piled on the platter, and then the diner tries to find a clean place to sit in the often overcrowded and under-bussed seating area. The food serving area uses the "scramble" format rather than the standard buffet line. Scramble buffets can be very efficient if there's plenty of room to move around, but alas, on this ship there's not nearly enough room. The result is something approaching minor chaos much of the time. Other obvious cost-cutting measures in the buffet restaurant include no hot chocolate and no juice dispensers. There are juices available at breakfast time in the buffet. Ice cream in the buffet was only available for a short time in late afternoon. To boot, all the ice machines were out of service for the entire cruise, and ice had to be scooped from tubs placed awkwardly near the coffee spigots. The beverage stations were routinely out of ice, iced tea, lemon, coffee, cream, or whatever else you happened to be looking for at the moment. Spills were often left unattended for significant periods. As on all popular-priced ships we've ever been on, the coffee is absolutely dreadful.
At dinner in the personal choice restaurants, meals ranged from just OK to very good, depending on whether you made the "right" menu choices. Waiters generally give good advice on these matters, but the crew on this ship seemed oddly reluctant to make recommendations. Over the two weeks we ate twice at the Sterling Steakhouse and once at Sabatini's, and these surcharge restaurants yielded some of the better meals on the cruise.
Restaurant service, as I suggested earlier, was hit-or-miss. At the specialty restaurants it was uniformly excellent. At the regular personal choice restaurants it varied widely. Rarely did any food arrive at the correct temperature. Even room-service breakfasts (which we usually choose on port days) were inconsistent in a strange sort of way. On some evenings we were given door tags with choices for a Continental breakfast; other evenings we got tags that featured full breakfast selections. We never did get around to asking our steward about this inconsistency, but it seemed strange.
ENTERTAINMENT / ENRICHMENT
The assortment of theatre shows, comics and lounge musicians was average to good in our experience. What were sub-par were the daytime enrichment programs during the second week as we crossed from Scotland to New York. In a way, I feel a bit guilty about criticizing these talks, because I didn't go. But that was because the descriptions in the daily bulletin were so unappealing. One series of lectures was on rudimentary financial issues, including retirement planning. As one Brit-wit passenger observed, "Haven't they looked around? It appears that most of us have adequately planned for retirement and are enjoying it thoroughly!" The other set of talks embraced what I loosely call the "live a better life" mantra. From the bulletins they looked like a cross between revival meetings and group psychiatry sessions, and we avoid both scrupulously. Anytime I get invited to "find my inner self," I have the overwhelming urge not to look.
These offerings were in stark contrast to those we've enjoyed on other crossings, that really did feature speakers and topics that were both interesting and challenging. For people who don't play bingo or frequent the casino, a good lecture series on a crossing is a huge plus. The cruise director, Richard Joseph, did give one very interesting talk about cruise ships.
Computer classes were also available for fairly hefty fees. However, I'm pretty familiar with all the software that was taught, so they didn't appeal to me either.
The internet café is pleasant enough and has plenty of terminals, but they were forever breaking down, requiring rebooting and other fixes that an attendant might or might not be around to take care of. As on all ships, connect speed was very slow, but since our Captain's Club status gives us free internet we couldn't complain too much.
The port stops on this cruise were really the reason we went. Embarking at Southampton, we called at Zeebrugge, Rotterdam, LeHavre, Dublin, Belfast and Greenock before crossing to New York. We took no excursions run by Princess, so I can't evaluate them.
At Zeebrugge we took the train into Brugge (Bruges), and spent a lovely day in this picturesque canal town. We'd been to both Belgium and Holland before, and really looked forward to the superior French fries (frites) that are sold by street vendors in both countries. We weren't disappointed. Some of the finest frites mayonnaise we've ever had came from the green stall in the main square in Brugge. My wife also scored some fabulous chocolates from a local chocolatier called Dumon, and we lunched at an outdoor café on a kilo of mussels each, smothered in garlic and wine, and served steaming in pots - another specialty fondly remembered from past visits to Belgium. Canal boat rides are ubiquitous in Brugge, and are a must.
