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The royal treatment
Feel like a king or a queen on a luxury Princess cruise through the British Isles

By Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein
Published: Nov/Dec 2001

Majestic Balfour Castle on Shapinsay in the Orkney Islands. /Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein photo
Medieval castles. Royal palaces. Rolling hills. Verdant valleys. Countrysides emblazoned with vivid flowers. History and legends. Don’t take the high road. Don’t take the low road. Don’t take any road. Experience it as a passenger cruising the British Isles aboard Princess Cruise Lines’ Royal Princess.

What a royal cruise it was. The Royal Princess rules a constituency of devoted subjects, passengers who return to be treated like members of the monarchy by the ship’s staff and crew. On the 1,200-passenger ship, 900 were repeat guests.

“Passengers are loyal to the Royal. The Royal Princess is like a comfortable pair of shoes,” said cruise director Brian Price.

Seasoned voyagers Noma and Art Simon of Chesterfield, Mo., agreed. “This is the friendliest cruise we’ve ever been on. Everyone talks to everybody. Brian is so accessible to all the passengers. He makes everyone very comfortable,” said Noma.

Christened by Princess Diana, the ship set standards for future luxury cruising when it debuted in 1984 with all outside staterooms. Princess’ “Grand Class” cruising provided everything from health spa to art auctions to casino. Too tired to make your assigned seating? Call room service, enjoy alternative dining at The Bistro or devour pizza at the Pizzeria.

Activities never stopped. “My biggest complaint is that people can’t do everything on board,” Price said. “They have to make choices. On a day at sea there are over 70 entertainment activities.”

Shore excursions

The excursions offered singular experiences. Informational port talks by shore excursion manager Susan Pentelow made them extremely enticing, and because the ship often docked or tendered some distance from desired destinations, the tours made sense. Princess also provided shuttles ($4 per person) into nearby cities and towns.

Rosyth, Port for Edinburgh, Scotland

This tour took us aboard the Royal Yacht, Britannia, and into Holyrood Palace, the queen’s official residence in Scotland.

The Britannia served Britain’s royal family for 44 years. Decommissioned on Dec. 11, 1997, the ship moved to Edinburgh, where it’s moored in the historic port of Leith.

Furnishings seemed minimal and austere compared to other royal residences. I enjoyed the many family photos and heirlooms. The queen purportedly remarked that it was the only place she could truly relax.

The staff of 300 yachtsmen and royal staff enjoyed little relaxation, however. Total perfection was demanded, whether in polishing the deck or the silverware. Duties had to be carried out in silence and completed by 8 a.m. so as not to disturb the royals.

The baroque Holyrood also suffered by comparison to the ostentatious Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Holyrood, best known as home of Mary, Queen of Scots, visitors climbed a winding staircase to her intimate tower apartments.

We stopped for photos on Calton Hill, the site of the unfinished reproduction of the Parthenon.

Invergorden—Gateway to Inverness

The legendary Loch Ness Monster never reared her ugly head out of Loch (Lake) Ness in Inverness, Scotland. Despite her snub, I loved the heartland’s welcoming green hills, and heather-covered landscape made all the greener by frequent rains. Our guide teased, “In Scotland you don’t have climate, you have weather.”

Since 1370, medieval Cawdor Castle has continued to serve as the home of the Earl of Cawdor. “The mortgage is paid,” an attendant informed. The romantic edifice with its drawbridge and turrets was story-book like. It even had a dungeon. The castle was the setting for King Duncan’s murder in Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.”

Kirkwall and the Orkneys

The magical group of 70 mystical islands lies 10 miles from the northern tip of Scotland. The gulf stream graces the area with moderate weather. Dramatic coastal scenery with 1,000-foot sea cliffs plunging to sandy beaches attracts multitudes of sea birds.

The excursion to Balfour Castle heightened my affection for Scotland. The Balfours occupied the estate until 1961 when David Balfour died without heirs.

We ferried to the tiny pier at Shapinsay where the present owners, the Zadawski family, greeted us for a very personal tour. Daughter Patricia’s anecdotes brought the area to life as she walked us through the kitchen gardens.

