Thanks to jet lag we’re both awake long before 6am so I volunteer to go and get coffee. After convincing the sleeping desk clerk to open the front door I realise it’s raining. As I step into the street I realise it’s raining.
I cross a few blocks without finding a single open coffee shop. For a city that never sleeps, New York seems to be closed a lot. Disappointed I return to the hotel and we both wait for breakfast.
The shower in our room is rubbish, as is the WiFi, but the toiletries are decent. The breakfast is limited in choice but plentiful. We both agree that The Wall Street Inn is actually pretty decent and has much more character than one of the hundreds of chain hotels in the city. We would come back.
We check out just after 10am and walk down to Pier 11 to catch the ferry to the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook. The trip will cost $4 each and drops us right next to the ship. Once there however, it turns out that the ship is not yet ready to accept new arrivals. The terminal fills up quickly with stroppy cruisers who want to start their holiday.
Finally we are allowed on board Sky Princess. We stop for our customary sandwich and cocktail in the Plaza and then head up to our cabin stateroom to unpack. This time round we have booked a balcony room and the reduction in space is quite noticeable. But such is life.
With nothing planned, we spend the rest of the day chilling onboard the Sky Princess. Tomorrow we will do a little more exploring.
Initially we had planned to do some dark tourism on Roosevelt Island, but in the end we decide it’s too much hassle to catch two NYC ferries upriver.
Instead we decide to go full tourist and head towards Times Square. Seeing the enormous queue for the NYC ferry, we opt to walk to the nearest subway station (Smith-9 Streets).
Top tip: You can save a few seconds by buying tickets through the NYC Ferry app. This will allow you to sidestep the ultra-long queue at the ticket vending machine. Given that there are many hundreds of cruise passengers waiting for each ferry and that this particular route only runs every 40 minutes, you may need to consider the long walk to the subway. Downloads: iOS / Android
It’s a good 20-25 minute walk through some areas that Linda thinks are a little ‘sketchy’. But hey, that’s Red Hook for you. And it’s still faster than waiting for an NYC ferry that we might not even get on.
“Sketchy” Red Hook
Thankfully, it’s straight through on the ‘F’ train to 42 Street-Bryant Pk. Once there we take the obligatory tourist pics in Times Square, then head towards the Garment District because Lin wants to buy some zips. We trawl through a few shops without success before giving up.
Heading back to the subway we stop at Yard House to sample some of their 260 beers on tap. It’s not cheap, but at least we get to try as many as we like before committing to a full glass. The classic rock soundtrack is pretty cool too.
Afterwards we decide to go straight back to the ship. Even though we don’t sail until 7pm, we don’t want to get caught up in a mega-queue for the NYC ferry again. We arrive 30 minutes before the next ferry and are both extremely relieved to find the queue is quite manageable at Pier 11. But it starts to grow. And Grow. And grow.
As we queue, the ferry employees announce that President Joe Biden will be in town tonight – and that the ferry will close from 5pm for a few hours to accommodate him. That could cause some problems for cruisers returning after dinner! We’re entertained by a constant procession of helicopters landing at the pier side heliport – and the presidential air convoy as it passes overhead.
Back on board we watch as Manhattan slips away in the darkness. It looks spectacular from the water.
Another day, another port, another ridiculous accent. Today we’re in Boston, the city where the British Empire began to crumble.
There’s a massive crush leaving the ship – the city has laid on several shuttle buses to take the assembled masses into the city centre. Even cooler, the shuttles are actually the big yellow school buses so ubiquitous on US TV. Obviously, this entails much moaning from entitled cruisers – which is weird, because the buses are free.
Too cool for school
We’re dropped off near the city aquarium and immediately head off looking for some dark tourist sights. Our wander takes us along some of the ‘world famous’ Freedom Trail, and we do encounter a few sites that were pivotal in the American Revolution. Obviously, we’re not taught about this episode in British schools, so the significance is somewhat wasted on us.
We managed to grab a few geocaches on the walk, eventually arriving at Copp’s Hill Burying Ground. There’s some impressively old gravestones to check out and the visit is enlivened by a re-enactment troupe doing their schtick.
