Reviewed by Jenny Seymour
We have just come back from a fabulous weekend in London and have 3 tired children and a very tired mummy and daddy, with a great time had by all! Today we spent the day with a family “River Roamer” ticket exploring the Thames, both soaring on the river on a Thames Clipper and then soaring through the air above it on the Emirates Air Line Cable Car – wow!
Tickets are valid from 9am on the date of travel. We arrived on Tower pier just after 11am and had a coffee exploring the route map of the Thames Clipper before we boarded, just taking in the atmosphere at the Tower of London (spotting a few Beefeaters, aka Yeomen Warders!) and watching life on the river. When we were ready to get our clipper and start our journey, it was great because the family we were with had their Oyster cards, so as long as they were topped up to cover the cost of the trip, they could just tap in and out on the pier and saved us having to queue for tickets. It’s also worth knowing that you can do the same with contactless credit or debit cards too. We had our printed out ticket and so just showed it every time we got on a different clipper or experience.
We dashed down the pier to catch the first clipper, but the people in front of us were the last people to fill the quota for that pier and we had to wait for the next clipper. It was just a 15/20 minute wait (the clippers are advertised as coming every 20 minutes), but the next clipper was actually a faster one, not stopping at all the piers, so it was better for us anyway. The wait went quickly because the staff were quick to run up and grab a copy of their activity book for each child that was with us and they eagerly got to colouring in their very own Clipper and naming it! We provided our own crayons/pencils though, so that would be a tip – to ensure you bring your own. There is a handy credit card-sized fold-out timetable which is great to fit into your pocket/handbag and pull out throughout the day.
Once on the clipper, you can choose to sit inside or outside – our boys loved outside at the back, as there was a risk of getting wet from the spray! How exciting! Not so for some unsuspecting tourists – but we loved it and laughed as the boys got sprayed!
Inside each clipper is a café and toilets. The indoor seats are really comfortable, but you need to grab yourself a seat near the window if you want to see any of the sites as you sail by. We were lucky, it was a lovely sunny day for our trip, but the Clippers are also a great way of seeing the sites of the Thames on a rainy day – the indoor area is vast with plenty of seats and an explanation of what you are passing. A great sightseeing experience in all weathers I would say.
We headed off east to Greenwich and the first wow factor is going under Tower Bridge and then looking back to see that and the Shard. You start off sailing gently, but it’s not long before the Captain announces that you’ll be gaining speed and suddenly you speed off along the Thames. The journey to Greenwich didn’t take long, but you capture lots of sites along the way – Canary Wharf and the Greenwich Foot Tunnel and it’s a great view to arrive at the pier alongside the Cutty Sark and Royal Naval College. The Pier is in a fabulous location to hop off and see the sites.
Greenwich is a great stop if you have a roamer ticket – there are lots of places to go for lunch and the maritime museum and Cutty Sark are great places to visit with the kids. The walk up to the Observatory was a bit too hilly for us this time and we chose to walk along the back of the college and museum, but there is lots of grass for the children to play on as you walk. You can usually also walk along the Thames Path as well, but on this occasion, we went back to the pier to catch our Clipper up to North Greenwich and our next stop – the Emirates Air Line Cable Car.
The cable car is just a short walk along the Thames once you get off the pier at North Greenwich. There was quite a queue when we arrived, but having the Roamer ticket and our Oyster cards meant we didn’t have the extra queue for tickets. The queue moved very quickly (as each Cable Car can take up to 10 adults and the staff are great at ensuring the cable cars are as full as can be based on the parties and people waiting in the queue – great!) There is a café and ice cream if you need anything whilst you wait in the queue. Before we knew it, we scanned in our cards through the family barrier (as kids go free under age 5) and headed on up to the boarding area.
I usually get a bit nervous when I go on high things such as cable cars and big wheels (much to my kids’ amusement – they love to call me a wimp!) – but I had no such fear here at all. The cable cars themselves are really sturdy and didn’t seem to sway noticeably as you went on your journey.
