After breakfast this morning, guests began to gather in the Main Lounge on Deck 3 aft. On this cruise, there are six Tauck Tour Directors as well as a Tauck "Ship Liaison", and, all are on hand this morning to make sure guests get on the correct excursion. On a "typical" cruise, both the onshore and onboard elements are presented by the cruise company. Understandably, the cruise line’s focus is primarily on the onboard experience. On a Tauck small ship cruise, Tauck can focus on providing the ultimate destination experience, leaving the onboard experience to the cruise line, in this case, Ponant. It's like getting the best of both worlds!
By 8:20, the first group of guests begin disembarking for excursions in Belfast. Tauck gave guests seven different tours to choose from prior to sailing. All local tours are included in the Tauck cruise/trip fare, as are all gratuities (even gratuities for local guides).
In most destinations, Tauck will offer a "leisurely option" for guests who either have mobility issues, or simply want to go at a slower pace. I decided to see what the leisurely option was like, so I booked "Leisurely Belfast & Panoramic Highlights". Our excursion was scheduled to begin at 8:40am, and disembarkation was very smooth. No standing in long lines like on larger cruise ships. Within a few minutes, we were off the ship and boarding our motor coach. Upon boarding the coach, we are introduced to Linda, our local guide for the day.
Our first stop was the Parliament building of Northern Ireland.
Throughout the tour, Linda attempted to educate us on Ireland's troubled past, and how Northern Ireland became separated from the rest of the country. There are deep divisions in the country along religious lines that go back centuries. With the majority of the residents in the northern part of Ireland being Protestant descendants of colonists from Great Britain, the British Parliament divided Northern and Southern Ireland in 1921.
Our next stop was a visit to Belfast Castle where we had an opportunity to walk through the gardens. The skies are blue this morning and the sun is shining, making for some great photo opportunities. The castle is set on the slopes of Cavehill Country Park, in a prominent position 400 feet (120 m) above sea level. Its location provides unobstructed views of the city of Belfast
After our brief visit to the castle, we drive into the City Center where we can visit City Hall and the Titanic Memorial located there. The Titanic was constructed in Belfast. In fact, during that time, Belfast was the largest ship building center on Earth!
Our final stop on our Panoramic Highlights tour is a visit to the Botanical Gardens, located next to Queens University Belfast. We had an opportunity to enjoy the scenery and actually sit and soak up some rare Irish sunshine.
Another benefit of Tauck tours is the smaller group sizes. Most cruise line tours will be so crowded that it can become an unpleasant experience. Tauck manages the size of the local tours to make them more manageable and enjoyable.
We are back on board Le Soléal in time for lunch. I decide to try the Tauck Cheeseburger in the main dining room, and it was quite good! This afternoon, we were treated to a very informative lecture by Dr. Eamon Phoenix on "The Troubles" where he gave an in-depth history of Ireland's troubled past.
This evening is the Captain's Welcome Reception and Welcome Dinner. Guests lined up in the Theater to meet Captain Patrick Marchesseau (don't even ask me how to pronounce that). Afterwards, the L'Eclipse Restaurant was open for the Captain's Dinner.
Tomorrow, we will visit the Isle of Man.