Ancient American history
Dark tourist tendencies sated, we head back in town in the hope of finding somewhere selling a Boston Cream Pie. We fail. Instead we stop for a beer in the sunshine at The Landing overlooking Central Wharf. Being in Boston, it has to be one of the Samuel Adams variants for me.
Today we’re in Bar Harbor, another famous New England town. With another fun little tender trip into port.
Annoyingly, it’s Sunday, so there’s not a lot open. Worse still, the cruisers are mutinous and the level of anger is higher than normal – no one wants to queue for tenders.
When we finally arrive onshore, we head up the slope into the centre of town. All the usual tourist traps are open flogging ‘Bah Hah Bah’ tat. But none of the bars are open. In fact, many won’t be opening until it’s time for us to embark Sky Princess.
The old cinema movie house is quite cool
We kill some time geocaching before making an early trip back to the ship.
Top tip: Don’t visit Bar Harbor on a Sunday, and don’t expect an early afternoon beer.
Overnight we’ve crossed the international border, docking in the early morning at Saint John on the Bay of Fundy. The port is right next to the town, so it’s only a short walk after disembarkation.
Not so great – it’s Canadian Thanksgiving and everything is closed. Everything.
We wander up steep streets into the middle of the city – again, mostly deserted. Eventually we discover the local market has opened specially to capture business from the tourists on Sky Princess. Annoyingly, there’s nothing we’re really interested in buying.
The Saint John market hall
Perhaps worst of all, we can’t even score a local beer. Early return to Sky Princess.
Today we’re in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is nice. claiming to be ‘The World’s Friendliest Cruise Port’, we’re even greeted by a bagpiper down on the dock.
In the cruise terminal, a local guide directs us towards a bus that will take us out to a true dark tourism site – the Fairlawn Cemetery. This is the final resting place for the majority of victims recovered from Titanic. The range of ages and occupations is extremely interesting – as is the fact that some of the people still have not been identified.
Afterwards we take a walk to a local shopping mall. On the way we pass a much less well-known dark tourism site, the West End Cemetery. This unassuming black-fenced lot is the final resting place of 125 victims of the Halifax Explosion – an event that levelled most of the city in 1917. I doubt that any of the cruise excursions go past this relatively anonymous corner of the city.
Another bus back from the mall and we stop at the Garrison Brewery on the dock. This is a great excuse to try out one of their beer flights – and sample five beers at once. It certainly makes up for not trying any local brews yesterday.
We arrive in St John’s as the sun rises. Spectacular.
This is what having a balcony cabin stateroom is all about
Saint John followed by St. John’s – almost like the Canadians ran out of names for their cities. On the plus side, the ship docks right in the centre of town, so there’s no messing around when we decide to go ashore.
This time we decide to catch a bus to the outskirts of town. Why? So we can pick up some more soap at the ‘local’ Bath & Bodyworks store which is located in the Avalon Mall. The bus journey allows us to see some of the city – which looks remarkably like any other in North America.
We also stop at a Tim Horton’s to try the local fare. There is so much sugar I fear we will both have hypoglycaemic shock. I won’t be rushing to repeat the experience either. Later we learn that the Tim Horton’s restaurant closest to the dock ran out of coffee and could not meet demand from thirsty cruisers – so our trip out of town paid off.
Back into town and we stop into Broderick’s Pub – thankfully they have a beer from a brewery in town. Which is a good way to end the landside portion of the cruise.
Today we finally get to set foot on Greenland but we can’t see a thing through the fog – apart from the Danish warship cruising slowly past, checking us out.
The captain assures us that you can see for miles at sea level, but I’m not convinced. Eventually we head down to the tender and make our way ashore.
The mist lingers for a little while and then suddenly burns off as the sun gets higher in the sky. It’s a beautiful day after all.
Top tip: Despite being a Danish protectorate, Greenland is not part of the European Union. This means that you will not be able to use any roaming minutes or data included in your cellphone contract – even if it includes EU roaming. Expect to pay £2.50 per minute to make calls, £1.50 per minute to receive calls, £0.40 per SMS message and £5 per megabyte to use data services.
