I’ve always had a thing for The Royal Yacht Britannia. On my annual holidays to the Scottish isles as a kid, I’d often see the British Royal Family cruising past on this sleek ship enjoying their holidays too. When I was in Hong Kong for the Handover to China in 1997, I waved her goodbye fearing I’d never see her again, as she cruised off towards retirement later the same year. It was delighted when I discovered that she was coming to my home city, Edinburgh, to enjoy a graceful retirement, and that I’d have the chance to share this remarkable vessel with friends and family.
Britannia is a hard ship not to fall in love with. Born on the Clyde in 1953, this graceful dame entered service in 1954. She is so distinctive that they have never even had to display her name anywhere on her hull. I’m not kidding – check when you visit! So much about her is mind-blowing. Did you know in the event of nuclear war it is rumoured that she would have become a floating shelter for the Royals? That Frank Sinatra, Nelson Mandela and Mikhail Gorbachev have all been on board? Or that when she sailed with Royals aboard she was always accompanied by a Royal Navy warship and had a platoon of Royal Marines stationed on board?
It is no wonder that The Royal Yacht Britannia has been named Scotland’s Best Visitor Attraction and won myriad awards. She is truly unique. Britannia was a home in the Ocean to Her Majesty The Queen and the Royal Family for over 40 years, sailing over a whopping million nautical miles around the world, making almost 700 foreign visits and over 250 in British waters. Berthed in Edinburgh’s historic Port of Leith, by Ocean Terminal, Britannia is now a five-star visitor attraction in every way.
If you think you can whiz around this museum ship in an hour you’d better think again. We are talking at least half a day. There are five main decks to explore with an illuminating audio-tour included in the ticket price, as well as a version especially designed for children. Impressively they also provide British Sign Language tablets, Braille script and each deck has been re-designed to be accessible for buggies and wheelchairs. I’ve had my octogenarian mum on board and the set-up for her worked really well.
I won’t spoil all the surprises of what you can discover peering into the lives of the various British Royals and the way the rich and famous have enjoyed their time on board. What I will reveal is that you cannot get off without having at least had a cup of coffee or a sumptuous cake in the Royal Deck Tea Room, with its sweeping water views. My mum and my wee girls loved eating here, while their mummy appreciated the glass of champagne she ordered with her food!
It was a real joy bringing my whole family aboard, and The Royal Yacht Britannia for me works brilliantly as a family-friendly attraction. My girls loved exploring all the wee nooks and crannies learning about how a ‘real life princess’ lived when aboard. I enjoyed the tales of how the sailors’ on duty lived, and was impressed that the captain for all her voyages had to be an admiral! My mum is a real fan of the Royal family, so really the enjoyed learning about the pomp and ceremony.
I think Britannia works well not just for families, but for groups and couples too. She is available for private hire, and can host everything from drinks receptions and private dinners through to spectacular wedding receptions. I’ve been aboard for a special drinks night. It was great to get to sneaky peek after the day trippers had left. It really felt like we had the run of this most special of ships, something I could never have imagined as I waved goodbye to her all those years ago in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour.
If you’ve not been aboard The Royal Yacht Britannia yet, or just not been on her in a while, I strongly suggest you book a visit. It’s high time you experienced one of the UK’s top 10 attractions (as voted by TripAdvisor in 2016) for yourself and enjoy a great fun day out on board the Queen’s former floating palace, a vessel that still remains grandly Royal in every way.
*This blog comes in association with The Royal Yacht Britannia
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