Thursday, January 10, 2008

Belfast, Northern Ireland

Continuing with our 12 Night British Isles / Norwegian Fjords cruise, our next port of call was Belfast, Northern Ireland.
About a month before our cruise, the itinerary was changed from Dublin to Belfast due to the EU Summit meetings that were taking place near Dublin. We were disappointed, because my husband's father was born in Dublin, and we were looking forward to visiting that area. Belfast turned out to be an excellent replacement far exceeding our expectations.

Prior to the cruise, we were active participants in the Cruise Critic Roll Call thread for this sailing. When we learned of the change in itinerary, the group searched for an alternative tour and found a local tour company, Minicoach, that offered a tour that included The Giant's Causeway, Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge, Bushmills Distillery, and a photo stop at the remains of Dunluce Castle. One of our group contacted them and arranged a minibus tour.

When we arranged the tour, we were scheduled to get into the port of Belfast in the morning, however prior to sailing, the time got changed to 2:45 PM (and in fact we were later than that in the end). We were quite fortunate to have a tour company that was willing to work with us.

Since we would be in port until the wee hours of the morning, we had plenty of time for sight-seeing even with the late afternoon arrival. The sun didn't set until 10 Pm, so lighting was not a concern. Bushmills Distillery was no longer possible since we couldn't get there before the final tour of the day. All the other sites were still possible.

Our first stop was at The Giant's Causeway. The Grand Causeway is pictured above. We arrived at the Visitor's Centre where we learned about the causeway which was formed 60 million years ago from lava. From there we boarded a bus which transfers us to the site of these magnificent basalt columns. The scenery here is breathtaking. The Giant's Causeway is a Natural Heritage Site and the 8th Wonder of the World. Pictures and words just don't do it justice, but for some more pictures, see my photo album and also click on both of the links above.

It would be hard to top the scenery which we'd just seen, but we headed for our next stop, Carrick-a-Rede Rope bridge. The bridge was once used by fisherman bringing the salmon catches back from the island but today it is mainly a tourist attraction. The bridge has been enhanced from a single rope to the current caged construction for safety.

In order to get to the rope bridge, it is necessary to hike quite a distance along a winding path. Make sure you have good hiking shoes to make the journey as the pathway can be a little challenging as you can see in this picture. I only went part way and my husband did go all the way to the bridge, but not across it. Since we were there after hours, we were not able to actually cross the bridge.

(Nov. 2013) The coastal scenery is a beautiful. We are in the process of moving images from the old Kodak Gallery album to our Shutterfly account, so some albums may not yet be available.

We made a brief photo stop at the sight of Dunluce Castle. Although we didn't do so, it is possible to take a guided tour of the castle grounds. For a few additional pictures, see my photo album.

Our final stop was in town for some dinner and drinks with our fellow cruisers. We picked up some ice cream cones for the trip back to the ship. For some final pictures, see our End of Tour Album. All these albums are linked on our Cruise Vacations website.

This was a remarkable port of call. It's four years since the cruise and our Cruise Critic thread remains active. It's funny that several people just posted and mentioned our Belfast tour and the Giant's Causeway in particular. I hope that you can some day see this in person.


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