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I invited myself on someone else’s vacation. Oh, they didn’t mind, they even let me plan everything. My running partner mentioned that she and her mother wanted to travel through Great Britain, and I casually mentioned wanting to come along and bring my mother. Since I got no objections, I ran with it. Being the planner, traveler, and control freak that I am, I began obsessing, and soon found a 12-day Princess Cruise Line British Isles cruise out of Southampton with stops in England, Ireland, Scotland, and France. Ding!
The planning was almost as fun as the trip! This would be our first time cruising with Princess. Being a past cruiser on Carnival and Norwegian, I was no stranger to the booking, shore excursion reservation, and pre-cruise check-in processes. Princess has a very easy to use website, and if there were ever any silly questions, our Princess Cruise Vacation Planner, Jolene, was always available by phone or email (especially email, my preferred method).
With available vacation time limited, cruises maximize time. So we planned to pack in as much excitement as we could into a two week trip. With all our flights, hotel reservations, planned walkabouts, transfers, cruise documents, shore excursion reservations, confirmations, maps…well, that’s a ton of paperwork to keep track of. Any time I plan a trip this structured, I always make a spiral bound booklet with everything I need arranged chronologically. The booklet can be kept intact (my mother kept hers as a souvenir) or pages can be ripped out as needed for confirmations or day use of a map (my method). Usually my book thins out by the end of a trip and the rest can be thrown out altogether. I also keep a PDF copy of it on my phone for even quicker reference.
When I fly, I typically do not check a bag, ever. Things happen when traveling, and I’m too much of a control freak to let my bag out of my sight. Check-in and landing are both easier without those extra lines at the counters and baggage claim. Besides, no one wants to drag a huge suitcase around from place to place in a foreign country, assuming your luggage makes the trip (which, by the way, my friend’s mother’s suitcase did not). Anyway, we would be leaving 90 degree temperatures in Texas and vacationing in temperatures ranging from the 40s to the 60s (Fahrenheit) and we knew we would be walking, a lot. So packing for this trip required some thought, layering, and packing several accessories that would serve multiple purposes.
Every time I travel to an area with chilly or cold weather, I always pack my SCOTTeVEST Women’s Trench Coat (below). It’s lightweight and compact, warm but not hot, and it has a multitude of hidden pockets so I don’t have to carry a purse. My trench(es) have been all over the United States, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom. I also travel with PopOut maps (London PopOut Map (PopOut Maps)), which are on the same level of secret spy as the trench coat.
Six months later the four of us boarded 2 separate planes in Houston, flew to Heathrow, and met back up at the hotel in London. I had stayed in London before, close to Heathrow, but this time we opted to stay in Central London. The St. Ermin’s Hotel in Westminster is conveniently located near Buckingham Palace and other attractions. While my mother and I waited for the rest of our party to sort out their lost luggage, we decided we would hold a table for afternoon tea upstairs on the balcony (read about that lovely experience at Afternoon Tea here). Feeling refreshed and collected, the four of us went on a walkabout in Central London like true tourists. We visited Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, Cleopatra’s Needle, crossed the Thames a couple times, and popped in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese for some local pub food and cider. For only having less than 24 hours in London before our cruise, I think we made great use of our time.
The next morning my friend and I went for a 20 minute run around St. James’s Park and Buckingham Palace before our pre-cruise tour and transfer. Viator was a company I had used for tours in Rome, and I was very happy with the company. So we booked one of their pre-cruise excursions to Stonehenge, which included a pickup at our hotel, a stop at Stonehenge, and drop-off at the pier for our cruise. Booking a combination tour/transfer took the stress out of traveling from London to Southampton, and we did not have to worry about our luggage while we were on the tour. I would highly recommend this tour. Since we were already in our running clothes, my friend and I did a mile and a half run from the visitor center to the stones. There is a shuttle that runs back and forth between the two, but we wanted our land legs to get as much exercise as possible before getting on a ship for 12 days. Besides, we ran to Stonehenge…how many people can say that? After our visit at the stones, we were taken to the pier to embark on the next leg of our journey. That’s when the fun really got started…