The British Isles may not be the first destination of choice when booking a cruise (and not just because of the weather), but as I recently found out aboard Royal Princess, although they may seem a bit familiar, a bit close to home – there’s much more to these beautiful lands than most of us appreciate.
Coming from Southampton, a city which will forever be intrinsically linked with the most infamous of liners, Titanic, which sank to the bottom of the Atlantic in April 1912, I’d always wondered what it must’ve felt like to set sail from this historical dock.
So I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little excited when I found out I would be embarking at Ocean Terminal (opposite where Titanic sailed from, and probably as close as you can get today).
From the moment I set foot into the Atrium of the 3,560 passenger liner, I knew I was going to feel right at home, and the balcony stateroom – my home for the next four nights – ensured that feeling remained. In fact it was hard to tear myself away from the comforts of my room to ensure I was on deck for sail away.
But on deck I was, and with a cocktail in hand I watched as the familiar sites of Southampton’s old city faded into the distance as the ship sailed down The Solent and towards The Channel.
Dinner, a couple of drinks and some small talk with my fellow passengers soon passed and before I knew it, it was time to retire for the night ready for an early start and a day exploring our first port of call, Guernsey.
One of the main attractions of cruising is waking up in a different location every day without feeling like you’ve Travelled, so I was particularly looking forward to the ports we were scheduled to dock in. Sadly, Guernsey wasn’t to be as I woke in the morning to a Captain’s announcement that the sea was too rough to disembark via the tender.
Although it didn’t seem like a plus point at the time, this also provided the opportunity of a leisurely breakfast in bed and an unscheduled sea day, which meant I got to discover just how beautiful a ship Royal Princess really is.
At 1,083 feet long and 217 feet high – taller than London’s Tower Bridge, she boasts 19 decks which house not only the cabins, but also the many entertainment options, including sports courts, freshwater pools, hot tubs, casino, theatres, art gallery, shops, bars and a wealth of choices in dining (including speciality choices at a supplement).
I can safely say I had the best filet mignon of my life in Crown Grill, cooked to perfection and well worth the additional fee.
Always one for throwing a random statistic in, and in case you’ve ever wondered, a day walking around a ship notches up more than 11,000 steps on a fitbit!
What a difference a day at sea makes, the following morning I awoke to the bright sunshine of Cork in south-west Ireland.
After disembarking, my group was transported to Blarney Castle, built nearly 600 years ago and the home of the Blarney Stone. Set in the wall below the battlements at the top of a winding staircase of 127 steep stone steps, where it is said if you kiss it you’ll never again be lost for words as you are instilled with the ‘gift of the gab’.
But there’s so much more to this picturesque castle… wander through the stunning and mystical grounds, entwined with the danger of the Poison Garden, where the most toxic plants are kept in cage-like structures, learn the century old tales of the Wishing Steps, Witch’s Kitchen and Druid’s Cave in enchanting Rock Close and venture into the labyrinth of passages, caves and chambers hidden deep under the tower.
Heading back to the ship after a quick lunch at The English Food Market, our driver regaled us with tales of the Queen’s visit in 2012, and hurling – an amateur game of ancient Gaelic and Irish origin said to be the fastest game on grass and most skilful in the world.
Back on board, I made my way to the Lotus Spa for an Exotic Lime & Ginger Salt Glow treatment which can only be described as 50 minutes of pure indulgence as warm oil was dripped luxuriously over my body before a deep tissue massage, which uses firm pressure and slow strokes to break down the tensions, knots and stresses in your muscles.
I slept like a baby that night.
It was mid-afternoon when we docked in Dublin, and our driver was waiting to take us to the Guinness Storehouse, a seven-storey visitor experience dedicated to the history of the making of this world famous beer synonymous with Ireland.
The site has been home to the Guinness Brewery since 1759, when Arthur Guinness signed a lease for 9,000 years and from the tour to the tasting room and the Guinness Academy, where you learn to pour the perfect pint, the whole experience was unique, and lots of fun.
The highlight though, for me, was definitely the Gravity Bar, symbolically the ‘head of the pint’, and although it was pretty busy it provided some spectacular panoramic views of Dublin – which was good as sadly my flight the following morning meant that apart from a short city drive tour, that was pretty much all I got to see of Ireland’s largest city.
It’s always sad when it comes time to disembark, but I left Royal Princess with just one thought running around my head… Where next?
British Isles (with Dublin Overnight)
Ship: Royal Princess
Sailing round trip from Southampton. Calling at Guernsey (St Peter Port), England | Cork, Ireland (Cobh – For Blarney Castle) | Dublin, Ireland (overnight) | Belfast, Northern Ireland | Glasgow (Greenock), Scotland | Belfast, Northern Ireland | Invergordon, Scotland | Edinburgh (South Queensferry), Scotland | Paris/Normandy (Le Havre), France.
Prices start from £1,034pp (based on two people sharing a cabin).
Price includes accommodation, all main meals, 24-hour room service and onboard entertainment.
To book, visit: www.princess.com.
Source : BournemouthEcho