(a 27 minute read)

A travelogue of port destinations and shore excursions in the Azores, France, and Denmark while on a Princess transatlantic cruise from North America to Europe.

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Note: This is a long-form, photo-intensive account of my experiences for readers who want to cruise virtually, as well as travelers seeking detailed information before booking a Princess transatlantic cruise of their own.

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A Princess Transatlantic Cruise 

This post is second in a series of three based on my Princess transatlantic cruise from North America to Europe. The first post, An Enchanted Princess Transatlantic Cruise Review, details my onboard experiences, as well as ship facilities, services, activities, dining, and much more. If you want to read this series sequentially, you may want to start with that one.

The 25-day voyage was a back-to-back of two itineraries, the 14-day Northern Europe Passage and the 11-day Western Europe cruise. Port destinations on the first leg were in the Azores, France, and Denmark, and this post details shore excursions booked through Princess, as well as independent tours.

In the Azores, I did a Princess excursion to scenic and historical sites around the island of São Miguel. From the port of Brest, France, I joined a small group of passengers, hiring a van for transportation to the medieval villages of Quimper and Locronan. Porting in Cherbourg, France, I hopped a double-decker coach for a Princess tour of Normandy and the D-Day Beaches. Finally, I spent a day and a half touring Copenhagen independently with a couple of fellow passengers.

Part three in the series cover port destinations and shore excursions in Norway, Germany, Belgium, and the UK.

European Port Destinations & Shore Excursions

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There were six days at sea on the transatlantic passage from Ft. Lauderdale to the Azores. I used to wonder whether I would get bored, or scared, or claustrophobic being out in the middle of the ocean for so many days. None of that happened.

After two days with no WiFi on the ship, I was finally able to get data from my T-Mobile international plan:when we ported in Ponta Delgada, Azores. I posted the following to Facebook:

“The passage has been relatively uneventful, which is a good thing. Most passengers on board fit the older married demographic and seem to be having a wonderful time. I have met several couples and singles around shared tables at mealtimes. Most of them enjoy the shipboard activities, live music, trivia challenges, dance classes, and such. I don’t really get into that stuff. My favorite activities on days at sea are walking the promenade, reading, and napping. With no promenade on this ship, activities I enjoy are limited. I finished reading my first book on a Kindle, Capote’s Women by Laurence Leamer, and I am nearly finished with my second book, Race Against Time by Jerry Mitchell, thanks to the generosity of my travel bud Mary Jo Manzanares. Can’t say that I love e-reading like I do reading trade paperbacks, but considering the ship has no library and I don’t have luggage space to pack enough books for a 25-day cruise, it is definitely a viable option.”

Crossing the Atlantic there were several time zone transitions, and each time we were directed to set our timepieces one hour ahead at noon.

Port destinations and shore excursions are my favorite part of any cruise experience, and we were blessed with great weather in every port.

Ponta Delgada, Azores

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The Azores, an autonomous region of Portugal, are formed by an archipelago of nine main islands in the North Atlantic. Measured from their bases beneath the ocean, the Azores rank among the highest mountains on earth. Ponta Delgada, on the island of São Miguel, is the capital city and was also the first European port of call on the transatlantic passage of the Enchanted Princess.

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The islands were settled by the Portuguese in 1432. Because the islands were uninhabited at the time, they were not colonized. In spite of their position in northern latitudes, the Azores are warmed by the Gulf Stream, and daytime temperatures range between 61° and 77° F year round. Mild temperatures combined with rich volcanic soil and frequent rainfall create conditions that allow virtually everything to grow there.

A drive through the verdant landscapes reveals hedgerows and fencerows not unlike the British Isles, cattle grazing on steep alpine meadows, rocky coastlines like New England with surf swells to rival Hawaii. Due to their prolific populations, holsteins and hydrangeas have become Azorean symbols.

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The first stop on our shore excursion was a walking tour through the historical town of Ribeira Grande. First up on the route was the baroque Misericordia Church (1773) built with volcanic rock and featuring bipartite doors that open to dissimilar naves.

Then there was the historical City Hall and park planted with New Zealand “Christmas” trees (pōhutukawa) boasting “beards” of aerial roots.

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The Our Lady of the Stars Church overlooked the town from her perch on the hill.

