Princess had two coaches going to Dover and they didn't put more than 20 people on each of these 53 passenger coaches. It was very easy boarding at Dover, however; this was the first cruise I've taken where they keep your passport until the end of the cruise. It makes the immigration task easier, I guess, but they didn't stamp the passport anywhere except in Guernsey. As we sailed out of port we watched those legendary white cliffs of Dover, and the castle on top of those cliffs.
There were a lot of upset people on this cruise who wanted early sitting, which we had. Sixty people were on a waiting list and a number of them claimed medical reasons for requiring the first sitting. The Maitre d' Hotel said there was nothing he could do. One guy was complaining that he was guaranteed first sitting since December. Of course, that was before they sold the Island Princess. I guess they didn't bounce us from first sitting because they had already done enough damage by selling the Island Princess (on which we had had reservations) and downgrading us two categories.
At dinner, I felt like I had stepped back into the USA. Since the passenger list was 90% Americans, the cuisine was designed for us. We had a wonderful older couple from London at our table and we saw the differences with water: they didn't want water with their meals and they had the waiter take away the water glasses. They had wine every evening.
For dinner that first night, I had prime rib, shrimp cocktail, Piña Colada soup, salad (finally some iceberg lettuce), pasta and for dessert, a chocolate tort. The latter was described as a "chocolate lover's delight" and supposedly very rich. I found it lacking in chocolate.
They had a lot of items on the menu -- usually two or three fish, two or three meat main entrées and the standby four items always available. I passed on the buffalo but the prime rib was very good. Some of our tablemates didn't join us until the third night due to having to set our clocks ahead one hour -- this really did a number on those who flew in directly to the ship.
The shows were colorful and energetic, though usually with a theme I couldn't relate to. One had a movie theme, but the movies were so old, I couldn't identify with them. I didn't enjoy the music.
We had many different movies to choose from in the evenings: "Patch Adams"; "Elizabeth" (which I enjoyed especially because I had seen a lot of the London area the previous week); "Lethal Weapon 4"; "Message In A Bottle"; "You've Got Mail"; "Enemy of the State"; "Pleasantville"; and "First Sight".
My thoughts and reactions to some of the meals through the week:
- My wife enjoyed the veal tonight. My rack of lamb only consisted of three lamb chops, so I had a second helping. I also tried the Love Boat special dessert which is a heart-shaped chocolate covered chocolate cake. It was good, but I'm back to chocolate ice cream for my fix.
- Tonight was Greek Night. The "Pork Loin" turned out to be chops; there were beef strips which were just slices of roast beef. The beef was the best tasting item.
- Tonight I had a large rib-eye steak. The Brits were surprised to see the veal steak with a bone in it. None of their steaks have bones, like we see in the US for T-bones, rib steaks, etc. I think it's against the law to serve beef with a bone due to the mad cow issue, which supposedly is under control.
- Beef tenderloin at dinner tonight was just slices of roast beef. They also had King Crab that my wife relished.
- It was Formal Night and French Night, so my wife could have her escargot. The French onion soup was OK. The steak was tough so I sent it back and got the pork chops. There were a number of poor choices. The pot roast was two slices of beef in a sauce that had too much wine.
- My wife said she had the best lasagna ever for lunch today.
- Tonight I had the lamb chops which were very good. My wife had the tournedos of beef, which again was a steak, and not a couple of small medallions. My lamb chops were called "Colorado Spring Lamb Chops." If Princess would spend as much effort on providing good food as it does on coming up with names and descriptions of its food, they'd improve a lot. Of course it's difficult to have a different menu every day, but usually it's very close to the same thing with a different and very fancy name attached.
- On the last Formal Night they served Beef Wellington, lobster, etc. and had the usual Baked Alaska bit. It was pretty good. And they followed all of this with a chocolate buffet from 11:15 to midnight on Deck 9. I guess they wanted to leave a good impression as we neared the end of the cruise.
- The evening of the Farewell Dinner we had many good choices. Like at the Welcome Dinner, I had prime rib.
And Now the Ports
6/5/99 -- Le Havre
If it wasn't bad enough that we lost an hour due to the time change, we had a long all-day tour to Paris that required us to get breakfast at 6 AM. The Pacific Princess has a bow camera, so we were able to watch port approaches from our room.
Princess was well organized with the tours, and the coaches had both front and center doors that made getting on and off faster. The temperature was cool, 59-62 degrees F. The French countryside was beautiful, which made the long ride to Paris very enjoyable. Our first stop was at a place where we could overlook the Eiffel Tower; it seemed so much bigger than the many photos we had seen. My wife and I both couldn't believe that we were actually in Paris.