As part of our ticket we were given a great pull-out guide which gives an aerial view of what you can see as you look out of our car – the kids loved to see where their golden syrup for pancakes comes from – the Lyle Golden Syrup factory. Whereas I preferred the Thames Barrier and Orbital. We all loved to see the top of the O2 stadium and who knew there was a beach in London! It looked lovely down at the Royal Victoria Docks.
Our boys loved the tv in the cable car that showed you some facts about the buildings you were looking out at and it seemed very safe for them to turn around and look out of the cable car and spot things they’d walked past below.
Once at the other side, you have the choice to alight and walk to Royal Victoria Docks and some of the other sites on the opposite side of the Thames, but we chose to stay in our cable car and make the return journey immediately – we had lots more to do on the Clipper and our ticket also included entry to the amazing Aviation Experience, which adjoins the cable car station. You can also pay to have a simulation ride in an Airbus or have your children’s parties here.
Heading back west we had our first (and probably only) negative experience on the Clipper. We arrived at the North Greenwich pier at the time a clipper was due, only to be told that there were too many people on the pier for this boat and we’d have to wait at least ½ hour to get on a boat. This was frustrating, as we could see everyone alighting here (as this is the last stop on the route) and yet the boats were going away half empty. We were told this is because each pier has its own quota of passengers that they can’t exceed to ensure there are spaces at every pier, but I think this could be handled more flexibly based on passenger loads each day, as it certainly wasn’t busy or full when we were made to wait. The electronic information board should also be kept more up to date, as this one showed 3 clippers due (one immediately, one in 8 mins and one in 17 mins). I asked why we had to wait and was told that the boards were simply wrong. What made our wait worse was that our 4-year-old needed the toilet about 10 minutes into our wait and we were told that the nearest toilet was either back at the cable car or at the O2 arena! There should definitely be toilets on or near the piers if there is a possibility of such a wait.
In actual fact, we only had to wait 20 mins and we were soon off on our journey again, but we noted as we passed Greenwich that the queues were longer there so be prepared for a wait at some piers. If you are in a rush at the end of the day or need to get to a different place in London, not on the route map for Thames Clippers, you can always use the clipper as part of your journey to connect to other modes of transport – all the piers are very close to tube stations and are easy to get to as part of onward journeys.
All in all, we had a great trip on (and above) the Thames and would definitely do it again to get around between the tourist sites on the river banks. We were able to entertain 5 kids and the two of us all day with no quarrels or tantrums – there was genuinely something to please everyone just around the corner.
For more information about the service itself, please see the websites below:
About MBNA Thames Clippers:
MBNA Thames Clippers is London’s leading river boat service, connecting many of the capital’s top attractions and providing passengers with the chance to take in the iconic London skyline from the river along the way. Tickets from Central London to Greenwich cost £6.50 for an adult single journey and £3.25 for a child single journey when using contactless or Oyster to pay as you go. Or, book a River Roamer ticket online to enjoy unlimited hop on, hop off travel all day from £16.30 for adults, £8.15 for children or £32.60 for a family. For more information, please visit www.mbnathamesclippers.com.
About the Emirates airline:
At just under 300ft, the Emirates Air Line cable car is the highest observation point over the Thames, spanning just over 1km across the River between the Greenwich Peninsula (near The O2) and the Royal Docks (near ExCeL London). Just 15 minutes from the city centre, the cable car is a must do leisure attraction among Londoners and tourists alike. Giving visitors a unique opportunity to experience the city’s iconic skyline as they sit back, relax and take in 360° aerial views of the capital. Just some of the sights and attractions that can be seen include Canary Wharf, St Paul’s Cathedral, historic Greenwich, the Shard, The O2, the Thames Barrier, Royal Docks and Queen Elizabeth II Olympic Park. For more information please visit www.emiratesairline.co.uk.
A fabulous day out! Two great ways to see the sites of London from the Thames – better to be overground than underground!