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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 - Part Two 

We leave St. Paul’s and pass by the Guild Hall, the original Town Hall.  Next is the Bank of England – no one has ever been able to penetrate it -- it is referred to as the ‘Old Lady of Thread and Needle Street. Thread and Needle Street got its name from the shops that used to sell sewing supplies here. We pass the Stock Exchange and then Lloyds of London, an extremely modern building. Lloyd’s was started after the Great Fire of London when there was a need to underwrite the buildings–this was the beginning of the insurance industry. 

Next we come to the East End, the area where refugees come making it a very diverse place – White Chapel is the area where Jack the Ripper committed his murders. London has some very interesting Street Art – there are sculptures of cows that are painted in bright colors and most have themes such as astrological, the British flag etc.

We get off the bus at St. James Palace, which was built in 1536 during the reign of Henry VIII.  Here we have an opportunity to stand next to the guard for photos -- the guards are constantly at attention and don’t even crack a smile. From here we walk to the Pall Mall – the first area to have gas lamps. The Pall Mall is the Procession Route -- at 11 AM (Saturday) we see the Horse Guards (the Blues and Royals) coming from the barracks. Clarence House is along this route and this is where Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, lived before her recent death.

Then we walk to Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard. There is a statue of Queen Victoria in the front of the palace. Once again there is a plethora of gorgeous flowers on the grounds. The Changing of the Guard is quite an impressive sight – the old regiments still wear their red tunics and bearskin hats, the same as they wore 200 years ago at Waterloo -- the newer regiments wear more modern dress. They march in with a brass band and this makes you feel like you are really experiencing London.

After lunch it is on to Westminster Abbey. A glorious example of medieval architecture, on a truly grand scale, this Benedictine abbey church stands on the south side of Parliament Square. With its square twin towers and superb archways, this early-English Gothic abbey is one of the greatest examples of ecclesiastical architecture on earth. Westminster Abbey is right in the vicinity of the Parliament Buildings, which we only viewed from the outside. The spiritual and political heart of the city, the Palace of Westminster, was built here a thousand years ago as a royal household, seat of government and abbey.

Our next stop is to board a boat for a cruise of the Thames. It is very interesting to see London from the water.  The Thames is a tidal estuary and this is the reason why the Romans chose to build London in this location. The river rises and falls 18-26 feet every 12 hours. We come to the Tower Bridge where we leave the boat. The Tower Bridge, London’s enduring landmark is a Gothic wonder and a masterly piece of civil engineering. The bridge was built in 1894 with steam pumps to raise its two halves.

We begin our tour of the Tower of London , an ancient fortress which continues to pack in the crowds, largely because of its macabre associations with all the legendary figures who were imprisoned and/or executed here. The Tower is actually an intricately patterned compound of structures built throughout the ages for varying purposes, mostly as expressions of royal power. The oldest is the White Tower, which holds the Armories that date from the reign of Henry VIII, as well as a display of instruments of torture and execution that recall some of the most ghastly moments in the Tower's history. In the Jewel House, we find the tower's greatest attraction, the Crown Jewels. Here, some of the world's most precious stones are set into the robes, swords, scepters, and crowns. The Imperial State Crown is the most famous crown on earth; made for Victoria in 1837, it's worn today by Queen Elizabeth when she opens Parliament.  

The tour brings us back to our hotel.  It has been a wonderful day and this tour was well worth taking – our guide was fantastic.  I still can’t believe how much we saw in one day.  After seeing Westminster Abbey, I am so glad that we took the Golden Tour rather than the one offered by Royal Caribbean, where we would have missed Westminster Abbey. 

Sunday July 21

London
From home I booked a another tour with Golden Tours for today – Stratford-Upon-Avon, Oxford, Warwick Castle and the Cotswold’s, which is an all day tour. We walk to the Holiday Inn across the street for our 8:15 AM pickup. Same drill as yesterday, they drop us off at Victoria Station where we join our tour. The tour director today is very nice but not quite as good as yesterday’s guide.

We pass Hyde Park and the famous ‘Speaker’s Corner. Our first stop on the tour is to Oxford, home of one of the greatest universities in the world. We enjoy a tour of the colleges, many of which represent a peak in England's architectural history, as well as a valley of Victorian contributions. The city predates the university--in fact, it was a Saxon town in the early part of the 10th century.

We begin our drive to Stratford-Upon-Avon. Along the way we pass Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born.  We also see many hedgerows which were planted as boundaries for property – many are over 600 years old.  The hedgerows are a habitat for wildlife and foxes are common. Thicket hedges have thorns and keep both animals and people from passing through.

We pass through the Cotswolds -- absolutely charming – many of the houses are built of stone and the new houses are also built of stone to look exactly like the old ones.  

We finally arrive at Stratford-Upon-Avon – the birthplace of Shakespeare. Crowds of tourists overrun this market town on the Avon River during the summer. Despite its worldwide fame, Stratford-Upon-Avon is, at heart, an unassuming market town. The only one of the Shakespearian properties that we actually tour is Shakespeare’s Birthplace. The Birthplace Museum  is an ugly modern visitor center attached to the heavily restored half-timbered building on Henley Street. As we leave Stratford-Upon-Avon , we drive past Anne Hathaway’s cottage.  Exquisitely picturesque, it is the second favorite Shakespearian property.

