We woke on Monday morning to brilliant blue skies and bright sunshine…we were back on track with the weather, and ready to greet Ireland! Some frou-frou coffee, a quick breakfast, and we were off to Vines to meet our group. There were 11 of us who had formed a group on our Cruise Critic roll call, and we were booked with Butlers Bus. The tour was one of the first I reserved for this trip, and based on the outstanding reviews I was confident we were going to have a fantastic day. Our itinerary was to visit the English Market in Cork, Charles Fort, Kinsale, and see some coastal scenery. No Blarney Castle for us! We didn’t want to deal with the crowds or stand in a long line to kiss the Blarney Stone.
Getting off the ship was not as easy as I expected. In fact, they were directing everybody into the dining room. I wondered if they were trying to pull a St. Petersburg, aka get their tours out ahead of everyone else, but the delay turned out to be waiting for the ship to clear Irish immigration. Once the formalities were taken care of we were off fairly quickly. Soon after we disembarked we found our driver Norbert and we were off.
I had hints pretty early in the day that something was not quite right.🤔 First of all, our bus was the only one that was silver instead of white with the bright blue and pink lettering of the other Butlers vehicles. It also seemed quite a bit smaller than a Butlers 16 passenger bus. Then there was Norbert.🙁 Our “guide” didn’t know what our itinerary was, didn’t seem to want to be there, and worst of all, had the personality of a rock. Conversation was non-existent. Perhaps he needed to kiss the Blarney Stone! As we drove to Cork from Cobh, there was no narration, no explanation of what we were seeing, and very short answers to our questions. We knew before we even got to Cork we had a problem on our hands. On the bright side, it was a beautiful day and we were going to enjoy ourselves despite Norbert.
Our first stop of the day was at the English Market in Cork. Norbert was unable or unwilling to tell us anything about it, but he did recommend we enter in groups of 2 or 3 so we wouldn’t be charged admission. Sigh…as you will see this was the pattern for the day. We followed instructions, and enjoyed about 30 minutes walking around admiring the fresh seafood, meats, and produce. The market is celebrating its 230th anniversary this year, and it is one of the oldest markets of its kind in the world. I would love to have a nearby market like that to shop at.
We left the market and headed towards the coast and our second stop at Charles Fort. Deterred but determined, we asked Norbert various questions about the things we were seeing, but he was having no part of it! I remember asking what we were crossing (I wanted the name of the river), and the response I got was, “a river.”🙄 In hindsight I suppose that was pretty informative, because when we got to Charles Fort we were told to read the signs!😳
Charles Fort is a 17th century star shaped fort that was one of the main fortifications on the Irish coast for centuries. It was used extensively in the Williamite War in 1689-91 and the Civil War in 1922-23. The fort was declared a national landmark in 1973. In addition to the interesting structure and history, Charles Fort offers beautiful views of nearby Kinsale and the rolling countryside.
The fishing village of Kinsale was next on our list, and again we were left to figure things out. Unfortunately, it was lunch time, and we had to spend a good portion of our time trying to find the open restaurants, check menus, etc. Five of us lucked into a great meal at the Blue Haven, but that was after 30 or so minutes of wandering aimlessly through the town. We felt like a Goldilocks group — The first place we tried had seemed to have a lot of potential on Trip Advisor, but we found it wasn’t at all what we expected. The second place would have been great, but there was a wait. The third restaurant we tried was a perfect fit! We had a great meal, but it would have been nice to be able to go straight there to maximize our time. I had something called a Toastie, and Jim had fish tacos that he proclaimed to be the best he’s ever had.🌮 Great tacos in Kinsale, Ireland. Go figure! After lunch we walked towards the bus, stopped for ice cream and at a craft show, and reboarded the bus for our next stop, which was to be coastal scenery.
Not so fast my friend! Norbert said he didn’t know of any place with scenery. Thankfully I had done some research, and I knew from working on our itinerary that Old Kinsale Head was nearby. I suggested that location and Norbert amazingly remembered it existed. I’m glad I was persistent. Not only was the view spectacular, Old Kinsale Head is home to the Lusitania memorial and museum. The Lusitania was sunk by a German torpedo in 1915, resulting in over 1,100 deaths. The remains lie about 13 miles off the coast of Ireland near Old Kinsale Head.
After a mostly silent and hot (the bus didn’t have A/C) ride back to Cobh we were happy to part ways with Norbert! Cobh (pronounced Cove) was formerly known as Queenstown, and is well known for being the departure point for 2.5 million Irish immigrants to the United States between the mid 1800s and 1950. It was also the final call of an ill-fated journey before the crossing to New York. 123 passengers boarded the Titanic here, and only 44 of them survived. The waterfront buildings, streets, and remnants of the tender pier used by the Titanic passengers survive, and the Old White Star line office now houses the Titanic Experience.
My trip came close to ending, or at least having greatly curtailed activities while we were walking down the pier to return to the ship. I’m not graceful at the best of times, and if there’s an obstacle or a trip hazard I’m sure to find it. Sure enough, my foot caught the edge of a recessed drain, and down I went with all the grace of Dumbo falling off a bar stool. Fortunately the only thing that was injured was my pride, and with my camera and all my bones intact I dusted myself off and boarded the ship. I was surprised security let me proceed…they were very concerned about the dip in the pavement after they saw me fall, and by the time we got to the gangway there was an officer blocking the spot and making people go around.
One of the first things I did when we got back to the ship was contact Butlers about the problems we had. Even though we enjoyed the day, it was far from what we expected or paid for. We enjoyed ourselves despite the tour, not because of it! The response from Butlers was fast…a huge apology and a full refund. It was explained to me that Butlers had an “internal emergency” and had to contract out for a vehicle and driver for our tour.
Since we got home I have had additional communication with the managing partners at Butlers, and they have assured me they have severed ties with the substitute company (Deasy’s) and will take steps to ensure a situation like ours doesn’t happen again. I’m satisfied with their response, but I would still much rather have gotten what I contracted for. It does bother me a little that I booked almost a year in advance and still ended up drawing the short stick on that day, but Butlers said they don’t consider booking date in their vehicle/guide assignments. Would I give them another chance? Probably, but I would look around to see what other good providers were available. We certainly had a tour that was not like the others!
It felt good to have time to relax for a while. Remember the AWOL “Name Tag Sisters” from Day 1? I contacted them to make sure all was good for the next day since they were touring with us both days in Dublin, and we hung out on the balcony for a while enjoying the gorgeous day until it was time for drinks/dinner.
Sailaway was while we were enjoying fancy martinis in Crooners. We ran out and took a few pictures, but it was cold and windy, so we quickly retreated to the warmth of the indoors and our vodka concoctions!
We learned that the Concerto dining room opened for Anytime Dining at 7:30, so that became our location of choice that night and for most of our dining room dinners. After a nice dinner we went our separate ways…I made a donation to the casino, Jim went to the production show “Colors of the World,” and Deedee and Chip went back to Crooners and on to do whatever night owls do while those of us with less stamina sleep!
We would wake up Tuesday in Dublin and had a two full days and a fun evening planned for our stay!