Year after year holidaymakers fly thousands of miles to discover faraway scenery and history without realising what stunning scenery and history there is within our own borders. England, Ireland and Scotland all have so much to offer as I discovered on a recent cruise aboard Crown Princess.
The first thing you notice with Princess Cruises is how the boarding process has leapt into the next century, gone are the days of queuing, having your photo taken and credit card scanned before boarding. Simply in the comfort of your own home download the Princess Cruises Medallion app onto your phone, fill in your personal details, credit card etc., upload a photo and that’s it. On arrival at the port the crew will hand you your electronic medallion, slightly larger than a 2 pence piece, on a lanyard personalised with your name, ship and sail date and welcome you on board. What else does it do? As you approach your cabin door it unlocks it, your cabin attendant will know if you are in and not to disturb, if you have children or travelling with companions you can track where they are, order drinks, bar snacks, room service, no need to queue, the options are endless, it’s waterproof and unaffected by magnetism. If you don’t like the lanyard, wear it as a you would a watch, bracelet, pendant or simply clip it onto part of your clothing.
Welcome to the world of Princess Medallion Class. For those without a smart phone, no worries, the staff will input your details at the terminal.
Boarding mid cruise in Liverpool enabled me to unpack and join one of the ships tours, which, being Liverpool had to be ‘The Beatles Tour’. Starting on the waterfront at the large statues of the famous four, John, Paul, George and Ringo, it’s on to Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields followed by the childhood homes of Paul and John and other locations depicted in their chart busting songs of the 60s. Back to Liverpool centre and Mathew Street, known as the city’s ‘Cavern Quarter’, home of the ‘Mersey Sound’, sporting a beautiful statue of Cilla Black, location of The Cavern Club, Sgt Peppers, Liverpool’s Wall of Fame showing the No.1 hit records by Liverpool artists before travelling on to the ‘Beatles Museum’. Don the head set and listen to the commentary as you walk amongst studios, pictures, various sets and a mock- up of the Yellow Submarine before settling for a coffee in the cafe. This is stepping back in time, certainly back to my teenage years.
Back on-board, as the sun sets from a clear blue sky we say goodbye to Liverpool and begin our journey along the Mersey to our next port of call, Belfast. We dine in the Da Vinci dining room designated for Anytime Dining. The menu offers a good choice for all courses. For me a chance to try something new, baked potato soup, very tasty, followed by petto de pollo ripieno con crema di radicchio, in English, breaded chicken breast stuffed with cheese, spinach and mushrooms followed by a beautifully creamy vanilla ice cream. Now for an early night, it’s been a long day.
Next morning following an early breakfast it’s all aboard the minibus and head north to the world-renowned Giants Causeway, our driver plays a tape telling the legend of the Causeway and the giant, Finn McCool, although a myth, a wonderful story. The visitors centre boasts many environmentally friendly features, a grass covered roof where rain that waters the grass filters through to be used for toilet flushing as is the water from wash basins. 2.5 miles of underground pipes collect enough heat to warm the centre and many other energy saving features. The Causeway is reached either by walking or bus, which ever you choose, it’s a fairly steep winding road of about 1 mile passing stunning views of the sea and rock formations. The whole area is now preserved by the National Trust and to avoid the crowds its best to visit in the morning. On return to the visitor centre peruse the large shop area selling many traditional and local made gifts.
Northern Ireland provided several locations for filming ‘The Game of Thrones’ and no visit to the area would be complete without visiting, The Dark Hedges, Cushendun Caves, and Ballintoy Harbour before finally sitting on one of the famous thrones. Head back to the ship via the coast road, past large expanses of deserted sand beaches where blue waves crash turning to white foam, small villages and empty country roads but soon we are back to reality in Belfast, just in time as it begins to rain.
That night we dine in the ‘Salty Dog Gastropub’, thick, tasty ale battered cornmeal crusted Calamari with tartar dip, followed by the ‘Ernesto’ burger, voted ‘The Best Burger at Sea’ by Cruise Critic, with sweet potato fries, Strawberries and Cream, Ricotta and honey comb crisps to finish. This restaurant attracts a $12 cover charge.
Next day is Glasgow and whilst everyone is ashore it’s my opportunity to explore the ship. Built in 2006 and refurbished in 2018 this 113,500-tonne ship accommodating just over 3,000 passengers and 1,200 crew has become a firm favourite with Princess regulars accumulating a large following. Cabins come in the usual styles of inside no view, outside view, balcony and suites with 31 of them being wheelchair accessible. All are extremely well furnished with some of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Shampoo and shower gel provided in the shower whilst tablets of soap and moisturising cream are provided in the wash area, towels are large, thick and soft, an electric razor socket is also provided, lots of hanging, shelf and drawer space. The main cabin area is home to the dressing table/desk unit also housing a very powerful hairdryer and 2 electrical sockets of American style so don’t forget your adapters. Safe, fridge and large screen satellite tv come as standard.
Moving to the public areas, dining, you are spoilt for choice, The Botticelli keeps to the early/late sitting of traditional dining whilst the Michelangelo and Da Vinci are reserved for Anytime Dining which is becoming so popular, for those who want something less formal, the Horizon Court, an area of 4 buffets serving a great selection of hot and cold dishes plus fresh oysters are on the buffet, on sea days one area becomes a Sushi Bar. Looking for something different, then try one of the 6 speciality restaurants. If you are thirsty or just want to relax with a pre-dinner aperitive then choose from one of the 10 bars plus the casino has its own bar.