The next morning at Rotterdam we took the ship's shuttle to the train station for another short train ride to Delft. It was Monday, and stores in Holland don't generally open on Monday mornings, so it's a sort of sleepy time. What a treat! We found an absolutely delightful coffee shop, and feasted on apple cake and two large coffees each, which we enjoyed at the lovely tables on the sidewalk next to the canal. The weather was crystal clear and mild, and the people-watching was terrific Later in the day, as Delft came alive, we enjoyed walking, a bit of shopping, and another canal boat trip. Comparing notes with fellow passengers later, it's amazing how many of us had a decent cup of coffee high on the "to do" list at these European ports.
At LeHavre, we stayed in LeHavre. Many people took excursions to Paris, of course, but we've been to the City of Light multiple times for business and pleasure, so a long journey for a few hours in a city we know pretty well made no sense to us. We toyed with the idea of running off to Rouen, but by the time we got to the station it was obvious that the train schedule was against us, and we would have only had a very short visit. So we looked around LeHavre, did a little shopping, and deemed the rest of the day a "sea day."
At Dublin and Belfast we took advantage of hop-on, hop-off tour busses to get an overview of the cities, then returned to explore each downtown area. Especially interesting was the route of the Belfast bus, which took us directly through the Falls Road area, site of so much of the recent troubles. It is fascinating to see the block-by-block territory that was (is) staked out by the religious factions, as evidenced by the street art, nature of the shops, and so forth. The afternoon in Belfast was devoted to a really good historical walking tour of downtown, which gave us good insights into how the factions developed, and how they wound up staking their "turf" in the city. These tours leave every afternoon from the visitor center downtown, and our guide certainly knew what he was talking about. He's the former deputy mayor of Belfast, and narrowly escaped assassination during the height of the troubles.
We'd decided to take the train to Glasgow from the port of Greenock, and that's what we eventually did, but not before taking advantage of a wonderful target of opportunity. Some very gracious local folks have organized a volunteer group to give free tours for ship passengers. It's called the Inverclyde Tourist Group, and they have a nice website, but I'm not allowed to tell you what it is in this review. We were glad to drop some pounds in the donation box in return for a wonderful two-hour trip through Greenock and into the lush hills of Scotland. We stopped at the oldest post-Reformation church in Scotland, and at City Hall where, believe it or not, the Provost (that's "Mayor" to us) was on hand on a Saturday morning to give us a comprehensive personal tour of this exquisite building and to wish us a good day. At the end of the tour, these nice folks were happy to drop us at the train station from which we reached Glasgow in less than an hour.
In Glasgow, we once again took advantage of the hop-on, hop-off busses, shopped for sweaters, and had an excellent pub lunch in the late afternoon, before taking the train back to Greenock and the ship for the crossing to New York.
We're not fans of ship's shore excursions on any line, and we avoid them when we can. Still, we heard reports that some of the trips offered on this cruise were quite good, especially the day in Paris. It was annoying that at Le Havre and Dublin the shuttle busses to town were an extra charge item--$8.00 per person roundtrip-while at the other stops they were free. Adding to the annoyance was that the shuttles for the Celebrity ship docked next to us at Le Havre were free to their passengers.
One last problem before we left the ship: our bill showed a $22 charge at Sabatini's restaurant that we couldn't reconcile with our receipts. It's a small amount, but since there was plenty of time on debarkation morning I stood in line at the purser's desk to dispute the charge. Sure enough, after physically examining all the original Sabatini charge slips for the evening in question, the clerk determined that she could not support the charge, and refunded the money in cash. I'm reasonably sure this was an honest mistake, but it was the last in a long line of annoyances on this cruise.
Even though we were denied a VIP departure lounge, we found seats with some of our new friends on the pool deck on a sunny and cool New York morning and waited to be called. Since we weren't flying we were one of the last groups to be called, but we really didn't mind because we were all laughing and carrying on as we had throughout the cruise.
