“Ah don’t be bendin’ that poor fella’s ear.”
It’s a sunny Monday morning and I’m on a train from Cobh to Cork, around 15 miles away.
It’s my first rail trip in Ireland, and fellow passengers include Jim, a keen fisherman, and his wife. (I don’t catch her name).
She ignores Jim’s advice and we talk about life, comedians and that big ship – Caribbean Princess – that has just brought me and 2,000 other passengers into port.
Mrs Jim has never had the desire to go cruising, despite being of a similar age to many of my fellow holidaymakers.
Not that you need to have seen 50 or 60 summers to embrace a life on the ocean waves. The Caribbean Princess treats all passengers like blue blooded travellers.
Cobh, Ireland – photos: Roger Crow
“You’re not the Secret Millionaire?” asks Jim as we near the end of our journey.
“I wish,” I reply, though you don’t need to spend a fortune to live like royalty. At first sight it’s not cheap, but at the same time if you tally up the cost of three daily meals for 12 days; unlimited snacks; accommodation; shows and obviously transport to assorted ports, then the price saved on flights means you can afford to, er, push the boat out a bit.
I enjoy a five mile walk round Cork (my first trip); soak up culture in the art gallery; revel in the shops, and watch the world go by over a coffee at the Opera House.
Some of the dishes on the Caribbean Princess. Photos: Roger Crow
Though Cork feels like Dublin’s twin, Cobh proves a picturesque revelation, from the minute we sailed into port to walking the streets and scaling the steep steps. A Titanic exhibition attracts many cruisers, as well as a dockside museum and assorted pubs.
Following a lazy afternoon of sunbathing (legs like lobsters after falling asleep), we’re off again as a band plays us off from the dockside.
The Caribbean Princess carves through the waves like a knife through butter, though many of the passengers I see hardly notice. Complex gizmos on the bridge ensure the ride is as smooth as possible.
After a tour of the nerve centre courtesy of the Second Officer (and Paul Bettany lookalike) Stuart, I couldn’t get over the fact this town-sized ship was guided by a joystick more in common with a PlayStation.
The Caribbean bridge. Photo: Roger Crow
As Princess is an American company synonymous with 1970s sitcom favourite The Love Boat, there’s little wonder ’Caribbean’ is like a large Californian hotel, complete with fine dining, transatlantic Scottish singer/pianist and menus in dollars.
The experience was so immersive, this “floatel” could have been carving a path down from LA to the Mexican Riviera, like sister ship Ruby Princess which I’d enjoyed in January 2016.
Though I’d done Dublin before, it was good to retrace old haunts even if the rain was a bit of a washout.
Obviously you can book shore excursions and make the most of the few hours you have in any port, but a hop on/hop off bus can be just as rewarding; Princess offered a discount with one company, around 10 Euros for a day’s touring.
Having boarded the previous Saturday in Southampton, I was keen to see if a tour of the British Isles would be as entertaining as my LA-Mexico adventure.
The lure of a relatively local trip where I didn’t spend two days travelling and longer getting over jetlag was too good to resist.
By Sunday, after arriving in Guernsey via tender, I enjoyed a walking tour. As a first time visitor it was a welcome surprise, whether watching yachts leaving port or getting lost in the town, it was a great way to kill a few hours.
The Caribbean Princess arrives in Guernsey. Photos: Roger Crow
Of course when all your food on board is free, it’s tempting to avoid eating anything on land.
Horizon Court isn’t just one of those humdrum ’all you can eat’ restaurants. The food is so good you may never want to go anywhere else, though the mix of free dining and fee dining ensures there’s plenty of variety.
And given the facilities on board, there’s little wonder I found myself gravitating back to the ship long before departure. It’s not just the great food (the hot dogs and pizza are especially good), but the calibre of movies and shows.
Whether you watch in your room, the excellent theatre or on a large outdoor screen for Movies Under the Stars, the wealth of recent films will keep you entertained.
I saw one staged production on this voyage, the aptly named Bravo, a high end medley of classic show tunes, opera and even a couple of Bond tracks. (Any show which features Skyfall is all right by me).
Unlike Magic To Do, another slick Princess production featuring a narrative filled with Stephen Schwartz songs, this didn’t bother trying to link them. Just hit after hit, to the delight of gathered viewers.
But what of the accommodation you may wonder?
Well, my inside cabin may have had no view, but mirrors on the main walls gave the illusion of infinite depth. The bathroom was also spacious enough to shower and hang washing should you want to, while the beds ensured a peaceful night’s sleep. I’ve often thought good ship designers use Tardis-style technology for bathrooms and this was no exception.
As we sailed from Dublin to Liverpool, my last leg, it was inevitably poignant. I’d been on board just three days but the diversion had been as rewarding as a week-long trip.
As I left the Caribbean Princess in a rain-lashed Liverpool and my soaked lobster legs carried me to the train station, I knew that one day I’d have to try the entire voyage, taking in the rest of the ports including Glasgow, Orkney and Normandy as well.
I hope that Jim and his wife give the cruising lark a try sometime, but for now my “excess baggage” (care of Horizon Court) meant another gym was called for.
Travel Facts: In the spring and summer of 2017 Caribbean Princess will be back in the UK to sail the British Isles again.
Sample itinerary: Sunday June 18, 2017 – 12 nights
Southampton | Guernsey (St Peter’s Port) | Cobh | Dublin | Liverpool | Belfast
| Glasgow (Greenock) | Orkney Islands (Kirkwall) |Invergordon | Edinburgh | Paris/Normandy (Le Havre).
Prices start from £1,499pp (based on two people sharing an inside stateroom).
:: With thanks to Princess Cruises for help with this blog post.