Entertainment is well catered for, from production shows in the 800 seat Princess Theatre to music, dancing and cabaret acts in the Explorers Lounge and Club Fusion, for late nighters there is Skywalkers Night Club.
If that isn’t enough visit the well-equipped gym to shed the pounds gained from the wonderful food, the Lotus Spa to relax after a hard day of sightseeing, shops to explore whilst at sea and the hairdressers to be certain of perfection on formal nights.
Our sail away from Glasgow is highlighted with a display by the St. Columba’s School Kilmacolm Pipe Band, 17 pipers, 16 drummers, with kilts swaying they parade along the quayside to the delight of passengers who cheer and wave as we move gently from the quayside to sail to our next port of call, Invergordon. Being piped away in this fashion is memorable and certainly very moving, especially if like me you have a special place in your heart for the bagpipes and Scotland.
Tonight, we dine in Sabatini’s the speciality Italian restaurant, if I am allowed a favourite then this is it. Dark brown carpet with contrasting light circular pattern, gathered half dropped nets at the windows complemented by tan, tied back full drapes, comfortable chairs with arms, tables adorned by crisp cream tablecloths topped with glistening cutlery and glasses, the restaurant just oozes quality. The service is excellent as is the food. Calamari as a starter, tris d’Aragosta (lobster 3 ways – lobster tail, lobster orzotto and lobster bisque sauce) as a main and to finish, my favourite, crème caramel all washed down by an excellent Pino Gricio. The restaurant attracts a $29 cover charge.
Time to visit the theatre and catch a performance of ‘Magic to Do’, presented by Princess Cruises and created by the award-winning composer of ‘Wicked’ Stephen Schwartz, the only composer to have 3 Broadway shows run in excess of 1,900 performances. I was not disappointed and by the packed theatre neither was anyone else.
Next day is a sea day and it begins with a visit to the Lotus Spa for a 75 minute Aroma Stone Therapy Massage, the oil based body massage followed by the warmth from the volcanic stones, so relaxing, I am almost asleep at the end. Feeling totally relaxed I head to the Da Vinci dining room as this morning I’m lucky to have a guided tour of the main galley and bakery by the executive chef, Federico Femiano who oversees a staff of 226 across the 9 galleys, 307 in the various restaurants and 70 working in the bars. Federico who hails from Italy has been a chef for 25 years, 16 of these as Executive Chef with Princess Cruises where he works 13 hours a day, 7 days a week on a 9-month contract. Under his supervision are produced 14-15 thousand meals a day, 7-8 thousand bread rolls utilising 750 kilos of flower, 3-400 litres of soup and untold kilos of meat, poultry and fish. Before each meal he has a ‘sampling’ of dishes where he and his assistant taste various dishes to ensure they meet the stringent requirements of Princess Cruises. Food is taken on board every 12 days and requires 27-30 large containers.
The afternoon is spent on a backstage theatre visit which really is an eye opener into the vast number of costumes the dancers and singers require to perform the various shows. The show teams are selected and then spend time in the USA being formed into teams before being trained and introduced to the new shows prior to being assigned a ship as a troupe of singers and dancers.
Tonight, is formal night and the dress code recommended by Princess is tuxedos, dinner jackets or dark suits with a tie for men and evening gowns and cocktail dresses for women therefore I was a little surprised to find that many ladies had complied but the number of men who complied were few and far between, for once I felt overdressed. We dined that night in the Crown Grill, a luxurious venue accented by the dark wood decor, wall lights illuminating framed pictures and murals. The menu is extensive featuring a large selection of seafood, steak and chops. My selection, black tiger prawn and papaya salpicon followed by an 8oz filet mignon with jacket potato, mushrooms, creamed spinach and asparagus, to finish, chocolate fudge topped with marshmallows and washed down with a very acceptable Sauvignon Blanc. This restaurant attracts a $29 cover charge.
The following morning, we arrive in Invergordon situated on the Cromarty Firth and famous for the Invergordon Mutiny of 1931. First stop, Inverness, capital of the Highlands with a history dating back to the 6th century, where the River Ness flows through its centre overlooked by Inverness Castle. A short walk brings us to St. Andrews Cathedral built between 1866 and 1869 the bells of which, 10 of them, are reputed to be the most northerly set of ‘change ringing bells’ in the world. 13 miles south west is our next stop, the ruins of Urquhart Castle which throughout its early history was the scene of many battles between Clan Grant and Clan McDonald until abandoned in the middle of the 17th century. An interesting film is shown at the visitor centre depicting its history. Situated on the banks of Loch Ness and despite continual searching ‘Nessie’ never made an appearance. Our final stop, the small picturesque village of Beauly situated on the river of the same name and home to the ruins of Beauly Priory founded in 1230 with Beaufort Castle standing on the opposite river bank. Time for the drive back to the ship and a look out for seals that bask on the rocks at low water, but not today.
Tonight, is our last night on board and we return to dine in the Da Vinci Restaurant. Shrimp cocktail with horseradish spiked cocktail sauce, beef cottage pie as a main and it was indeed very tasty with French vanilla bean crème brulée to finish again washed down with Sauvignon Blanc. Dinner over and farewells said its time to pack and sleep in that so very comfortable bed for the last time as we head for Edinburgh where I disembark and swap ship for train back to the real world, thank you Princess Cruises.
Alan was a guest of Princess Cruises.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Princess Cruises