Once off the ship we quickly claimed our bags, exited down to the street level, and walked east one block on 50th Street to 11th Avenue. We'd already called our son who picked us up there a short time later, avoiding the mad crush at the terminal itself. Shortly after that we were in Greenwich Village, having a wonderful brunch with both our kids and our new daughter-in-law. We were back at Penn Station for a 3:00 Amtrak home to Washington.
AND FINALLY. . .
Despite the obvious cost-cutting, poor service, and lack of attention to detail by the staff, we had a wonderful time on this cruise thanks mainly to lovely ports and the really wonderful people we met and "hung out" with onboard - both Americans and Brits. People and places make a great cruise for us, and this one will be fondly remembered for those things.
At the same time, it may be some time before we cruise with Princess again. Our cruising careers began with one of Princess' forbears, Sitmar, way back in 1976. Nostalgia is nice, but we're well aware that the nature of mass-market cruising makes the old Sitmar experience impossible to duplicate these days at popular prices. Even so, the Princess brand has always been enjoyable and, we felt, good value for money. We're seriously rethinking that view in light of the precipitous and obvious drop in quality in a very short time.
My wife and I joined five of our Florida neighbors on the Golden Princess cruise of the British Isles. The 10 day cruise took us to England, Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland. We were scheduled to stop in Holyhead, Wales but the weather didn't allow safe tender operations. The British Isles are very picturesque with their rolling hills and low mountains, lakes and streams, castles and cathedrals, busy cities, colorful gardens and gracious people. We scheduled Princess tours at every port so we were privileged to hear about the history, people and economy from our tour guides. The weather cooperated with virtually no rain and moderate temperatures that made sightseeing very nice.
The Golden Princess is a very modern ship with most, if not all the amenities, anyone could expect.
Pre-Cruise: We flew to London a day early and stayed at the Millenium Gloucester hotel just west of downtown London. The hotel, advertised as a four star hotel, was pretty average and the rating may have been generous. Princess arranged all our transfers: airport to hotel, hotel to ship and ship to airport. They were timely and efficient.
Hint: We are strong believers inusing the cruise line transfers having done some on our own. The cruise lines have purchasing volume for leverage and are able to provide organized guides and transportation equipment, all aimed at getting passengers to and from the ship, in unfamiliar surroundings, with minimal worries. The port of Southampton is at least a two hour ride from either major London airport or London city so using cruise line organized transportation is much safer.
Embarkation: The Golden Princess was the only ship in Southampton on our embarkation day so the port was quiet. We arrived early and had a short wait to board. Embarkation was quick and we were at the lunch buffet shortly after noon.
The Golden Princess and Staff: The ship is 109,000 gross tons so it has plenty of space for its public areas. It is nicely decorated and well staffed. We found our waiters, room stewards and all the staff to be efficient and accommodating. There didn't seem to be either crowds or lines anywhere except in the theater as tours met to leave the ship or returned to queue for security.
We did dine in Sabatini's Trattoria specialty restaurant for the first time. It was excellent and well worth the $20 per person charge. We had dined in the steakhouse on other Princess ships and were a little disappointed in the restaurant atmosphere. Hint: Make reservations for Sabatinis early in the cruise, especially if you have a preferred day or time, because it is in high demand. Be ready to spend over two hours and to eat a lot of excellent food in nice surroundings.
The Golden Princess, in addition to its regular schedule of theater and lounge entertainment, featured local Irish and Scottish groups at appropriate stops. They were very good, giving us a flavor of the British Isles ethnic music and dance.
Port Tours: European cruises are characterized by a large number of shore excursion options, all seemingly filled with great opportunities to visit famous places, learn about history, and experience wonderful sights. The British Isles were filled with them. Cathedrals, Irish pubs, banks of Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Guinness brewery, Scottish heather, castles, the Royal Mile, North Sea oil rigs, universities, colorful gardens, Bailey's Irish Cream headquarters, palaces, rolling hills and low mountains were all part of our experiences. Scottish bagpipers, drummers and dancers were at several Scottish ports and stops. Each tour guide shares stories about history, their economy and local points of interest. It is easy to get totally worn out long before the cruise is over. We usually limit ourselves to half day tours and leave a half day to either relax or to visit a city center on our own. Following are highlights from the ports we did visit.
