Scotland, N Ireland & Golf!
I was very glad to have taken this cruise on Windstar’s Windsurf, as it is very different from any other ship I have been on. Although the small ship ambience was similar to Silver Cloud, the clientele were radically different – more casual and more “down-to-earth”. Also Wind Surf had considerably more public space than Silver Cloud (trade-off between cabin space and public space).
I would have no hesitation recommending Wind Star based on the quality of their ship’s tours and the very good level of their service and food. The proviso would always be that clients are not expecting to be entertained or amused but are prepared to amuse and entertain themselves.
• As part of the golf package, Windstar had arranged for each couple to be picked up at the airport, even if arriving close to someone else. Harriet and Nancy arrived at 10:00 am and we “arrived” at 10:25 am: there was a car and driver for each (Mercedes vans that could seat 6: 90 minute drive to St Andrews)
• St Andrews to Leith: Used 2 buses for 40 people so lots of room and guide provided good commentary with a photo stop at Palace of Hollyrood and a tour of Edinburgh Castle.
• Dun Laoghaire (port for Dublin) disembarkation went very smoothly – given a transfer to the airport, only 6 of us on a 40 passenger bus.
Arrived around 3pm at MSY (Motor Sailing Yacht) Wind Surf, a yacht not a ship because all sails are sloop rigged, smooth check-in, with Captain controlling flow at check in, so he met every passenger! Safety drill at 3:30pm.
Cabin comfortable but since on lowest deck we did hear the waves slapping on the hull and occasionally the seas covered the port holes. When arriving or leaving port they close the water-tight doors on this deck, so lots of up/down stairs until found the correct hall section – need to better mark/identify the stairwells.
Claimed that the sails were up for a total of 76 hours during the cruise or over 10 hours a day! I would agree that some part of the sails were deployed for this time but not that we were being powered by the sails during this time.
Very limited but not missed since retired early either because of playing a round of golf or because of the need to be up early the next morning to leave for a round of golf. Other passengers did comment on the good quality of the singers and bands.
Casino was adequate and minimum bet level reasonable.
“Beverage package” was $52 each/day but both had to buy (our actual beverage cost was $31 each/day). We had some very nice wines ranged in price from $48 to $66 and a few pre-dinner drinks (with their complimentary appetizers in lounge) that were very reasonable at around $8 to $10
Breakfast Buffet: Very good selection and standard scrambled eggs were always moist. Corned beef hash and Eggs Benedict had too much lemon (tasted like added vinegar) Hollandaise sauce plus the former portion size was miniscule. French toast was very good
AmphorA Restaurant: Presentation and taste very good with service generally also good; although 1 night, when eating alone, we were seated midway between the 2 service areas and had difficulty getting service – too much attention to large tables.
Stella Bistro: Very similar to the main restaurant although others believed that it was far superior: goat cheese soufflé (not as good as Celebrity), Escargot (not enough garlic), lobster bisque and Lobster mélange very good – scallops, shrimp, lobster and pieces of salmon.
BBQ on deck was marvelous, whole suckling pig, grilled lobster tails, paella, salads
28 golfers: 5 couples, 1 father and 3 sons (treating him for 65th birthday), CEO of Windstar Hans Birkholz. Did a good job of mixing and matching players of similar caliber, I eventually played with 9 of the group
• Fairmont very nice!! Large rooms and helpful staff but hotel is not close to town. Their free shuttle runs hourly until 6 pm; then it is an 8 to 9 ₤ taxi.
• A very nice reception and dinner so that we could all meet.
• On the bus to the course had a tour guide to give an overview of St Andrews but she was not very good plus we were in a hurry to get to driving range, putting green or for the 1st tee off.
• Those that went to driving range were almost late for their tee time – driver got lost in fog and ended up in next town.
• St Andrews expect rounds to be 3 to 4 hrs max. – we were nearer 5 hours. Tee’d off in fog that swirled and lightened periodically with very limited wind – cleared by mid afternoon.
