It’s been a busy year, so we haven’t written up Cruise #9 or Kraków yet. Maybe we will get round to it. One day. Perhaps.
Anyway, we’re off to Southampton again for our ninth Princess cruise, visiting Iceland and Greenland (and two lesser ports) over the next sixteen nights. The drive down was unremarkable although we took our chances at the Dartford Crossing – thankfully it paid off, saving us at least an hour going the other way on a heavily congested M25.
Once in Southampton, we had planned to play an escape room and have some dinner before heading back to our hotel. Turns out No Escape rooms are half price on Tuesday night in Southampton, so nothing was available. Not even in Portsmouth, a little further down the coast.
Top tip: No Escape rooms are half price in Southampton on a Tuesday night, so you can grab a bargain. Just don’t forget to book in advance.
Instead we had dinner at the local German Doner Kebab outlet (nothing special, but cheap and reliable) and a quick pint in the Slug & Lettuce (nothing special, full stop).
It’s a bit of a schlep across town to the Holiday Inn Express Southampton and I am mildly concerned about getting a taxi to the docks tomorrow. However, we eventually find the hotel opposite the Rose Bowl, Hampshire County Cricket Club’s ground.
Once past reception, the hotel is pretty average, not unlike a Travelodge. It is also heaving.
Top tip: The Holiday Inn Express Southampton offers good value cruise parking deals. Expect to pay approx £250 for a one night stay, breakfast, 14 days parking and taxis to and from the port. Considering the rack rate is £300 per night, this is a bargain.
The decor is a little dated and the hotel has a very Travelodge feel, but we’re only here for the night, so it doesn’t matter too much.
As usual, we have stayed overnight in Southampton so that we can get to the port with plenty of time before sailing. This time we have opted for a cruise parking package at the Holiday Inn Express Southampton. The hotel itself is pretty average, but the bed is comfortable and there’s a kettle in the room, so it’s perfectly adequate for a one-night stay.
Breakfast at the hotel is a hectic affair, but there is plenty of food so it’s a good start to the day. The automated pancake making machine is awesome – we need one at home.
After breakfast we get a taxi to the port (included in the cruise parking package). The transfer is relatively quick and smooth and we arrive far earlier than intended. The traffic in Southampton city centre isn’t too bad today because there are just two ships in.
This time we will be sailing on the Island Princess, one of the smallest and oldest ships in the fleet. Once aboard, the differences between Island and the other ships we have been on is obvious – the decor is completely different for starters.
Looking back along the Promenade deck towards the Bayou Restaurant
We had a few concerns about this ship prior to boarding; Facebook forums are full of gripes and moans from disgruntled cruisers (fancy that!). We were worried that:
The ship would be falling apart
We had made a mistake in booking a basic balcony cabin
We were on a lower deck than normal
We were at the back of the ship
All of these concerns were completely unfounded. The ship is in great shape although the decor is a little bid mad in places.
Our cabin stateroom is on Deck 7 promenade at the rear of the ship. But we are far enough away from all the major entertainment highlights to be unaffected. We can hear the rumble of the engines in our cabin stateroom but I am sure we will grow accustomed to it soon enough.
One the plus side, our cabin stateroom, PR723, has no neighbours on either side – it is flanked by two cupboards. Better yet, the balcony is absolutely massive, almost as wide as the deck elsewhere on the ship. And by opening the dividing door we can double the size of our outdoor real estate. Winning!
The rest of day 1 onboard follows the usual pattern; lunch in the main dining room, drinks before dinner, dinner in the main dining room. Island Princess is already growing on us.
Our first port of call is Falmouth, just a little way along the coast from Southampton. Despite its diminutive size (in terms of Princess Cruises) our ship is too big to dock in the harbour proper, so this will be a tender port. In his early morning address, the captain advises us that the transfer will take about 45 minutes, which seems like an extraordinarily long time compared to other ports.
