Saturday, July 7, 2007 – DUBLIN, IRELAND
The seas were much calmer now than they had been yesterday, and the ship docked in Dublin right on time at 8am. When I left my stateroom, I saw that our room steward had affixed a colorful cluster of Happy Birthday balloons to the doorway—a very nice way to start my day! We had a quick breakfast in the Horizon Court (the food there is okay, but I prefer the sit-down diningroom when time isn’t an issue), packed up our Euros (the currency they use in Ireland), then headed for the gangway to go ashore.
Note: Every evening before turning in for bed, we found the next day’s issue of the Princess Patter outside our stateroom door, along with an Adventures Ashore Port Guide for the next day’s destination. The Port Guide provides an overview of the city’s history, and mentions some of the top attractions. There’s also a small street map to help you get oriented once you leave the Princess shuttle into downtown, along with additional info on taxis, shopping, and local cuisine.
Going ashore was much easier this time, since we were docked and simply had to walk right off the ship. NOTE FOR THOSE WITH MOBILITY ISSUES: depending on the tide level when you dock, they sometimes use these annoying gangways with bumps in them that are difficult to navigate. If you are traveling with someone in a wheelchair or use some other assistive device like a walker or cane, be sure to flag down a crew member and tell them that you’ll require some extra assistance getting off the ship.
We took the Princess shuttle bus ($5 per person each way) into downtown Dublin. It drops off and picks up on Kildare Street, which is a short walk from Trinity College/The Book of Kells. There were several other tour buses in that area, however, so rather than fight the early crowds, we headed the other way on Kildare towards the National Museum and National Gallery.
Unfortunately, it was still just a bit early, and neither one was open yet, so we took a few minutes to walk around and visit the shops in the Grafton Street area. Many of the shops that were open this early were of the touristy variety, and the souvenirs were overpriced. We decided to hold off on buying anything until later in the day, when more of the stores were open and things would be more competitively priced.
We found a bookshop that had the Daisy Meadows Pet Fairies book my 7-year-old was looking for (from a popular book series that isn’t available in America yet), and when we went to the upstairs children’s department, there was a great Harry Potter display. We took a fun picture there of my eldest daughter in front of the elevator, which was decorated to look like Platform 9 ¾.
At this point, we headed back to the National Museum, which had just opened. The domed rotunda at the entrance way is absolutely gorgeous, but unfortunately, they don’t allow you to take pictures there. Don’t forget to look down, too, at the Zodiac mosaic on the floor as you walk in.
Admission was free, and we found the museum to be a wonderful way to start the day. We saw exhibits that included old artifacts from the Bronze Age, hammered gold jewelry, stones that were 5,000 years old, and the famed Ardah Chalice, a Celtic Christian relic dating from 800AD.
After a bit of time, we set off back down Kildare, passing the Irish Parliament building, towards the National Gallery. NOTE: there was scaffolding/construction going on just up the street from the Gallery, so you can’t actually see the building until you’ve gone around the bend in the road and are practically standing in front of it. We saw lots of people looking confused and consulting their maps, when they were actually just a few yards away from the Gallery. Just keep walking and you’ll find it once you’re past the construction.
Admission to the National Gallery is free. They have many works by great artists such as Picasso and Vermeer, as well as a fine collection from Irish artists, but the highlight is seeing Caravaggio’s Taking of the Christ on level 2 of the museum. The Gallery itself is beautiful: open and airy, and there weren’t any crowds when we were there, so touring it was a pleasure. The bathrooms are also very clean and handicap accessible, so keep that in mind if you’re in the area and need to make a pit stop.
We headed back towards Trinity College to see the Book of Kells.
There were long ques, but they moved quickly. It was a sea of people inside, very dark and crowded, but it was worth it not only to see the 9th century Book of Kells, but also the wondrous Long Room in the college library, built in 1732. There you’ll find floor-to-ceiling bookcases filled with antique books, exhibits of old military posters, and the oldest harp in Ireland (the same one you’ll see on the back of the local coins, and in the Guinness logo).
