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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
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.
Travel Advisor recommends Princess Cruises
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