Category: 03 – Cruise 5 – Spain & France

Our fifth cruise, taking in Spain and France with Princess Cruises

The Night Before Sailing

Departure port: Southampton
Destinations: La Rochelle, Bilbao, A Coruña, St Peter’s Port
Cruise Line: Princess Cruises

Today we’re heading off on our fifth cruise – a trip around the Bay of Biscay with Princess Cruises.

It has become a tradition that we now overnight in Southampton before each sailing. Linda says it is ‘less stressful’ if we drive down early because there is no chance of getting caught in a traffic jam and missing our ship.

And given that the drive from Essex took more than three hours, she’s probably right.

So we’re checked in to the Premier Inn Southampton West Quay. We’ve stayed here before and it’s still nothing special. The beds are decent however, which is a bonus seeing as hotel rooms in the city are trading for £140+ tonight.

After parking in the West Quay car park (£5 per night – bargain) and checking in, we head over to the shopping centre for some dinner. Lin says the cocktails are good at Bill’s so we manage to snag a table on what seems to be a very busy Saturday night.

Dinner turns out to be decent – lobster and seafood linguine for Lin, truffle chicken two ways for me. Washed down with a Peroni (me) and a Pimms-type cocktail for Lin.

After dinner we don’t mess around. It’s been a long day – and tomorrow will probably be longer still. Bed.

Top tip: The West Quay car park is good value – and right next to the Premier Inn (and the Moxy). We’ve never yet had a problem parking there.

Bonus tip: If you don’t mind walking a potentially significant distance with your suitcases, the West Quay car park is a far cheaper option for cruise parking than any of the “official” services at the docks. Or you could get a taxi.

Get to the boat

After checking out of the Premier Inn, it’s a short drive down to the Mayflower Terminal where we will be boarding the Sky Princess. We’ve booked with CPS who meet us at the terminal, take a few pics of the car and then drive it away for safe keeping as we sail around the North Atlantic.

Check-in for the cruise is relatively smooth after showing our passport, Covid pass and proof of a negative test (taken yesterday morning). Princess is one of the few cruise lines still demanding travellers hold a valid Covid pass, vaccines and pre-boarding tests – hopefully they follow the rest of the industry and quietly drop these requirements in the very near future. Security is (as always) a pain. But then we’re scanning our Medallions and boarding the ship.

Top tip: DO NOT arrive before the embarkation time specified in the Princess Medallion App and in your email confirmation. You just screw up the boarding process for everyone else.

We’ve booked a mini suite on Deck 15 (Marina!) and it is well appointed, as we have come to expect from Princess. There’s plenty of room around our king size bed and a separate sofa to sprawl on when we’ve had enough sprawling on the bed. The balcony is quite small, but we mostly lean over the rail to watch the world/sea go by, so that’s no problem.

Top tip: You cannot hear the ship’s announcements in your cabin stateroom when the door is closed. But if you select the ‘Bridge Cam’ channel on your TV, you will be able to hear the announcements perfectly.

Sky Princess is the cruise line’s flagship, but it varies little from the other Royal-class ships in the fleet. That’s not a bad thing though – the place is immaculate with an army of staff to clean and to cater to the needs of the guests.

Overnight we will be sailing to our first destination – La Rochelle in France. This gives us time to take lunch and dinner and do a whole lot of nothing. Especially as the ship’s clock moves forward one hour overnight to synchronise with the local time in France.

Top tip: Until Princess drops their pre-departure testing and Covid pass requirement, you can get 30% off the ‘medically observed’ tests at DocHQ using the code RETURN30 at the checkout.

Bonus tip: You can make your medically observed test even cheaper by buying your own tests in advance. Superdrug sell the ‘approved’ Flowflex tests for less than £2 each.

All At Sea

Today is an ‘at sea’ day which means a lot of doing nothing. There’s breakfast, lunch and dinner and some cocktails in between.

So rather than describe a whole lot of nothing, here’s some general observations about cruising:


Family holidays are great – we know because we’ve had a few in our time. But on a cruise? No chance.

By day, the pools are full of kids so there’s no room for adults. There’s also a distinct scummy film on the surface of the water. By night, they run across the deck in packs, their thundering heavy footfalls echoing loudly in our cabin stateroom until well after midnight.

Call me a grumpy old man, but the adults-only Princess Cruises we went on last year were much more enjoyable.

Top tip: The water will be absolutely filthy if the kids have been in the pools. Head to the adults-only pool towards the front of the ship instead.

Sunbed etiquette

Brits love to complain about Germans and their penchant for getting up early to reserve sunbeds at beach resorts – but just you try and get a deck chair onboard a cruise ship. Like their teutonic counterparts, there are dedicated cruisers who head up to the deck before 8am to reserve groups of sunbeds before heading off to breakfast. Many will not return until several hours later.