We had lunch at Café Jenny. I don't normally drink wine, except for some White Zinfandel on rare occasions but I tasted the wine served with the meal. It appealed to me since it seemed to be full bodied with a sweet taste. However, after one glass, all I could taste was liquor; the sweetness that I liked was gone. They said it was called Ventoux.
We drove all around Paris -- the typical tourist stuff (Arc de Triumphe, Louvre, etc.) and then stopped at Notre Dame Cathedral. I found the gargoyles to be very interesting, protruding as they do so far from the structure. I understand that they are used for water control when it rains. Across the street from Notre Dame is a row of shops. If one wants to get postcards, just keep walking down the street: cards started at 6 francs but were only 3 francs at the end of the street.
The French do something right - they drive on the correct side of the road. Princess used five buses for this tour, each one only took 28 people, although the coach had the capacity for 50. We had an enjoyable ride back to the ship due to the beautiful countryside. I like the water towers they use in France - they seem to be concrete structures shaped like a Pilsner beer glass. They are more attractive than those steel things we have in the US.
We gained our hour back today for our visit by tender to St. Peter Port in Guernsey. We had a nice scenic ride around the island. My wife was thrilled because she saw a Guernsey cow give birth while we visited the little chapel that's made out of shells and such. They still have a lot of structures that were built for World War II all around the island for defense. Tendering got rough going back to the ship, so Princess hired a larger ferry to transport about 140 people back. We were the last people to get off before the gangway began to twist and jerk in the heavy seas. They stopped letting people board and moved the ferry to the other side of the ship. We were halfway through our lunch before those people were able to get aboard.
6/7/99 -- Falmouth
We had planned to sleep late since we only had an afternoon tour, but we woke up and went to breakfast. Falmouth, Cornwall was another pretty area, a little different from Guernsey. St Michaels Mount was a very interesting site. We stopped for tea and scones with clotted cream (like butter) at Tregenna Castle in St. Ives; it was very tasty. It turns out that this is an RCI time-share location too. This tour was not run as efficiently as the others: we got started late and returned late for the semi-formal night. We weren't that hungry anyway, since we just had those scones. It was a good thing, too, because the pot pie was mediocre, the veal was bad, and only the pasta was good.
6/8/99 -- Cork
The tours seemed organized again. We ran into a peculiar item that the Brits might appreciate, a signalized roundabout (I'd been calling them the East Coast name of "rotaries.") Also, in Ireland, they use the "Yield" wording, instead of "Give Way." The city of Cork had terrible traffic; it took us an hour and a half to get through it. We finally got out to the Blarney Castle area and had lunch at the Blarney Park Hotel while being serenaded by the Irish Weavers, who were very good. It seemed like the utensils were set up backwards for lunch, though. I wonder if it's an Irish custom to work from the inside out? On the other hand, they served hot rolls, and the croutons in the salad were also heated - a first for me. The salad was good. The Irish stew was OK, but my wife didn't care for it since she doesn't like stew. Dessert was an exquisite cheese cake.
From there we went to Blarney Castle and then shopped at the Blarney Woolen Mills. (I had run into some people huffing and puffing from climbing those 100+ steps to the Blarney stone and asked them why they didn't use the lift in back, just to watch their expression.) The Blarney Woollen Mills is an excellent place to shop. They have a form they fill out and deduct the VAT (the U.K. sales tax) right there so there's nothing to worry about later. The neatest thing - they have a computer they have set up where one can send email postcards for free. I sent five email postcards. People were surprised to get them.
6/9/99 -- Dublin
We were starting to experience longer days. Sunrise was 4:59 and sunset 9:54. But it stays light even after the sun goes down. We had breakfast on the Lido deck. We didn't like this because the food was cold when we finally sat down to eat.
Dublin was the worst port we went in to; the traffic was horrible. The hills are very far out from the city, and our local town of Dublin, CA is prettier when the hills are green. There seemed to be only a few places to take tourists, since the buses congregated at Trinity College, St Patrick's church, and a place where the Pope said Mass a few years back; they erected a big cross there. I'd rather have seen the beautiful countryside instead of the city. If that wasn't bad enough, the guide talked incessantly. It seemed as though he felt he had to be saying something every second, and would keep repeating info over and over. Then, the bus stopped at Trinity College, so they could show people where the shuttle picks up, and he left us there. He doesn't go back to the ship; consequently, he wasn't there to get any tips. That was his first tour bus and probably his last. Before that, he had narrated on the double deckers that go around town.
I noticed that the Seabourn Pride was tied up very close to town, cutting about 45 minutes to an hour of useless time sitting in traffic. Mistakenly, we took the shuttle back after lunch to shop in Dublin -- it seemed like New York City with wall-to-wall people. I'd skip this port altogether or just book a tour that goes into the countryside. Very disappointing. If we hadn't seen some countryside on our Cork tour, I wouldn't think much of Ireland.
