The Port of London that is elegantly situated on the Thames River has been the main waterway for commerce since the Roman Conquest in 43AD.
With the advent of modern luxury cruising, London is also the gateway to the nearby cruise ports of Southampton, Dover and Harwich on the English Channel.
All three cities are within easy reach of London so that cruise passengers can easily spend a pre-and-post cruise holiday in this energetic royal capitol, and then take a bus, train or chauffeured car to and from a cruise ship in an easy hour or two. The result is two vacations, one on land and one by sea, for the same airfare.
To put the cruise ports into perspective, it’s about 80 miles from the center of London to the docks in Southampton. And National Express’s scheduled buses go from London’s Victoria Station to Southampton’s bus terminal. Similarly, train service is available from London’s Waterloo station to Southampton’s Central Station. In both cases, a taxi is needed in Southampton for the short ride to the cruise docks.
There is also a Southampton Cruise Bus Shuttle, which takes a bit longer as it stops halfway at historic Stonehenge for a photo-op break at the spooky and standing circle of massive slabs of rock before rolling south to the cruise terminal.
And, of course, the ‘money is no object’ option is a private car service, hotel door to the luggage drop-off dock in about an hour. It’s the best option if you’re still reeling from the bright lights and fun nights - dusk to dawn - in London.
2014 will be a banner year for Southampton, with a record number of ships round-tripping it from the cruise port. The three Cunard ‘Queens’ – Elizabeth, Mary2 and Victoria all have multiple journeys scheduled; P & O Lines offers a plethora of sailings, as do Holland America, Celebrity, Princess, RCCL, and MSC. www.cruise.co.uk shows more than 17 pages of cruises in this 14th year of the millennium – although we do suggest going to your favorite cruise line’s website to find the ship and itinerary that’s just right for you
The second cruise city, Dover, is 75 miles from the center of London, and offers lots of round-trip options for cruising. All of the embarkations from Dover are scheduled return trips.
Some 2014 examples of ‘return’ cruises are on Holland America’s M/S Ryndam, Ocean Princess, Saga Sapphire, Seabourn Quest, Crystal Serenity and the Crystal Symphony. For this port, too, all of the train, bus and private car options apply. Additonally, the London-Dover run from St. Pancras Station uses the high-speed British rail.
The third “cruise port of London” is Harwich. 90 miles from the heart of London, It’s the smallest of the three main cruise ports that we refer to as the ‘Ports of London.’ It is is a single berth, single terminal affair which even at the height of the summer season will only have a cruise ship every other day.
Next door to the Harwich cruise terminal is a ferry terminal that provides regular service to and from the Netherlands and Scandinavia. The trains to Harwich are from Liverpool Street Station, London. Harwich to Harwich round-trips will be made in 2014 by the Celebrity Infinity and RCCL’s Brilliance of the Seas.
There is more to do in the fabulously rich-in-history and fun Port of London than you’ll be able to do in one holiday. You can get ahead of the game by planning through www.visitlondon.com, and www.visitbritain.com for a London Planner and for all things London. These highly readable and up-to-date websites will lead you to everything you’ve always wanted to know about the UK – and more…
Before leaving for London, we got an Oyster Card ( www.oyster.tfl.gov.uk) that gave us heavily discounted travel on trains and buses within London zones 1- 6. It’s not only a bargain, but its easy to travel on one of the world’s most modern and clean public systems.
Once you’ve booked your luxury cruise also plan to have the time of your life in the heart of Royal London. We recently did that when we stayed a whirlwind eight nights in two of central London’s choice districts.
For us frequent cruisers, first up were the Red Carnation Hotel Collection’s The Rubens at the Palace on Buckingham Palace Road for four nights. It’s nice staying next to the Queen, and within a short walk to the Victoria Underground station and catching shiny new buses to travel throughout greater London.
On our first night at The Rubens, we strolled around the corner to a ‘local’ pub, The Phoenix on Palace Street. It was jammed inside and out on the street with a jolly-good after-work crowd having pints and G&Ts. Host Sonja and dining room manager ‘Magic’ invited us upstairs to dine well in their small and comfortable restaurant, where we spread out a map and plotted additions to our already busy 8-day itinerary
The Phoenix became our own ‘local’ pub during the stay at The Rubens at the Palace, as well as the Rubens’ own convivial bars. One is next to the lobby and another, the Bbar, a South African bar/restaurant where ostrich burgers and exotic cocktails are available is next to the hotel entrance. www.redcarnationhotels.com.
Later, we stayed across the road from Kensington Palace and Gardens at the 5-star Milestone Hotel for four nights. This winner of major travel awards is a gem is also a public transportation-friendly location. Just down the road is Kensington High Street tube station and bus stops for a comfortable ride to all the major shopping, dining, theater and other attractions as well as the glorious monuments in town.
Starting our London getaway, map in hand, courtesy of The Ruben’s Dave the concierge, we took the Victoria Line to Westminster and began by visiting the Banqueting Hall, the only surviving part of the 1500-room royal palace of Whitehall that was destroyed by fire in 1622.
We were given a tour of this magnificent royal structure by Debbie Duckman. She added greatly to our visit with her detailed knowledge of and passion for the property, especially the ceiling in the main part of the hall that was painted by Peter Paul Rubens for Charles I.
