Located on the south coast of England, Southampton served as Britain's historic ocean liner gateway for the British Empire and the intense North Atlantic passenger trade to the U.S. and Canada. Today it is the U.K.'s leading cruise port. For most cruise passengers, it's the first and/or last port on a European cruise or Atlantic crossing. Best known as the homeport of Cunard's Queen Mary 2, it now hosts a wide variety of cruise ships in the booming European cruise market with the principal lines being Cunard, Fred. Olsen, Royal Caribbean, P&O Cruises and Saga Cruises.
A pleasant, bustling city of around a quarter of a million inhabitants, Southampton has several areas of interest, though much of its historic medieval character was destroyed during World War II. Today, it is a modern shopping destination, business center and university town (the University of Southampton is a major British research university; among its well-known alumni is QM2 designer Stephen Payne OBE) with a large commercial port in addition to its year-round cruise operations.
Most visiting cruise passengers will use Southampton as a gateway to nearby London. In addition to the city's own attractions, it is also a good starting point for the Isle of Wight and the surrounding county of Hampshire. In 1620, the Mayflower left from just outside the existing city walls, and the waterfront recalls this historic voyage. From Mayflower Park, you can enjoy watching the container ships pass en route to and from the freight terminal beyond the Western Docks, cruise liners departing from three separate locations, and excursion boats and cross harbor ferries flitting around the harbor.
Southampton Quick Facts
The maritime museum across the road from the Town Quay houses a good collection of artifacts related to Titanic, which sailed from here on April 10, 1912, and went down with heavy loss of life five days later. A scale model depicts the port in its ocean liner heyday before World War II. The city was proud enough to send the complete setting to the 1939 - 1940 New York Worlds Fair. Upstairs, ship aficionados will find a wonderful collection including models of the Queen Elizabeth 2 and the original Queen Mary, plus other less familiar but nonetheless superb examples of the fine art.
Additional Titanic connections are memorials to the ship's musicians and engineers, none of whom survived. The former is located at Cumberland Place and the latter near the Civic Centre. This is the home of the municipal art gallery that houses an eclectic collection of art from medieval to modern with a focus on local artists, although it also has works by well-known British modern painters such as Laurence Stephen Lowry and Duncan Grant.
The Southampton Tourist Guides Association offers free Heritage Walks, daily at 10:30 a.m. in the summer (also 2:30 p.m. in August) from Bargate, which dates back to the 12th century. The route visits the medieval town walls and vaults, St. Michael's Church (oldest section from 1070), and the site where the Mayflower and Speedwell sailed for America in 1620.
Southampton Shopping: Walk along Above Bar Street towards the waterfront, and you will see the West Quay Mall on your right. It houses large stores, such as John Lewis, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer, plus a number of specialty shops and boutiques. The Bargate Centre and Mall Marlands will also help in your efforts to get in ship shape before your cruise. Above Bar and its continuation, High Street, have a number of pubs, cafes and restaurants to rest your feet and have a meal or drink ... or both. The 15th century Red Lion pub is one.
This is England, so English, of course! But you'll hear many different accents by both native speakers and immigrants.
In Southampton: AutoEurope (800-223-5555) is a good first call. It represents a range of car rental agencies such as Avis and Hertz (and often offers better rates than the individual agencies). In this case, AutoEurope works with Avis, which has an at-the-dock office at Gate 8.
Between Southampton and London by train: Go to Southampton Central station for Southwest Trains to London. You have the option of four departures an hour and journey times of 70 to 90 minutes. To check schedules, visit Southwest Trains or National Rail Enquiries online. You can also call 0871-200-4950 for train timetable information. Fares are cheapest for departures after 10:00 a.m., so ask for a "cheap day single or return."
By bus: National Express coaches operate between Southampton's bus station and London's Victoria Coach Station, as well as between Southampton and the Central Bus Station at Heathrow Airport. Allow about 2.5 hours.
Where You're Docked
Southampton has three widely separated cruise terminals, and a fourth is planned. Lines such as Royal Caribbean and ships like Queen Victoria use the Mayflower Terminal (Berth 101), about a five-minute taxi ride from the Southampton Central railway station, which is close to the city center. The second terminal (Berth 106) is further west and hosts P&O and Princess, whereas the third is at the southernmost tip of the western docks (berth 38/39). All three are located in the western docks area, the principal section of the vast port.
Staying in Touch
In Southampton, the Bargate Internet Cafe on the lowest level of the Bargate Centre is the easiest to find; Blue Star Internet Cafe at 97 St. Marys Road is just north of the town center.
The White Star Tavern and Dining Rooms (28 Oxford Street, 0238-082-1990) started life as a seafarers' hotel, and since opening early in the new millennium, it has proven itself to be a flagship establishment in Southampton. The interior pays homage to the history of the building, with chandeliers and comfy leather sofas. The restaurant serves lunch from midday till 2:30 p.m., save for Saturday and Friday when the kitchen remains open until 3:00 p.m. and on Sundays when you can eat any time until 9 p.m. The fare is "modern British" with familiar names such as local sausages and mash, beer battered fish and chips and something on a healthier side, such as pan fried fillet of salmon or breast of free range chicken. There are also three different canape menus.
Cuccini's on the Quay (0238-033-5045, open 11 a.m. until late) is located, as the name suggests, on the waterfront, at the Town Quay from where ferries depart to the Isle of Wight and which is at the bottom of the principal shopping street of the city. This is a modern venue; its interior features simple yet attractive design with white, black and red as major colors. The menu is Italian and prices are reasonable: at lunchtime.
Que Pasa (104-108 Above Bar Street, 0238-023-5930) is a lively bar cafe right in the center of the city. The location is good if you've worn out your feet while shopping, as it is only a stone's throw from the West Quay Mall. The restaurant overlooks a small park, and it has tables outside as well. The menu is an eclectic collection of Spanish (catalan lamb or Paella Valencia), Oriental (crispy aromatic duck spring rolls 3.95) and British food (club sandwiches). This is a casual place that starts to serve lunch at 11.30 a.m. and remains open past midnight each day.
P.O.S.H. (1 Queensway, 08707-426-282) is a spacious Indian Colonial restaurant with a superb lunch buffet that is hard to beat. Dishes run from distinctly regional Indian cooking to the type of curry lunches with all the condiments that the British colonials once enjoyed. Open Sunday to Friday for lunch and daily for dinner.
Currency & Best Way to Get Money
The local currency is the British Pound (the U.K. has opted out of the euro). At press time, 1 GBP was equivalent to approximately $2 U.S.; for current currency conversion figures, visit www.oanda.com or www.xe.com. You will find ATM's at many bank branches. Banks usually take a commission from exchanging currency, while some travel agents and exchange offices advertise commission-free exchange. Check the rates they offer, as they do need to make their profit somehow! Credit cards are widely accepted, but please note that many taxis do not take them.
The compact city center runs roughly from the Town Quay and the maritime museum on the harbor front to the Civic Centre with its tall grey bell tower and art gallery just off Above Bar Street, the principal access to the shopping precinct. You can walk from one end to the other in less than a half hour.
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