Top tip: Tenders operate on a ticket basis – collect yours from the Crooners Bar on Deck 7, then hang around in the central atrium area until your number is called. Tender embarkation takes place on deck 4, Gala.
Once washed, dressed and breakfasted, we head down to the tender embarkation point and onto the small boat which will take us into town. The journey is quite long, weaving around various sailboats and naval transport ships. Eventually we are deposited at a dock where buses are waiting to take us into the centre of town proper.
With no definite plan about what to see or do, we tap up one of the local escape rooms. Located on the main tourist road, Market Street, Eureka Escape is able to fit us in, although we do have to book by phone.
We stop into the Prince of Wales across the road for a quick beer first. Neither the pub nor ale is particularly impressive, but it does seem to delight the American tourists from our cruise.
Beer drunk, we head back to Eureka Escape to try out the Nocturnal Alchemist game. It’s a multi-room affair with some nifty little puzzles, searching for various chemicals and ingredients – along with the key to the exit. We complete the escape room with just over 3 minutes to spare which is a relief. The gamesmaster claims that although one of their oldest rooms, the Nocturnal Alchemist is also one of their hardest. We did ask for five clues, but this is well below the twelve average – particularly impressive for a team of two apparently.
Was it worth visiting? Absolutely. There are some good, tricky puzzles to be solved here.
Market Street, Falmouth
Afterwards I pick up a Cornish pasty from Rowe’s Bakers to eat on the walk back to the port. It is delicious – and face-meltingly hot.
Top tip: Port transfer buses are freeand run from the dock to the Maritime Car Park. Simply follow the road straight ahead to get to the centre of the town.
At the port, we are serenaded by a Cornish men’s choir which is nice and entertaining. There is something very special about a group of men’s voices in song.
On every trip we take, something unusual happens. One event that will stick in our memories for years to come. This has ranged from meeting the presidents of several countries to gatecrashing an international footballer’s funeral. But today it was getting lost on a tender.
As we left Falmouth dock, we quickly became engulfed by fog, severely limiting visibility. Not a problem in the age of radar – or so you would think. After 45 minutes or so, we noticed that our tender driver could not find the Island Princess – despite being one of the largest vessels for miles around. And so we looped and circled for another twenty minutes or so while the bridge issued instructions via radio.
Eventually the Island Princess loomed out of the mist and we were able to disembark. Some people were worried, some people were angry. Linda and I were just greatly amused; ‘This is that memorable thing, isn’t it?‘ Linda laughed. At least we didn’t end up gatecrashing a funeral this time.
Overnight we have crossed the Irish Sea, arriving in Cobh (pronounced ‘cove’) as we wake up. A pair of tugs push and pull us into position on a dock near the centre of town.
Top tip: The railway station is directly opposite the dock. You can catch a train straight into Cork city centre which is about €6, much cheaper than taking one of the excursions arranged by the cruise line.
Bonus tip: If you are super organised, mobile and up for a challenge, you can reach Blarney Castle with its famous stone by public transport. However, you should allow between 90 and 120 minutes each way.
Like Falmouth yesterday, Cobh feels like a bit of a filler for the itinerary. We can’t really find anything of interest in Cork, so decide to stay local and take a look at Cobh itself. Interestingly, Titanic made it’s final stop here to pick up 150 unlucky locals – and the Titanic Experience commemorates this fact.
Obviously this appeals to our dark tourist nature, so we take a look. The exhibition takes place in the old White Star Line ticket office which is quite cool, as are the recreations of the various cabins on the ship. We are given a tour by a guide and then left to check out the last part of the display ourselves. There’s probably nothing new to be learned here, but it’s still worth a visit.
Top tip: Book your tickets for the Titanic Experience online when you arrive in Cobh to avoid long queues and waits at the ticket office. Tickets cost €12 and are slightly cheaper for OAPs, students and children.
