What?: I’m a huge wimp when it comes to anything involving high speed, large bodies of water, jerky movements and a general lack of control, so agreeing to let a pair of complete strangers ferry me, Adam and our two under-fives down the Thames on a glorified dinghy that gets up to speeds of 35mph was probably a fairly silly idea – particularly when one of the under-fives is Roma. The thing was, once I’d got the visions of my baby tumbling overboard and bobbing off down the river out of my head, I started to think that actually she’d probably quite like it. I mean, seriously, this girl has no fear. And I knew Babu and Adam would love it. So really all that was left was for me to get over myself and my crippling fear of… well, most things, and just get on the sodding boat. So I did.
I have to say, I was mildly jealous of everyone on the pier who was boarding the nice, docile Thames Clipper at the same time we were getting on the inflatable speedboat, and nearly yielded to the guy who assumed we were doing the former and let him usher us on anyway. However, I was instantly reassured by the lovely Geordie* (*probably not actually Geordie) Thames Rockets bloke who was sorting out our (disinfected) life jackets and helping us onto the boat. I have literally no idea what it is about Geordies/people from the vague North East but this guy could have been telling us we were all going to drown then have our bloated bodies slowly nibbled at by river bream and I’d be like “aw okay thanks, that sounds really lovely”. Actually, the Irish tour guide could pretty much get away with saying anything he wanted too – and did, and it was oddly comforting, even when he was like “okay, if you’re pregnant you have to get off now. You can swim back – look, the pier’s only over there.”
This guy also had some pretty good London knowledge going on. For example, did you know that Tate Modern is the only building to have been opened twice by QE2 – once as Tate Modern and before that as the Bankside Power Station? Or that the two sphinxes perched either side of Cleopatra’s Needle were installed backwards and are actually supposed to be guarding the Needle rather than facing it? Or that the original London Bridge has lived in Lake Havasu City, Arizona, since 1967? I knew precisely none of this but I love a good random fact, and found this quirky history lesson just as interesting as a Londoner who’s lived here more than a decade than I would had I been a visiting London virgin. Actually, I was enjoying it so much that I’d actually forgotten than we were on a speedboat, having half convinced myself that this was probably as fast as it got as we merrily tootled along listening to pointlessly fascinating trivia.
But no, don’t be silly, Emmy. Obviously it was going to get faster, you muppet. To be fair, 35mph might not sound fast but it is fast, okay? People were whooping, it was so fast. And at first I was sort of clinging to the safety bar gritting my teeth and mouthing “shiiiit” under my face covering, but once I’d managed to talk myself down I actually really enjoyed myself. I also totally forgot to mention that up until this point Roma had been desperately trying to free herself from Adam’s flailing grasp and Babu had been incessantly rummaging through my bag wittering on about Pom-Bears, but the second the speed picked up and the bow was pointing north these amazing expressions of the purest joy appeared across their faces, and it was so lovely I just kind of instantly relaxed and let myself enjoy it, which was just as well really since there was literally nothing I could do about it, bar faking a heart attack or something.
Would I recommend this with young kids? Well, I definitely wouldn’t have taken Roma on my own and I was pretty adamant that Adam took charge of her since she’s freakishly strong and I’m hilariously feeble, but at four and a half Babu was definitely old enough. I guess, like most things, you need to judge it on your kid’s personality and their reactions in similar situations. Ours were both a bit bored and restless prior to the boat speeding up when the speed restrictions were lifted (just after we passed Tower Bridge), then we got a full 10 minutes of ecstasy, followed by mild disappointment when I explained why we wouldn’t be going fast again. I think another time I’d try out the Captain Kidd’s Canary Wharf Voyage, given that the local history lesson was slightly lost on Babu. And I probably wouldn’t pay to do it with an 18-month-old Roma. But it was very lol nonetheless.
Where and When?: Times and days vary depending on the time of year. All Ultimate London Adventure cruises start and end at The London Eye Millennium Pier. The nearest Tube is Waterloo. We parked in the National Theatre car park (much cheaper to book online).
Best Bits: I never thought I’d say this but I loved the fast bit.
Worst Bits: We sat at the back as we were the last group to check in, which was fine aside from the fact that we couldn’t hear the tour guide that well over the wind and the motor, and I’m a bit deaf.
Facilities: Life jackets provided; lockers and baby life cradles available. Step-free access up until boarding.
Cost: Around £150 for two adults and two children, depending on when your trip is.
Would We Come Back?: We’re already planning a repeat visit for a family birthday next year.
Disclaimer: our trip was a freebie but my reviews are always completely (sometimes painfully) honest.
Picture: Babu lives her best life while Mummy pretends not to be shitting herself on board a Thames Rocket.