British Isles

Jim & Kathleen go to the...

About the Trip Planning

Never done this before!

I have to start by saying that after we got back from our cruise, a number of people posted reviews of the cruise on the Cruise Critic website and I was really surprised to find that our cruise was awful. But then I realized it had happened again. We had gone on the “other cruise.” Except this time we got the good one and they got the bad one. You can read more about this in the Silhouette cruise and ports of call sections of this site.

This all started in November of 2014 when we were onboard our long-time favorite cruise ship Infinity with our buddies, the Martini Mates. In order to get some great perks, we decided to book our next cruise while onboard Infinity.  When we sat down with the future cruise specialist onboard we really did not have any idea where we wanted to go on our next trip.

While we were waiting to speak to the rep, Kathleen noticed a British Isles cruise that left from Amsterdam (a city we had never visited) and went to Ireland (a country we had never visited) with stops in the Channel and Shetland Islands (never been to either of those places) and an overnight in Edinburgh (one of our favorite cities) for the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. (If you do not know what the Edinburgh Military Tattoo is, stop right now and watch this video: CLICK HERE—only 30 seconds but you will get the idea-then close the window that opens and come right back here). That was the selling point right there. Back in 2003 Kathleen and I had visited Edinburgh and toured the Edinburgh Castle. In the gift shop we had seen some video of that year’s Tattoo. I told her I really hoped we could come back one day and see it. I honestly never thought we would until long after I retired (which is a few years away). August is the WORST time for me to be away from my business and when we booked the cruise I truly thought we would end up moving it to another cruise in a later year and not take this one. But we did and this is the story of that trip.

Besides all that, the other reason we picked this cruise is because frankly, we are about done with most mainstream cruise itineraries. We have been on most of the major ones that we want to do. But is our norm to book while onboard and we wanted to take advantage of some great incentives and pricing only available if we did.

Plus, when we don't have a BIG vacation/cruise to look forward to (no matter how distant in the future) I get really depressed. To me, planning the cruise/trip is about 50% of the fun of the trip.

Cruise Critic Roll Call

As many of you know, we often get really involved in our Cruise Critic roll call. If you have no clue what that means, here is a quick summation:

A word here about Cruise Critic. If you are a friend or relative who doesn’t cruise, then you may not know what Cruise Critic is so I need to explain. If you cruise and don’t use Cruise Critic then you are NUTS! It is an amazing website that houses just about every piece of info on cruising that you can imagine but beyond that it also has forums about every aspect of cruising and Roll Calls for every cruise that sails. Cruise Critic is where you can go to meet the people who you will be cruising with before you cruise with them.

Why do this? Well for us it will show you the main reason we cruise. We both work in places that are not conducive to socializing. Our neighborhood where we live has a lot of turnover so other than our immediate neighbors, we don't have a lot of close friends there either. It is because of these two things we don’t have a lot of friends at home that we socialize with. We do have family and our best buddy Bob (about a hundred miles away) but that’s it for us.

So we cruise to meet people. To socialize. Cruise Critic does that. It lets us meet a lot of great people (like just about every friend we have) before we cruised with them and many of them have become life-long friends. We have friends from all over the world that we met through Cruise Critic. I can’t say enough about how valuable we have found this website. I should mention that you can also meet people on your Cruise Critic roll call that you can share private shore excursions with and we highly recommend this. It’s how we met other great friends who have come to see us and we have visited them. (For instance, on this cruise we sailed with Tim and Perry who we first met on Cruise Critic.)

The main part of the Cruise Critic website that we use are the conversation boards where people who love cruising trade info. For most every cruise that sails there is usually a “roll call.” That’s a conversation board about just that cruise. It is a place to plan excursions with others going on your cruise, trade cruising advice and just get to know the people you are going to be sailing with for two weeks. Some roll calls are dead. Hardly anyone posts. Others are huge and take over your life. This one was one of those.

As soon as we had returned home from our Infinity cruise I checked for a roll call for this cruise and there wasn’t one so I started it. Little did I know that eventually it would take over my life pre-cruise. Besides the roll call, for our past eight or nine cruises I have started creating websites for the cruise. These are different than the roll call in that they have photos, links and more. This website is a place to see what everyone on the roll call looks like as well as info on ports, deck plans and more. You can see the one I did for this cruise by clicking here or on the picture.

I should also add that a typical roll call for us in the past is about 30 or 40 couples. This one wound up with more than 100 sets of cruisers. That meant there were about 60+ fairly active people posting on the roll call on a regular basis. Just keeping up with all the posts was a major endeavor. But as the originator of the thread, I felt it my responsibility to keep the master list and stay on top of everything. Little did I realize when I started this, that that would end up including my planning a dinner for 50 people pre-cruise and eventually chartering three 49 passenger buses to get 147 people to and from the Edinburgh Tattoo. Yup, I did that. Crazy, right? (My bride thinks so).

More about all this as we get closer but just suffice it to say that the time leading up to this trip was unlike any other pre-trip time we have ever had. It was busier, crazier and more rewarding and at the same time frustrating. I would do it again in a minute because we made so many great friends but I have been forever banned by my loving bride. Kathleen knows that once I am in, I am all in. I just don't know any other way to do what I do.

Our traveling party

When we first booked this trip we thought we would be going by ourselves. That is, none of our usual cruising buddies (The Martini Mates) were interested. Most had other cruises in that time frame already booked or it was not something that interested them. So we booked an Aqua Class cabin because we had never done it before. Aqua Class is Celebrity Cruise Line’s “healthy/spa lifestyle” class. One of the things it includes is dinner in a separate dining room called Blu which means if we travelled with anyone else who was not in Aqua class, unless they booked Aqua class, we would not be able to eat dinner with them and dinner on a cruise ship is a big deal. So we thought with no one else joining us, this would be a great time to try Aqua (which we loved but more about that later in the Silhouette section).

About six months after booking the cruise my father passed away. While settling his estate and cleaning out his house we spent a lot of time with my brother Steve and his wife Jamie. We decided to see if they were interested in joining us. They were, so then we were four.

Then we have two very special friends we met while cruising Down Under—Tim and Perry of Toronto. Since we cruised with them in 2010 we have spent time at their home, they have spent a couple of days at ours and we got invited to their wedding (one of the most fun things we have ever done) in July 2015. We just happened to mention this cruise to them and one day they surprised us by showing up on the roll call and announcing they were joining us. We were beyond thrilled. So then we were six.

About a month later, Tim dropped me an e-mail and told us that they had invited a good friend, who we had met at their wedding, to join us. Her name is Nancy and she would be coming our way from Qatar. Any friend of those two guys is quality people so we were thrilled and then we were seven and that’s the number we wound up touring with and it was perfect.

At this point I have to say that you will probably never find two better people to travel with than Tim and Perry. Two trivia experts who make everyday a little bit better. No matter how much rain and gloom the weather threw at us, these guys made it work. When things I had planned were not going as planned, I could count on one or the other of them to reassure me that all was good. They made this trip for me. We both love them dearly and can’t wait to see them again.

I need to add that we had two more that became part of our dinner and drinks group–Bob and Holly. We met them through Cruise Critic and Bob ended up being the other brother I never knew I had. Even though they didn't do any shore tours with us, they were as much a part of our trip experience as any of the super seven that we knew well before the trip and we look forward to traveling with them in the future. You see what I mean about making friends on Cruise Critic?

If you are reading straight through this website/review, click here to go to Amsterdam.