For many International travellers, perhaps the best way of exploring the British Iles is from the comfort of a luxury cruise ship. Andy Mossack joins Royal Princess at Edinburgh for the last few days of her 12 night around Britain cruise.
It’s not every day you get personally piped by Louise Marshall. Not only is she the piper to the Lord Provost, she has entertained Popes, assorted royalty and even Brian May who is technically a Queen I suppose.
This was certainly an impressive way to kick off a ship excursion to Edinburgh’s venerable Scotch Malt Whisky Society in leafy Leith. A mighty display of piping at the entrance led to some expert insight into Scottish single malts and then, to round it all off, a lesson on playing the pipes from Louise. Once I got my breath back, she let me pick up her father’s 140-year-old bagpipes, and I swear I felt my inner Scot giving me the thumbs up.
I was joining Royal Princess at Edinburgh for the last few days of her adventure around Britain. She’d already sailed to Guernsey, Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow, Inverness and Edinburgh before continuing on down to Le Havre and back home to Southampton. A voyage of some 2,300 miles.
As I neared the terminal in South Queensferry, I spotted her framed between the giant pillars of the feat of engineering that is the Forth Bridge. Moored some ways out due to her size, the tender from the terminal to the ship was a mini adventure on its own.
Royal Princess is a mightily impressive cruise ship. The statistics alone are staggering; a capacity of over 4,000 passengers, over 1,000 feet long, 19 decks, 13 food and dining options, 12 bars and lounges and 1,780 staterooms, including 1,438 with balconies.
Despite these staggering stats, she really is a very elegant Princess. Somewhat of an art deco beauty if I may be so bold. And, perhaps more importantly, her size offers the space to comfortably accommodate the passenger numbers. I never once felt I was amongst thousands of people apart from the breakfast buffet rush up at Horizon Court. Perhaps a little insider knowledge on the best times to enjoy a quieter breakfast would be a top tip.
My stateroom was a comfortable space in pastel yellow with pleasant mood lighting. A queen bed dominated with a chair and desk to one side, a dresser with a fridge to the other and a flat-screen TV on the wall. Sliding patio doors led to a snug balcony with furniture while a pleasantly spacious closet area led the way to a functional bathroom with shower.
I wandered down to deck 6 and 7 to get my bearings and during my elevator ride met Joe and Izzy, a lovely couple from Idaho. “We’ve never been to Scotland before”. Said Izzy, “Don’t you just love that accent.” I was tempted to make up a story about a great uncle being a clan chief back in the day but thought better of it.
Royal Princess’ midship area is really quite impressive. It’s like a vast central hub three decks high for hospitality with restaurants, bars and live music. There was, at that moment, a female string quartet in all their finery serenading us through a variety of popular classics. Amongst all this art deco and marble it felt turn of the century fancy. And timelessly elegant.
I was breaking with tradition that night and having dinner in the Crown Grill Steak House instead of Symphony, the main dining room. It’s a speciality restaurant that required reservations which fortunately were already made. It was akin to a classic New York steak and seafood restaurant, dark wood, booths and waiters with high starched aprons and cowboy style bootlace ties. It was, hands down, an outstanding dinner; while my fellow diners feasted on lobster, I had black and blue onion soup with Jack Daniel’s followed by an 8oz filet mignon with a side of pepper sauce, creamed spinach and red potato mash. The chef’s sampling menu of the desserts was a suitably glorious finale.
Morning dawned on a sea day and a hilarious cookery lesson in the theatre where Executive Chef Giovanni and maître d’ Nicola entertained us like a culinary version of Laurel and Hardy. There was slapstick, concerning a fettuccini Alfredo in particular, but there was also some useful cooking tips too. A galley tour was an apt climax and we all trouped through the enormous main kitchen past a huge line of plates displaying 148 very different ways to cook potatoes. Extraordinary.
After a quick lunch at Alfredo’s pizza, I headed over to the Lotus Spa for a 50-minute massage with bamboo sticks. Let me just say at this point, it will be anchored in my top five spa treatments of all time. It was a stellar performance from a therapist who clearly knew a thing or two about bamboo.
There were organised activities going on all over the ship, but I needed some rest and recuperation in time for the formal evening that lay ahead.
Suited and booted I was enjoying a drink at Bellini’s Bar when Joe and Izzy wander past. ” Well look at you two, don’t you scrub up well.” I joke. I swear I saw a twinkle in Izzy’s eyes as she hooked her arm around Joe’s.
The formal dinner in Symphony was very enjoyable even if the service was not quite as characterful as the Crown Grill.
Having said that, the show in the theatre that night was all that and more. A full orchestra and a hugely impressive cast took us through Encore, a show featuring famous show tunes and arias. It could have been Broadway. It could have been London’s West End. It was that good.
The show finished in time for us to mingle with the entertainment team at the midship Piazza for the traditional formal night balloon drop party. And drop they did, all over the dance floor. I decided to call it a night after spotting Joe and Izzy busting a few moves to We are Family.
Le Havre was not in a good mood the next morning. The rain was incessant. Many of the passengers were leaving the ship here to catch flights back from Paris to the US, while some were simply taking an excursion to the French capital to see the sights.
This was a good opportunity to wander the top decks of a very empty ship. The SeaWalk, a 60 ft glass walkway bending 28 feet around the ship’s exterior; the adults-only Sanctuary retreat with its chilled face towels, alfresco massages and private sun loungers and even managed a few soggy putts and a couple of 7 iron shots in the golf nets.
Dinner at speciality restaurant Sabatini’s that night provided a memorable last-night spectacle. Angelo Auriana—executive chef of renowned Los Angeles restaurant The Factory Kitchen provides the inspiration for the antipasti and hand-made pasta. It was outstanding fine dining amid Romanesque pillars and hand-painted murals.
Burrata alla Panna con Carpaccio di Pomodori sumptuously creamy burrata on a bed of Italian tomatoes was the stand out starter for me followed by lobster three ways.
Back at Southampton, Royal Princess waited patiently for us to depart before accepting another capacity group of guests and setting out around Britain once again. For this first-timer, it was a sad parting, though I suspect we’ll be meeting again.
Tell me more about this Round Britain Cruise on Royal Princess
British Isles (with Dublin overnight)
August 17, 2018
Sailing roundtrip Southampton, ports of call are – Guernsey(St. Peter Port), Cork (Cobh), Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow (Greenock), Invergordon, Edinburgh and Le Havre (Paris/Normandy).
Prices from £1,099 per person, (based on two guests sharing an inside stateroom)
British Isles (With Dublin overnight)
May 1, 2019
Sailing roundtrip from Southampton, ports of call are – Guernsey(St. Peter Port), Cork (Cobh), Dublin, Belfast, Glasgow (Greenock), Invergordon, Edinburgh and Le Havre (Paris/Normandy).
Prices from £1719 per person, with $100USD onboard credit, a bottle of red or white wine and a complimentary speciality meal per person (based on two guests sharing an inside stateroom) – offer valid until July 2, 2018.
All prices include accommodation, all main meals and onboard entertainment. The speciality restaurants featured here are available at a supplement and can be reserved in advance.