6/10/99 -- Holyhead, Wales
It was tender time again. We saw Caernarfon Castle; a shop there wouldn't take a credit card purchase for three pounds. We stopped at the town whose name is 56 letters long. Everyone was ready to go before we were scheduled to leave.
One thing I noticed in these areas outside of London is that they don't brand their clothes with the names of their town, which is what the tourists want. They'd sell more if they did. I saw no reason to buy something here that I could also get at home, and then have to lug it back home, too.
6/11/99 -- Glasgow
We took the best tour of them all today, to Loch Lomond and the village of Luss. It was so gorgeous, plus we had a sunny day, which made everything look more beautiful. The Loch itself was so pretty and the town so quaint with its little houses and gardens. We then went to King George Inn for a delicious lunch of chicken, salad and a to-die-for Scottish Caramel Shortbread dessert.
On the way back to the ship, we passed a stand of 150 year-old redwood trees that had been imported from California. I found this unique, since most of the importing has been in the other direction, from Europe to the US, with all the immigrants and such. The tour ended with a ferry ride across the Clyde River. And this perfect day ended with being serenaded by bagpipers while we reboarded the ship.
6/12/99 -- At sea
(Sunrise 4:33 AM, Sunset 10:01 PM)
Had a late breakfast and then watched fabulous scenery as we traveled to our next port. It was similar to the Inside Passage on an Alaskan cruise. Today was sunny, but windy and cool. Scotland is the most beautiful place on this cruise and is probably why they have most of the port stops there.
I suggested that they have a Scottish tour similar to the one in Ireland where we stopped for scones and clotted cream. However, instead of scones, they would serve bagels. Thus, it could be called a bagels and lochs tour (groan).
6/13 -- Kirkwall
We had no tour planned today. It was another tendering location and was overcast and drizzly. We are on the same latitude as Anchorage, Alaska which accounts for all the daylight hours. I decided to go ashore anyway since the sea was calm, and I came to appreciate the Princess tenders. Also anchored in this port was a ship called the Caledonian Star [Ed. - Lindblad Special Expeditions]. Their tenders were rubber rafts and their passengers all had to wear life jackets. And they were very close to the water.
I walked around town and found the cathedral at the center and its usual graveyard. One headstone was for some Arctic explorer and showed all his trips. One thing I noticed was that people here seemed to either die very young or very old, nothing in between. We took in afternoon tea today and I ate more that I didn't need. I learned another British saying: "Passion Killers" - supposedly these are very thick knickers.
6/14/99 -- Invergordon
I was amazed to see so many oil rigs here, only to find out that this is where they are repaired; they aren't pumping oil. They are floated in to be upgraded. We had a nice drive around the area, but it started to get showery -- we couldn't see the gardens that we had an hour on the agenda to partake. Lunch was paté, salmon and some kind of oatmeal/fruit dessert at a nice inn.
6/15/99 -- Rosyth
Today we had a tour called "Leisurely Scotland" scheduled. It didn't leave until 9, so we tried to sleep late but couldn't. We passed by Scotland's version of Silicon Valley that they call Silicon Glen. We also went to the Firth of Forth.
Again, the Seabourn Pride was tied up close to the city of Edinburgh, next to the Britannia, while the Pacific Princess was docked at Rosyth, a 45-minute drive away. This time we stayed in town and had lunch at a pub called "Milnes of Rose Street." I had a chicken pie and my wife had a steak sandwich -- pretty good. Edinburgh was the first city where we noticed street people begging.
6/16/99 -- At sea
With the clocks ahead, the dining room was empty for breakfast. I told the Maitre d' that I was disappointed that there were no Eggs Benedict on this cruise. He said he'd have it for me tomorrow. That afternoon they had their Grand Buffet on Deck 6. Essentially, they had food available in three areas: there, the dining room and the Lido deck. It was pretty good, and always pleasing to the eye.
Also, my wife had a massage. She said the woman was very talented and knew what she was doing, but out of her hour's time, she had 40 minutes of massage and 20 minutes of a sales pitch trying to sell her products.
6/17/99 -- Amsterdam
We took a tour of Amsterdam that started with a cruise on the canals. Amsterdam looks very nice from this angle. The narrow houses were built to avoid taxes; since they were taxed based on the width of a house, they built skinny but very long houses. I found the flower mart to be very disappointing. There wasn't much to it and half of the flowers were fake, made out of wood or cloth. They had cannabis for sale and it seems that anything goes in this town. Even though we didn't go to the red light district, there were sex shops all around. My wife walked into one store that had postcards in front and was decorated like a souvenir store only to find it was something else. And gambling is legal there too.