Top tip: There is a very small number of deckchairs located on Deck 7. You will normally only enjoy sun for half of the day (the deck is in the shadow of the ship at times), but you do have a slim chance of scoring a sunbed.

Tomorrow we land in La Rochelle, France. Still no idea what we will do when we get there though.

La Rochelle – Famous Pubs

With the exception of Paris, I never have particularly high hopes when visiting France. So we went into La Rochelle with quite low expectations.

Because the ‘international cruise terminal’ is actually a working dock, you need to get a transfer bus into the city – fortunately these were laid on at no additional expense by Princess Cruises. From our balcony we watch dozens of coaches start lining up on the dock as the ship comes into port.

After breakfast, the chaos of boarding begins. In the plaza area of the ship, guests are given tickets with a group name – as the name is called, they are herded down the gangway and off the ship to a waiting bus. As a show of their post-Brexit ire, French border officials force every single passenger to make a detour through the immigration hall – and then do not check a single passport.

Eventually Lin and I make it on to a coach and we’re driven to a spot just outside the centre of the town. The journey takes around 12 minutes – not 25 as the cruise director assured us. Then it’s a short walk in the gusting drizzle along the seafront and into the centre of the old town.

As we pass the Chain Tower, we come across a number of boats offering tours out to Fort Boyard (€20 each). We seriously consider it for a while, but decide we should explore a bit of the town instead, especially as the rain has stopped.

We wander up a few lanes and take a look at the ‘famous’ market. It’s OK. Then we run out of ideas – the local escape room hasn’t responded to my queries, and it’s a risk to catch a bus out of the centre of the town without confirmation they will be open. So we wander around a few more old streets, heading back to the old harbour.

Afterwards, a stop at ‘The Famous Pub‘ on the quay for a beer. We snag a seat on the patio and in my crappy GCSE level French order a Kronenbourg (Lin) and an Atlantic Grand Cru (me) for €14. Mine tastes like cider. Then it starts to rain. Heavily. We retreat indoors to finish our beers.

Beer drunk, we give up on La Rochelle and head back to the ship. We head down to the main dining room for afternoon tea – sandwiches, cakes and scones – served at record speed. We return to the cabin stateroom to watch as we leave port – and the ship is delayed while we wait for one of the private hire tour groups to return.

Afterwards we grab a drink and head to the Princess Theatre for the early showing of Rock Opera. As you would expect, there are lots of rock songs performed operatically – and a few opera songs sung in a rock style. The men’s acapella rendition of Simon & Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence is a particular high point.

Overnight, the captain will be spanking the Sky Princess – we’re due to dock in Getxo (Bilbao) by 7am…

Bilbao – Spider

Another day, another port, another stop with no definite plans. Again, Princess has laid on free buses to transfer us from the port in Getxo to the centre of Bilbao, not far from the Bilbao Guggenheim art gallery.

Top tip: Getxo port is miles away from Bilbao city centre. If your cruise line does not provide transfer buses, you may have to catch a local train from Getxo instead.

On the way we decide we should visit the picturesque old town. We also decide to do some geocaches on the way in the hope of finding our 700th, starting on the waterfront behind the gallery.

I have history of getting into trouble when visiting modern art galleries, so we don’t bother going into the Bilbao Guggenheim, opting instead for a walk along the waterfront. There are a couple of inventive geocaches along the way which makes the walk fun.

Eventually we arrive in the old town and head to the Plaza Nueva for a well-earned beer. As we imbibe a Mahou, a group of teenagers on a school trip begin an impromptu sports day. A few relay races are followed by several games of tug o’ war. The kids all look like they are having fun – and this is definitely not something you would ever see in Britain, let alone in the centre of the city.

We walk back towards the drop-off point and collect a few more geocaches on the way. The queue for the coaches to the ship are quite long, but move relatively quickly.

Because we’re back on ship long before sailing, we head down to the Goods Spirits bar and collect a drink (Prosecco for Lin) before going to afternoon tea. Afterwards we watch our departure from our balcony – the Spanish coast is quite impressive.

CA pilgrimage near Coruña

Normally we don’t bother with cruise excursions (too expensive). But given the difficulties of getting to Santiago de Compostela, we have decided to take an official guided tour to ensure we get there and back before the ship leaves. Mainly because it’s too far and too complicated to get there ourselves.

We’re met on the dock by our incredibly enthusiastic tour guide who herds us onto a coach for the journey along “The Way of St James“. We’re treated to a commentary about how Santiago de Compostela came into existence and the legend behind the town. Something to do with a pair of dudes transporting the corpse of St James from Israel to Spain in a stone boat and then leaving it in the forest where it is discovered accidentally by a farmer a few hundreds years later. I think.

