Holyhead, Wales: A few false starts on the way to the castle

Friday, July 6th, 2007 — HOLYHEAD, WALES

We awoke to 40 knot winds and 23-foot seas, with an announcement from the captain that conditions were very poor, and not suitable for tendering. He said that we’d anchor a few miles offshore and wait to see if conditions improved.

By 9am, the captain informed us that we’d be skipping Holyhead and heading to Dublin later in the afternoon, when sea conditions were predicted to improve.

This was a real bummer, since we’d booked a full-day Princess tour that would take us to Caernarfon Castle, and included lunch and some shopping in the downtown area. The castle was built during the 13th century, and was one of places Rich was really looking forward to photographing, so he was very disappointed. Now that we had plenty of time for breakfast, we went to the DaVinci diningroom for a sit-down meal (the hash browns were great—I highly recommend them!).

Suddenly, they announced that the tours weren’t necessarily cancelled yet! Apparently, the captain spoke too soon, the weather had improved earlier than expected, and we WOULD be going ashore after all, in just a few hours. We sat tight and waited for further instructions.

By lunchtime, we’d still had no word, so we went to Horizon Court for a quick bite to eat. While we were there, they announced that all of the full-day tours were cancelled, but that the half-day tours were still on. They also said that the half-day tours were fully booked, so there was no room for anyone from the cancelled tours to be accommodated.

HOWEVER, we found out later that there were several folks who had booked two half-day tours, rather than one full day tour (one was originally scheduled to leave in the morning and the other in the afternoon), and THEY were told they had to choose which half-day tour they’d like to go on. Which meant, of course, that there were going to be a limited number of open slots on some of the half-day tours, depending on the decisions made by the passengers who were now double-booked. Unfortunately, the staff onboard did not publicize this fact, and we only found out about it through a stroke of luck.

Tendering for Holyhead was chaotic, and a bit of a nightmare. The tender boats took FOREVER to come, and we were left waiting for tender tickets for a long time. When they did finally call us down, there weren’t enough seats for us on the tender, and we had to wait for the next one. During this entire procedure, the staff in charge of loading the tenders were rude and arrogant. They were clearly stressed out over the unusual change in procedures, but I thought their disregard for the passengers who were left stranded was uncalled for. They just kept calling for more passengers, in groups of 100, even though they knew they could only fit another 70 or so on the next tender. When the passengers in front of me tried to reason with the staff member to hold off on bringing that many people down to the holding area (why make them give up their comfortable seats in the dining room waiting area, so that they could stand on their feet and wait for the tender on deck 4?) she turned a deaf ear.

Eventually, another tender came and we got to the dock area. There were representatives from the Anglesey Tourism Bureau who handed us a shopping bag with a tourism brochure and immediately tried to wrangle us onto a free shuttle bus to downtown Holyhead. We very nearly got on the bus, until I noticed some larger tour buses that sat empty a bit further down the dock area. I asked, “What are those?” and the tourism folks said, “Oh, those buses are $81, this bus is free! Hop on!!” I realized that the other buses were the half-day tour buses to Caernarfon Castle, and it was obvious they still had plenty of room left. I approached a Princess Cruise employee and asked if they had seats available for the tour, and they said, “Absolutely. Hop on.” We got on the empty bus, along with a handful of other people. We sat there for about 15 minutes, and there was no sign of us leaving anytime soon, so I got off the bus and asked the woman standing outside with a clipboard, “When are we scheduled to leave?” Her answer, “I don’t really know. We have to fill this bus first.” So, could it be 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour? “Uh, well, I really don’t know.” Ooh-kay then. Who DOES know? She went off to find someone who had some answers, and I went back on the bus to inform the others that we had to be a little more proactive or we wouldn’t end up getting to Caernarfon in time to see anything.

Finally, a guy who actually knew what he was doing showed up, and told us to board a different shuttle bus that was just starting to load up with the afternoon tour to Caernarfon. Just as we boarded, another tender arrived and the bus filled up, and we went on our journey to Caernarfon Castle.

The bus ride was very pleasant, with a local tour guide who explained a little bit about the history of the area, and pointed out sites along the way. We saw some beautiful countryside, snapped a few pictures (including one of the very first suspension bridge in the world), drove past some really quaint-looking shops, and ended up at Caernarfron Castle at last.

We didn’t have a lot of time, but we did get to see quite a bit of the castle, and took loads of photographs. I wish we’d been able to head into town to purchase some linens, but the gift shop at the castle had some very nice offerings, so we made do with that. My 7-year-old picked up a traditional Welsh craft known as a “lovespoon”, while I purchased a Celtic cross necklace and some silver earrings. There was also a small touristy gift shop located just off the parking lot where the buses picked us up, but most of the souvenirs there were “Made in China” and constructed of plastic; the stuff at the Castle gift shop was better and more authentic to the region.

Before long, it was time to head back to the ship. It was a quick visit, but we were happy that we got to see it at all. NOTE FOR THOSE WITH MOBILITY ISSUES: the Castle has a lot of tight spiral staircases and uneven rock surfaces, so proceed with caution. There are bathrooms available at the Castle, but to reach them, you have to walk down a set of stone steps, so tread carefully. Tendering on the way back was much better, and we didn’t have to wait long.

The service at dinner was definitely better than the previous night. There were no lines to get in, the food arrived much faster, and the crew seemed much more relaxed now that the seas had calmed a bit. Overall though, this ship’s crew appeared to be far less experienced than the crew I had while onboard the Celebrity Millennium last year. Most of the crew that I spoke with during the day had never been to the ports we were visiting, and knew absolutely nothing about them. The only one who seemed to be familiar with our itinerary was Jan, the woman who gave the port talks. Another sticking point for me: they didn’t seem to be as diligent in offering sanitizing gel before and after meals on this ship, and many of the automatic dispensers in the food areas didn’t work. Fortunately, I carried my own antibacterial gel with me, but was surprised that they weren’t a bit more cautious on a ship that large.

After dinner, we saw the Celebrity Showtime show with piano vocalist Kyle Esplin, who was a big Jerry Lee Lewis fan. It was kinda weird, to tell you the truth. He had this thick Scottish accent, but was singing Jerry Lee Lewis songs and other types of American rock ‘n roll. My husband and kids thought he was great, though, and his piano skills were definitely impressive.

We put the kids to bed and then snuck away to the casino for a little bit. I ordered a double shot of Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, and played an annoying “Luck O’ the Irish” slot machine (it had a high-pitched leprechaun voice that kept saying things like, “O, so you be after me gold, are ye?” every 5 seconds, but I tried to tune him out) until midnight on 07/07/07, when I officially turned the big, nasty, icky 4-0. After that, I put my geriatric butt to bed, and looked forward to our next stop: Dublin!

Coming up: Spending my 40th birthday under the spigot at the Guinness Factory!

2 thoughts on “Holyhead, Wales: A few false starts on the way to the castle

  1. We are certainly enjoying your posts of your trip. Heading that way ourselves in 3 weeks for the same cruise. 4 days in London up front and a week in the Cotswolds after. Interested to learn of the costs of places you visited. And what places you recommended.

  2. Okay Triple7, I’ll try to add some additional info on costs. I’ve been detailing our food & shopping expenditures because those are the receipts I saved, but I’ll see if I can’t dredge up receipts for some of those admission prices, too.

    I’m glad you’re enjoying the posts, and I’m sure you’re going to love the cruise. The ports were terrific, our pictures came out great, and we came home with lots of wonderful memories.

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