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The second part of our excursion visited several locations within the caldera of the dormant, yet geothermally active, Furnas Volcano.

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We drove up to the Pico do Ferro overlook with its stellar views of Lagoa das Furnas and environs.

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Driving into the town of Furnas, we took a guided tour of the lovely Terra Nostra Gardens.

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The centerpiece of the gardens is the geothermal pool. The waters flow in clear, but iron particles in the water soon oxidize creating the orange color.

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Spring blooms were bursting out all over.

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Next we enjoyed a delicious family-style lunch at the Reservado Hotel. The menu featured roast beef stuffed with sausage, paprika potatoes, mixed vegetables, rice, free-flowing red wine, and a sweet-tart pineapple slice for dessert,

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Before climbing back on the bus, I had to visit a picturesque pocket garden lined with trellises of fragrant wisteria.

YouTube video

Our final stop was at a part of town with active geothermal features such as fumaroles and boiling mineral springs.

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Although it had been a big bus tour with 60 of my new best friends, it turned out to be a perfect day for my first visit to the Azores. All cruise ship excursions should be like this one.

Brest, France

After leaving the Azores, the outdoor temps became markedly cooler, although the skies remained clear and sunny. There were two days at sea sailing the North Atlantic on the Enchanted Princess between our first European port in the Azores and our second at the French port of Brest.

I joined a group of six other guests on a private van excursion through Brittany to tour the historical towns of Quimper and Locronan. On this excursion, I met my new friends Juline and John who had organized the tour.

Quimper, France

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The city of Quimper has a rich and extensive history dating to its settlement during Roman times at the confluence of the Rivers Steir and Odet,

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As our driver pulled into a streetside parking spot, I glanced out the van window. My view of the cathedral spires behind the city wall assured me it was going to be a good day.

We met up with our guide Yolanda and walked into the old city, stopping first to tour the Cathedral of Saint Corentin. Founded in 1239 AD, the church has a unique bend in the nave due to issues with its various stages of construction over the centuries.

Two points of interest inside the church are the skull fragment relic of Saint Jean Discalceat and the Notre Dame d’Espérance sculpture by Auguste Ottin in which the baby Jesus resembles Napoleon.

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We wandered down streets of half-timbered medieval houses, past countless fragrant creperies, and through outdoor courtyard cafés.

Fresh produce, including the white asparagus Europeans enjoy so much in the spring, was in stock at the local market.

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Given time to explore on our own, I headed up the street to tour the lovely walled gardens at the Jardin de la Retraite and Jardin de la Paix.

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Our group reunited at 2:00 PM for the drive to our next destination.

Locronan, France

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The rural landscapes of Brittany in springtime are not to be believed. Cattle graze in lush pasturelands and fields of yellow-blooming rapeseed paint the hillsides. Who knew canola oil is made from the seeds of this plant?

Wildflowers erupt in a riot of color along roadsides and from every stone nook and cranny.

I consider myself a fairly well-educated amateur gardener, but in France I encountered flowering annuals, perennials, shrubs, and trees I have never seen before in my life, including within the pages of seed catalogs. Even the weeds were beautiful there!

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The commune of Locronan would be beyond anything I could have imagined. Stepping from the transfer van, my first impression was that this place was too perfect, too “Disney,” if you will. But it wasn’t. It was everything I could have wanted it to be and so much more.

The 800+/- residents of Locronan maintain a pristine Medieval village that has been classified a historical monument since 1924, designated a Small Town of Character, and named one of the Most Beautiful Villages in France.

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As you might imagine, I could not stop taking pictures. The setting was straight out of a fairytale. I am pretty sure that Belle from Beauty and the Beast lived here. It is no surprise that Locronan has been a location for more than 30 motion pictures, including the multiple Academy Award-winning Roman Polanski film Tess (1979).

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Situated on a rocky promontory overlooking the sea, the commune of Locronan inhabits a sacred and mystical site dating to the Neolithic Age. A nearby block of granite called the Gazeg Vaen has been the object of a fertility cult adopted by a succession of religions, including Christianity.

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Locronan is named for the sixth-century Irish pilgrim Saint Ronan who has been venerated at this location since the 1030s AD. Anne of Brittany made a pilgrimage to Locronan, praying to Saint Ronan to get pregnant with King Charles VIII of France.