Along the way we have been warned that the city is very busy with many more pilgrims visiting than usual. We’re rushed off the bus and into the main square outside the church. We’re given some more details about the church and meaning behind the various figures on its walls.

The queue to get into the church is mercifully small, so we’re set loose for 20 minutes to have a look. To say the altar piece is spectacular would be an understatement. We’ve been to Rome and still not seen anything quite like this.

Outside the church our guide realises that the queue to see the reliquary of the Apostle James is very, very short. So we queue to go into the church again through another door. Apparently we have arrived during the year of jubilee – James’ tomb is only open every ten years, so we have got lucky.

Afterwards we see a few more sights and then are left to our own devices for an hour. After searching for ages we finally find a bar that sells Estrella Galicia – we’ve been waiting to try it ever since watching Money Heist. Fortunately it’s not too bad. we also manage to find our 700th geocache while we wait for the rest of the tour party in the main square.

We head back onto the coach and drive back to the port. We have enough time to take a quick look at A Coruña but decide to head back onboard the ship to grab some lunch. We will have to come back another day to see what we missed.

We’re also “lucky” enough to catch one of the Disney Cruise ships leaving. Although they get a fire ship fountain send-off, the ‘When you wish upon a star’ horn is embarrassingly poor – even Princess’ ‘Love Boat’ theme is meatier. They get a good blast from our captain as they depart.

Again, the view as we leave port is impressive. We can clearly see the Lighthouse of Hercules from our balcony which is a nice treat.

A picture of the Roman lighthouse which can be seen just outside A Coruna
This lighthouse is about 1500 years older than America

The evening is another whirl of drinking and dining. And we have a day at sea tomorrow, which is nice.

At sea again

Another day at sea and another opportunity to share some random observations.

The Princess Medallion

Every passenger is issued with a Princess medallion that works very much like Apple’s AirTags. The device is worn on a lanyard and can be used to ‘pay’ for goods and services on board. It is also used by the crew to locate you when placing an order for table service. And it unlocks your cabin stateroom door too. Clever stuff.

Notably, each medallion has a colour that relates to Princess’ Captain’s Circle loyalty program. First time cruisers are blue. 2-3 trips and you upgrade to gold, then ruby for 4-5, followed by platinum for 5+ . Hardcore cruisers attain elite status (black) after 15 voyages or 150 nights at sea.

The trouble is that when your Princess medallion is hung around your neck, everyone can see your status – and there’s a definite snobbery between travellers. Unlucky blue newbies – everyone is judging you.


There is only really one topic of conversation on a cruise – cruising. Cruisers love to brag about how many cruises they have been on and with which cruise line. Sometimes it seems like number of cruises you have been on is actually more important than where you went.

Anyway, Guernsey tomorrow.

Guernsey – Found it at last!

This is our second trip to Guernsey this year – just as well we liked it last time. The trip into anchorage is always interesting, cruising past small rocky outcrops with Alderney and Sark clearly visible in the distance.

We also really like the journey into town on the tenders. We’re lucky to score a seat on the roof – and the weather is spectacular for the 20 minute trip.

On our previous trip we spent a significant amount of time trying (and failing) to find two geocaches. So our first stop is to have another go. The first is located in the middle of a construction site, so that’s out of the question. Then we fail to find the second. Again.

Demoralised we head back into town to check out the VAT-free shopping. We buy nothing. Instead we drop into the Albion House Tavern for a local beer which is welcome.

Having run out of things to do, we decide to have one last stab at the geocache – and we finally find it! Our trip to Guernsey has not been totally wasted.

Top tip: Your medallion is magnetic and will be useful for solving this particular geocache puzzle

Sadly this is our last night onboard Sky Princess. Tomorrow we will wake up in Southampton and it will be time to drive home 🙁

QE Poo

Breakfast done, we’re told we can leave Sky Princess immediately, rather than wait for our group to be called. There’s a long queue to disembark. Then there’s a long trek through the Queen Elizabeth II terminal – sadly it is not as opulent or pleasant as its namesake.

In fact, the QE2 terminal is a bit of a dump.

Once we’ve collected our suitcases, things go from bad to worse. Large crowds of people have arrived for the next sailing long before their embarkation time and they are clogging up the entrance. People leaving cannot get past other people arriving and the whole place is a mess.

Top tip: DO NOT arrive at the Queen Elizabeth II terminal before the embarkation time specified in the Medallion App and in your email confirmation. You just screw up the boarding AND disembarkation process for everyone else. And you waste your day sitting in an over-glorified shed.

And if the disembarkation process wasn’t bad enough, a series of accidents means it takes more than five hours to get home.

Next stop, Norway.

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