The Surprising Truth About A British Isles Cruise
If you are looking to visit Europe but aren’t sure where to start, a British Isles cruise may be the perfect trip for you. I had never been to Europe and was overwhelmed with where to go, what to see and do. There are so many options (Italy! Paris! Germany!) and each place looked more beautiful than the last.
After much deliberation, my husband and I decided on a British Isles cruise on Celebrity Cruiselines aboard the Reflection. We both wanted to see Dublin and explore a little of Ireland plus the cruise ended in Amsterdam where my husband’s family is from. All of the ports had something unique to offer but I was most intrigued with a visit to Le Havre where an excursion to Giverny was available through the ship.
The cruise was twelve days, it left from Dublin, Ireland and ended in Amsterdam.
Here are the ports of call that we visited:
Cork/Cobh, Ireland (You will need to take a train to Cork. The ship will pull into Cobh)
Dover, England (You will need a cab/Uber to bring you into town)
Le Havre (It will show up as Paris/Le Havre but Paris is a three-hour ride from Le Havre. Your best bet is to take a cab to the city of Honfleur)
Bruges, Belgium (You will need to take a bus into Bruges)
It appears that the British Isles cruise for 2020 has slightly different ports of call:
Loch Ness, Scotland
I would love to take this cruise which has two stops in Scotland, I’m disappointed to see that Bruges and Le Havre aren’t ports of call on the new itinerary!
We flew into Dublin and arrived mid-day. It was chilly, drizzly, and gray which I had not prepared for since the forecast called for sunny skies and 60-degree temperatures.
5StarTip: If you go to Dublin in June, bring sweaters and long sleeves. At the last moment, I tossed my lightweight raincoat in my suitcase and I’m so glad I did. For the British Isles cruise, you will need a variety of clothing from short-sleeved tee-shirts to a sweater and a raincoat along with a hat and umbrella. The weather can change from place to place.
We thoroughly enjoyed our time in Dublin and I had no problems with gluten-free eating. Every restaurant offered gluten-free options and the food was excellent. Everyone we met in Dublin was friendly. The people, the scenery, the food, all five stars!
5StarTip: The Find Me Gluten Free app works in Europe! I found many places with Gluten-Free options thanks to this app.
The Celebrity Reflection is a mid-size ship that is elegant in design. Though I personally didn’t take advantage of the activities and all there is to do, you have plenty of options for restaurants, bars, shows, places to relax throughout the ship. The cabins are nice, standard cruise sizes, and though there never seems to be enough room we always make it work. I was happy to put my clothes away and settle in for twelve days.
5StarTip: Look for reviews and ideas of things you want to see and do ahead of time on places like TripAdvisor and Viator. I wished I had made more detailed lists of what I wanted to do. For example, we visited the Hanging Gardens in Le Havre but didn’t realize you could walk further and experience amazing views. Also, I would have liked to have known about doing a trip to Giverny that didn’t include a long stop in Rouen. I wished we had planned our time in Amsterdam a little better too.
Here is what we chose to do at each stop and my thoughts on each.
We flew into Dublin a few days ahead of time and I’m glad we did. There is a lot to see in Dublin! The first day we were exhausted from our long flight so we took a short walk and went to dinner, the second day the hotel booked a tour for us to go out through County Wicklow.
Even though the day was cold, gray, and drizzly, nothing could bring me down, I was thrilled to be in Ireland!
There are lots of tours and day trips in Dublin. A second trip to Ireland is definitely in order.
We hired a driver to take us around and show us some of the must-see places including Malahide Castle and the Dublin Botanic Garden.
I was sad to leave Dublin. There were many places I still wanted to see and am very interested in a return trip!
You will need to take a train to Cork. The ship will pull into Cobh, this is not Cork. I mistakenly thought they were the same place and they are not. When you pull into Cobh, you can walk off the ship and quickly get to the picturesque downtown area, this is Cobh. It’s full of interesting things to see.
You will find shopping, coffee shops, a tourism office. I love to explore and wander with my camera which is how I came to get the above shot. I knew ahead of time that I wanted to see this view, only I wasn’t sure how to get there but I quickly figured it out. It involved walking up a very steep hill!
In Cobh, you can book day trips and tours at the tourism office which is a quick walk from the cruise ship, about ten minutes.
We decided to take the train to Cork and opted for a bus tour. On our second day, we took a tour to Blarney Castle. If you are in Ireland, you must get to Blarney Castle. It’s absolutely beautiful with gardens and flowers. The line to kiss to Blarney Stone was a ninety-minute wait, I opted to skip the line and wander around the grounds taking pictures.
I had no idea what to expect in Belfast, I didn’t know much about this city at all! After a bus tour of Belfast which included seeing a lot of street art and learning about the heated political climate, we decided to check out the Titanic Museum which is in walking distance to the cruise ship.
I can’t recommend this interactive and visual museum enough. It’s beautifully done and very interesting, taking you from the beginning of construction of the ship to its ultimate fate. You can probably spend a few hours here, strolling through and learning everything about the Titanic.
Our next stop was Liverpool. We took another Hop On/Hop Off bus to see an overview of the entire town. Liverpool offered many Beatles tours and there were also river cruises to take on the Mersey. There is so much to see and do if you are a fan of The Beatles as Liverpool is where they got their start.
There is lots of shopping, restaurants, and museums in Liverpool. We decided to roam around and explore for a while but if I went back, I’d opt to take a walking tour and learn more about the history of Liverpool.
