We dropped anchor about 10 AM today in Edinburgh’s harbor and the crew readied the ship to start tender operations. The tender ride would take about 20 minutes but since it took 10 minutes to load and 10 minutes to unload, each tender trip would take about 40 minutes.
Tender tickets were required and were available starting at 9:30 in the Ocean Bar. Four Star Mariners and above didn’t need tender tickets and could proceed directly to the tender line at their convenience. Fortunately, the weather was nice and the seas calm, so loading the tenders went as quickly as possible.
Our plans were to go ashore around 1 PM, spend the afternoon visiting local yarn shops, visit the Royal Mile and ultimately arrive at the Scottish Whiskey Experience for dinner as part of our Tattoo package.
All aboard would be tonight at 12:30 AM with an expected departure time of 1 AM. Whenever you see a late night or overnight departure chances are there will be a special evening shore excursion. This is, of course, the Edinburgh Tattoo, which takes place every August here in Edinburgh. The Tattoo starts at 9 PM and ends and 10:40 PM.
Usually after two hours or so tender tickets are no longer required and guest just proceed to deck A when they want to leave. Not today. When we headed down to the tender line at 1 PM they were still requiring tickets. This was now 3 hours after they started – not good. We had to wait about 10 minutes – we set foot on the tender at 1:15 and we stepped off the tender in Newhaven Harbor at 1:47 – 32 minutes. The Zuiderdam was originally scheduled to anchor near South Queensferry, but we think that the Koningsdam was there so we ended up anchoring near Newhaven, which was much closer to Edinburgh.
NOTE: We ran into some people ashore who said they left the ship at 2 PM and they were still requiring tickets (4 hours!). I heard an unconfirmed report that some people never left the ship having given up in frustration over the tender lines. This tender queue was the worst I have ever experienced. Not sure what the problem was, but the ship should have chartered additional tenders or ferries – taking more than 4 hours to get everyone ashore is not good.
Once ashore we waited 9 minutes in the taxi queue and were on our way to our first yarn shop: Ginger Twist. Ginger Twist is normally closed on Tuesdays, but the shopkeeper was going to open for an hour or so to accommodate all the knitters on the cruise. However, due to the slow tendering, not many people got off the ship early and she was closed by the time we arrived.
We kept our taxi and continued on to the next yarn shop: Be Inspired Fibres. The shop was very nice and had a wonderful selection of Wollmeise, Habu and WalkCollection yarns.
Our next shop was back toward Newhaven so we used our trusty Uber app to hail a ride. The Uber arrived in 2 minutes. Uber is wonderful as you don’t need cash or credit cards and your destination is already programmed into the drivers GPS.
Twenty-five minutes later we arrived at Kathy’s Knits. This shop was slightly below street level, but was still pretty easy to see from the street. They had a great selection of local yarns, all warm and heavier weights for the Scottish winters.
It was now 3:45 and we headed to the Royal Mile for shopping, sightseeing and people watching. People watching is always fun on the Royal Mile, but today was a special treat as we discovered that August is also the month when the Edinburgh Fringe Festival takes place. Billed as the world’s largest arts festival, it takes place over 25 days and features over 50,000 performances in over 250 different venues. Lots of fun to see such a wide variety of people all having a good time. Read more about Fringe HERE and HERE
This sign caught our eye – Proper Hamburgers – and since we have never had a “Proper Hamburger” we simply had to give them a try. More information about the restaurants here.
We were seated promptly and our server took our orders quickly. The wait staff all wear black T shirts with a single word “Pickle”, “Cheese”, “Classic”, “Proper” or “Byron”. Our waiter was friendly and told us he switched his shirt from “Pickle” to “Cheese” as he was getting too many comments about the “Pickle”.
After a short wait, we received our “Proper” cheeseburgers with a side of fries. They were both juicy and very good.
Next on our schedule was the Edinburgh Tattoo.
The Edinburgh Tattoo is a performance of military bands from around the world and other related artists. The highlight of every show is the massed pipes and drums from regiments of the British Army.
