Belfast, Northern Ireland

Wednesday, 9:00 am – 6:30 pm

May weather: Average temps of 59°/45°F. Average precip of 2.4″.

Currency: Pounds Sterling (£). Some of the province’s banks issue their own banknotes.

Our Day

We met up for breakfast this morning with Marie and Ernie and Barb and Richard (who we’d connected with via Cruise Critic). Stan and I got a bit turned around and were a few minutes late. I have such a poor sense of direction anyway and once you put me on a ship I can never remember what is fore and what is aft. It’s not that I don’t know port from starboard or that fore is the pointy end–it’s that I never know my own orientation to the ship,

Breakfast in the de Vinci dining room was amazingly slow, but I was glad to get some smoked salmon on a bagel. We probably won’t go to the main dining room for breakfast again–there just wasn’t enough benefit over the Lido deck buffet. (Although, again, smoked salmon is always a treat–I’ve seen it in Horizon Court every other day.)

We didn’t have any trouble finding our McComb’s tour–there were just the six of us on the tour and our driver-guide was Rodney, who is the owner of the company. It was quite a drive up to Bushmill–and it was quite lovely with rolling green hills and lots of cows and sheep.

We lucked out with our visit to Old Bushmill’s Distillery. Our tasting experience didn’t come with a distillery tour–but we were able to add one on and do the tour before the tasting. The tour itself was fascinating.

We started out in the mash room and learned that every bottle of Old Bushmill’s in the world goes through that mash machine (the name of which I’ve forgotten) (ETA: mash tun). They had the old machine on display–it was replaced about 8 years ago. We means that all the whiskey being sold now went through the old mash machine. We stepped through each of the distillery steps–mash, fermentation, (triple) distillation, aging, bottling.

The Old Bushmill's Distillery
The Old Bushmill’s Distillery
1608 isn’t necessarily the year it was established–it was the year it was first licensed (or as it was described to us, the year they were caught).

After our tour, we had an amazing tasting. We had three different whiskeys at our tasting mat. The first was a regular Bushmill’s. We went through the steps of looking, smelling, and tasting. We also learned that cutting it with a bit of water made it smoother–and we could actually see the alcohol and water interact–sort of a cloudy change in the liquid.

Robert, our tasting guide, was incredibly informative and also very funny. He got a few wry jabs in at Scotch, but acknowledged that as an Irishman, he never turned down an offered drink. His Old Bushmill’s affiliation goes back several generations.

We moved on from the basic Old Bushmill’s to the 12 year reserve, which was noticeably smoother than the first one, and with water, was smoother yet. The 16 year was a darker and had a different flavor because it was aged in a different kind of barrel.

I hadn’t realized until today’s tour that whiskey is not permitted to have flavor or color added to it and that all of the flavor and color has to come from the (oak) barrel. That was news to me, as was that there are legal rules about how long whiskey has to be aged (three years) to be considered whiskey. The only ingredients permitted in whiskey are barley, water, and yeast. This might have been stuff that whiskey afficiandos would have known but I certainly didn’t!

I also learned that a percentage of whiskey evaporates with each year of aging–and that the lost whiskey is referred to as “The Angel’s Share”. There was even a display that showed the difference in how much was left in a barrel after a given number of years. It also made it pretty clear why the longer the whiskey is aged the more it costs!

I did learn that I really don’t enjoy whiskey the way I enjoy wine or Amaretto or Rumchata or similar things. I’m glad I went to the tasting, though, since I learned a lot and Stan got to enjoy the whiskey I didn’t finish.

Dunluce castle

There is a lovely ruined castle on the water and we stopped long enough for a photo opportunity. I would have loved to have had time to explore the ruins but we knew that if we spent the time there we wouldn’t have the time to spend at the Giant’s Causeway. That constant tradeoff of having to give up one opportunity for another is always hard.

Dunluce Town
Dunluce Town
I may not have gotten a picture of the castle sign, but I got one of the town sign!

We also took a ride past a golf course that was once used for the Irish Open. I think Rodney was considerably more interested in golf courses than any of us were.

Lunch at Bushmill Inn

Lunch. Oh my gosh. Lunch. This lunch might have been one of the best meals I have ever had. Stan and I ended up not sitting next to each other when our food came since it evened out our seating arrangement for conversation. Stan wanted to try my dish so brought his plate around to where I was sitting for us to try each other’s. I actually begrudged the size of the piece of my fish that Stan took. (And while he was taking too big of a piece, I took a second bite of his beef.) I ate every drop of my meal–the fish was perfect, the fish cream sauce had a light and perfect flavor and a creamy consistency. The small potatoes were perfectly textured and tasty. Even though I was sated, I was still disappointed there wasn’t more of it.

the bushmill's inn
the bushmill’s inn
A lovely setting

Dessert was just as amazing. I ordered a butterscotch fudge sundae. Without a doubt it was the best butterscotch I’d ever had–and put all the other butterscotches to shame. Stan asked if I had left a bite of my butterscotch sundae for him. I still had several bites left–but told him I didn’t have any left for him. As it turned out, he wanted a taste badly enough to claim the last drop at the bottom of my bowl.

We weren’t quite sure about leaving a tip (different countries, different customs), but that was the only uncertainty. I could see why The Bushmill’s Inn is rated the best restaurant in Ulster.

Giant’s Causeway

We had slightly less time at the Giant’s Causeway than we had hoped for (isn’t that the way of all trips–there’s more to see and do than there is time to do it).

