by Bud Lockwood
British Isles & Ireland
August 10, 2006
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 in using 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.
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.