London 2014

This last weekend was Jude’s birthday (she’s 21 again!) and we headed off to London. The main purpose of the visit was to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at the Theatre Royal but I’d also booked tickets for London Zoo and The London Dungeon.

The weekend started off bright and early at 7am on Saturday morning as we had an early train to catch from Newark North Gate. Thankfully, that station has a Costa coffee outlet so we were able to grab our first caffeine fix ;) I’d only booked standard class tickets but East Coast trains operate a Weekend First scheme whereby you can upgrade to First Class at a massive saving if there are seats available. There were, so we did :) I certainly wouldn’t pay the full price for First Class but the Weekend First upgrade was worth it.

It wasn’t long though until we arrived at Kings Cross and I started to remember why I hate London. Still, we got our tube tickets and headed off to Camden Town for the walk to London Zoo. The first port of call when we arrived was to the cafe for a little lunch. I’d read reviews saying that the prices charged were extortionate but I didn’t think so. Expensive? Yes, but what I would expect from somewhere that has a captive audience. The sandwiches were also very nice, with no skimping on the filling. Once we’d refuelled it was out into the Zoo itself. I was expecting it all to be pretty busy, but it was thankfully light on crowds. It’s not as good as other zoos we’ve been to but it was a nice place to visit (and the first time I’d been there since going with Jude in 1991 or 1992!)

Unfortunately, and despite the fact that there were plenty of seats, the walk around played havoc with my back so by the time we got back to the hotel (the Premier Inn at St Pancras), I just flopped on the bed. Still, that gave us a couple of hours to recover before getting ready and heading out for a meal before the tube right to the theatre. Again, I hate London. Saturday night on the tube – ARGH! I survived though and, despite getting a little lost, we made it to the Theatre Royal in plenty of time, managing to get some drinks and a seat on the Terrace while we waited. The production itself was definitely a “show of two halves”. I found the first hour to be slow and, in parts, annoying but after the interval the plot moved into the factory itself and everything kicked up a gear. I loved the Oompa-Loompas in particular and I felt that, the second half at least, kept with the feel of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory rather than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (which is a good thing in my opinion ;)).

The next morning I’d booked us into The London Dungeon. Jude was really looking forward to it as she had visited it many years ago when it was on Tooley Street. It’s now right next door to The London Eye. We arrived just before our allocated time and were passed through to a queue where you get the obligatory promo photo. A quick note here, they need to replace the LARP axe they use – the latex is coming away and you can see the foam quite badly! Once past there we were ushered to another queue. There, in the dark we waited. There were no instructions and I couldn’t see any staff members. It was also very warm. We had dressed for the weather but we could easily have been in shorts and t-shirts in that queue and still felt comfortable. With jumpers and coats? Not so! Eventually, after 20 minutes of queuing we were directed to the first actor. She directed us towards the front and then told us to go back to the end – I’m not sure why. There was a box there though so I told Jude to sit on it (given that her back is worse than mine) but the actor immediately told her off – apparently it wasn’t safe! She did say that we would get the chance to sit down shortly before beckoning in more customers and putting them right in front of us (and Connor) so we couldn’t see what was happening. At this point I was getting annoyed. Her “show” over we moved through to the next area – no seats yet. And then the next area. Again no seats. There was another actor here, but we couldn’t see what was happening given our position at the back (we’d been looking for these seats that would be around “shortly”. When this actor had finished, Jude collared her and asked about seats – only to be told there were none around this part. We went down in the lift to the next area which was a boat ride. I’d read about this and knew we wouldn’t be riding because of our backs but, again, although there was a queue to get on the boats there were no seats. You also have to wait for a member of staff to take you to the boat exit but there’s nowhere to sit while you wait. At this point I was furious, we spoke to another member of staff and asked to leave the “attraction”. As we were taken out, through the staff-only areas, I happened to notice a sign on the wall that told the actors to wait until 45 people were in the room before starting their “show” but, again, there were no seats. We filled in a request for a refund and left – heading to a coffee shop just up the road so we could sit down and recover – it was 45 minutes before we were in a fit state to move again! One bonus to the enforced rest stop was spotting a Zoltar machine ;)

I fully understand that not every attraction will be suitable for Jude and myself. We know what we can and cannot do. We also knew that The London Dungeon was a “walk-through” attraction. We just expected there to be seating available during the various shows. Where we wrong to expect this? I don’t think so – The London Dungeon staff do though (going by their Twitter reply):

Anyway, once we’d rested up we walked across Westminster Bridge and up Whitehall before getting the tube back to Kings Cross. Taking advantage of the Weekend First offer again, we settled down into our seats. It was here that we spotted our first famous person! Normally, it’s Jude who spots them (she’s spotted the likes of John Thaw and John Hurt over the years) but today it was my turn. Of course, in Jude’s eyes Chris Kamara isn’t on a par with John Thaw or John Hurt ;)

Overall, and ignoring The London Dungeon, it was a good weekend away. Not sure I’ll be rushing back to London itself anytime soon though ;)

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