I would have liked to have taken the guided tour but the time did not permit waiting for the tour to start so we all set out with the audio tour. Stan walks faster than I do and also stops more frequently (and longer) for picture taking. The audio tour included many tall tales about the giant who legend says used the causeway, rode a camel, and pretended to be a baby to scare an adversarial giant away.

One of my favorite parts was the Giant’s Boot, which I asked Stan to be useful (much to the amusement of people nearby) and pose on the boot.

Giant's Causeway
Giant’s Causeway
It was all rocks and cliffs and water and grass–and it was very dramatic

We did have enough time to walk to the end of the trail–or at least, to the end of the part of the trail that is considered open. The trail used to go further, but past the point that we went there was a gate (broken and open) with a warning that the trail stopped there because of problems with erosion and rock slides. It seemed best, both for schedule reasons and for safety, to turn around at that point. The Causeway had two options–a red trail and a blue trail. Since we’d followed the blue trail up to where it turned into just the red trail, we decided to take the red trail–a hundred plus steps and all–to the top of the cliff and walk back along the cliff top. There were sheep to the field side–some of which were painted with numbers and letters in various colors–the local version of branding the animals to show ownership.

Looking past the trail
Looking past the trail
This is beyond the area where people are supposed to trek

I felt pretty pleased with myself to have walked to the end of the trail. I admit the stairs left me a bit winded but they were not impossible (and I’ve been practicing by using the stairs on ship. From deck 6 to deck 14 can be a bit tiring, even if there isn’t a deck 13!

The fields at the top of the climb were totally different from the views below!

From the area below, it didn’t seem that these flat, beautiful fields were just a short climb away.

Our ride back to the ship was uneventful and we were all a bit tired and pretty quiet. We got back to the ship just at 5:30 (no time for a nap before our 5:45 dinner). (Stan made up for that by taking a brief post dinner nap.)

Evening on the ship

We actually conversed instead of playing games tonight–the conversations covered a wide range of books, personal libraries, moving books, Bruce’s favorite epub reader Marvin, using Calibre as a server, guns at events, AG hospitality….

After a delightful bit of conversation (and some typing on my part) we all said goodnight and headed to our cabins.

Our steward warned us that we should watch ourselves when we walked into our cabin, since the door was sticky.  Well, it wasn’t really the door he wanted us to watch for:


Visit Plan

In Belfast, we’re taking the Bushmills Whiskey VIP tour with McComb’s Coach Travel.  We’re going with Marie & Ernie and at least one other couple from Cruise Critic.  The tour includes a private tasting at Bushmill’s Distillery.  Since we’re also doing an extended Scotch tasting when we stop in Greenock, I’m looking forward to comparing the two!


Through Northern Ireland from Belfast to Old Bushmill’s Distillery

After our tour and tasting, we’ll have lunch at Bushmill’s Inn.  Their published sample lunch menus look wonderful.  It sounds as if we won’t be “ordering”; it’s a luncheon sort of thing. The food should be incredible–the restaurant won the award for the best restaurant in Ulster at the 2013 Good Eating Guide.

After lunch, we’re going to visit the Giant’s Causeway which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It’s sometimes considered the Eighth Wonder of the World.   Visitor’s Centre is open 9:00 – 6:00/7:00.  Admission £8.50 (7.50 if purchased on-line).  The admission fee includes a guided tour or an audio guide.  I’m sure I’ll want to go with a guide!


It’s not far from the Distillery to the Giant’s Causeway


The Antrim Coast in the north of Northern Ireland, is one of the most scenic coastlines in Britain and Ireland, with breathtaking landscapes, the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, and the dramatic cliff-side ruins of Dunluce Castle.

I don’t know if there’ll be time to stop for photo ops at Dunluce Castle and I know we won’t get to cross the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge on this trip.   I’d like it if there was–but it’s not listed in the tour description.  I don’t know how many people will be on this tour or if they’d be interested in that even if there’s time.  I may ask about it though, just in case there is time.

Places we might visit another time

There’s plenty to see in and around Belfast–I’ll definitely want to come back especially since we won’t get to go into the city of Belfast at all.

Carrickfergus Castle is a Norman castle in the town of Carrickfergus.  Considered the first real Irish Castle, Carrickfergus was built in 1180 by the Norman John de Courcy to guard the approach to Belfast.  Wikipedia article

Ulster Museum has Irish artifacts and treasures from the Spanish Armada.  It has an exhibit on the conflict, and dinosaurs.  The Museum is in Belfast’s Botanic Gardens, a 20-30 minute walk from the City Centre. Open 10:00 – 5:00, Free.  It was really highly rated on TripAdvisor.

St. Malchey’s Church is a Tudor Revival church and is said to have a beautiful interior and architecture.  The sanctuary floor is blue mosaic.

Belfast Cathedral, also called St. Anne’s Cathedral is located in the City Centre.  Open 8:00 – 6:00.  Donations (recommended £2/per person)

Crumlin Road Gaol was the highest rated attraction on TripAdvisor.  Apparently the tours are really interesting.  Tours ( 1 hr, 15 min) start at 10:00 until 4:30 and can be pre-booked on-line.  Admission: £7.50.

Stormont Estate/Castle is home to the Northern Ireland Executive and the Office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister.  “It is a striking piece of architecture with an interesting history.”  Open 9:00 – 4:00.  The estate is open 7:30 – 21:00.

Bookfinders is a second hand bookshop.  We love book stores–and second hand book stores are the best.

Culturlann MacAdam O Fiaich is a cafe, has traditional and contemporary music, poetry readings, etc.  Their website is in Irish.  Open 9:00 – 9:00