The gift shop is large and has some good choices for souvenirs (jewelry in particular). We went outside and took some pictures on the grounds of Trinity College, then headed for the Temple Bar area to get some lunch.
I was looking forward to some traditional pub fare, so we ate at Quay’s Irish Restaurant, which was absolutely perfect. It had wood hewn beams and a great ambience, and the food was good, too. They had a kids menu, so the place was family friendly as well (chicken nuggets, €7.95). I had some Fish & Chips with salt & vinegar fries (€13.95), my oldest daughter had a burger off the kids’ menu because she didn’t want coleslaw or fixin’s with it, which was cheaper than ordering the adult portion (€7.95), and Rich had a steak sandwich (€13.95) that was terrific. Of course, he and I washed it all down with a pint o’ Guinness (€4.95 each), and then we were on our way again.
A quick look at the clock revealed that we were running out of time, and still had lots more to see, so we made our way to the nearest Hop on/Hop off bus stop and boarded one of those red City Sightseeing buses.
Visit Irish City Tours to see route maps. They have a discounted family fare for adults w/children, and it was a great way to cover lots of ground in a very short time. In quick succession, we saw Dublin Castle, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and Christ Church.
NOTE: they actually have two different types of hop on/hop off buses that operate, using the same ticket. The yellow ones run every ½ hour, and have a live tour guide that announces the sights to you as you pass them. The red ones run more frequently, about every 10 minutes, and have headphones available for you as you board so that you listen to a pre-recorded message about the sights as you pass them. It was very difficult to find a taxi large enough to accommodate the 5 of us, so the bus was definitely a convenient way to go for our group. The bus ticket also gives you discounts for admission to some of the local attractions, including 10% off adult admission at the Guinness Factory, so be sure to read the brochure/route map they have when you board the bus.
NOTE: I recommend sitting on the LEFT side of the bus, if at all possible, because you get better views for picture taking that way (remember, they drive on the left there). If you have regular headphones with you (from your MP3 player, for example) those work on the bus, too. Try to get a seat in the open section of the upper deck if you want to snap lots of pictures.
Another note for those with iPods/MP3 players: The Dublin Tourism Bureau offers FREE downloads of self-guided “iTalks” for Dublin, available on their website, www.visitdublin.com. I also signed up for their free newsletter to receive info on special events before we left.
We hopped off the bus at stop#14, the Guinness Storehouse. Woo-hoo…let the birthday celebration begin! There were long lines both inside and out, and we saw some older folks bailing out on the line because they heard that the tour takes an 1 ½ hours, and time was getting short. However, the tour is SELF-GUIDED, so you can take as much or as little time as you want going through the exhibits. We decided to hang in there, and sure enough, the lines moved pretty quickly, and pretty soon, we were inside and on our way.
NOTE FOR THOSE WITH MOBILITY ISSUES: Guinness is located on a very bumpy, cobblestone street. You can push a wheelchair there, but it is not easy and will be a bit jarring, so prepare yourself for that.
There’s a large gift shop inside that carries every Guinness-related item you could possibly imagine: shirts, golf balls, glasses, pub signs, coasters, magnets, you name it.
We saw our cruise director there with his buddies, but didn’t say hello because he was dressed casually and we figured he’d prefer to be “incognito.”
We opted to forgo the 10% discount on each adult admission because it was cheaper for us to get the Family Fare tickets, since we had the kids with us. Instead of traditional tickets, they give you each a plastic Guinness paperweight that has a plastic ring sealed to the back of it.
Adults get a black ring, which is exchangeable for a free pint of Guinness at the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor, while kids get blue rings that are good for the soft drink of their choice. I told the gal at the ticket counter that it was my 40th birthday, so she gave me an extra paperweight and seal, in case I wanted to drown my sorrows. I love the Irish!
