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What better way to explore the UK than to leave the driving to someone else. A ship’s captain aboard Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines Balmoral, to be specific. With 1350 passengers, the Balmoral is still compact enough to offer up Fred.Olsen’s trademark intimate, homey atmosphere. Comfortable cabins, world-class cuisine, and diverse onboard activities provided the perfect way to spend nine nights exploring the diverse countries of England, Ireland, and Scotland.

Departing from Dover, England, the first port of call was St. Peter Port, the picturesque capital of Guernsey in the Channel Islands. Highlights here included Castle Cornet, the Shipwreck Museum, the Underground Military Museum, and Hauteville House, the home where Victor Hugo wrote Les Miserables.

From there, on to Dublin with the cobbled grounds of Trinity College, all things books from around the world at Chester Beatty Library, the landscaped escapes of Merrion Square and St. Stephen’s Green, the religious wonders of Christ Church and St. Patrick’s cathedrals, the eclectic shopping and dining of Temple Bar and Grafton Street, and the thirst-quenching pint at the beer-lover’s Disneyland of Guinness Storehouse.

Next up was Douglas on the Isle of Man, with its Victorian architecture and charming seaside promenade. Greenock, Scotland was the next port of call and is the gateway to Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow. Because of inclement weather, we decided to stay onboard and explore our floating resort. From a fully-equipped fitness center to varied pubs and lounges to shopping in the boutiques to steamy hot tubs to a well-stocked and comfortable library and internet center, we enjoyed the day on our own and never ran out of things to do.

Our itinerary took us past the rugged and sheer beauty of the Hebrides enroute to our next port of Kirkwall in the Orkney Islands. A “Gardens of Orkney” shore excursion offered by Fred.Olsen took us to several stunning in-full-bloom gardens in and out of town, the Stonehenge-like Standing Stones of Stenness, and free time in Kirkwall to explore St. Magnus Cathedral, Earl’s Palace, Bishop’s Palace, and the Orkney Museum.

Our last port was Invergordon and a tour of the Glenmorangie Distillery. The scotch whiskey in Scotland is such a integral part of the country’s heritage and it was fascinating to have a chance to witness how it’s made (and been made since 1843) and taste a ‘wee dram’.

Our circle was completed once we saw the stunning white cliffs of Dover. Certainly a symbolic ending to a mystical voyage.