We were also taken to their lone tourist windmill, as I called it. I guess tourists think of Amsterdam as having tulips and windmills, but the picturesque ones aren't really practical. So they have this token one that they take the tourists to so they can take pictures. The city looked nice from the canals, but a dirty big city when on land. I enjoyed seeing their trolley cars, though.
After leaving Amsterdam, we got our passports back.
6/18/99 -- Disembarkation
We got up late since we were the last off the ship, scheduled for a 9:30 departure. We had a leisurely breakfast. For the first time on a cruise, our waiter and busboy seemed genuinely very friendly this morning. On other cruises, we had the feeling that once they had their tips, they didn't have to pretend to be nice anymore; it was a subtle thing, but you detected it. Not on this cruise.
We got off the ship just when they said we would. It was easy to identify our luggage since we were the last ones off. We got on the bus to London and a customs inspector got on and directed us to go through Customs. When we got in there, the Customs people didn't know why, because we had already been cleared.
We had a nice drive through the English countryside. Fields were blooming with red, blue, yellow and white flowers on this sunny day. We checked into the Millennium Gloucester, and Princess had a time posted for us to have our luggage out and when our transportation would arrive. This is a very nice hotel - first class. We had lunch at ASK Pizza, and took the tube to Piccadilly Circus to get our son some Beatles stuff. It was very crowded on the way back and that's when we learned that they closed four stations due to a demonstration that got out of hand.
We had dinner at the hotel, but should have gone back to the Vanderbilt's Marlboro room. My wife ordered a tomato starter that was not very good and overpriced. While we were eating, a woman was sizing up the restaurant. It turned out that they had to move a dinner for a German group of 60 some people to this restaurant due to the riot in London. They were very anxious for us to leave. They offered to buy us champagne which we declined. My wife had decided to have her dessert sent to our room anyway, and they seemed to be pleased for us to leave. We took our time getting up to our room and when we did, not only was her dessert there, but also some nice sorbet and a bowl of cut up bananas.
The inevitable day of return arrived. The Gloucester hotel stay included a "continental breakfast." Well, it was a lot more than that. They had a better spread than what we paid for at the Forum one morning: eggs, meats, you name it. And very good.
Our luggage was picked up and we waited for our 7:30 van pickup. After the van was 15 minutes late, I demanded that Princess hire a cab, which they did. They paid the driver in advance, including his tip. We got to the airport and checked in with a comfortable time left to spend my remaining English currency. I ended up with only a few pence when I was done; I had brought 300 pounds with me and didn't have to draw anymore from an ATM machine. I brought back with me the travelers' checks except for the amount that I cashed for tips. The flight home was better than the flight over.
- I met a few people who were very unhappy with their suites on the ship. They went to fill their tubs with water, and the liquid was a very dirty brown substance that was thick in nature. All their water was dirty. The Princess folks tried to tell them that it was OK. (I told them they should have poured that person a glass and told him to drink it and see what his reaction would be.)
- Some statistics for this cruise -- we had 632 passengers, very close to the maximum of 640, from five countries: one from South Africa, one from Ireland, 20 Brits, 30 Canadians and the remainder from the US, of which more than half were from California.
- On board ship, Princess served Coca-Cola® in cans, some with Greek lettering. However, the restaurants in Europe serve Coke in the old glass bottles we haven't seen in decades.
- This was the first cruise I've been on where the headwaiter worked so hard. Usually they glad hand and give orders to the waiters. Ours filled in where he saw gaps, whether it was pouring coffee, taking away plates, ladling out soup on the Lido deck or whatever. This was in addition to the special pastas and desserts that he made. He earned a tip - I've usually either not tipped or tipped these guys very little because they don't do much.
- Princess seems to have done away with a lot of the frills. On theme nights, the waiters and assistant waiters used to dress up and they would decorate the dining room and such. Now, all they seem to do is wear tuxes on formal nights and have some nominal decorations. The British couple at our table noticed the same thing.
- I learned some more British sayings. The usual response to anything one says was "All Right." And when one is upset, they have their "knickers in a twist."
- The Pacific Princess has insufficient space to hang or store clothes. We had only two closet areas and they were stuffed.
- We found out that the waiters, stewards and such all had been trained to "never say no" to a customer. They will say something like "We will see what we can do" and then not do it, but they don't say "no."
- The cruise director had joked about luggage being piled in the lobby outside the Purser's Office and I was surprised to find out that it really was. On other ships, they had a place to hold the luggage that was out of sight.
Over all, this was a great trip. We enjoyed London, loved Scotland and the cruise was very smooth for a small ship.
Some Photos contributed by Frank Heinisch
Frank Heinisch retired ten years ago upon reaching his 48th birthday. Frank and wife, Sandy, live in San Ramon, California, and really enjoy cruising. Frank can be reached for more details of his cruise at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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