NOTE: You can always buy a ticket to the performance from the ship which cost more but provide transportation both ways. The HAL price was $229 or $289 dollars depending on your seats. You can buy them directly from the venue for $68 or $101 respectively. Taxi fare each way would be around $25. Another issue with the ship tour is that you must be back at the Tender spot to catch your bus to the Tattoo – so if you are already downtown, you would have to go back to the tender point, meet the tour, just to return to downtown. You may be able to avoid this if you bought the ships tour and only ride the bus one way, but I am not sure.
Since we waited to buy tickets, the only ones left from the venue were the premium packages – We chose the Bruce package for $300 each, which included the following:
- Three course Taste of Scotland menu followed by coffee or tea and Scottish fudge – the perfect opportunity to sample the finest Scottish produce
- Sampling of three specially selected Scotch Whiskies, chosen to complement your meal and introduced to you by a member of the Senior Tasting Team
- Half a bottle of wine with your meal
- A brief recital by members of the Tattoo cast
- A private viewing of the World’s Largest Collection of Scotch Whisky
- A host to escort you from The Scotch Whisky Experience to the Castle Esplanade
- A prime location Premier seat, with padded seat/backrest and armrest, in Section 8 of the outdoor arena with exceptional views of the performance
- An official Tattoo Show Programme
Our package started at 6:30 PM, with the earliest arrival time listed as 6:15, but we arrived at 6PM and were admitted immediately. The venue for the dinner is on the 4th floor of the Scottish Whiskey Experience in a room with about 8 tables of 10. Our table was empty when we arrived, but we were soon joined by 4 other couples from Houston, Phoenix, New York and Kelso, Scotland. We had a wonderful time chatting with our tablemates and learning more about everyone’s experience on their vacations to date. The one couple from Scotland had lived here all their lives, but as often happens with residents, they never took advantage of their own tourist attractions and had never been to a Tattoo. Their children gave them this package as a present and they were looking forward to finally seeing in person what they have been hearing about for years.
The menu for our Bruce Package is HERE. Each course had a single malt scotch that was selected to complement each course. We also had a choice of red or white wine. The food was all very good and at first, we thought we would have to choose between the different main courses, but as it turns out, we had small servings of all three.
After dinner, we walked down a few flights of stairs and through the largest collection of Scotch Whiskey in the world – over 3,300 bottles!
Our tour guide met us on the street and escorted us to the entrance where we ascended the steps to our seats in section 8, the closed end of the horseshoe shaped arena. Our seats had a cushioned seat and seatback – the standard seats were hard plastic. Cushions were available to rent for 1 Pound.
The Tattoo started promptly at 9PM with a short opening song by the Royal Choir followed by the entrance of the Royal Army Pipe and Drum Corps, which filed in from the Castle at the arena’s open end and gradually filling half of the arena before marching down toward the closed end. Quite spectacular.
The remainder of the Tattoo was a series of individual performances by a variety of military bands from around the world. The USA was represented by the US Naval Forces Europe Band. For the finale all the musicians entered the arena for a stirring rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” followed by Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluiah” and finally “Scotland the Brave” as the bands left the field except for the Royal Army Pipe and Drum corps which made one final parade before exiting thru the closed end themselves.
NOTE: You can see the complete 2017 performance below which was recorded during a dress rehearsal, which is why you will see all the photographers (otherwise absent) on the field.
We were concerned that finding a taxi afterward may be a problem, but it turned out to be easy. We walked to the nearest hotel – the G & V Royal Mile and discovered that there wasn’t any taxi queue and boarded a taxi immediately. We left the Tattoo at 10:40, took 10 minutes to walk to the hotel and were in a taxi and back to Newhaven by 11 PM. If you were on the ships tour, you had to walk much further than the G & V hotel to catch the return bus.
Thirty minutes later we were back on the Zuiderdam and ready for bed after a long day. We had to get up early for class tomorrow, so we were a little disappointed to see a card on the bed –
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