In terms of actual cruise business, Tilbury certainly comes well down the listings from both Southampton and Dover, the unchallenged ‘big boys’ of the UK cruising market. Yet, slowly but steadily, the Essex port is gaining it’s own, distinctive niche as a place of embarkation.
And it is not as if the place lacks maritime history. It was at Tilbury that Elizabeth I made her magnificent, inspiring speech- one of the greatest orations in history- even as the Spanish Armada loomed in the English Channel.
The port has immediate, convenient access to central London, which we’ll look at shortly. That access made Tilbury a natural port of embarkation for the post war, P&O liners heading out to the Far East and Australia, with their huddled masses of ‘Ten Pound Poms’ looking for a new life down under.
And it was also Tilbury that saw the first, post war shipload of Caribbean emigrants arrive in the UK, disembarking from the Empire Windrush. It was a seminal step in making the capital the vast, amazingly multi- cultural environment that it is today.
The advent of cruising largely left the port behind, but in recent years that trend has been reversed. Part of the reason is, as stated above, the relative proximity to the capital. Leaving Fenchurch Street Station near Tower Hill, one of the many regular trains will deposit you smartly into Tilbury Town in around forty minutes.
From here, a taxi- they are lined up outside the station- will take you to the cruise terminal in just five minutes. It really is that easy.
Alternately, there is a dedicated National Express coach service that leaves London Victoria to connect directly with each sailing. If you are likely to be struggling with luggage, this is more likely to be an easier, more convenient option, though slightly longer a journey at around an hour each way.
So, who sails from Tilbury these days?
The only year round sailings are made by Cruise and Maritime Voyages. The intimate, classically styled Marco Polo operates from the Essex port on a year round basis, offering everything from overnight cruises to a marathon, forty- two day Amazon odyssey.
Next year, she will be joined for a series of first ever sailings by the veteran Azores, which will also be sailing from the port over the summer.
Some summer and autumn sailings are also being offered by Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, with the ever popular Black Watch.
With its smaller, more intimate set up and ease of access from London, Tilbury has a lot going for it as an embarkation port. The larger ships are unable to come this far upstream, and that helps to keep the scale more human, less hassled. On embarkation day, that can count for quite a lot.
I’ll be keeping an eye on any future developments in Tilbury, passenger wise.
As always, stay tuned.