August 1 – Friday We packed up and headed out about 3:00 pm, just on time headed for LAX and Virgin Atlantic VS 24 direct LAX to LHR. We diverted for dinner in Long Beach and invited Emily Lees over for a quick bite. She lives in LB and it was an easy trip after work for her. We arrived at LAX just about 8:00 pm, but luckily our check in a security were a breeze. During check-in we were given the option to upgrade our economy seats for “more” legroom to the tune of $70 each. It was worth it, but we noticed that not all of these seats on the flight were taken. VA keeps some of these seats on hold to offer to passengers when checking in. The flight was long, about 10.25 hours but flying overnight is a little uncomfortable but tolerable. VA provides free drinks (wine, beer, hard alcohol/mixed drinks), somewhat edible evening snack/dinner and a quick breakfast. I would fly VA again.
August 2 – Saturday We arrived in Heathrow right on time with no shuttle to be found. Clearing immigration was about an hour long, customs was a snap and by then the driver was released. Sandy called the shuttle service who released our driver after an hour wait. We missed him by 10 minutes, supposedly. The service directed us to take up the prepaid cost with our travel agency. A cab fair to the Millennium Gloucester was fun and quick. This should be interesting. Sandy already sent an email to Christine at AAA, we’ll see. Dinner was across the street at the local pub, the Stanhope Arms, the fish and chips were OK and the beer was so-so. I’ve had better in England.
August 3 – Sunday A day for exploring London before boarding the boat tomorrow. After an American buffet breakfast, which was pretty inclusive, we headed for the Prime Meridian in Greenwich. A Tube run to an above ground train ride (to the Cutty Sark stop) and 1 hour later, we arrived at the Royal Observatory. After wandering lost a bit, we found the observatory on the top of the hill on the grounds. A fee lets you into the observatory and the actual Prime Meridian monument. It was well organized and you can stand on the Meridian! The folks behind you are nice enough to take your family picture. There were very many creative poses. After the Meridian, we had a quick lunch refresher before heading to the northwest side of London to the Warner Bros Harry Potter studio. After just about 1.5 hours, we arrived. One leg of the tube was closed until 11:00 a.m., which caused us to have to divert, but the system is very flexible and easy to navigate. Our appointed tour time was 5:00 pm and we arrived with a few minutes to spare! Dinner after a 1.25 hour ride back to the Millennium Gloucester was across the street at another local eatery, the Patisserie. Not good, not recommended. Everyone was tired and cranky and early to bed for the cruise crew!
August 4 – Monday Left the hotel at about 9:30, picked up some additional folks at the JW Marriott and then arrived at Harwich about 1:00 p.m, a very uninteresting drive through town and rural areas. I wasn’t sure if the driver was taking the fastest route or the route that took the most time. We were not on the first bus to board. Check in for the Celebrity Infinity was very quick for those of us on the Concierge class and we ended up boarded and in the rooms by about 1:30 pm. If you are on the Captain’s Class, check-in is even faster. Sandy and I were in Room 8094, Rosie and Tommy in 8122, Douglas in 8124, all on the starboard side. We were in front of the mid elevator and they were aft of it. Dinner was our first meal at the dining room. The meal is just like other cruises, you can mix and match whatever you like from the daily menu and the special meal of the day. On the first dinner, dress is casual, you CAN come in wearing short pants. Other nights, men must wear pants of some kind, the boys were OK with jeans. Everything is sized smaller so that you can have many options and not be overly stuffed.
August 5 – Tuesday Normandy and Paris trips, kids to Paris and us to Normandy. The trips were both amazing, kids had fun and we had a sobering experience. Figure on 2 hours to Normandy and 2 hours to return to the ship, 10 hours total, a LONG day. The Normandy excursion is not to be missed, the sacrifices these guys made for future generations was truly amazing. This is an early start trip, tough on the first day with an 8 hour time difference. The Caen Memorial Museum luncheon included wine and a salad bar and leg of “duck” for each person. While not the greatest meal, it was nice to relax with new acquaintances and some delicious bordeux. Our trip made it back in time for dinner, the kids did not, but their trip was a lot longer. Paris was fantastic, BUT lots of “old” people” on the bus!
August 6 – Wednesday St. Peter’s Port. Disembarkation was via tender and the wait wasn’t too bad, about 15 minutes. We just decided to have a relaxing day and spend the day in town. The town was cute, small, but not worth spending the whole day. We had lunch back on the ship and everyone took a nap in preparation of the formal dinner drew-up extravaganza at the Qsine Restaurant. The Qsine dinner meal was quite the gimmick, menu on an iPad and really meant to be experienced as a group. Each item selected is meant to be shared in a “family style” depending on the number of people in the group. Our menu had sushi lollipops, tacos, lobster escargot poppers, baby back ribs and spring rolls, donkey tacos (make your own guacamole) indian something, painter’s filet, disco shrimp, chinese… For dessert, we had creme brulet, make-your-own cupcakes, apple streusel. We arrived for our 6:00 pm reservation and left about 9:45 pm. This meal was the highlight of our trip so far. Not to be missed.