There were lots of escalators to get from one exhibit to the next, but also some steps. There was elevator access as well, but the elevators were a bit crowded, so we only used them to go down after we’d reached the 7th floor.
The bathrooms were a little gross (we used the ones on the 7th floor) so you might want to try one of the other locations instead (they have toilets on the Ground floor, as well as the 1st, 2nd, 4th and 5th levels).
We worked our way through the exhibits at a moderate pace. There are some cute photo ops near the waterfall, and also on the model train. We saw exhibits on how the hops and barley are roasted and combined with the water to create Guinness, and then we reached a “tasting area” where they offer the adults a small shot of Guinness to sample before continuing on. We ended up skipping a few floors after that because the kids were getting bored with the exhibits on “Guinness Around the World” and “Guinness Advertising”, so we headed straight for the Gravity Bar on the 7th floor.
It was packed with people, and there were very few chairs, but I was determined to have me my birthday pint! The windows afforded 360 degree views of Dublin, and major sights & attractions were labeled on the windows so you knew what to look for. We could also see our Princess ship off in the distance, and realized that were really cutting things close if we didn’t start heading back soon. After a quick drink (and no, I didn’t go for my second pint…I couldn’t even finish the first one!), we went back down to catch the bus.
The lines for the buses were long, but three of them arrived in just a few minutes time, and we were able to get on without a problem. I had really wanted to see the Dublin Writer’s Museum on this trip, but time was getting really tight, and if we didn’t hurry up, we could very well miss the last shuttle back to the ship and have to end up finding a cab.
By that point, the bus was driving through the Temple Bar area, and would soon turn left to up towards the Writer’s Museum before looping back down again. We realized that if we hopped off and walked over the Liffey Bridge, it would be a shortcut that would leave us close to Trinity College and the shuttle bus. Made the decision to skip the museum this time, and hopped off the bus. As we crossed the bridge, there was a huge store on the corner, Carroll’s of Dublin, which was filled to the brim with souvenir items at much better prices than the stores that we’d passed earlier. Now that we’d skipped the Writer’s Museum, we had a few minutes to pop in and stock up on mementos. Yay! (It was 4:10pm, and the shuttle was leaving at 4:30, but it’s okay—we’re quick shoppers!) We grabbed a few handknit wool scarves (all made in Ireland, €19.99 each), a smaller fuzzy scarf in pink for my 11-year-old (€4.99), some Christmas ornaments (€2.99 each), some cute stuffed leprechauns (€2.99) and another fridge magnet to add to our collection (€1.99). NOTE: I discovered after I got home that Carroll’s has a website, and they guarantee to offer the lowest prices on Irish & Celtic items. Here’s a link: Carroll’s of Dublin Online Store
We hustled back to the shuttle on Kildare Street and got there just in time to get the bus back to the ship. After a quick rest, we all showered and got dressed for dinner, watched some of the Port Talk for Belfast on the TV, then headed to the dining room.
When we got to our table, there was a bouquet of pink roses waiting for me from Rich & the girls. Awwww. Nice touch! Our waitress Monika and her assistant sang Happy Birthday to me after dinner, bringing a decadent chocolate mousse cake dessert with 4 candles in it, which she cut into 5 pieces so we could all share it.
We ended the night by seeing that evening’s show, a comedy & magic act by Bernard Reid. He was very funny, and mentioned that he’d be doing a “close-up magic” demonstration later on in the cruise, which the kids decided they would definitely go to see. He also mentioned that he’s one of the foremost experts in the world on legendary magician/escape-artist Harry Houdini, and that later in the cruise he’d be hosting an informative lecture that would dispel the myths surrounding Houdini. (More details on that later—it was a fascinating lecture, and I highly recommend it.)
All in all, it was a terrific birthday, and one that I will never forget! (It almost made turning 40 worth it. Almost.)
Next up: Our visit to Belfast, where I got a sign from my Dad that he is still watching over me