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The Saint Ronan Church and adjoining Penity Chapel were constructed by the will of Francois II beginning in 1424 AD and completed by the will of Queen Anne in 1480 AD. The queen granted Locronan township in 1505 AD.

An exquisite collection of art treasures and relics are housed within the walls of the ancient house of worship.

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The chevet stained-glass window installed c. 1480 AD depicts the Passion of the Christ in 18 panels.

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Houses and shops situated on the church square, most constructed in the 18th century, evince architectural features committed to following the existing style of the town that date to the 15th century.

Locronan became a prosperous town with an economy based on commercial and military maritime industries based out of Brittany’s many ports. Beginning in the 15th century, hemp cultivated in the region was processed as a raw material for ship rigging and for international export. Canvas sailcloth woven in Locronan outfitted the largest ships of the Royal French Navy, the English Navy, and the Spanish Armada, including the Niña, Pinta, and Santa María.

I often say that shore excursions give me a taste of destinations. For some, one visit is enough, but others serve as an appetizer that ignite a hunger to return and explore the region in depth.

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I have been asked several times what was my favorite destination from the 25-day itinerary. Each time, my answer has been the same. But one hour in Locronan was not nearly enough. I envision a Brittany road trip in my future. Who is coming with me?

Note: When visiting Locronan, be sure to stop by the tourism office to pick up a brochure with a self-guided walking tour.

Cherbourg, France

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The morning of arrival in Cherbourg, I happened to catch a twilight view of the harbor lighthouse atop the 19th century Fort de l’Ouest from my stateroom balcony.

Normandy and the D-Day Beaches

My tour of Normandy and the D-Day beaches did not turn out as planned, and I have debated how best to share my experience.

I owe it to readers and potential travelers to tell the truth so they can make informed decisions when planning and booking travel to Normandy. That said, I cannot fail to give honor and gratitude to the Allied soldiers who fought and died on the beaches to liberate Europe from fascism. I hope I am able to accomplish both with sensitivity and candor.

After researching both ship and private tours of Normandy and the D-Day beaches, I settled on the most comprehensive and most expensive shore excursion offered by Princess Cruises. The itinerary would include stops at:

  • Sainte Mere Eglise
  • Utah Beach
  • Pointe du Hoc
  • Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery
  • Arromanches and the D-Day Museum

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Due to weather conditions after departing Brest, we arrived in the port of Cherbourg, France, one hour late. The Assistant Port Excursion Director assured guests gathered in the theater that our tours would not be affected, and we would not miss anything on our itineraries.

There were at least five or six tour groups on separate buses doing the same itinerary I had selected. I boarded a double-decker bus and was fortunate to get a seat on the front row of the upper level with a panoramic view of the drive. My perspective offered idyllic views of French villages, the countryside, and battle locales of the invasion, a snapshot of how the region must have appeared prior to the ravages of war.

YouTube video

Our guide on the lower level used the bus PA system and spoke English with a heavy French accent, so much of her narration was lost in translation. I say this to make a point with no disrespect intended. After all, my French is nearly zero.

As we approached the village of Sainte Mere Eglise, our guide began telling the story of paratrooper John Steele of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment whose parachute became entangled on the spire of the town church. Steele hung limply, pretending to be dead while the battle raged below, before the Germans took him prisoner. He later escaped and rejoined his division. The story is recounted in the movie The Longest Day (1962).

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I began snapping pictures of the church memorial through the bus window. I was glad I did, because the bus never slowed down. This was our first clue that something was not quite right.

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We continued the drive through the French countryside to a point where the bus made a right turn to parallel Utah Beach. Through the bus window, I grabbed a picture of a small road leading to the shore. Just up the road, our guide pointed out the Utah Beach Museum, but the bus kept right on going.

I turned around to see the shocked facial expressions of other passengers. By the time we reached Pointe du Hoc, the prosaic sh*t had hit the fan.

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The guide gave us 30 minutes to use the restroom and walk a loop around the promontory with 110 ft. cliffs overlooking the English Channel between Utah Beach and Omaha Beach.

German forces had fortified this location with concrete bunkers, and gun pits. On D-Day, US Army Rangers scaled the cliffs and captured the point.

