London Duck Tour review
Your kid wants to go on a sightseeing boat but you prefer a sightseeing bus, and you end up having a big ding dong argument about it and he stomps off in a huff. Well now you can avoid all of that drama by going on a London Duck Tour instead, because it combines a bus and a boat in one.
They were originally built to transfer troops out to the bigger boats on D-Day, and you sometimes see pictures off them filled with fifty fearful soldiers as they chop through the Channel. Nowadays they look like big yellow skips with lorry wheels on the bottom. They've added a roof and comfy seats to them, but the windows are still pretty basic: they're just big gaping holes covered by a flapping bit of plastic. The last time I rode in one I almost froze to death so wrap up warm for chrissakes (I sound like my mother now). I don't want you catching a cold on the first day of your holiday.
The best part of the tour is obviously when it transforms into a boat, but you have to sit through 45 minutes of the road tour first. They offer a few different routes but the one I'm choosing today is the most popular one: the Classic Tour. There's a microphone guy at the front who points out all the landmarks and chucks in a few jokes and anecdotes and asks everybody where they're from, etc. (British people: er... mumble mumble... please don't ask me; Americans: AMERICA!!!).
According to their route map we're supposed to begin at the London Eye and go over Westminster Bridge past Big Ben, but instead we're going over Waterloo Bridge by the BFI IMAX. I haven't got the faintest idea why they're doing this (roadworks?) because the only good thing about driving over Waterloo Bridge is its distant view of St. Paul's Cathedral. Unfortunately that's the closest we'll ever get to it because he turns left down the Strand and promptly gets clogged up in the traffic. Our guide quickly exhausts his script and has to dredge his head for some snippets about Simpson's and the Savoy cat. I bet he was glad when we finally made it past Trafalgar Square.
I was expecting to turn left down Whitehall here but we went along Pall Mall instead, past St. James's Palace and St. James's Street (bypassing Piccadilly Circus completely). That meant we didn't get to see Downing Street, Horse Guards or Westminster Abbey either.
Then we pootled past the posh shops on Piccadilly towards Wellington Arch, and began the long, slow crawl round the garden wall of Buckingham Palace (the wall is too high to see inside). This section took absolutely ages today because Changing the Guard was on. We could hear the military bands over the rumble and hum of the engine but we never got to see anything because he turned right at Buckingham Gate, bypassing the front of the palace completely. All you can really see of the palace is the east wing (in other words: nothing).
That's all the landmarks you get for the road tour. That is literally all there is. It would have been slightly better if they drove over Westminster Bridge like they were supposed to (for Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Downing Street and Horse Guards), but not by much -- because then we would have missed the distant view of St. Paul's and anything west of Trafalgar Square. The road tour doesn't touch Piccadilly Circus, Tower Bridge or the Tower of London, and your only view of Buckingham Palace is from the side. You don't get to see the Globe, the Shard, the Royal Exchange or the Royal Courts of Justice, so as a sightseeing tour it's pretty lame.
But don't give up on it just yet because now comes the fun bit... when your bus becomes a floating boat. Before that happens, though, you get an obligatory safety talk about how to put on a lifebelt in case the boat blows up. You basically just have to tug on something (some kind of strap, I think -- I was too busy fiddling with my phone to notice), and then toot on your whistle until help arrives. Everyone always gets a whistle, but surely you'd better off just shouting and screaming? That's what I'm going to do if the boat blows up. BOOM! KABOOM! Fire! Flames! Explosions! toot toot toot!
The river route turns out to be rather lame as well, because you just drive round the front of the MI6 building and down a sandy slipway at the side, then you pass under Lambeth Bridge and down the side of Parliament. That is literally it. I'm guessing that most of the tourists onboard were expecting to sail all the way up to Tower Bridge, but it's just a quick 15 minutes from Vauxhall Bridge to Westminster Bridge and then 15 minutes back again watching the seagulls sitting on the sandbanks. But what an amazing view of the Houses of Parliament... you motor very close to the side and can see the cafes on the veranda. I'm tempted to say that this view Parliament is worth the ticket cost alone.
So here's my advice... if you're an adult then you should definitely give it a miss because the road tour doesn't compare with a proper sightseeing bus, and the boat tour doesn't compare with a proper sightseeing boat. But if you've got some children then you might like to give it a try because they'll get a little thrill when it drives into the water.
Here are some more boat journeys…
|Guided tours in April|
|Guided tours in May|
|Guided tours in June|