Another historic royal palace (HRP) that is lively and lived in today is Kensington Palace, the new home of Will, Kate and baby George. Of special interest for visitors as well as the current tenants, is a huge wooden pirate ship that is the centerpiece of the Diana, Princess of Wales' Memorial Playground. There is no charge for kids to romp in this Peter Pan-inspired tribute for a princess who loved the innocence of childhood. http://www.hrp.org.uk/
The Tower of London, Hampton Court Palace and Kew Palace are other fairy-tale former royal palaces worth a visit; no two are alike. Due to the proximity of our headquarters at The Rubens at the Palace, a special visit to our neighbors at Buckingham Palace, the Queen’s Gallery and the Royal Mews (where the Queen’s horse guards live) was also part of our itinerary. http://www.royal.gov.uk/
Each day in London, we always had an exceptional breakfast, dinner and sometimes a traditional afternoon English tea. The Rubens at the Palace next to Buckingham Palace, Milestone Hotel across from Kensington Palace, Egerton House Hotel near Harrods and Harvey Nichols famed stores, the Chesterfield Mayfair and the Montague on the Gardens, all part of the magnificent Red Carnation Hotel Collection, are as famous for their award-winning sumptuous Afternoon Teas from 1 to 5pm. as for their TripAdvisor-acclaimed service in every nook and cranny of these exclusive hotels.
The beautiful teas include fine, freshly-brewed tea, and luscious savories and sweets served in relaxing and elegant rooms, and this tradition is a great way to re-charge and refresh after a day of sightseeing and shopping. Find more details about the teas and the Red Carnation Hotel Collection, read our recent travel article at http://www.examiner.com/review/two-sophisticated-hotel-gems-royal-london....
As all good travelers do today, we enjoyed both ethnic and classic British dinners in many of London’s most interesting neighborhoods. Here are five of the most remarkable and fair-priced in town:
ROAST near London Bridge is a spectacular space high atop the Borough Market. It has a lively bar and a farm-to-fork menu featuring seasonal favorites. It was dramatically shown in the 2013 film ‘Trance,’ starring James McAvoy. A local favorite for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Guinea Grill, near Berkeley Square, features the best of aged Scottish beef is a handsome, intimate dining room behind the Guinea Pub-a must for meat lovers and pub crawlers who want the best of British fare, drinks and atmosphere.
The Parlour at Canary Wharf is a soaring glass bar/restaurant frequented by the after-work financial crowd. Lively and bubbly inside and out, it’s a fun place to dine any night of the week. The food is prepared by chefs in full view of the customers at breakfast, lunch, brunch, dinner, nibbles and late-night snacks.
Rosa’s Thai has the best Thai food in town with five locations and growing due to popular demand. We chose their SoHo restaurant. Don’t be alarmed by at the crowds, it’s worth the wait; just get a drink and wait with the bubbly folks on the street. And, for the LGBT community, it’s near the corner of Old Compton Street – with its long-popular and attractive gay bars and clubs that draw a cosmopolitan crowd.
Cinnamon SoHo is the baby sister of the famed Cinnamon Club, and is a great place to have dinner after you’ve spent the day shopping for silk scarves and ties at Liberty and other posh establishments around Oxford Circus. Great cocktails, spectacularly presented and delicious food, and wonderful service are hallmarks of Cinnamon SoHo.
For more detailed reviews of these exceptional restaurants, visit us at http://www.examiner.com/article/5-exceptional-fair-priced-restaurants-mu... and be sure to click “Subscribe” to get all of our complimentary travel articles.
The TKTS Kiosk at Leicester Square is run by the Society of London Theatre where you can only get discounted tickets by walking up to the window in person. Information on location and what’s on sale each day is available at www.tkts.co.uk Be aware that for some shows you’ll need to still pay full price – three examples at this writing are ‘The Mousetrap,’ ‘Mamma Mia!’ and ‘War Horse’ while ‘Spamalot’ was being sold for less than half price.
To reach the popular London Eye, we crossed the Thames on Westminster Bridge but you can also do it via the pedestrian Hungerford Bridge. By now, everyone in the world knows about this humungous Ferris wheel. You can reserve your own private capsule for a special event, or get a Fast Track ticket for priority boarding. Highly recommended. www.londoneye.com
There is even a London Eye River Cruise, bookable right online when you buy your Eye ticket. Discounts are available online for this cruise that glides by Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Tower Bridge and the Tower of London. And don’t miss the Tower Bridge Exhibition tour and a walk across this most iconic of London landmarks. www.towerbridge.org.uk.
Another day we took hours going through Madame Tussauds where we waxed sublime with the facsimile Royal Family, visited Barack Obama in his Oval Office, and chatted with the dolly boys of the pop group One Direction. Helen Mirren and Johnny Depp wanted our autographs, but we were too modest to scrawl our signatures in their idol books. Worth a wait, worth a visit. All-inclusive visits give you a fast track into the world of wax and illusion – including a chamber of horrors and Bollywood! www.madametussauds.com/London
After enjoying our 8-night pre-cruise London holiday, we hired the Milestone Hotel’s Range Rover (they also have a Bentley) which was stocked with sports bottles of English spring water, gourmet snacks and the local newspapers. The delightful and skilled driver took us directly onto the dock in Southampton for a 12-night cruise to remote European ports and ‘the routes of the wine traders,’ aboard the 5-star Azamara Club’s Quest.
Whatever your cruise, whatever your ports, the Ports of London welcome you and we heartily recommend several days – or even a week – to enhance your holiday experience in this royally fun-filled city.
Written and enjoyed by travelers Don Church and Tony Schillaci, Out and Travelin’