If you’ve been a client or fan of UNIGLOBE Carefree Travel Group for a while you may have met or at least heard of Ed Buchholz, the former owner of our agency. Although Ed is now retired he still pops in from time to time and is still travelling as much as he can. We’ll be sharing his blogs from his cruise from London to New York.
Prior to boarding the Silversea Whisper cruise from London to New York, I wanted to talk a little bit about our flights, transfers, hotel and Greenwich visit before delving into our cruise experiences.
We flew to London Gatwick aboard WestJet’s new 787 Dreamliner from Calgary. I must admit that the aircraft is very comfortable even in Economy class. The seat pitch is adequate, the seats relatively comfortable even for our 7 hour flight and the entertainment system top-notch. I was surprised that they offered complimentary supper (including wine) with 2 choices and in the morning a continental breakfast. Now if our flight attendant had been a bit more friendly and offered a smile anytime during the flight, it might have been exceptional.
We had booked a transfer upon arrival in London Gatwick to our hotel in Greenwich, which is where our cruise is leaving from. We chose a company called Onward Travel Solutions based on price and client reviews. Our driver was not waiting with a sign with our name on it when we arrived after clearing passport control and customs (a very simple and easy process). I noticed on my phone a missed call and a voicemail message. Reluctant to use my phone to call back because we have no International Plan, we just waited a bit until finally I called the number (our driver), and was advised that he was 5 or so minutes away and would be there shortly. After he tracked us down, off we went in a very nice and perfectly clean Mercedes sedan. The driver was very apologetic about not being there and even offered to pay for my cell call to him but I advised him not to worry about it. The drive was a little over an hour long and he did a great job of getting us there without any issues, very knowledgeable and friendly. Upon arrival, I went to tip the driver, but he wouldn’t accept it again apologizing for not having been at the airport.
Our hotel Ibis Greenwich, was a great disappointment. Not inexpensive at over $200CAD per night, the hallways are dingy and very dirty. Thankfully our room is clean, albeit basic. The lack of towels, room amenities and view were made up by being very centrally located and easy walking distance to the historic sites and the pier where we were supposed to board the ship. More on that later!
There is a surprising number of lovely sights to see in Greenwich and kept us busy for the day and a half we stayed there.
- Old Royal Naval College: This is Sir Christopher Wren’s riverside masterpiece, a British landmark that has been used for many movies including Les Miserable. It is on the original site of the Greenwich Palace from 1498-1694 which was the birthplace of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I but fell into disrepair during the English Civil War and was subsequently demolished, making room for the Royal Hospital for Seamen between 1694-1869. Between 1873-1998, it was the Royal Navy College used to train officers. Nearly 27,000 officers and WRNS passed through this “University of the Navy” during WWII alone. Today it is home to the University of Greenwich and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, as well as a popular tourist site.
Inside the buildings are a lovely chapel, the Skittle Alley (2 lane antique bowling alley created in 1860’s where the bowling balls are practice cannon balls and the lanes made with decking planks of ships) and then, accessible by a tunnel between the 2 buildings, Painted Hall knows as the Sistine Chapel of London.
- Royal Observatory: It was commissioned by Charles II in 1675 and the position of “Astronomer Royal” was created to serve as the director of the observatory. It was designed by Christopher Wren and became the first purpose-built facility in Britain at a cost of 520 Pounds. The main purpose of the Observatory was to measure and monitor time and the most famous aspect of the Observatory comes from this purpose – The Prime Meridian. At 0 degrees longitude, the Greenwich Meridian marks the point where all time around the world is measured. The Prime Meridian was established in 1851 and gained international use in 1884. The stainless steel strip we are standing on marks the line between East and West. The red ball in the pictures drops daily at 1:00PM so people could synchronize their clocks to Greenwich Mean Time.
- The Queen’s House: A formal royal residence dating from around 1619, it was designed for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I and was later altered for queen Henrietta Maria, wife of King Charles I, hence the name of the house. The view of the river from The Queen’s House is actually a protected view and explains why Christopher Wren’s Naval College (which stands between The Queen’s House and the Thames) is made up of two identical buildings that are not connected to each other. Wren was given specific instructions not to impede the view of the Thames from the Queen’s House, which meant he couldn’t connect the two wings of the College.
- The Greenwich Foot Tunnel: This tunnel was designed for the dock-men who worked and lived on different sides of the Thames, was opened an August 4, 1902, replacing an earlier and more expensive ferry service. The entrance shafts at both ends are housed underneath domed enclosures and access is by stairs or elevator. The tunnel itself is 9 feet wide, 50 feet deep and is 1215 feet long. The entire tunnel is coated with 200,000 glazed white tiles. Some great views from the other side.
- The Cutty Sark: Built in 1869 at a cost of 16,500 Pounds, she was one of the last tea clippers to be built and also one of the fastest. In fact, at one stage in her career, she was thought to be the fastest freight ship in the world. It was retired in 1954 and has been in dry dock ever since. Badly damaged by fire in May 2007, the Cutty Sark underwent a 35 million Pound restoration project.
So, we were supposed to embark the ship at Greenwich and that’s why we stayed there. However, the morning of embarkation, we received an email from Silversea that because of winds and tides, we would be embarking the ship in Tilbury, about an hour away. Luckily, we had breakfast after receiving the email and we went for a walk to kill some time and there were some Silversea representatives down where we were supposed to drop our luggage. We found out then that there would be motorcoaches available to take us and our luggage to Tilbury. Had we not gone for the walk, we would have taken a taxi or an Uber at our own expense to get to where the ship was docked. We thought the communication about this might have been better.
Getting on the ship:
Embarkation was really easy once we got to the pier. With about 340 passengers on this cruise, it was very quick and we were welcomed aboard. Our stateroom is very lovely as you can see by the pictures and we are looking forward to casting off and sailing away to Falmouth, England as our first port of call. More on that to come!