Afterwards, we visit the Titanic Bar & Grill downstairs so Linda can have a real Guinness and I can sample a local beer. It is absolutely heaving with other travellers from the ship – thankfully ours is the only one in port today, otherwise I imagine it would be even worse. The beer is reasonable and the food looks delicious so it’s not the worst tourist trap we have ever landed in.
One for the tourists
Beer drunk we head back to the ship. I’m sure there are a few other things to look at in town, but we decide to call it a day early on.
Concerns about high winds and storms have forced a change of course. Instead of sailing around the south of Ireland and out into the Atlantic, we are forced to head east and then north into the Irish Sea.
Overnight we passed the Isle of Man. This morning we are able to see Northern Ireland on the left and Scotland on the right from the Horizon Court buffet on Island’s top deck. The view is impressive, making the detour worthwhile.
Today is a day at sea (as is tomorrow), the Captain making up speed to get us to Iceland on Monday. As such, we won’t be doing much.
This provides an excellent opportunity to share a few initial observations of Island Princess herself.
Already we have decided that Island Princess is now our favourite ship. Yes it is small and ageing, but that’s part of her charm. The fact that there are fewer people onboard is also positive, and there is never many problems finding a seat anywhere.
Cabin Stateroom PR723 is awesome and I would book it again in a heartbeat. Annoyingly someone else has already booked it for our next cruise in October.
Food in the main dining room is, as always with Princess Cruises, brilliant. There is a smaller choice of food in the buffet than on other ships, but this is not a major issue. The wraparound glass window that allows you to see out the front of the ship is superb – it’s a shame the newer ships don’t have this feature.
It’s another day at sea, so not much to report. But we have found one problem with cabin stateroom PR723. The vacant area of deck to the right of ours houses some important plumbing – and the only way to access it is through our cabin stateroom.
Thankfully plumbing problems don’t happen often on Island Princess, but it was quite annoying to have a troupe of engineers and plumbers invade our room this morning. Especially as they unapologetically turfed us out of our room so they could get to work uninterrupted. That said, I would still book this cabin stateroom again.
We arrive in Akureyri tomorrow. Having missed this port on our cruise in May, I’m hoping it’s worth the wait.
After crossing the Arctic Circle at some point during the night, we have arrived in Akureyri. The weather is much better than on our last visit and the captain has no problems bringing Island Princess into port. Nor does the captain of the Norwegian Prima which is docked in front of us.
Akureyri is the fifth largest town in Iceland which means that it isn’t very big. Again, we have very few plans for this port, so we take our time disembarking and wandering slowly into town. We had planned to visit the Godafoss Waterfall just outside the city, but the cost of tours / taxis is incredibly expensive so we have to give it a miss.
Top tip: The number 79 bus runs from the stop outside the Hof Cultural Centreto Fosshall, a short walk from the Godafoss waterfall itself. The journey should take just 32 minutes and costs kr1710 (~£10) each way.
But be warned: buses are infrequent and may not coincide with your all-aboard time. And if there are two ships in town, there is a very real risk you may not get on the return bus from Godafoss.
Feeling confident? You can plan your bus journey here.
On the way we score another geocache (GC1QN6A). It’s a quick, simple cache and the view across the fjord is impressive.
We also pass a number of local tour operators and taxis touting for business. Expect to pay approx. $100 USD per person for a trip out to Godafoss.
The centre of Akureyri itself seems quite compact with one Main Street attracting all the tourist attention. There are plenty of cafés and bars, along with stores selling various trinkets and souvenirs.
As is our ritual, we stop at the Akureyri Backpackers bar and hostel. Linda is thrilled to see Kronenbourg 1664 Blanc on tap, something we haven’t really seen since visiting Bosnia back in 2019. I opt for an Icelandic IPA because I’m a sucker for new tastes.
Afterwards we head back to the ship. It’s not been the most adventurous of port days, but Akureyri seems like a nice enough town.