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I hurried along the path to explore the promontory and view the bunkers.

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On the walk back to the bus, I overheard tense conversations, and even spoke with our guide myself. There was much rhetoric, but in short, the guide explained that our bus driver had departed the station at 5:00 AM and by French law could only be on the road a maximum of 12 hours.

Some passengers suggested that we skip lunch in order to visit all of the historical sites on our itinerary. The guide said that was impossible because the hotel restaurant had prepared a meal for us and that she was powerless to resolve the unfortunate situation.

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Our drive continued to the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial overlooking Omaha Beach. There are 9,388 American soldiers buried at this location, and an additional 4,410 soldiers are buried at the Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-James.

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From the moment I saw the bronze sculpture named the Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves, I was moved. The engraving at the memorial reads “To these we owe the high resolve that the cause for which they died shall live.”

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I continued into the cemetery, only able to view a fraction of the nearly 10,000 monuments that flowed into the distance as far as the eye could see. At ground level, there was no distinction nor separation between the Crosses and Stars of David representing the Band of Brothers who fought and died together without regard for religious persuasion.

I became emotional to the point of tears, and could have easily gone into the ugly cry.

Preston and Robert, two of the four Niland brothers whose story inspired the motion picture Saving Private Ryan (1998) are buried here.

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The names of 1,557 service members declared MIA during Operation Overlord are inscribed on the walls enclosing the Garden of the Missing. A bronze rosette attached to 19 of these names indicates that their bodies have been found and identified in the years since the dedication of the cemetery in 1956.

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There were expansive views of Omaha Beach from the cemetery, but the paths leading below had been barricaded. Apparently there is another route to the beach, because there was a lone rider on horseback galloping across the sands.

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I was grateful to have an hour to wander these hallowed grounds, but it was not nearly enough time to fully absorb and comprehend the profound nature of the American sacrifice.

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Departing the cemetery we drove to the seaside village of Port-en-Bessin, located between Omaha Beach and Gold Beach.

We were served a delicious, relaxing lunch at Hotel La Marine. I especially enjoyed an aperitif we were told was a cider spiked with a liqueur, the local Calvados, perhaps. Still, I would rather have been out visiting historical sites.

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When I finished dessert, I headed out to take some photos of the scenic Vaubon Tower (1694) situated on the cliff overlooking the sea.

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Our final stop was at the village of Arromanches on Gold Beach. A visit to the D-Day Museum was on our itinerary, but the line was out the door, and entry was denied.

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We were directed instead to watch a documentary about the artificial Mulberry Harbour designed by the British to expedite offloading of vehicles and equipment onto beaches during the Allied invasion.

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I scouted the immediate area by the museum and snapped a photo of an 80-ft. section of the interconnecting floating roadways. These 28-ton monstrosities rested on concrete or steel floats, some of which can still be seen from the beach.

Out on the sidewalk, I met up with my friends Juline and John who were doing the same tour but assigned to another bus. They had visited every destination with time to spare. They stopped to take pictures of the church in Sainte Mere Eglise and walked along Utah Beach. I later learned they also had 40 minutes to spare at the museum prior to departure. It was unacceptable that the guest experience on the Normandy and D-Day Beaches tour was determined by departure times of French bus drivers.

Needless to say, the natives were restless on the return trip to port, and some people were just plain pissed. I did not know everyone’s story, but I felt especially sorry for passengers sitting on the right side of the bus who could not even get a clear view of the two locations we had passed, and also guests who may have had relatives who fought and died on the beaches. This trip would have been a pilgrimage for them.

Back on ship, I joined other guests who headed straight for the tour excursion desk. We explained the situation to the agent, who was sympathetic, and she said they would get back to us within 24 hours.

The following evening I received a phone call letting me know that Princess would be refunding one-half of my excursion price. This was acceptable to me, but I have a feeling there are other guests expecting a full refund. I hope Princess Cruises is able tor resolve this issue with the tour provider for the sake of future guests.

In spite of the unfortunate circumstances of my shore excursion to Normandy and the D-Day beaches, I did experience a meaningful and memorable day.

