by MC Dessureault
British Isles & Ireland
August 10, 2006
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 walking distance. 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!!