This morning starts early for the Tauck group. We are asked to be aboard the motor coaches at 7:15am for a drive to one of London's most popular tourist attractions, the Tower of London. As our coach departs the hotel, we are introduced to Linda, our local tour guide for the day.
On the drive to the Tower of London, Linda described many of the sights we were passing and their historical significance. Again, Tauck has selected an excellent local guide. Linda also explained that the reason we were on the coach at such an early hour was so our group could have private access to view the Crown Jewels before the hordes of tourists arrive. Tauck arranged for an early-access private VIP tour for their guests!
Soon after arrival, we are greeted by our Yeoman Warder for a tour of the grounds.
The Yeomen Warders of Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London, and Members of the Sovereign's Body Guard of the Yeoman Guard Extraordinary, more commonly referred to as Beefeaters, are ceremonial guardians of the Tower of London. To become a Yeoman Warder, each must have completed at least 20 years of military service.
Our Yeoman Warder led us through the grounds, stopping periodically to show where individuals were beheaded by King Henry VIII, including two of his six wives! It was a short, but fascinating walking tour. Soon, we arrived at the Jewel House, where the famed Crown Jewels are stored. There are military guards out front, and security is extremely tight.
Unfortunately, cameras are not allowed to be used when you enter the Jewel House, so I cannot show any photos of my own. Otherwise, I would have taken a photo of the British Scepter with the Cross carried by Queen Elizabeth which has a 530 carat "Star of Africa" Cullinan diamond (see below). The diamond has an estimated value of over $2 billion! No less impressive are the many crowns on display from various kings, queens, princes and princesses over the ages. I had seen the Crown Jewels back in 2003, but seeing them in a small group without the pushing and shoving of a crowd is definitely the way to go. Thank you, Tauck!
After viewing the Crown Jewels, we were given about an hour to explore the grounds on our own. I split from the group and decided to walk through the White Tower.
The White Tower is perhaps the most famous castle keep in the world. Nearly 1,000 years ago, it was built to awe, subdue and terrify Londoners, and to deter foreign invaders. It is an iconic symbol of London and Britain. The White Tower houses the Royal Armories and there are some pieces that date back 350 years, a fact which I found fascinating.
Our group departed the Tower of London and drove just a few miles to St. Paul's Cathedral. St Paul's is an Anglican cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of London and the mother church of the Diocese of London. It sits on Ludgate Hill at the highest point in London.
As you can see from the photo, it is an absolutely beautiful day to be touring London with clear skies and an outside temperature of about 70 degrees (F). This St. Paul's church was completed in 1697 and has the second-largest unsupported dome in the world.
If you Google Lagniappe, you will find the definition as “..something given as a bonus or gratuity.” Well, Tauck has a habit of throwing in a Lagniappe or two on every journey, and today it is a flight on the London Eye!
The London Eye (formerly The Millennium Eye) is 443 feet tall and was the world's tallest Ferris Wheel when it opened in year 2000. There are 32 sealed and air-conditioned capsules, each one capable of holding up to 25 people. A flight on The Eye takes about 30 minutes (one 360 degree rotation) and offers unbeatable views of London.
This was a really cool way to end our tour of London, with a birdseye view of the entire city! And of course, Tauck secured VIP passes so we got to bypass the huge lines of tourists and locals waiting to gain entrance to The Eye.
You could see all of these attractions on your own in London, but you would not have the VIP access that Tauck provides, nor the experience of Tauck Tour Directors. When we returned to our hotel this afternoon, I asked Dale, one of the Tauck Directors, for a recommendation of a restaurant close to the hotel. She mentioned that there was a great little Indian restaurant just a block from the Churchill. What a great tip! I took her recommendation, and it was amazing.
This evening, we all gathered in one of the hotel's meeting rooms for a farewell cocktail reception. Everyone enjoyed their favorite beverage from the open bar, and trays of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres where passed around. A classical quartet provided beautiful background music as we all reminisced about the last 11 days together.
After an hour of mingling at the cocktail reception, we were invited to a beautiful and delicious Farewell Dinner in the adjoining room. It was a fitting end to another exceptional Tauck experience.
Watch for our full review of Tauck and Ponant Le Soléal coming soon to CruiseReport.com.