In my opinion, the best way to experience Normandy and the D-Day beaches, is on a self-guided tour, preferably while on an extended road trip. I can’t speak for others, but having read books and viewed documentaries and feature films, I have enough historical background that I don’t need a guide.

Église Notre Dame Colleville-Sur-Mer France

Also, there are tons of museums, monuments, memorials, and historical sites of conscience that should be experienced at a relaxed pace. The Normandy countryside is absolutely gorgeous. We drove through villages, each with its ancient church and graveyard, and I wanted to stop at them all. My FOMO was too great for one afternoon.

There are other regional destinations such as Mont Saint Michel and the Bayeux Tapestry UNESCO site that you could easily include on a self-guided tour. My Normandy excursion gave me a taste of the historical region, and I plan to return for a proper dedicated visit.

Copenhagen, Denmark

We sailed past the port of Skagen and directly to Copenhagen, supposedly due to “high winds and a small port.”

A member of the cruise Facebook group posted, “Not a cloud in the sky and seas perfectly calm as we passed Skagen this morning. Where is the tempest? I’m probably wrong, but it feels like they lied to us.”

I felt the same way because I had been tracking weather conditions on my mobile phone. What’s more? An agent at the excursion desk had informed me that Skagen had also been eliminated from the next leg of the cruise, three days later. I wasn’t sure how they were able to predict the same high winds that far in advance. I wasn’t the only guest left wondering the real reason we were skipping Skagen twice.

Oh well, there would be more time to explore Copenhagen.

The ship received port clearance around 3:00 PM, so my friends John, Juline, and I hopped the free shuttle into town to explore a bit of the city.

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The transfer bus delivered us to the not-so-square King’s Square with its equestrian statue of King Christian V.

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The square opens to the Nyhavn canal-front entertainment district with its brightly-painted row houses that date to the 17th century. Famed Danish author Hans Christian Andersen lived in more than one of these houses in the 1800s.

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With only a few hours left in the day, we took a taxi to Tivoli Gardens. First opened in 1843, it is the third oldest operating amusement park in the world,

I live in Central Florida, and I am not a fan of theme parks, but I could not resist the opportunity to experience such an fundamental piece of Danish history.

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I first learned about Tivoli Gardens while reading Lois Lowry’s Newbery Award-winning book Number the Stars with my sixth-grade students prior to retiring from teaching. The novel for young readers is set in Copenhagen during the Nazi occupation of Denmark during World War II.

The amusement park offers newer thrill rides while retaining its old world charm with vintage carousels and one of the world’s oldest wooden roller coasters.

A visit to Denmark would not be complete without sampling a rød pølse hot dog topped with pickles and fried onions. I was captured by the gregarious personalities of the young Danes who worked the park food outlets. They were so friendly, helpful, and unrushed while educating American tourists about native fare.

After touring Tivoli, we took a taxi back to King’s Square and Nyhavn for a tasty Danish sidewalk dinner before catching the shuttle back to the ship.

The next morning as I was exiting my stateroom, my room steward told me the gangway to the ship would be closed between 7:00 and 8:00 PM, in case I wanted to adjust my return time. Having heard no such announcement nor received any written communication, I attempted to verify this with security as I was leaving the ship. The officer told me the information was incorrect.

Howard Juline John Copenhagen

With a full day ahead of us, Juline, John, and I spent the day touring Copenhagen by way of the Hop On-Hop Off Bus. Outfitted with WiFi, USB charging stations, and earbud guided narrations in multiple languages, these buses offer the perfect way to explore cities on your own.

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It was a sunny spring Saturday and everyone was out enjoying the temporary break in rainy weather. At our first stop, we visited Churchill Park, designated in 1965 to commemorate British assistance in the World War II liberation of Denmark.

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John happened upon a church caretaker who gave us a peek at the interior of the Gothic revival Saint Alban’s Anglican Church, constructed from flint and completed in 1887 to serve Copenhagen’s English population.

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We walked the bastioned ramparts of the star-shaped Kastellet, a well-preserved 17th-century citadel still in use today, before going in search of an elusive iconic statue.

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The Little Mermaid, a bronze and granite sculpture by Edvard Eriksen, was erected in 1913. Inspired by the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale, the commission was donated to the city of Copenhagen by Danish brewer Carl Jacobsen. I always smile when I get to visit legendary locations in person.