Falmouth, England: We visited St. Michael's Mount, an old castle that sits on an island at high tide and may be accessed by a long stone walkway at low tide. The walk to the castle and the climb on the uneven stairways to the castle are not easy. The views are excellent and a visit to the small town on the shore is fun.
Dublin, Ireland: The Dublin highlights tour included St. Patrick's Cathedral and Trinity College, home of the Book of Kells. Both include long histories and provide good photo opportunities. We complemented this with a walking tour of Dublin that ended in an Irish pub in the shopping district. The walk included Trinity College, a large park with a statue of Oscar Wilde and a very busy pedestrian shopping district.
Belfast, Northern Ireland: Our "EZ Belfast" excursion included Belfast Castle with its beautiful gardens and Queens University with its adjacent botanical gardens. We also experienced and heard about the political divisions that trouble Northern Ireland to this day. The trip included a stop at the new, and big, parliament building.
Greenock, Scotland: Greenock is the port for Glasgow. Our Greenock shore excursion took us to Inveraray Castle and Loch lomond. The castle is the home of the Duke and Duchess of Argyll, has a few large, historic rooms open to the public and is a working estate. Loch Lomond is a beautiful body of water made famous by the Scottish song. We also stopped in the town of Luss for lunch and shopping.
Invergordon, Scotland: We journeyed to Loch Ness, of Loch Ness monster fame, and visited Inveraray Castle on the shores of Loch Ness. Both the castle and the loch are set in very scenic Scottish hills. The castle ruins are extensive and require a lot of climbing and walking on relatively steep pathways, but the views are worth the effort. The castle offers a short video explaining the castle's long history. The drives to and from the castle were highlights of the excursion.
South Queensferry, Scotland: South Queensferry is a gateway to Edinburgh. We took the Royal Mile walk, in Edinburgh, on the Royal Mile Street from Edinburgh Castle downhill to the Holyrood Palace at bottom of the hill, across the street from the new parliament building. The excursion included a tour of Holyrood Palace where the British royal family resides on visits to Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is filled with history, ancient buildings, modern shopping, restaurants and pubs. The palace has several rooms open for public tours and a gift shop outside the palace. Scottish bagpipers and dancers entertained outside the palace.
Weather: It was about what we expected, cloudy much of the time and high daily temperatures in the 60's. Hint: Check the weather anywhere in the world using "world" on the weather channel web site. There are also links to UK and European weather sites. We use the information on "averages" as a guide for selecting clothing and have found the information to be very good.
Disembarkation: It was quick and efficient. We were concerned because of the highly publicized, but failed, airplane terrorist plot that was uncovered one day after we arrived in London. Princess scheduled the port to airport transfers early enough for us to very comfortably make our airplane schedules allowing for the increased airport security. Hint: London airports have an additional security check, that being at the gate just before boarding the aircraft. It involves hand carry bag searches for all bags.
Conclusion: Very nice itinerary on a very nice cruise ship. A great way to experience the British Isles.
Just returned yesterday from the Grand Princess and can certainly say we had a GRAND time! Embarkation: We landed in Houston (IAH) the day before and stayed at a LaQuinta with free shuttle to and from the airport. (not all the LaQuinta's offer this, so be sure yours does!) Ate free waffles and fruit the next morning and met our Princess Shuttle($66.00 round trip per person) at 10:00 back at the airport. The Princess reps were friendly and efficient and we were on the bus 10 minutes after arriving! 75 minutes later we were at the ship, and 45 minutes later we were in our room!!
We had cabin L303 category CC deck 14 and it was Wonderful! Plenty of space, and one whole wall was a window. Floor to ceiling. We were upgraded from an obstructed ocean view. About 15 steps from the burger and pizza grills! Our room was quiet and in such a convenient location to the pools, the buffet, etc.
