10 Things I Learned on a Post-Cruise London Stay

A post-cruise London stay offers destination fun.  // Photo by Susan J. Young

In summer 2014, I boarded Cunard Line’s Queen Mary 2 flagship for my first ever trans-Atlantic cruise. While I’m a veteran of 120+ cruises (ocean and river), I never thought I’d have the patience for a trans-Atlantic. Let’s just say I did – at least once – and I enjoyed the trip, a week of sea days as the ship sailed across the pond.

However, I must say that I knew I'd be ready for destination time after getting off the ship, so I planned a three-day, post-cruise stay in London. While I first visited London in 1985 and have been there repeatedly over the years, destinations are constantly evolving. That keeps the experience fresh. 

So what did I learn from my three days post-cruise in London? Here’s an anecdotal look at some of my activities and personal advice for travelers.

Consult a Travel Agent: After discussions with a travel agent friend, I opted for Cunard's post-cruise bus transfer to London. It was a good decision; I just relaxed, watched the scenery go by and it dropped me conveniently downtown, where I grabbed a cab to my hotel.

Pick a Hotel Based on Inclusivity & Location: Most cruise lines, including Cunard Line, have hotel programs for guests staying on a pre- or post-cruise stay. Often, they’re a good value, and sometimes sightseeing or other perks are thrown in. It’s always good to check before making your own arrangements. Your travel agent can help you find the best options. 

The Andaz Liverpool Street is a good locale for exploration that includes St. Paul's Cathedral and the Tower of London // Photo by Susan J. Young

In my case, I had business reasons for staying at the Andaz Liverpool Street, a lovely Hyatt luxury boutique propery in London's East End. It proved to be a wonderful choice. That said, be sure -- wherever you're booking -- to not only look at hotel rates but the cost of the many incidentals. Often, they're more than incidental when looking at foreign exchange rates against the dollar. 

For example, travelers often desire complimentary Internet access. The Andaz Liverpool Street's rates included free Wi-Fi both in the public spaces and my room. Also included in the rate were complimentary hors d’ouevres and wine in an intimate lobby wine room during happy hour; free juices, sodas, water and even snacks in the rooms; a humongous spread for breakfast in the 1901 Restaurant & Wine Bar, a grand historic space from the golden era of rail travel; and more.

Definitely talk to your travel agent about the hotel's "personality." Does it fit with your travel style? I loved the Andaz Liverpool Street’s vibrant evening dining scene. Even with only 267 guestrooms and suites, this hotel had seven restaurants and bars.

In the early evening, London’s Millennials spilled out from the hotel's restaurants and bars onto the exterior sidewalk, just conversing and meeting other people. I also very much liked the hotel's brasserie grill, Eastway.

The lovely historic dome of the 1901 Restaurant & Wine Bar at the Andaz Liverpool Street in London // Photo by Susan J. Young

I wasn't able to try all the choices, including a Japanese restaurant, English pub and champagne bar, but the robust and attractive breakfast buffet within the historic 1901 Restaurant & Wine Bar was lovely.

Its magnificent domed ceiling amazingly survived the World War II blitz with just one small broken glass piece, now repaired. 

Another big consideration for a post-cruise hotel is "location." Is the property close to what you want to see?

It was just a short cab ride from the Andaz Liverpool Street to the Tower of London, for example; that was important to me as cab rates were pricey. 

Consider Buying a London Pass: Buying a London Pass for a particular number of days gives the traveler entry to more than 60 attractions and special offers on other tourism-focused services.  

I would definitely recommend London Pass for "eager sightseers" who want to cover a lot of ground. It’s also advantageous for those out strolling who just want to pop into this or that attraction on the spur of the moment.

If you buy a Travel Card add-on before leaving the U.S., you can also receive travel on London's Tube, bus system and other transport.

Check out the options, including a Dining Pass, at www.londonpass.com

I used London Pass for entry to the Tower of London, Kensington Palace, two separate boat cruises on two different days along the Thames – one to Westminster, another to Greenwich – as well as other entries.

In addition, London Pass holders also receive such perks as discounts of 10 percent in the gift shops at the historic sites – a big plus in my opinion. 

That said, ask yourself how many days do you wish to go "full blast" in sightseeing? In hindsight, I might not have needed a three-day pass, probably a two-day pass would have been adequate, as I did want to spend some time on my own and for business purposes. 

Pass holders receive a small compact book listing all the perks, as well as the credit card-like smart pass itself; it clips or can be worn around the neck with a lanyard.

One of the best pass’ perks isn't monetary. It’s the Fast Pass, front-of-line access provided at major attractions, particularly helpful in busy periods when lines at attractions can be long. 

At Kensington Palace, the Fast Pass option of London Pass saved time. // Photo by Susan J. Young

At Kensington Palace, for example, people were lined up to buy tickets, and it probably would have taken at least a half hour or more to get through the line. I simply breezed to the front, showed the London Pass and, presto, was ushered inside. 

Feed Your Passion: If you’ve been to a favorite place or site, indulge yourself and go back. I can honestly say I’ve probably been to the Tower of London five or six times in my traveling career. Yet it never grows old.

