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Day 1 - June 12, 2008 - London (Tower Bridge), U.K.

By Tony Huntley

1400 As we arrived at the Tower Pier, we were greeted by sight of the MV Prince Albert II at anchor next to the historic HMS Belfast.  We were transported across the Thames by the Edwardian ferry boat and soon discovered that we would have the opportunity to walk through the Belfast on the way to our ship.  The Belfast was part of the 18th Cruiser Squadron used by the British to blockade the German during the Second World War.  As that war continued, she was sent to Norway and later to Malaysia.  She saw action during the Korean War and was retired in 1963.  In 1971, she became a museum ship moored on the Thames.  After our walk through the Belfast, we boarded the Prince Albert II where we were greeted by our expedition staff who checked our cabin arrangements and took our pictures for identification cards used for boarding and disembarkation.  After quick refreshment in the Panorama Lounge, we were escorted to our suites. 

1530 We had our lifeboat drill with Brad Rhees, our Expedition Leader.  Following this safety drill, we went to the sun deck for a “sail-away” party.  A small tugboat pulled our ship backwards down the Thames toward the open sea.  It was stunning to see the center bascule spans of the famous Tower Bridge open to allow the Prince Albert II to pass.  The Tower Bridge is an icon of the city of London, constructed in the latter half on the eighteenth century; it was opened on 30 June 1894.  The total length of the bridge is 244m (800 ft) with a center section of 61m (200 ft).  Soon we were passing hundreds of old tea warehouses that lined the Thames in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.  Many of these have been converted in condominiums with excellent views of the river.

After a half an hour, the tug released our ship and we turned under our own power and headed out to sea.  First, we passed through the locks at the Narrows, and then the Thames widened, deepened and eventually gave way to the open coast as we steamed northward towards Newcastle. 

1800 We gathered in the Theatre for an introduction to our Expedition Staff.  Brad Rhees, our Expedition Leader and a veteran of over 120 expedition cruises, introduced our lecturers, assistant expedition leaders, staff assistants and Zodiac drivers. 

1930 Many of us simply headed off to bed to dream about polar bears, walrus and whales; others headed off for the first of many incredible meals in the dining room; and still others headed to the Panorama Lounge for a bit of relaxation.  Whatever choice we made, I’m sure we all spoke to our fellow guests with anticipation about the coming days aboard our little expedition cruise ship.

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