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Radiance of the Seas Cruise Review
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Copyright © 1995-2002 
Linda Coffman


Brilliance of the Seas
Northern Europe
July 18-August 3, 2002

by Pam Murphy 

Before I begin my report, I thought that I would address some of the questions that people tend to ask – mainly, why I do this and how I remember so many details?  I do these trip reports as a strictly personal thing – it is a way for Jim and I to remember our trips – I put a copy of the report in the albums that I make with the photos from each of our trips.  I carry a notebook with me at most times, especially on tours, taking notes as I go along. I also do research on the places we will be visiting before we leave home to give me some background information and I incorporate much of this information into the report.  I must look very serious while taking my notes, since on this particular cruise I was asked by the crew if I was from the main office of Royal Caribbean – guess I was making them nervous!  I was also asked if I was writing a book.

I make my reports available to others since I find it so very helpful when others post their trip reports on line.  It helps me to make many of my decisions of what to do and what not to do.  When reading this, please keep in mind that this is only the opinion of one person and my opinion is not gospel.  What one person may enjoy another may hate and what I find distasteful another may enjoy.

Thursday July 18

For the past several months I have been on the AOL Cruise Critic Message Boards, communicating with people who will be on the cruise with us.  We have been writing back and forth for several months, now, and have been counting the days until this cruise. Now the big day has arrived and we are finally on our way.

The limo is right on time ( 5:00 PM ) to pick us up.  Now the fun begins – our driver is going way out of his way to supposedly avoid traffic – actually is going in the wrong direction! Yes, he does finally get us to the airport but it takes twice as long as it should have taken. Thankfully, we have had plenty of time to spare so still aren’t rushed.

We arrive at Philadelphia airport and get a porter -- he takes our bags into the terminal, and we are on a very long line waiting to check in.  Jim must have tipped him very well because he comes back and tells us to say nothing and follow him – he takes us to the First Class check in – so there is no waiting.  Naturally, he earned a second tip!  I can hear other people on that long line asking how we were able to do that – so nice to feel special at the start of a trip!  As anyone who has read any of my past trip reports can tell you, I have yet to master the art of packing lightly.  I’ve been known for having overweight bags and having to repack to redistribute the weight of each suitcase in the airport.  US Air is a pleasure – no questions asked and nothing said about the weight of my bags.  Our US Air flight leaves right on time at 8:55 PM. 

Friday July 19

London
We arrive at Gatwick Airport at 8:55 AM (20 minutes early) and our driver (we booked the pick-up through our hotel) is there waiting and whisks us right to the Millennium Bailey’s Hotel in the Kensington section of London. During the ride to the hotel, I notice that in England there are yellow traffic lights both before the lights turn red or green – different than in the states.  I love seeing the English houses – so many have gardens with such pretty flowers.  Most of the homes seem to have white lace curtains at the windows.  Even see one house that is painted with blue polka dots!

Upon arrival (11:00 AM), our room is ready so we are able to check right in. This hotel was booked through Royal Caribbean.  Millennium Bailey’s is a converted townhouse and quite old world and charming.  The hotel is located right across the street from the Gloucester Road Station -- so in a very convenient area for getting around London.  The lobby is small and warm with hardwood floors, crystal chandeliers, and furniture that appear to be antiques.  The ceiling is high and carved and there is relief work around the top of the lobby walls – white with gilding -- quite attractive.  There are fast food restaurants in the area, several pubs and a 24 hour grocery store.

Our room is pretty – dark woods and crown moldings with high ceilings, but on the small side.  The bathroom is very small and it is difficult to close the door when you are in there.  The bath tub is the narrowest that I have ever seen. The safe doesn’t work but the air conditioning works almost too well – I’m not complaining because London is having a heat wave! We drop off our bags and freshen up and then it is off to explore London.

We ask the concierge about getting a cab to Covent Garden--his suggestion is to take the tube across the street.  He gives us a map and explains exactly how to do it.  The London underground transit system is very well marked and extremely easy to use.  This gives us a chance to experience a bit of the local flavor.  Jim and I have been to England before but this is our first time in London,

The British capital is more eclectic and electric than it's been in years. There's almost a feeding frenzy setting out to prove that London is the most pulsating, vibrant city on the planet, even rivaling New York for sheer energy, outrageous art, trendy restaurants, and a nightlife equal to none.  Newsweek hailed London as a "hip compromise between the nonstop newness of Los Angeles and the aspic-preserved beauty of Paris--sharpened to New York's edge." Wine Spectator proclaims more modestly that "The sun is shining brighter in London these days."

The sounds of Brit-pop and techno pour out of Victorian pubs; experimental theater is taking over stages that were built for Shakespeare's plays; and upstart chefs are reinventing the bland dishes British mums made for generations into a new and inventive cuisine; for the first time ever, Brits are even running the couture houses of Dior and Givenchy. In food, fashion, film, pop music, the visual arts, and just about everything else, London stands at the cutting edge again, just as it did in the 1960s.

