I was planning on doing a sightseeing bus today but then i fancied bobbing around on a boat, so I thought I'd compromise and do a bus and boat together -- the London Duck Tour. It's half sightseeing bus and half river cruise because it's an amphibious vehicle -- one of those landing crafts that took the men across the sea on D-Day. The guide said that it's a bona-fide relic from World War II and actually fought in Normandy in 1944 which sounds a bit far-fetched to me, but that's what he said. It's probably had a paint job since then though, because if it was bobbing along the French coast in bright yellow and blue it would have been shot by the Nazis in two seconds flat.
First of all let me give you a word of advice... if you go on the London Duck Tour then take a coat because it's f-r-e-e-z-i-n-g cold. Even an eskimo would be cold, that's how could it was. It hasn't got windows on the boat, just a load of big gaping holes where the glass is supposed to be, and a bit of roll-down plastic to cover it. When it gets down in the water the wind is cold enough to freeze your nuts off -- and I'm not joking either. Two of the passengers on my trip actually froze to death. Maybe I'm just a wuss, but I thought I was going to die too. That's how cold it was.
The boat is pretty small and cosy. It's got about five two-seaters on each side and the windows are massive, so you don't have to worry about getting a dodgy seat. The guide is only about twenty feet away even if you're at the back, and he's got a microphone too, so even you deaf folks can hear him.
The tour last about 75 minutes and the first 45 minutes-or-so are on the road. You start off a stone's throw from the London Eye and head straight across Westminster Bridge. So you get to see Parliament, Parliament Square and Westminster Abbey, then it's up Whitehall to Downing Street and Trafalgar Square. Whilst all this is going on the guy at the front is yapping into a microphone about all the landmarks that you're passing. I can't remember our guys name but he was okay. He said all the normal touristy things and told a few jokes, which is all you need.
After Nelson's Column you head down Pall Mall and past St. James's Palace, and then up Piccadilly to the Ritz Hotel. A quick steer round Hyde Park Corner takes you past Wellington Arch and towards Victoria Station. Then you pass by Buckingham Palace and that's about it for five minutes. You just have a slow plod through the traffic to Lambeth Bridge.
The best bit of the tour is when you enter the water. The slipway is literally right nextdoor to the MI6 building, close to where James Bond shot out of the wall in his speedboat. But of course it's much more leisurely when we do it. There's no fire and flames and terrorists running around. You just drive into the water at about 0 miles-per-hour until you're bobbing along quite happily. The water was pretty choppy and the waves were lapping about 6 inches from the edge of the boat, which was a bit unnerving. I suppose that's why they've got about fifty lifejackets strapped to the ceiling.
You don't have to worry about sinking though because at one point we were actually driving along a sandback, in the middle of the river. And I'm not even joking either, I'm not making it up -- we were literally driving along in the middle of the Thames because the water was so low. Apparently there's a load of sandbanks in the centre.
The water section is good and a lot of fun, but in some ways it's also a disappointment. Because all you do is motor up from Lambeth Bridge to Parliament, and then turn around again. Once you get close to Westminster Bridge he turns 180 degrees back the way you came. You don't even get as far as the London Eye. Once you're back at Lambeth Bridge you drive back out and return to Waterloo. You are probably in the water for no more than 30 minutes -- 15 minutes each way.
So is it worth it? Yeah, I reckon so. But I wouldn't choose it over a bus tour. The amount of stuff that you miss out is huge -- you don't do anything east of Trafalgar Square, so that basically cuts out St. Paul's, Tower Bridge, Tower of London, Tate Modern, the Globe, and the whole of The City. You don't go anywhere near the West End either, so there's no Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus or Covent Garden. No Bloomsbury (British Museum), Marylebone (Madame Tussauds) or Regent's Park (London Zoo).
The only things that it does well are Parliament, Trafalgar Square and Buckingham Palace -- but even then you don't go up the Mall, so you don't get to see the Palace from the front. And the only things that you can see from the water are Lambeth Palace, Parliament and the MI6 Building. But don't let that put you off -- I've made it sound worse than it is! It's a decent enough way to pass a morning.