Our next visit is to Warwick (pronounce Warrick) Castle which is on the Avon River .  Warwick, just eight miles northeast of Stratford, is famous for its massive castle, but it also possesses several charming streetscapes erected in the aftermath of a great fire in 1694, and a couple of particularly interesting buildings. It was built on a site fortified by William the Conqueror in 1068. With its dark, dank dungeon, gruesome torture chamber and splendid armory, the Middle Ages come to life at Warwick Castle .

We arrive back at our hotel and check in with Royal Caribbean’s desk – we should have done this earlier.  We get our assignment for the shuttle leaving at 10:30 AM.  The first shuttle leaves at 10:00 and there is another that leaves at 11:00.  By the time we checked in there was no longer room on the 10:00 shuttle. It has been a long day and I’m exhausted so turn in by 9:00 PM but not before packing my bags.

Monday July 22

London
Royal Caribbean is very organized in the way they handle our transfer to the pier -- things run very smoothly. There are some very nice couples sitting near us on the shuttle so the two hour trip goes quickly. We arrive at the Harwich cruise terminal by 12:30. The terminal is packed with people but the lines move quickly. There is music being played which is a nice touch. I pre-registered on line and this made check-in go much faster. Before getting onto the ship there is a photographer waiting to take our welcome aboard photo.  

As we walk onto the ship there is total chaos–representatives are there giving you information about the spa, information on the two specialty restaurants, and selling drink packages.  We buy the soft drink package for me at $60.  Since I’m not really a big drinker of alcohol it seems to be a good deal. There is no one to help with the carryon luggage or to show you to your room.  We are used to smaller ships and I imagine that with these mega-liners there are just too many people to make these little things possible.

We find our cabin and it is just lovely, very roomy, decorated nicely and has a private balcony.  There is a nice sitting area with a drapery that can section it off from the sleeping area, a safe, mini bar, and more than enough storage space.  I keep discovering new nooks and crannies for storage.  The bathroom is small but large enough to maneuver in with no problem.  There is a medicine cabinet in there for storage; we have a shower but no tub.  One thing that I really like is that there are reading lights over the beds so that if you want to read at night the bright lights won’t wake the other person.  We unpack and get ourselves settled.  The crew is walking by the balconies and cleaning them.  Hope this doesn’t continue since it doesn’t give much privacy.  Actually our room, 7554, has a platform for the lifeboat under our balcony – not crazy about this since it prohibits you from looking straight down at the water.  There are also rooms on the sides of the ship that are in the rounded sections – these balconies because they jut out aren’t as private as the ones that are straight. Jim can’t wait to go exploring and I am the type to wait until he has it all figured out and then let him show me around.  

We have an assigned seating for dinner at 8:30 and by this time I am starving. There is a buffet set up until 4:00 PM but instead we order a cheese plate from room service which is very nice – great selection of cheeses – bleu, brie, Swiss, cheddar, provolone etc. served with fruit and crackers -- so far I am impressed. Jim and I sit on the balcony together and just enjoy the peace of our sailing.

Finally it is close to time for dinner and Jim takes me to explore the ship. The central area of the ship is the Centrum a multi-storied lobby which is quite spectacular with its glass elevators. Centrum has balconies from the upper decks looking down on it. There is a spiral cloth art piece hanging from the center which can be illuminated with theatrical lighting in multi-colors. This ship has a rock climbing wall and miniature golf course.  The ship is huge and each place you look is prettier than the next.  I’m not a gambler but the casino is just beautiful.  One especially lovely area is the Solarium which is an indoor pool that is probably the prettiest pool area I have ever seen – it is decorated in an East Indian motif.  The Pacifica Theater is huge and has all the latest technical equipment.

It is now time for dinner. The Minstrel Dining Room is very pretty, there is a waterfall and a pretty mosaic at one end. The columns are draped with cloth. We are seated at a table for 10 – not what we requested, we asked for a table for six. Now it is time to meet our table mates. We didn’t exactly get the luck of the draw! This is our first experience with assigned seating and I can’t say that I am a big fan of it. One night of this nonsense is more than enough–tell Jim that I have no intention of returning to this table. I imagine that we can request another table but don’t want to get involved in any unpleasantness. Our waiter’s name is Suleyman and he seems very nice but is extremely slow. He should be taking care of the service but gets caught up with the problems of the upset family. Jim’s losing patience since we are the only ones left in the dining room and I am worried that he is going to say something. Trust me, I can’t get out of here fast enough. Actually, I remember ordering the pork chop which was huge and very good but can’t say that I enjoyed the dinner, with so much chaos.

After dinner I have time to check out the shops, which is one of my favorite pastimes. I then stop to check our photo that was taken today and purchase that for $9. Also buy some photos of the ship which are 5 for $20. Return to our room and spend the rest of the evening relaxing on the balcony and reading. Jim goes up on deck to have a cigar.

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