August 7 – Thursday Today we arrived at Cobh (Cove) in Ireland. It is the seaport dock to the city of Cork. Disembarkation wasn’t until 10:30, just a walk off the gangplank, nice and simple. The train trip to Cork was only 25 minutes and we did the hop-on, hop-off bus around Cork. Lunch at the Nosta was just OK, pretty greasy pizza if you ask me. Before re-embarking, we had a “pint” at the Mauretania bar/pub in Cobh. Our highlights were the locals drinking Murphy and Beamish Irish Stout. You don’t drink Guinness in the Republic of Ireland, you wait until you reach Northern Ireland! We just couldn’t do the formal meal in the Trellis Restaurant, but we all ended up at the Ocean View Terrace for buffet style dinner. It’s nice to have options.
August 8 – Friday Liverpool was a walking day, off the ship and exploring the city. We managed to find the Anglican and Roman Catholic Cathedrals, both are amazing, but the Anglican is just amazing. The church was designed by a 21 year old architect in the 1880. We were lucky to meet a retired Anglican minister who gave us a mini-tour. He capped it off with a wedding blessing for Tommy and Rosie. On our way to the Catholic Cathedral, we stopped at the Philharmonic Dining Rooms, quite a well-known watering hole for a pint!
August 9 – Saturday Dublin was taxi to central town and then a Hop On, Hop-Off bus tour of the city. Our highlights were the Guinness Brewery and the Jameson Whiskey Distillery. Guinness includes a free pint and a Gravity Bar on the 7th floor for a fantastic 360 view. The order-ahead skip the line Guinness price was $20 US. The Jameson tour includes a taste test at the end (for 8 lucky select people) of their whisky against a 2 distilled Scotch and 1 distilled American whisky. Well worth the price of admission of 17 euros for adults. Irish whiskey vs. English/Scotish whisky.
August 10 – Sunday Belfast was the arranged Celebrity tour of the Giant’s Causeway. It was about a 2 hour bus ride to the geological viewing area. The hexagonal basalt towers are much like those in Devil’s Postpile in the Sierra Nevada range behind Mammoth. Our tour guide was really chock full of information and she managed to talk the entire way, except for a few silent stops of just a matter of minutes. On the way back, she serenaded us with song, she was really quite informative. Just a tad wordy though. A “wee dram” is just 1/8 ounce, I came to learn.
August 11 – Monday Today we had a private tour arranged by Fran Marquez of Celebrity special tours to the Sterling Castle and Glasgow for shopping. Fran will be leaving next year to continue his own tour business in Spain, he was most personable and we should look him up when we travel to Spain. The castle was amazing, we spent easily 2 hours just self-exploring. Lunch was at the Corn Exchange restaurant. Shopping was in downtown Glasgow, the girls shopped and the guys headed to the Counting House for a top-off. It is much nicer going by private coach, the schedule is yours and you can feel much more relaxed. Our coach driver, Ian, was chock-full of stuff and kept us entertained. Our Private Excursion organizer, Francisco (from Celebrity), did a great job in the organization. Francisco and his wife (in future cruise sales) have been on the ship for 7 years and in 2015 will be ending their cruise contracts to start a family and continue their own cruise tour company in Spain. We do need to get their business card so when our travels take us to Europe. Dinner was at the Trellis View restaurant. Tommy has gotten into the groove and now orders 2 of the main course, mixing it up to explore.
August 12 – Tuesday Day at Sea. Nice and lazy day, nowhere to go except on the ship. Lunch marathon Farkle game! Dinner was at Qsine for the 2nd time. This approach was to try everything we didn’t have the first time. I think the first dinner, where we were not sure of the dining approach was better. The seas were roll-y and the swells were noticeable. Sick sacks were about everywhere. We were traveling outside on the high seas for the first portion of 405nm journey. Heading west at 285 degrees had all passengers and crew walking in interesting ways. Once we had turned to a northerly direction, we were sheltered with the Hebrides Islands on the left and the mainland of Scotland on the right. The ride became noticeably smoother.
August 13 – Wednesday Kirkwall hike to Mull Head . It was cold and wet and rainy when we left the ship at 8:00 am. We arrived at the starting point with the sun starting to peak out. The hike was about 3 miles in length, the drill-sargent-guide was brutal, the trail dripping with water and full of puddles and mud, but, it was fun and memorable. The views of the coastline here on the islands around Kirkwall were amazing. Tonight is the last formal dinner. The food is getting old.