• Flat course, easy to walk but caddies helped by providing good reference for putting and next hole location plus were very pleasant to talk with. Pot bunkers were a challenge, but only a couple needed more than 1 stroke to get out. Rough was terrible but not very close to sides of fairway plus fairway cut short and hard so lots of roll even for sculled shots; greens were large and fast with no forgiveness, cup edges were sharp.
• Being in the 2nd last group tee’d off at 11 am, no lunch or water!
Arrived in Peterhead in heavy fog morning but it cleared later, however with 95% humidity – high was 20C. Spectacular scenery and challenging course, lost 10/12 balls, “X’d” several holes. A caddy needed for this course, lots of blind shots. Wind Star provided a sandwich and bottled water! Round took a very long time, 1st off this time (11am and last were at 11:52), at the 9th hole the next group was 2 holes behind us and the 3rd group was 5 holes behind – last group finished 2 hrs after us, so lots of time for a beer.
Royal Dornach’s Struie
Half the group played Struie and half the Championship course, so finished in better time. I played Struie which was flat and proved to be the easiest course on the trip. Weather was perfect.
Tee’d off last (1st was at 9:40 and last at 10:40) – no time for post game drinks – later getting back. Course was very stuffy, starter had jacket and tie, club house required jacket and tie, no golf shoes in bar. Traps were deep, but sand loose. Again needed a caddy to show the way, lots of hills and gorse, not much room for error, lost at least 12 balls and found none. Would like to replay.
Again spectacular scenery.
Course is privately owned and has 300 members (850 ₤/yr). They were very welcoming and accommodating, we were only ones on the course.
Course was my image of UK golf: strong winds – gave you special pegs to hold down any divot you made so they would not blow away, some rain drops (but not enough to get wet), sea beside you or below you or between you and the fairway. Course is on a peninsula, so sea on 3 sides and always a wind
They took a group photo and that of the father and 3 sons for their club news bulletin.
Club is worth a reasonable price difference versus economy and in our case the extra baggage allowance for my golf clubs helped reduced the difference. The seats are roomier: outbound 2x3x2 versus 2x4x2 in economy and returning 2xx2x2 vs 3x3x3, free bar and travel package with good quality ear buds and a blanket. Meals were very good we had a breakfast, lunch and sandwich snack. Individual entertainment system was excellent with a good selection of movies etc,
Drive from Glasgow to Edinburgh took about 1 hour.
NIRA CALEDONIA is not recommended due to location and low value. It is in a heritage Georgian building and our room was very well appointed and a good size plus we had a great view, could see Leith and Firth of Forth.
• Nira Caledonia, 10 Gloucester Place
• Sunday rate 192, Mon thru Wed 234₤/night includes full breakfast
• No air conditioning and windows do open but not wide, so little ventilation
• No elevators and with high ceilings made our 3rd floor room a climb
• Located on side of hill, so everywhere you go is a climb – up or down
• Service level dropped noticeably between Sunday/Monday and Tuesday: brought luggage to room but did not even offer to bring it down or to the cab when leaving. Also twice our room was not cleaned by 3 pm and we had left at 9 am, putting the please clean tag on the door
• Very good choices for breakfast: Smoked Salmon & Scrambled Eggs, full Scottish breakfast – black pudding, bacon, sausage, mushrooms, fried bread, baked beans and scrambled eggs, porridge with fruit compote.
Browns Restaurant & Bar – kids eat free on Sun, so lots of them and lots of strollers, also had their Sunday roast beef and Yorkshire Pudding special that looked very good, but heavy. Had an excellent starter of “crab avocado stack”, @ 8₤ each, cappuccino 2.20₤.
The Scran & Scallie (1 Comely Bank Rd. http://http://www.scranandscallie.com/ ), on hotel recommendation, all locals and we were seated next to a group of 3 families with 5 kids – again, very noisy. Food was excellent – whole grilled Sea Bream (12₤) and smoked haddock with a seafood chowder topped with a poached egg (15₤).