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A highlight of touring Copenhagen was a canal cruise included with the purchase of a Hop-On Hop-Off Bus ticket.

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Just before boarding the boat, we spotted a grouping of underwater bronze statues called Agnete and the Merman in the Slotsholm Canal next to the Højbro Bridge. My friend Donna had given me the heads-up about this art installation. It is an intriguing piece of public art, but the algae-covered statues were in desperate need of cleaning.

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The boat tour wound its way through many low bridges until it reached open water. We passed the Langelinie Pier and Little Mermaid statue where we had been earlier that morning. The water offered stunning views of the city, including the dome of Frederik’s Marble Church.

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The boundless joy of the Danish people was on full display, out on the water in rented picnic boats, sitting along the canals, and dining at waterside open air cafés. When visiting Copenhagen, don’t miss the canal cruise.

What good is exploring an International city if you do not sample local cuisine? When it came to choices for lunch, snacks, and dinner, Juline, John, and I were all in one mind and one accord.

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Lunch was Lebanese Shawarma from a streetside shop, a first for me, but I really enjoyed it. I wanted some hummus, but they were all out.

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John bought us beverages to take on the boat tour. Juline made a comment about the jars of baby food wine in the lineup. When I saw them, I had to agree. Hilarious! I settled on an elderberry and lime cider, and it was excellent.

After the canal cruise, we all had ice cream on the brain, and we found perfect two-scoop sugar cones of chocolate chip and cookie dough from an outlet just off King’s Square.

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For dinner, we returned to Nyhavns Fargekro, a sidewalk café along the canal. We all wanted a repeat of the white asparagus and shrimp cocktail appetizers from dinner the previous evening. The large servings were so delicious and filling that I could hardly finish all of the shrimp.

I also enjoyed an Aperol spritz cocktail that still seemed to be very much en vogue on café tables around Copenhagen. Dining out is not cheap in Denmark, but oh so worth it!

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After a full day of exploring Copenhagen, I said goodbye to my friends who would not be continuing on the next leg of the cruise. We barely scratched the surface of the countless things to see and do, but we had a wonderful time together.

The Danish people are just lovely, so friendly, and almost everyone speaks English. I felt so at home in this international city, and I hope to return to tour many of the castles, museums, and galleries that eluded me on this trip.

YouTube video

As it turned out, the return shuttle bus I was on arrived back at port at 7:10 PM. A ship agent boarded our bus and informed us we might want to keep our seats while the ship made a 360° rotation in preparation for leaving port in the morning. My steward had been right after all! It was a temporary inconvenience, but I actually got some great photos and video of the Enchanted Princess.

To Be Continued . . . .

This post about port destinations and shore excursions in the Azores, France, and Denmark is the second in a three-part series.

The first post is a critical review of the Enchanted Princess and recounts my experience aboard a 25-day transatlantic cruise from North America to Europe.

The series concludes with a travelogue of shore excursions at port destinations in Norway, Germany, Belgium, and the UK.

I Would Love to Hear From You

I enjoy dialogue with Backroad Planet readers, especially when they share off-the-beaten-path destinations and useful travel tips. Have you ever done a Princess transatlantic cruise? If so, what shore excursions did you book? I would love to hear about your experience. I invite you to leave your comments and questions below, and I always respond!

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Howard Blount is founder and editor of the travel website Backroad Planet. He has traveled internationally since boyhood and lived abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Paraguay. Now his passion is navigating the roads-less-traveled of this amazing planet in search of anything rare and remote. On the stuffy side, “Mr. Blount” has been a writer, consultant, and published author with houses including Simon & Schuster and McGraw-Hill.

Retired from a 35-year career as a middle school teacher, Howard enjoys spending his time on anything that includes mountains, waterfalls, dachshunds, gospel choirs, books, classic movies, autumn, sandhill cranes, Florida springs, rain, gloomy days, log cabins, abandoned sites, unearthed history, genealogy, documentaries, To Kill a Mockingbird, castles, cathedrals, Civil Rights history, cold sheets, National Park Passports, quotes, Reba Rambo, Dionne Warwick, most things Apple, all things British, Jesus, and lists.

And on a random note, Howard is a fourth cousin once removed to Truman Capote.