However, rest assured: traditional London still lives, basically intact under the veneer of hip. This ancient city has survived a thousand years of invasion, from the Normans to the Blitz, so a few scenesters moving in isn't going to change anything fundamental. From high tea at Brown's to the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, the city abounds with the culture and charm of days gone by.

Discovering London and making it your own can be a bit of a challenge, especially if you have just a little time. London is a mass of contradictions. On the one hand, it's a decidedly royal city, studded with palaces, court gardens, coats-of-arms, and other regal paraphernalia. Yet it's also the home of the world's second-oldest parliamentary democracy. (Iceland was the first.)

Jim and I arrive at Covent Garden at the suggestion of my daughter, Deirdre, who spent a semester here – she feels that this is the type of place that I will enjoy. Covent Garden today is London's best example of urban renewal and one of its hippest shopping districts. In the footsteps of Chippendale and Dickens, you can wander about and discover colorful street stalls, an array of boutiques, shops selling one-of-a-kind merchandise, and all the while enjoy the city's best sidewalk entertainment.  When you're parched, plenty of pubs in the area will quench your thirst, like the Nag's Head, an Edwardian pub that'll serve you a draft Guinness and a plate of pork cooked in cider.

From here, we take a cab to British Airway’s London Eye – I purchased tickets for 4:00 PM before leaving home. The London Eye is a giant observation-wheel with capsules that hold about 25 people.  It was built to give a panoramic view of the city and looks like a huge bicycle wheel. The London Eye was previously known as the Millennium Wheel  -- its structure has changed the London skyline.

Tonight we walk down the street to a very nice Pub (Public House) called the Hereford Arms.  I order the bangers and mash (leek sausage with mashed potatoes) – delicious.  Of course, I had a pint to go along with it.  Decide to try dessert which is something made with treacle – find out later that treacle is molasses and it was much too sweet.

Saturday July 20

London

Slept like a baby and today we are up bright and early. There is a continental breakfast included with our hotel package but it is served too late for us to make our tour -- I booked a tour from home, called Historic and Modern London with Golden Tours for today.  Royal Caribbean has a hospitality desk in the hotel and they are offering a similar tour – believe that the only difference between theirs and ours is that we go into Westminster Abbey and they only drive past it.  Their tour leaves from our hotel and ours begins with an 8:15 AM pick-up at the Holiday Inn across the street (about a half block walk).

The tour bus takes us to Victoria Station where we line up in the correct area for our tour.  The bus we are assigned to is packed, only four empty seats left. Our guide gives us a bit of information on London.  He explains that London is made up of two cities – Westminster and London City. London City was built by the Romans and was known as Londinium – Roman medieval London still lies below the streets. These two cities are surrounded by 30 boroughs. We are here on a Saturday which is a very good day to tour the city, since there is very little traffic to contend with.

We pass houses with portico fronts -- the homes of the rich and famous.  Seventy percent of the buildings in London were destroyed in the bombings of World War II so there are many modern buildings. We are told that 90% of Londoners use public transportation.  We see both the old and new Scotland Yard – the name Scotland Yard comes from the name of the street where the first police headquarters were housed.  We pass the ‘Banqueting House’ – the only part of Henry VIII Palace remaining. Next we pass Trafalgar Square and Nelson’s Column. 

Piccadilly Circus is the heart of the West End (circus comes from the Latin word for circle) with a large fountain in the center.  Pall Mall (pronounced Mell) is where there are many Gentlemen’s Clubs (they are now open to both men and women).  We see Her Majesty’s Theater where ‘Phantom of the Opera’ opened and is still playing. Our guide tells us that the museums in London have the best toilets (thank heaven for small favors!) and some of the best shopping. We pass St. Martin in the Fields Church which is used for concerts.

The Thames River used to be three times as wide as it is now – The Strand (now a street) was at one time the shoreline. Fleet Street is where all London’s printing was done. The Cheshire Cheese is an old pub that was used by the press and it still survives today, however the newspapers have been moved to Canary. London is loaded with flower boxes, with some gorgeous profusions of color in them.  We pass the Royal Courts of Justice, which is very impressive -- it is here that the barristers wear the wigs and robes to court.

Our first stop is at St. Paul’s Cathedral.  We don’t go inside but have a tour of the outside. At the east end of the cathedral is the American Memorial Chapel, honoring the 28,000 U.S. service personnel who lost their lives while stationed in Britain in World War II. St. Paul’s belongs to the nation and to London. The Prince of Wales and Lady Diana Spencer chose to be married here rather than the royal Westminster abbey to show that they were the people’s prince and princess.

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