The Doric Tavern (15 Market St, recommended in a New York Times article on Edinburgh http://http://www.the-doric.com/ ) built in 17th century, very popular and had no reservation, so sat at bar, bartender was very efficient and unfazed by stream of orders from all directions, plus replacing several dozen nozzles on dishwasher. Had Haggis Bon Bons (haggis rolled in oats and deep fried served on a bed of neepes – 5.1₤) Shepherds pie (lamb 11.95₤) and salmon (14.5₤), Caledonia 80 bitters 3.65₤, 250ml pinot 5.25₤
Tower Restaurant (http://www.tower-restaurant.com ) is on the top floor of the National Museum of Scotland– very nice/posh, with excellent service and views of the castle. We had the salmon cakes and a grilled white fish fillet on warm potato salad and both were excellent. Prix Fix for appetizer and main at 15.95₤ plus sparkling mineral water 4.50₤
“All Bar One George Street” looking forward to having fish & chips but being Monday noon had not received their fresh fish delivery so settled for chicken Caesar (7.50₤) wraps with Tennents Lager (3.55₤/pt).
Whiski Rooms (4-7 North Bank St., http://www.whiskirooms.com ) very good smoked salmon appetizer (9.75₤) and haddock & chips (13.75₤) with a Caledonia 80 bitters (3.90₤) and a Pino Grigio at 5₤.
“The Scotch Malt Whisky Society” is open to the public during the Festival period and could have had dinner there without joining. We did not have the time to visit.
“A happening week” in Edinburgh with a book fair, fringe and arts festivals, plus the Tattoo.
• Book Fair had lots of author’s signings and readings with café’s for enjoying your new book. The grounds have tented walkways with duck-boards to keep you dry.
• Tattoo: Bought tickets on line the day sales opened (had to actually wait in an on line queue). Seats were perfect height for a good perspective and at the point where the front row of all the groups stopped – Section 4, row K, seats 19 & 20 (37₤). Tattoo had bands/entertainers from Mongolia, Mexico and Korea plus a band from Malta. It was not all bagpipes. The Castle was used as a screen to show images from the country or seasons etc. – very well done and enjoyable.
• Fringe Festival is an impromptu happening plus set performances on various stages on George St and on the Royal Mile. There are also performance venues around the city; bought half price tickets (6₤ each) to an evening show “Broadway Enchante” at the Assembly Hall – French cabaret, had good reviews and was very enjoyable.
• Arts Festival: These events are very popular and in general there is only 1 performance, so need to book early. By default (because of availability) we went to see “The Sixteen” at Usher Hall, (12₤ bought on line) sat in the “organ gallery” facing the audience, very different feeling being almost part of the performance. Choir was excellent.
To Do in Edinburgh
Bus day pass 3.5₤ is a very good option, drivers and passengers very helpful with directions and stops. Better value than the hop on/off bus!
Britannia yacht is now part/beside a large shopping mall that is helping regenerate Leith. The ship (10.5₤ senior) tour includes an audio headset with interesting the commentary. The ship is clearly dated in technology and furnishings were simple, nothing ornate. The main dinning room’s furnishings are simple but the dishes, glass ware and cutlery are exceptional.
Scott monument’s 287 steps @ 4₤ is not worth the climb.
Royal Botanic Gardens are very nice break from the crowds etc of the Fringe.
National Museum of Scotland is worth a visit with a lot of 19th century industrial artifacts/machinery and older displays.
All tours were 4 hours and for this itinerary most ports were very similar in nature. Wind Star did a very good job organizing and managing the groups, not crowding the buses and providing free water.
Cruden Bay Golf Club and tours to either Pitmedden Castle or Fyvie CastleOil Rig
Royal Dornoch Golf Club and tours to Dunrobin Castle, Loch Ness & Urquhart CastleUrquhart Castle and Glenmorangie Distillery
Tours to Meet the Laird at Skaill House or Scapa Flow/Churchill’s Barrier & Highland Park Distillery
– This is a wonderful town to wander and the distillery is walking distance. There some nice/quaint family run cafes, so no need to take a tour here. The ship deployed the swim platform – no takers!
Bill Winkler has lived and travelled all over the world. So naturally now that he is retired from buisnessafter 40 years, he is helping others plan their travel adventures. See more about Bill.