Entertainment: We love going to all the shows at night. We choose early seating and then go to the Princess Theater for the big shows, and then usuallywould go to the Vista Lounge for a smaller act like a comedian, Princess Idol, hypnotist, etc... They also had 3 or 4 lounge bands that played throughout the cruise, and a couple of individual singers that were all very good. The costumes of the singer and dancers were all first rate, as was the talent. Some of the best entertainment of the 4 cruise lines we have tried.
Food: The food was all GOOD. Not fantastic, but we certainly didn't go away hungry. I think Celebrity might have a notch up in their food, but Princess offers plenty of variety at every meal. Good lobster and Beef Wellington! Great chilled soups! Don't forget FREE ICE CREAM every day from 3:30 to 4:30 in Horizon Court Buffet. Don't bother spending extra at the ice cream bar!
Ports: Three ports were tender ports and that was kind of a pain! I much prefer being able to walk off the ship. Tendering gobbles up a lot of time! Costa Maya--we did the Mayan Ruins with David and Ivan as recommended on the message boards. Ivan had such a passion for his Chacchoben Ruins. It was fantastic and we saved about $25 each by not going with the ship! Belize--wish we would have gone to see the manatees, but instead we took an on-shore city tour. 1 1/2 hours for $25.00 It was a good intro to the city. Walking around the city looked a little scary, so we chose the bus tour. We then just shopped at the pier, and then returned to the ship.
Playa del Carmen--we did intro to scuba with the ship. My husband enjoyed it, but my mask kept filling up and I didn't have the right bouyancy, I floated near the top. Actually the next day in Cozumel we did a 3 reef snorkel with Mayan Paradise Tours for 37.00 that was fantastic. We saw such a huge variety of fish. Our guides were great. I highly recommend this company, and again we saved at least $25 each from the ship's tour. They even provided perscription goggles for me! We loved our 5th cruise, and will cruise on Caribbean Princess in June with a party of 8. Can't wait!
What a great week of fun aboard the Golden Princess.After flying into San Juan we spent the night before our cruise at a hotel in the Condado district of San Juan right next to the beach. We spent the evening walking around the tourist area, which is under many renovations and some new construction.It is highly adviseable to get the transfers to and from the ship included with your package if possible, other wise you may be at the mercy of a short but expensive cab ride to the pier.Ship check in was effortless and smooth.
Our itinerary included stops at St. Thomas, St. Kitts, Grenada, Isla Margarita(Venezuela) and finally Aruba before returning to San Juan.
St. Thomas was the best stop for shopping which we did, and also took a ride on the Screaming Eagle Jet Boat which does high speed turns and stops. It was a fun time and nobody stays dry.
At St. Kitts we did the Mt. Liamuiga Volcano Hike. DO NOT do this excursion if you are not in excellent health. It is extremely strenuous and very demanding physically. My wife and myself are in good shape andworkout regularly and we had very sore legs for several days after the excursion. It can ruin any excursions you might be taking on other islands. There were a few people who could not make the climb after we were only a third of the way up. They sat and waited for the rest of us to finish the climb and we picked them up on the way back. But once you make it up to the top of the volcano, there are a couple of observation points you climb out to and the views are what the climb was all about. Spectacular views out to the sea and down in the crater which is 400 feet below you. A truck takes you in to the northern section of the island thru sugarcane fields and up in to the mountain where you start the climb at around 1000 feet above sea level, you hike the rest of the way to around 3100 feet.
On Grenada we did the Mt. Etang Rainforest Walk. Very easy compared to the previous hike. A guided walk on top of a mountain, about 2000 feet above sea level. However, you ride all the way up to the top from the ship, and the walk is narrated by your driver. There were some monkeys there that were vere familiar with the tourists and waited near the entrance for some fruit or a banana handout. The ride up and down the mountain was far more interesting as you wind your way around narrow and twisting roads. Shopping was like being at a flea market lots of local crafts and lots of Nutmeg which the island is known for.