Mother Catherine escorted us through the castle explaining that the still vibrant original carpets and wall paint have been there for 150 years. “And they better last another 150,” she said.

Before we sat down to Orkney tea, Catherine showed us their secret passage. “When the doorbell rang, the butler announced the callers. If the Balfours preferred not to see them, they left through the passageway out to the conservatory. That way the butler could truthfully say that the Balfours were not in,” she said.

Glasgow, Scotland

After docking in Greenock and shuttling into the Victorian city of Glasgow, we grabbed a sightseeing bus at George Square. From the top deck we got splendid views of the Clyde River and exotic architectural mix that included neo-classic spires along with contemporary and art-nouveau design.

Riders got on and off at stops to tour attractions like the Gallery of Modern Art, People’s Museum and Glasgow Cathedral. Great shopping is found on Princes Square.

Holyhead, Wales

Many passengers took tours to outlying castles, the Snowdonia Mountains and a little Welsh village distinguished by its long name, Lianfairpwilgwyngyllgogerchwyrn-drobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

We relaxed in rocky, ancient Holyhead where we discovered quaint shops, many eateries and a Maritime Museum that highlighted more than area shipwrecks.

Dublin, Ireland

The booming capital of the Republic of Ireland is a compact, relaxed walking city with sights worth seeing, people worth meeting and fun to be had.

Visit St. Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals. Stroll through the lush St. Stephen’s Green. Visit Trinity College and Dublin Writer’s Museum. Tour Guinness Brewery and sample a complimentary pint. Shops, watering holes and flower vendors added flavor to pedestrian Grafton Street.

Take the evening tour to Doyle’s Irish Cabaret for a top-notch show. Comedian Noel V. Ginnity kept us laughing till tears formed. Tenor Paul Hennessy crooned Irish melodies. The foot-tapping dancing, comely colleens and spirited ensemble added to the enjoyment.

Waterford, Ireland

Just when I thought life was as aristocratic as it could get, we ferried to Waterford Castle for exquisite Irish fare accompanied by soothing harp renditions. We had lunch in the opulent oak-paneled dining room of a castle. The tour also took us to Waterford Crystal factory where we watched craftsmen blowing and shaping glowing balls of crystal into elegant shapes. Dexterous artisans hand cut crystal. We stood in awe as master engravers (they train for 10 years) painstakingly produced personalized pieces.

Le Havre, France

From here many passengers traveled to various Paris adventures or the Normandy beachheads. We headed for Claude Monet’s home in Giverny and Rouen.

Just to walk in the footsteps of the genius Claude Monet. To enter the pink house and studios where he lived and painted. The faithfully restored house with walls and furnishings splashed with a palette of vivid hues reflected the artist’s sensibilities.

The lush gardens resplendent with masses of brilliantly colored flowers seemed like an oil canvas thickly globbed with a palette knife. We sauntered across the famous Japanese bridge. Lily pods like Monet immortalized floated in the pond shaded by peaceful weeping willows. We became part of a Monet masterpiece.

In the picture-perfect old section of Rouen, cobblestone streets remain lined with medieval timber-framed houses. The ancient capital of Normandy has preserved its historic ambience.

We entered Notre Dame Cathedral to admire magnificent 13th-century stained glass windows. The cathedral boasts the largest cast-iron spire in France.

At Old Market Square, the site where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, a modern church and the Great Cross of Rehabilitation were erected in her memory.

Visiting 10 ports in 12 days made for a whirlwind pace. Many wished we’d had two more days at sea to enjoy the ship’s amenities and digest our port adventures. Affable passenger service director Arturo Calise suggested, “You can always stay on board and skip a port.” But who wanted to forego any of the exhilarating itinerary? (We succumbed in Plymouth, England.)

You’ll relish the royal taste of the British Isles on Royal Princess. So delicious, you’ll want to go back for seconds.

Cynthia Kagan Frohlichstein is a contributor from St. Louis, Mo.

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