You see different things on each trip to a favorite attraction -- as with this elephant sculpture at the Tower of London. // Photo by Susan J. Young

For example, this trip I viewed intriguing sculptures of animals situated around the attraction. They represented the animals that once lived in the tower’s zoo. For example, the elephant (shown in the photo at right) was given to King Henry III by King Louis IX of France in 1253.

I also viewed the Crown Jewels and hadn’t done that for 30 years. Despite the crowds waiting to see the jewels, the Tower organization does a good job of handling the lines – aka Disney or Universal – which wind outside and then inside through rooms with architects, a room with a movie of Queen Elizabeth’s crowing and so on.

But “go early” in the day and view the Crown Jewels first; then explore the grounds and towers. 

Definitely stop at the Tower's shops. I bought multiple cute little gold jeweled boxes as souvenirs for friends for only 2.99 pounds and sparkling Christmas decoration crowns for a bit more (and received a discount with my London Pass). I’ve always found the Tower shops to have unusual, high-quality gifts, many affordable.

Look Left Always: Going ashore, it's imperative to know and follow local customs and roadway rules. This sounds simple and I’ve been to the United Kingdom a lot.

But when you’re in a hurry, giddy from seeing an incredible attraction or joking with fellow travelers as you walk along, it’s easy to become distracted.

Remember, the Brits drive on the “wrong” or “right” side of the road, depending on your interpretation. The reality is that I had one close call, before stepping back on the curb. With all my travels. I should have known better. Just bears repeating for fellow travelers.

When touring London, look left before stepping off the curb and consider an around-town, open top bus tour for optimum sightseeing. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Take an Open Top Bus Tour: While our London Pass included an around-town, on-off motorized shuttle bus option, we were told by the seller at the shuttle’s Big Ben area stop that the ticket would have to be validated at the bus tour’s main office downtown, rather than the individual stops around town. So just keep that in mind. It’s a good perk of the pass, but you have to follow the rules to get it right.

So I just shelled out the extra bucks on the spot and hopped aboard, given that time was my enemy. I needed to make the moments count. One nice perk?  My ticket had a 24-hour window, allowing me to ride for two separate days, such as from 1 p.m. one day through the same time the next day.

That allowed me to take different routes to see more, and it also saved money on cabs. It was relaxing to sit atop the open-air bus and let someone else do the driving – particularly as you peer down into the fray at frenetic Piccadilly Circus or bustling Trafalgar Square.

Use the London Pass/Bus Tour for Repositioning: Taking the Tube is a good option for around-town transport, particularly for those who've purchased a pass. In fact the Andaz Liverpool Street was conveniently adjacent to Liverpool Street Station.

But with knees that, at times, just won’t cooperate, I didn’t feel I could add all the extra walking down into the stations, the platform “standing” and so on. So I used cabs. That ran up a fairly hefty bill, going here and there.

Finally, I got smart and began to use both the cruise associated with London Pass and the open-top bus ticket as transport – getting me as close to my hotel or an attraction as possible, before I bailed out and grabbed a cab.

Patronize Pubs for Value: London is typically expensive for Americans, given the exchange rate. That said, a pub dinner is one way to save. These enclaves of fine brews, friendly faces and great food are also a good value. 

One evening I walked across the street from the Andaz Liverpool to White Hart, a pub with an underground space that’s charming for dinner. I was served with a friendly smile and the fish and chips and local brew were fabulous.

Know Your Bank’s Policies: Find out your bank’s policy and fee schedule for ATM international withdrawals. I found withdrawing money from ATMs around London using my debit card – even with fees applied -- was still cheaper than using the money changer’s office at one Tube station.

My Florida bank still charges a reasonable fee, but some don’t. Check with the bank before you head overseas. Another reason to do so, is to alert them to your travel dates and the countries you’ll visit. Otherwise, the bank sees a charge pending from somewhere that seems suspicious, and you could find the card declined -- even if you have plenty of bucks in your account. I had no issues in London as a result of calling the bank in advance.

When touring a big city, you may want a guidebook, but choose carefully, pick one to carry and buy the attraction guidebook when you get there if you want more attraction detail. // By Susan J. Young

Take Along ONE Guidebook, Not More: I’m a bit of a guidebook fanatic, so it’s not unusual for me to take three, four or even five guidebooks. Each time I find that they tend to sit in the hotel room, and aren’t there when I need them. This time I traveled with one guidebook; I like the DK Eyewitness Travel guides, as they have a great map and they also give street-by-street illustrations of some key areas – as if you’re looking down from above.

While it doesn't have the humongous written detail of some guides, it's visually focused, which I like. It gives a good lay of the land. The DK Eyewitness Travel Guide to London 2015 was just updated last fall.

The other reason to not bring along too many guidebooks is that you may want to buy attraction-specific guidebooks to take home. These provide a good read on the flight home.

Relax Your Last Day on the Cruise: While planning a whirlwind three-day, post-cruise stay in a big city it’s probably best to not “do it all” your last day on the cruise. Of course, I relaxed so much over several days that I waited for certain must-do onboard activities until the last day. Then I was racing around to do thus and so.

On the last day at sea prior to docking, it's good to just relax, have a spa treatment and chill out. Then your first day ashore you’ll be raring to go.

Everyone has their own travel tips for a post-cruise stay. These are just a few of mine. What tips can you suggest for other travelers?