We chose this cruise (September 9-23, 2019; roundtrip Dover, England) both for the itinerary and to experience the “small ship” atmosphere of the Pacific Princess. We were not disappointed by either. Indeed, we would sail both this itinerary and this ship again.
Embarkation: We booked a few nights in a London hotel (The JW Marriott Grovesnor House) through Princess, which included transfers from London Heathrow to the hotel and then from the hotel to the ship. All of these arrangements were seamless, expeditious, and professional. We essentially walked from the hotel to the bus to the ship, with the slightest of pauses to check in and collect our ship card.
Ship: In my opinion, the ship was a perfect size. Nothing was too far away and no venue was ever over-crowded. While the ship is older, it has a gracious feel to it, with a proper (and absolutely lovely) library, nicely appointed common areas, cozy bars, a small casino, and ample outdoor spaces. There are no water slides, go-carts, concert venues, or other features of the new mega-ships. (Frankly, they were not missed).
Passengers: The clientele reflects the ship itself. Almost all passengers were 50+ and very well-travelled. Indeed, the Princess “elite” level passengers made up at least half the ship’s guests. Most guests were Americans, Canadians, and British, with a handful of Australians and New Zealanders. This is not a ship for children or teenagers; they would be bored.
Service: The service on the ship was uniformly very good and we had no complaints at all about our room stewards, waiters, or bar staff.
Food: The food was typical “hotel banquet quality,” with nothing being either truly outstanding or terrible. I am often critical of the buffets offered by Princess, but this buffet, while small, was generally a cut above the usual offerings, with two omelet stations in the morning, a small pizza window, and a burger grill just outside by the pool. My main complaint is that meat dishes were often overcooked and suffered from too much time in steam trays. The specialty restaurants – the Sterling Steakhouse and Sabatini’s – alternate nights. The service in both was exceptional but the food was not exponentially better than that in the main dining room. The Steakhouse did a nice pub lunch on our mid-cruise sea day.
Itinerary: The itinerary was very intense: 11 ports in 14 days. That left only two sea days: one after seven ports and the other the last day on the ship before Dover. This left little time to relax on the ship. However, all the ports were great, as were the excursions we took through the ship. While entertainment venues were limited in size, the ship provided some special entertainments brought in from various ports, such as Irish folk lore group and a Scottish bagpipe band. Ports visited: St. Helier in Jersey, Portland, England; Falmouth, Cornwall; Waterford, Ireland; Holyhead, Wales; Dublin, Ireland; Belfast, Norther Ireland; Perotree, Isle of Skye; Kirkwall, Orkney; Edinburgh, Scotland; Newcastle, England.
Shore Excursions: All the shore excursions we booked through the ship were very good and professionally run. Our main complaint is that they were often too short. This is particularly true of the many castle excursions we took (Kilkenny Castle, Alnwick Castle, Dublin Castle) which did not allow enough time to visit the gardens. Adding just one hour to each excursion would be nice.
When we booked the cruise, only guaranteed mini-suites were available, so we did not pick this room. It was right next to the entry to the bridge, which limited the hall traffic considerably!
Because the ship is older, the mini-suite does not follow the same layout as mini-suites on a larger ship such as the Emerald Princess. The room is square with no demarcation between sleeping and sitting areas. We had a large bed, two night stands, a couch, a table and two chairs. The bathroom was smaller than those with other mini-suites, but it did have a full sized tub and two cabinets. The closets are enclosed, unlike the large open closets on other Princess ships; there is not as much hanging space. Storage was adequate, but not vast. Unlike other ships we have been on, our large suitcases did not fit under the bed and had to be stored between the couch and the sliding glass door to the balcony. We were comfortable, but I consider the cabin more of a large balcony room as opposed to a true suite.
Dover is an easy port to access and to sail from. And those white cliffs really are white.
I had a hard time finding reviews of this port, so I plan to take some time with this review.
The actual port of Falmouth itself is industrial and not terribly inviting. I was given to understand that the port would like to attract more cruise ship business, so it may have to work on this a bit. However, we were able to walk off the ship and straight onto our tour bus. We had a lovely drive through Cornwall with a knowledgeable guide. The Cornish countryside is just beautiful, as are the quaint seaside villages. It is a popular vacation spot and I would love to spend more time there.
There were many interesting offerings of tours in Cornwall and we had a tough time choosing. We finally selected the tour to St. Michael’s Mount, a small tidal island which contains a historic castle that was once an abbey, as well as a small shop and two cafes.
The guidelines caution that it is a strenuous tour. Truer words have never been written! Indeed, the guidelines compiled by the ship do not do it justice.
The way to the island is via a rough, uneven cobble stoned walkway when the tide is out. (When the tide is in the island is accessible only by boat). The distance is billed as “500 metres,” but it seemed longer. Once across the walkway there is a strenuous climb to the castle at the top of the Mount. The path is steep, rough, and was slick that morning. There are only a few, limited places with handrails; most of the climb is without anything to grab onto, particularly the last part which is over open ground strewn with rough rocks that serve as footholds. Without my spouse’s help I could not have done this climb. And it is even more challenging coming down, which is the same way. There is no secret elevator or modern staircase.