August 14 – Thursday Another day at sea. A lazy return down the North Sea to Harwich. I attended the Ships Navigation talks by the 2nd in command and Sandy and I went to the Galapagos tour Celebrity presentation.The kids had fun at the Constellation Lounge, it seems the other like aged kids came out as well and a good time was had by all. Somehow in returning his Scotch Jameson bottle to Douglas, the staff managed to ruin the outside box label. Even with our complaining, nothing could be done. Because we were 3 cabins, we could not purchase all 3 cabins picture CD without a cost of $250 per cabin. That finally was negotiated down to $250 for our cabin and $125 for the other 2 for a total of $375. We all agreed that this was extortion and bought not a single picture.
August 15 – Friday We woke up in Harwich, arriving early in the morning. The system is well organized and each cabin has their bags out the night before, 11:00 pm in our case. Our morning’s departure included a tour of Windsor Castle on the way to the airport. The tour call time was 6:45 a.m. with a 7:30 departure and a 1:30 arrival to Heathrow. The cruise line puts like time-flying people together on the buses. Douglas was headed to Sweden so was not on our bus 3, but on bus 4. It worked out, we all ended up at the castle about 10:30 am. We will have to come back and spend some more time in this area. The shops and restaurants are nicely laid out around the castle area. We saw a Travel Lodge and Holiday Express around the country-side. Lunch was the the Horse and Groom around the outside of the castle walls. The Seafarers Ale was delicious as were the fish and chips, huge pieces, big enough for 2 people.
We arrived at Heathrow right at 1:30 and had a quick checkin for our Virgin Atlantic VS023 flight back to LAX. Flight time was 10.5 hours and dinner was the In-n-Out by LAX on Sepulveda. This was a great trip with many awesome memories.
- Bring ham radio HT, you can listen to the International Coast Guard stations from boat to boat or to port.
- Bring a small serving tray for coffee to go when you need something to eat/drink in the stateroom.
iPhones and Internet Access Doug and Rosie’s Verizon iPhone 4S were unlocked in the US before we left. The 2nd step was to add the SIM card outside of the US to complete the unlock. Rosie left her phone in the US, so we couldn’t complete that unlock. With the unlocked Verizon iPhone 4S for Doug, we purchased a Vodaphone SIM card with unlimited text and calling and 3GB of data for 30 pounds (I think). We bought this at a Vodaphone store in Greenwich.
iPads We purchased a SIM/data plan for the always unlocked iPad Mini (Rosie) and iPad Mini Retina (Sandy) from Lebara, a front for EE service. We had to go across the street to the Lebara/EE store as the Vodaphone store had a large tour come through that morning and they purchased all the SIM cards that the store had. This gave 10Gb of data for each device in the UK (England and Northern Ireland and Scotland, whereever the pound is used). It did NOT work in the Irish Republic because it is NOT the UK (they use the euro). The data plans were about 15 pounds each. It took about 24 hours to transfer each devices IMEI number to the EE plan. Lebara/EE gives you 50Mb of data as a starter plan while the system configures the devices for the 10Gb data plan. The EE cell system did NOT do 4G, but the 3G was mostly adequate and the prices were hard to beat. The iPads worked well within shoreline access, out at the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, they were out of service.
ATT iPhone Our ATT iPhone 5/5S are not unlocked so they could not be used in Europe. Keep one of the ATT iPhone 5 phones so that we can unlock it, and then it can be the backup phone for Europe on our next travels.
Ship Internet The Internet package I purchased was 250 minutes for $109. I ended up with about 45 minutes surplus. Most of the time was spent keeping track of Hurricane Iselle as she headed to the Big Island. It is, as to be expected, painfully slow. You create an account with username and password. You can use your account on any device, but just one device at a time. I was able to use it on Sandy’s Macbook Air and my iPhone and iPad. It is easier to access email on the iPhone or iPad, because I have to use Gmail in a browser on the Macbook Air.
Ship Prices On Ship Prices Prices are very expensive and EVERYTHING is additional on the ship, for example:
- Soda can $4.50
- Bottle water, $4.50 and $6.00
- Beer, bottle from $6.50 (Amstel Lite, Heineken) to $9.50 (Guinness, Sierra Nevada)
- Wine, 1/2 carafe $11.00
- Tea and coffee are free
- The 3 and 5 bottle wine (for dinner) selections are also extreme, 5 “premium” bottles for $250, you can corkage them for other evenings.
- Happy Hour martinis are $7.00, normally $14.00!
Per cabin, Celebrity automatically assesses a $12.50 gratuity per person. For our 15 day cruise (August 1-15), the fee was about $375. This kept it hard for us to really tip anyone for exemplary service. Celebrity Cruise Concierge class was a disappointment. The Concierge desk on Deck 8 was not very exciting. Aqua class may be a future choices if cruising Celebrity. Aqua class has a separate dining restaurant and their own private lounge.
Electricity England hotel electric plugs are the big 3 prong plugs. On board the cruise boat, the plugs are 110 US standard and 240 Europe (Italy for us) standard plugs. The Europe plugs are the NARROW round 2 plugs, not the thicker Asian plugs. All computer/phone adapters are dual voltage. Recommendation for future: bring some of the Europe and England plugs to cover all the bases.