Isla Margarita is a island that is part of Venezuela and lies only 14 miles off the mainland. we tendered to shore the pier was taken up by a Celebrity ship. Apparently only one ship can dock and they take turns weekly for the dock. Mostly beach activities when you reach shore. The main cities are a 45 minute to an hour ride away by taxi and seemed quite expensive, about 50 dollars.
Our island hopping ended at Aruba. A very arid and rocky landscape, where the wind never stops blowing. We did the ATV Adventure, which when all was said and done we covered about 18 miles of Aruba. After a 15 minute ride from the ship we met our tour leader and after explaining the saftey rules for riding we practiced for a few monutes and then set out on our ATV,s. We stopped at an abandoned gold mine, drove thru Arikok National Park up to the second highest point on the island, 600 feet, then down to Ayo Rocks, then finally to the Natural Bridge, which is collapsed, but there is a Baby Natural Bridge there as well. Be advised that ATV's are legal on the roads of Aruba and you spend a bit of time on them as well as off road.
Shopping was the nicest after St. Thomas.
I would definately do this cruise again.
My wife and I (60/62) booked this British Isles cruise in April 2005 and learned a lesson, book as soon as you can with a deposit, other wise the price or offers change. Cruise lines are now like airlines, capacity controlled values. We have been to Alaska with Celebrity (Infinity) and Mexico with Princess (Sea Princess ) in 2001 now we are finally in 2005 on a cruise we have wanted to do for a long time.
We live on Vancouver Island, Victoria in Canada, so 10+ hours later via Air Canada and 8 hours ahead time zone, we arrived in London for three nights and Southampton for one night prior to the cruise. It is a great way to go and be relaxed. Stayed at London Hilton Euston and Novotel Southampton, great hotels for about 65 GBP (pounds) a night, about $125 CDN. For August, good rates as we prepaid back in April. Also stayed at Novotel Heathrow for 1 night on way back, it is isolated on airport row if you want to walk around.
Arranged for Imperial Cars Southampton to drive us from London to Southampton, to the piernext day and return to London. Great service and value for not dealing with taxis, tubes and buses.
Arrived 12:45 at pier and with express check-in onboard within 15 minutes, gave a few pounds to the luggage porter, bags onboard about 1 hour later. Bypassed the photo hounds while boarding except for security picture to match your cabin card. The ship had about 2,800 passengers with 700 Brits, 1,700 US and rest of us around the world. Food choices were great on the buffet and Horizon was well run. It does take awhile to find food choices on different islands but not long. Plenty of seating though tables for 2 or 4 are limited. We chose 2nd seating fixed with a table of 8 which soon became 6, very good company.
Ports were: Southampton & sea day, sea day, Dublin, HolyHead Wales (Tender), Belfast, Grennock (Glascow), sea day, Orkney Islands Kirkwall (Tender), Queensbury, Edinburgh (Tender), sea day.
It of course rained a bit once we got to Wales and Northern Scotland but if you have a sweater, light jacket and umbrella (brolly), not an issue. Lots of fun, countryside was wonderful and beautiful.
We took basic tours in most of the ports and walked around in Greenock and Kirkwall. Currency is GBP everywhere except Euros in Dublin and the ship now has machines that convert your monies for you, great feature. Entertainment was great with local talent brought in in some ports, bagpipes greeted us in Greenock , a band in Belfast and a local youth music group in Wales. The Welsh in Holyhead were great greeters and made us feel welcome. Staff on ship were friendly and our cabin staff including dining staff were fantastic. It is a large Hotel on water , if you accept that then its hard to fault the services.
We will come back to the UK, especially Wales and Orkney and Southern England. Get out into the country,
Only blip was food costs in London , for us its 2-1, what you pay locally becomes same but in GBP, outside of London its less expensive.
We considered this cruise as a wonderful way to sample, like a buffet, the British Isles. Course I do admit to being born in UK but had not been back since 1968, year I was married. It was wonderful