TIP: Transportation will be needed to bring you into town. We took a cab to the center of town then walked up to Dover Castle. There will be cabs available when you get off the cruise ship.
This stop was a pleasant surprise. I wasn’t sure what to expect, all I knew about Dover was the famed “White Cliffs of Dover” and I wanted to see them. As the cruise ship docked, I went outside and the beautiful cliffs were visible, no tour needed to take you there.
You can also see Dover Castle from the ship. This is a place that is worth your time to visit. Aside from how much I enjoyed the Titanic Museum, I was surprised at what a wonderful day I had at Dover Castle. The grounds of the castle are expansive and you could walk for an hour or two just exploring the grounds.
You can walk through the castle and see how it was furnished from back in the 11th century. I loved seeing the old furniture and how the interior was decorated.
There are secret wartime tunnels located here as well and we took the tours to explore them. The Wartime Hospital, located within the tunnels was fascinating as was the tour for Operation Dynamo where the Dunkirk evacuation was planned.
The history of the castle is not to be missed, you can easily spend most of the day here.
TIP: Le Havre will show up as Paris/Le Havre but Paris is a three-hour ride from Le Havre. Your best bet is to take a cab to the pretty city of Honfleur which is a short ride from the cruise ship.
Le Havre is where I took the excursion out to the Monet Garden and the city of Rouen which was a full-day tour. Since we were docked overnight in Le Havre, we had a day with nothing planned so we decided to drive out to the Jardins Suspendu (Hanging Gardens). I will always seek out a botanical garden to visit no matter where I am! This area is built on top of an old fort which was abandoned and later turned into this garden.
You can walk through the greenhouses, each house a specific type of plant. I took so many photos here and if you love plants, flowers, nature, you will want to stop in for a visit. After stopping here, we had time to drive out to the town of Honfleur.
Honfleur is located on the southern side of the Seine’s estuary and is a charming little town worth your time to visit. High rise homes lined the harbor where you will see lots of boats. There is plenty of shopping and eating here. It’s really fun to walk through the narrow streets and take in the beauty of this quaint area. It’s a very busy area and quite crowded.
TIP: You will need to take a bus into Bruges. The bus drops you off and you need to walk several blocks to get to the downtown area.
Bruges is the capital and largest city of West Flanders in the Flemish Region of Belgium. There are parks, shopping, restaurants, bars here and if we had a longer stay in Bruges, I would have taken a guided tour.
We had nothing planned in Bruges and decided to explore on foot. Its a gorgeous little town with tons of chocolate shops and places to get Belgium waffles and coffee. You can find lots of shopping here too.
I wished we had more time to wander around! I loved what we saw and would like to return to see more.
The cruise ends in Amsterdam. We opted to stay a few days here and explore. My first impression of Amsterdam was how busy and crowded it was! There are people and bicycles everywhere, there is even a special bike lane.
There is so much to see, I highly recommend reading up on Amsterdam and figuring out what you would like to see ahead of time. Tours, day trips, museums, places to eat, its a city full of possibilities. Have a game plan so you don’t miss anything. I really wanted to visit the Keukenhof Gardens but it’s not open during the time we were in Amsterdam.
Perhaps my biggest mistake/regret of the entire trip was not reading up on the Anne Frank House tour. My husband and I traveled with friends and we all agreed this was a tour we wanted to do. I assumed we could buy tickets once we got to Amsterdam but then learned you must buy the tickets way in advance. According to Trip Advisor: 80% of the tickets are released exactly two months in advance at noon. The remaining 20% are released on the Anne Frank House website on the day itself at 9 AM. The demand often exceeds the number of available tickets.
5StarTip: Buy tickets for the Anne Frank House well in advance.
We visited the Van Gogh museum and took a tour through the Dutch countryside of Zaanse Schans, we also took a boat tour through the canals. We were very busy for the few days we were in Amsterdam but missing the Anne Frank House was disappointing and left me feeling like I need to go back!
When time is limited in a particular area, you want to see as much as you can. I was torn between pausing to take in everything around me and wanting to speed up to see every detail.
This cruise is an absolute whirlwind of adventure. You will want to fully explore each port especially if you’ve never been there before. Though I got sick with a bad cold during the cruise, I didn’t want to take any time away from seeing the various ports.
Sidenote: bring cold and allergy medicine or you will be spending your trip visiting each pharmacy looking for Dayquil/Nyquil etc. I stopped in every pharmacy from Honfleur to Bruges looking for medication.
What surprised me most about the British Isles Cruise is that there is not enough time to see everything! Time goes by so quickly on this cruise. I felt like we were just unpacking and it was time to leave.
This cruise had fewer sea days than other cruises we’ve been on. That meant each day brought a jam-packed itinerary. Though we took cabs, buses, and trains, we averaged about 5-7 miles of walking per day.
You may very well be busier than ever on this particular vacation. I cannot recommend enough that you invest in good shoes, dress in layers, and bring an umbrella.
Before you leave, make a detailed list of everything you want to see in each location. I like to wander around with my camera and take my time to soak up the atmosphere but there was no time for that since there were so many things to see. You need to prioritize what you want to see since there aren’t enough hours in the day for everything.
Now that I have been on the British Isles cruise, I am caught between wanting to go again and wanting to explore a new place. There is so much to see in the world, enjoy every place you get to visit.