Bonus tip: Don’t activate your cellular data on land. And don’t expect to find many free WiFi networks either. You’re better off waiting until you get back on the ship to make calls and share photos.
Qaqortoq is a tiny place, especially with two cruise ships in port. Cruisers outnumber locals by about 4 to 1.
Island Princess is moored behind the Zuiderdam
There are a few shops and the supermarket is doing a roaring trade. Some of the cruisers I speak to are upset that the only coffeeshop in town has not yet opened.
Top tip: The café is in the central square near the famous fountain – and it opens at 12pm (so there’s no need to complain). They also sell beer.
There is a local fish market with two traders, one selling very large fish and the other seal meat.
Lovely fresh seal meat
The locals have also set up a series of small stands, selling polished stone jewellery in a vivid pink colour as well as beaded trinkets and polar bear claws. Behind them, local artists have made a series of carvings into the cliffs, one of the few attractions in the town.
Top tip: The local traders tend to accept payment in Danish Krone, Euros and US Dollars. There is a bank in town with a cashpoint if you need it – look for the large black building.
Despite the massive influx of cruisers, the town is surprisingly peaceful and looks beautiful in the sun. I suspect it is quite bleak here in the winter though.
Top tip: The locals offer plenty of iceberg and whale watching tours departing from the dock. Expect to pay around $100 USD per person.
There is a massive queue for the return water shuttle, but thankfully it moves quite smoothly. Once back on board we are treated to the sight of a helicopter dumping water on the local garbage dump where a controlled burn has got out of control.
I’ve seen more fire and ice in Greenland than in Iceland
Our next stop, Nanortalik, is just 75 miles from Qaqortoq, so we will arrive there around 10pm and anchor in the harbour overnight.
Just before heading to bed, I take my chances on the balcony – and finally get to see the Northern Lights. I’ve managed to tick two items off my bucket list – what a day!
Problem: I’m on a cruise and there aren’t enough power outlets in my cabin stateroom for all my electrical devices – what can I do?
Solution 1: Check under your bed. There is usually a wall-mounted power socket on the right-hand side. You may need an extension lead to make best use of it though.
Solution 2: Always pack a 4-gang power extender and additional travel adaptors. There are usually two or three sockets available on the desk in your cabin stateroom. We recommend the iBlockCube because it can be used in any socket type and includes four handy USB ports for charging phones, watches, tablets, cameras etc. And the retractable pins means that it is small enough to toss in your carry-on bag too. It even comes with a nifty zippered carry case.
iBlock Cube Travel Adaptor
With fittings for all major international power sockets, 4 x USB-A and 1 x USB-C ports, this power adaptor can be used anywhere. And it’s small enough to chuck in your rucksack or handbag (purse).
And so we’re off again, this time headed into the Arctic Circle ‘chasing the Northern Lights’ on the Island Princess via Norway. Because we have a few days at sea to start the voyage, what follows is a collection of random observations and tips…
It is worth noting that because Linda is currently using a mobility scooter, this trip will be quite different to those in the past.
The taxi driver tried to charge me £22.80 for our pre-paid transfer to the Mayflower Cruise Terminal. Not cool.
Using the assisted boarding process was seamless, fast and hassle-free – except for security which was still a complete nightmare. Highly recommended.
Our suitcases did not arrive at our cabin stateroom until a few hours after we left port.
Our cabin stateroom on Aloha deck 12 is perfectly pleasant although there seems to be slightly fewer drawers and shelves. I prefer PR712.
The deck overhang means that we may struggle to see the Northern Lights from our balcony.
It is possible to perform a 5-point turn on a scooter in the lifts – so long as the elevator is empty!
The power points in the cabin stateroom have been engineered in such a way that you can only use one of the two supplied on the desk. There are two additional sockets under the bed, but you will have to unplug your bedside lamp if you want to use them.
This will be our third trip into the Arctic Circle this year, our first on a dedicated chase for the Northern Lights. And it looks like there might be some snow on the way!