I say all this only as a caution, not to discourage anyone from going. Indeed, I am extremely glad that I chose to visit the Mount as it is one of the most unique places I have ever visited. The castle – complete with chapel and a small weapons museum – was very, very interesting and full of historical significance. I found it fascinating that the family which owns this castle still lives there, and that the Queen visited as recently as 2013. The views from the top are absolutely spectacular. And the Cornish cream tea we purchased at the Island Café was the best I have ever tasted. All in all, a fantastic shore excursion.
We booked a tour of the Waterford Crystal Factory and Kilkenny Castle. This was a great tour, helped by the fact that we had glorious weather that day.
At the factory, we had a tour of the glassmaking works, which are fascinating. The tour included some of the history of the company. There was ample time to shop in the breathtaking showroom and I took full advantage. For a flat rate (30 Euros), my purchases were shipped to the USA and were waiting for me when I arrived home.
We then drove through the beautiful Irish countryside to Kilkenny, where there was time for lunch on our own before a semi-guided tour of the castle.
Our only complaint is that the tour was too short in Kilkenny. The castle is surrounded by lovely parklands and gardens, which we did not have time to visit. Adding an hour to this tour would be a good idea, as would an included lunch at the restaurant across the street from the castle.
Caernarfon Castle is a historic site, particularly for those of us old enough to remember Prince Charles' investiture as Prince of Wales in this Castle. It was a wonderful drive through the lovely Welsh countryside.View All 5 Caernarfon Castle Reviews
Penrhyn is not really a castle at all, but a country house deliberately built to look like a castle. It was a fun tour through an opulent house; the kitchens were particularly interesting, as were the beautiful grounds and setting. It was well worth it.View All 3 Penrhyn Castle Reviews
We booked a half-day tour of the Book of Kells and Dublin Castle, which is really not a Castle at all but a large, administrative space set up like a palace. While we had a wonderful guide, I am giving this tour a very negative rating. There was nowhere near enough time to do any justice at all to the Book of Kells exhibition; there was barely enough time to elbow one's way to the see the book. The Castle was interesting and we had a good guide there but, again, the tour was rushed. The vendor needs to ADD TIME to give guests a meaningful experience.View All 11 Dublin Castle Reviews
This was quite possibly the best shore excursion we booked the entire cruise. The drive up the Atrium Coast was spectacular! (Make sure to sit on the right side of the coach). We had a nice stop for scones and coffee/tea at a hotel in the morning, and then a sumptuous lunch (roast beef, potatoes, etc.) in a lovely restaurant overlooking the Royal PortRush golf course. It was then onto the Giant's Causeway where we had almost 2 hours to walk and explore on our own a natural phenomenon that is simply not to be missed. Our fabulous guide had talked and talked about Bushmills whiskey; he made the time to swing by the distillery for anyone who wanted to buy some, even though that was not on the tour. (The only problem with this tour was that it left us with no time or energy to see Belfast, a vibrant city that totally rocks. Fortunately, we had been there before.)View All undefined undefined Reviews
We had previously been to Kirkwall and toured Skara Brae (a fascinating archeological site) so this time we ventured on our own. We were fortunate to be docked and the city provided a free shuttle into Kirkwall. (We felt bad for another ship in port which had to tender in high winds). We toured the ruins of the Earl’s Palace and the Bishop’s Palace, then St. Magnus Cathedral. We had arranged for a “behind the scenes” upstairs tour of the Cathedral (you need to arrange this with the custodian of the Cathedral well in advance as tours operate sporadically and only a few people go on any given day) and it proved to be, while exceptionally strenuous, one of the most interesting and unique things we have ever done. We had a wonderful lunch at a local restaurant (Helgi’s; I highly recommend the fish and chips) then caught the shuttle back to the ship with plenty of time to spare before sailaway.
We booked this excursion on the representation that Alnwick Castle had featured in the early Harry Potter films as the exterior of Hogwarts and the scenes of Harry's first flying lesson. That was all true. (and the castle offers broomstick training for kids of all ages!) We had not realized, however, that the gorgeous state rooms of the Castle, which is owned by the Duke of Northumberland, as well as the surrounding parklands and gardens, had featured prominently in the later seasons of Downton Abbey as Brancaster Castle, home of the Marquess of Hexham. This was an added bonus, as was the short film about the filming challenges at the Castle which included commentary by the Duke and Duchess. A few days after we left the ship we were thrilled to see a shot of the castle in the new Downton Abbey movie! Additionally, the drive from the ship up the coast of England was just lovely and our guide was able to provide a lot of information about the area. We just wish there had been more time to visit and explore the grounds.View All 4 Alnwick Castle Reviews