Whilst discussing what to do or New Year, some friends and I looked into joining one of the party boats down the Thames. For New Year's Eve it was £150 per head however, and we pretty much all decided that was too much and made alternative plans. However one eagle eyed chap spotted that we can go the Friday before Christmas (21st Dec) for £30 and we got booking our tickets.
We all booked our own tickets online at http://www.londonpartyboats.co.uk/ and it was an easy process with a credit or debit card. My ticket was e-mailed to me and I printed it out and took it along for the night.
Our boat, the M.V. London Belle holds up to 120 people and we were sailing from Westminster Pier at 7pm. The pier is situated right outside Westminster tube station (just follow the signs for Exit 1).
As you board the staff check your tickets and will check larger bags (they do not want you taking your own drinks on board). They were all helpful and friendly as they escorted you on the boat. The boat has two levels and most of the chairs with tables are on the smaller, lower level. We boarded quite early and managed to get a table for 6 (there were 25 of us, but we rotated when we ate). After greetings, card exchanges and drinks bought the boat set off.
There are two bars on board, one downstairs and a small one upstairs. A spirit and mixer was £4 and a wine £3.50. I was concerned that with a captive market they would have really expensive drinks prices, but this is quite reasonable – especially if you think how much some of the riverside bars would charge! A round of a small cider, a wine and two spirits and mixers came to about £14.
The food was pre-prepared and distributed at one end of the lower deck. It is fairly cramped here and the queue took some time to go down. There seemed to be plenty of food so you won't go without if you are patient. As we were seated downstairs I got in the queue quite promptly For meat eaters there is chicken, plus quiche for the vegetarians, this is served with a jacket potato, salad, coleslaw and a bread roll. There are people serving the food in a production line on paper plates, then you can help yourself to butter and plastic cutlery. Michelin star dining this is not! I had low expectations of the food but it was certainly edible. I e-mailed them to check I was catered for as a vegetarian, which may be a good idea, but it didn't seem to be a problem. The eating area was cramped and we rotated seats so that those coming back with food could sit down. Others we seated right near the food area and people had to lean over them to reach the rolls and cutlery. They were quite annoyed about it as there is not enough seats for everyone and the catering team did well to serve 120 people in such a confined place. It is worth noting that taller people (my friend Tim is 6' 5") may not be able to stand upright downstairs.
Once food was more or less done we moved to the upper deck where the DJ was. Earlier in the evening he had been playing some Hip Hop and I was concerned that the music would not get people dancing. However it soon went the other way and became a cheesy, Christmas dance-fest. I don't use the term 'cheesy' lightly. I am all for cheese at Christmas but I draw the line at Agadoo (I kid you not – they really did play this). The DJ apparently has an extensive play list and requests are encouraged. I only hope that Agadoo was a joke request, rather than part of his normal playlist! The top deck has bench seating all the way round and the windowsills have ledges on them to stop your drink from sliding off.
Lavatories were out the back (outside) – down a flight of stairs from the upper deck. The floor was wet and although there were always soap, a working hand drier and toilet roll, they were very grubby. I used to have to balance my bag on the top of the hand-drier, and hover over the loo whilst holding my trousers off the wet floor. This is after having negotiated with the smokers to guard the door as the cubicle I ended up using didn't have a lock on it. It was fairly undignified and unpleasant. There are two ladies' cubicles and two gents'. No one seemed too worried about the gender on the door (hence the wet floor in the Ladies').
The boat set off from Westminster pier and cruised eastwards past the city, docklands and through the Thames Barrier before coming back. We got a good view of the sights along the river. The windows tended to get quite a bit of condensation and photos taken through the windows (and indeed in the boat) could sometimes be a bit blurry. This could be due to the motion of the boat, although I am willing to concede that the combination of 4" heels and vodka may have played their part. Better photos are available if you stand on the deck. I didn't suffer with any motion-sickness, but those that felt a bit queasy stayed outside or on the lower deck where movement was less obvious.
The cruise lasted four hours and as a group we had a lot of fun for £30. Non Christmas party tickets are available on various dates in 2012 for £29, plus £1.50 booking fee. The company have a fleet of vessels, details of which are on their website. The boats can also be hired for private functions, where they can seat up to 60 people when tables and chairs are laid our fully. As I mentioned we all had a very fun night, but the situation may not be suitable for all:
Cramped – may have to queue for food or balance plates on your lap.
Not enough seating for everyone.
Not that easy to move about (not just if wearing 4" heels and drinking vodka) so not suitable for those that with limited mobility.
Toilets are not the best.