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…