As we leave port, we are treated to a spectacular sunset, the sky a vibrant neon red. Last time we were here, the sun never seemed to go down…
Today there was some early good news – the captain has managed to secure a proper berth alongside the dock in Isafjordur. We had previously been advised that this would be a tender port. As we dock it becomes clear why – the municipal council has been investing heavily in extending their docks for use by cruise ships.
Which is weird. Isafjordur is a town of approximately 1000 people and there is virtually nothing to do here. There are two large ships in today, disgorging up to 4000 visitors…
Isafjordur is tiny
This is our second visit to Isafjordur this year and we saw almost everything last time, including the accessible geocaches.
Top tip: Watching planes coming into land at the local airport is fascinating, requiring pilots to fly down the fjord and then perform a very low-level 360º turn to line up with the runway.
Following a cryptic comment on a geocaching log, we did find one new thing to look at:
Yes, a floating pedestrian crossing. Linda and I spent quite a while playing around and posing for photos while other cruisers walked past completely oblivious. They must have thought we were crazy, jumping around in the middle of the road.
Photos done, we headed back towards the dock for a stop at the Dokkan Brugghus, a local brewery. It’s not cheap, but they always have twelve fresh beers on tap to try.
The Skarfur Stout is excellent
Top tip: The brewery gets very busy with cruisers, so if you order food, it may take quite some time to arrive. Some of the tours arranged by the cruise lines also seem to finish here for lunch.
Reykjavik. Another port that we missed back in May due to bad weather. Today we’re moored miles out to the east of the city at the Skarfabakki Cruise Terminal. Good news: the Reykjavik tourist centre is running free shuttle buses into the city. Bad news: The Norwegian Prima has followed us into port so there are at least 4000 people trying to board the buses.
Top tip: Feeling fit? You can walk into Reykjavik town centre, but it’s about 4km each way.
When we finally get on one, the bus drops us at the Harpa concert hall. Widely regarded as a symbol of Iceland’s recovery from the 2008 global financial crisis, it’s an interesting building to observe.
As always, we are compelled to visit the local Hard Rock Café. We’ve arrived before the restaurant opens however, so we pick up the ubiquitous pin badge and head into the city centre.
Due to mobility issues, we only have two goals – a geocache and a beer. Opposite the Hard Rock Café we pass the Punk Museum, located in a converted public toilet. We briefly consider hading down the stairs but instead choose to continue up the sloping hill of Laugavegur.
You cannot spend a penny here
Christmas shops appear to be a year-round fixture in Reykjavik, so we stop in and buy a tree decoration – a mean looking cat that, according to Icelandic legend, eats badly behaved children. Perfect.
The geocache (GC85V62) is a nice easy find opposite the world-famous Lebowski Bar. However, having never seen the movie, we don’t bother to drop in.
Instead we head for the fantastically-named Bastard Brew & Food – for a Hazy Bastard beer of course. It’s not bad at all.
Bizarrely, Reykjavik city centre feels like it is pitching itself as a stag/hen party destination, packed with ‘cool’ bars and nightspots. But given that a beer costs at least five times as much as Prague (upwards of £10 each), you do have to wonder who is holding their parties here.
Afterwards, we take a steady stroll back to the bus stop at the Harpa. There is a big queue and the bus is completely packed by the time we set off for the cruise terminal again. And I mean uncomfortably packed. Not cool.
Top tip: Transfer buses run on a loop, visiting each cruise ship berth in turn. You can potentially avoid the crush (and snag a seat) by walking to the bus stop at the previous berth – assuming there isn’t a massive queue there too.
Would we visit Reykjavik again? Maybe. But probably only as the starting point for a Golden Circle road trip or similar.
As we sail away from Iceland, the Captain makes a cryptic footnote to his daily report, promising us a ‘surprise’ when he broadcasts tomorrow…
It’s a sea day, so very little to report. However, the Captain has revealed his surprise – thanks to good weather and favourable iceberg(!) conditions, we will sail through the Prince Christian Sound in Greenland tomorrow…