Day 6: Glasgow (Greenock), Scotland & Excursion: Best of Scotland Highlands
Oh Scotland, I love you. What a beautiful place! And not just the scenery, but the crisp air and the smell of earth and mist and green. We took a ferry and bus to the Highlands and visited Inveraray for lunch and shopping, Inveraray Castle (home of the Duke of Argyll and seat of Clan Campbell), Loch Lomond, and Luss, a small village where I found a little wine bar (of course). We were supposed to visit Rest and Be Thankful but couldn’t stop due to Outlander being filmed. The view from the bus was still stunning, and the Outlander fan in me got a little giddy knowing that filming was going on. We also drove by several other glens and lochs on our way back to Greenock…it was one of the most serene and pleasant days I have ever experienced.
Day 7: At Sea
The wonderful thing about cruises is being completely unplugged and not having any contact with anyone off the ship (if you don’t purchase a data package, that is). It’s kind of like being in the Grand Canyon, but with way more amenities. On sea days I like to sleep in an extra hour, have a run around the track on top deck, shop, nap, and attend wine tastings. I don’t often sit still, but when I do, I’m on a cruise ship. Also, elegant nights are typically on sea days, so not having excursions on those days give me a little more time to get all dolled up and take pictures. It is a nice end to a relaxing day.
Day 8: Orkney Islands (Kirkwall), Scotland & Excursion: Skara Brae & Skaill House
The next stop on our journey was Orkney, an island at the northern tip of Scotland. Not quite Shetland, but close enough. The weather was cold and windy, but still so beautiful! Our tour bus drove us through the main island to the neolithic (5000 years old!) settlement site of Skara Brae, 400 year old Skaill House, and the impressive 5000 year old Standing Stones at Stenness. Our trip back to the ship drive by Scapa Flow, a waterway connecting the Atlantic and the North Sea that served as a natural harbor for the British naval fleet in both World Wars. Being a half day tour, we had plenty of time to hop on a shuttle to the city of Kirkwall. We enjoyed shopping, local faire, and then enjoyed a brisk mile and a half walk (uphill) to Highland Park Distillery, Scotland’s most northerly distillery. Where I love a Speyside single malt Scotch, my husband loves peaty Scotch from the islands. Highland Park has been his favorite to date. I enjoyed a dram of Highland Park in situ for him, and look forward to bringing him here next time.
Day 9: Inverness (Invergordon), Scotland & Excursion: Loch Ness, Urquhart & Cawdor Castle
Just when I thought Scotland couldn’t be more beautiful, we landed in South Queensferry next. We enjoyed the striking yellow fields of rapeseed (canola) on our drive through Inverness and the Scottish highlands to Cawdor Castle, the current home of the Dowager Countess Cawdor. Her home and gardens were beautiful, and an absolute joy to explore. We then drove by Culloden Moor, the somber site of the battle that ended the clan way of life in 1746. My fellow outlander fans will know an embellished version of this battle all too well. Near Culloden Moor was our next stop, Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness. I had grown up seen pictures of the peaceful loch, but they did not do it justice. The setting with the castle ruins, gorse bushes in bloom, and the calm loch was awe inspiring. It was in the castle gift shop that my mother and I picked up Outlander inspired ring (Claire’s wedding ring to Jamie) made my Hamilton & Young. It was lovely speaking with jeweler Gordon Young that day as I shared his wife June Hamilton’s appreciation for a “book inspired” design. They have a shop on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh but were manning a table at Urquhart Castle the day of our visit. I’m so glad they were there that day in May!
Day 10: Edinburgh (South Queensferry), Scotland & Excursion: Best of Edinburgh
By now I was completely smitten with Scotland and could’ve stayed another month, at least. But this was our last stop in Scotland, and Edinburgh did not disappoint! We first visited the royal yacht Britannia in Leith, then enjoyed lunch at a hotel before perusing Princes Street, the Royal Mile and Edinburgh Castle. The views of the city from Edinburgh Castle were breathtaking!
Day 11: At Sea
The wine tastings on Princess were fantastic! Over the course of our cruise, we attended all three that were offered. The first wine tasting was held on our second night on the ship, and quite a large crowd was invited. The second wine tasting was about midway through the cruise, and those that attended the first wine tasting were invited to reserve first. Since we attended both the first and second wine tastings, we were invited to reserve a spot for the exclusive third and final wine tasting, which featured Super Tuscan red wines. This third wine tasting was a smaller, more intimate event. Each of the five wines was perfectly paired with small plate appetizers and savories. Being a regular Chianti drinker, I was in heaven and enjoyed all five wines. Because our next and final full cruise day would be spent off the ship until after dinner, we celebrated the end of a wonderful cruise with more wine, a rich meal, more dessert than I’d like to admit, and even more wine. A perfect sea day!
Day 12: Paris/Normandy (Le Havre), France & Excursion: Paris On Your Own
I’m not sure what I expected of Paris. I had heard mixed reviews and had low expectations. After a three hour drive from La Havre to Paris, and expecting a three hour drive back, we had only four hours to spend in the city. So we had some caffeine, wore comfortable shoes, and proceeded to walk six miles through the city in those four hours. It was a whirlwind of sites, sounds, tastes, and smells as we drove past the Arc de Triomphe and Champs-Élysées, walked past Grande and Petite Palais, walked through Place de la Concorde, enjoyed a baguette sandwich at Jardin des Tuileries, walked by the Pyramide du Louvre, Pont Neuf, saw the Tour Eiffel from our walk along the River Seine, crossed onto Île de la Cité to visit Cathedrale Notre-Dame de Rouen, and finally enjoyed a hurried glass of wine served by an impatient and snobbish cafe waiter before making a beeline back to the bus at Petite Palais. I may go back, but would prefer to spend my time in wine country next time.
Day 13: Debark Royal Princess in Southampton, England
I can’t say enough great things about Princes Cruise Lines’ efficiency with getting people off the ship. Debarkation was a breeze, as was our shuttle back to Heathrow. During the ride and flight home, my final and general thoughts are these:
- Princess Cruise Lines has been my favorite line (compared to Carnival and Norwegian)
- I would work in London and be happy living there
- I could fit in well in England
- Ireland has the friendliest people I’ve ever met
- Scotland was the most beautiful, and I was as happy there as I was in Rome
- Paris was ok (there, I said it)
I’m ready for the next cruise!