With the world more accessible by ship than ever before, a cruise around the British Isles might seem a little familiar, but agents shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss home shores. Emily Eastman joins Princess Cruises, one line reinventing the cruise experience as it sails British waters
There’s a sea change in appetite for British Isles cruises: an ex-UK, round-UK voyage eliminates the hassle of flying, does away with currency concerns in light of a weak pound, and offers an opportunity to experience more of our shoreside towns and cities.
To see if demand and experience align, I’m joining Princess Cruises’ Crown Princess for a segment of its Round Britain itinerary, travelling to ports of call from Southampton to Liverpool, where I’ll disembark before the ship sails onwards to Scotland, Paris and back to Southampton.
Crown Princess is one of three Princess ships – alongside Grand Princess and Island Princess – that will be based in the UK from 2021, increasing ex-UK capacity by nine per cent. The move reflects increasing demand for no-fly cruises and is part of a wider industry trend towards greater ex-UK options.
First stop is Guernsey, where I take a tender to St Peter Port to join a cycling excursion with Outdoor Guernsey. It’s a good option for those of reasonable fitness keen to learn about the history of this channel island – our guides, Skip and Alfie, share fairy tales, witch folklore and mysteries from neighbouring islands. There’s a stop for coffee and Guernsey ice cream (the cows here are renowned for their creamy milk), and we duck into a German bunker to learn about the island’s wartime role.
To get back on board, a digital sensor registers my Ocean Medallion – a digital, wearable accessory that replaces cruise cards and connects to an app, MedallionClass, on your smartphone. The medallions are handed out at check in and enable guests to order food and drinks to wherever they are on the ship; set alerts for the many activities and shows; track down travelling companions; unlock their stateroom hands-free; and play interactive games with cute maritime avatars.
Crown Princess boasts 7,000 medallion sensors, and I test them out by ordering sustenance on the move. Despite some teething issues (it takes 15 minutes for a Coke to arrive when I’m sitting opposite the bar), it’s easy to see the appeal of placing an order without having to move or attract someone’s attention. This appeal is felt most acutely in the ship’s many bars, where I order in comfort – there’s a generous wine list at Vines, a lengthy cocktail list at Crooners and classic options at Good Spirits.
The food is equally impressive. At Sabatini’s – an Italian speciality restaurant and executive chef Federico Femiano’s onboard favourite – there’s artichoke soufflé, rich pasta dishes and chocolate-walled tiramisu. In Crown Grill, we dine on lobster with garlic-herb fries, while in The Salty Dog Gastropub, it’s possibly the world’s best breadsticks dunked in beer-cheddar fondue followed by white-tomato soup, beef short rib poutine and crab cakes. The main dining room is just as good, with succulent steak – “so good I don’t need the peppercorn sauce” according to a travel companion – and wipe-the-bowl-clean seafood pasta.
The service is speedy and friendly, leaving us sated before each evening’s entertainment. Crown Princess has a packed schedule of shows, with Sweet Soul Music in the main theatre and, on the night we’re docked in Dublin, Irish Dreams, a local production with West End stars who come aboard to perform for one night only. We skip dessert to catch it, and I’m so glad: it’s a celebration of Irish culture, with music, dancing and history rolled into one captivating, uplifting performance.
Dublin itself is the third port of call, following Cobh for Cork. Cobh stands out as a favourite destination – you step off the ship straight into the town where you can visit the Cobh Heritage Centre to learn about Annie Moore, the first immigrant to be processed at Ellis Island; immerse yourself in the Titanic Experience; or head into Cork proper for Blarney Castle. We opt for Spike Island, originally a monastic settlement and subsequently a prison and defensive fortress. Dubbed ‘Ireland’s Alcatraz’, the island has a grisly history as a notorious prison harbouring political prisoners and those convicted of petty crimes during the Great Famine.
Dublin, too, has a huge variety of excursion options. The Book of Kells Exhibition & Old Library tour at Trinity College is a real treat, offering an insight into the Christian Gospels and an opportunity to marvel at the Long Room, which has a copy of every book published throughout Ireland and the UK. From Trinity, we head to Dublin Castle, where a private guide shares ancient and contemporary tales.
Under bright autumn skies in Liverpool, guests bustle off the ship for The Beatles Story – unsurprisingly a popular option – but there’s also the Royal Albert Dock, a Unesco World Heritage Site, the city’s two cathedrals and even a trip to the Lake District, where guests can try a different kind of cruise along Windermere, England’s longest lake.
It’s easy to see the beauty of a British Isles cruise – it feels leisurely: distances between ports are short and there’s plenty of time to spend at each. A short train ride through the British countryside and I’m home, having avoided airports, with no currency to change up, and having seen a bit more of what our isles have to offer.