Edinburgh, Scotland was easily my most-anticipated port stop of the cruise. We would be there during the Fringe festival and had tickets for dinner in the castle followed by the military tattoo. My only hesitation was the tendering. This was a tender port. Getting thousands of people off a cruise ship with little boats is not an easy task in the best of circumstances. (And this was not the best of circumstances.)
One of the suite perks is that you get to skip the line, and we took great advantage. Our Michael’s Club concierge escorted us down to the tender line. She deposited us at the front of the line, nearly leading to a riot from people that had already been waiting for a while. I’d be angry too if people jumped ahead of me, but I didn’t spend time dwelling on that. We had a festival to attend.
Getting from Newhaven dock to downtown Edinburgh can be accomplished by bus (with exact change, which we did not have), or by taxi, which were not plentiful. Instead, we hopped on the shuttle to the nearby port shopping center, hailed a cab and headed towards downtown Edinburgh.
THE FRINGE FESTIVAL
I was not entirely prepared for the scale of the Fringe Festival. Strolling down the Royal Mile, performers from every type of show are bombarding passers-by with flyers, while others are putting on shorter versions of their shows. It is well-orchestrated chaos but a sensory overload. Imagine every store in a mall on Black Friday getting in your face, shouting specials, handing you flyers, and trying to get you into their shop. Except it was nice out, and most of the performers were polite, if somewhat aggressive. Hey, in a land of hundreds of shows every day, you must stand out somehow.
Before the trip, I sent a spreadsheet to FKGuy with all of the shows going on (a) in the short time we were in port and (b) that looked vaguely interesting. I asked him to do some research and figure out what we should see. Out of the Blue, the Oxford all-male acapella group was near the top of the list. Meandering down the street, we happened to run into several of the singers, who conveniently enough showed us where to buy tickets and how to get to their theater.
I NEVER FORGET LUNCH
With time to spare, we made our way to Sylvester’s for lunch, where FKGuy went straight for the haggis bonbons. I will admit that although I generally do not like organ meat, the fried haggis with sweet chili sauce was good. I opted for the smoked salmon over beets, and our friend enjoyed the goat cheese tart. For the main course, I chose the mushroom and leek pie, a hearty, flavorful dish. We sipped a lovely Chenin Blanc (local beer for FKGuy) and enjoyed wonderful food in a warm, cozy environment before meandering over to the theater for our first show of the day.
We arrived at the theater moments before the start of the show to find only a few seats left in the front, near the door. (Turns out, these were perfect for a quick, post-show escape to the bathroom.) The performance was amazing. It is highly unfair that they are all so adorable and so talented. Really. Their popularity is obvious as the performances are in a theater much larger than many of the other venues.
When attending the Fringe festival, it is important to keep an open mind. Most shows are inexpensive (under £15/ticket) so it is easy to see many different shows. Plus, they are usually just under an hour long, so it is not a huge time commitment. Performances range from music, dance, and comedy, to drama and performance art. Bottom line: there is something for everyone if you look. And you don’t have to look too hard. With so many performers out talking to the crowd, it is easy to get information on numerous shows simply by strolling a block or two.
…AND MORE SHOWS
We had plenty of time until our dinner in the castle, so we found a comedy show to see beforehand. While waiting for the show, we sipped cocktails outside the container-turned-bar and shared a table with someone eager to share information on the festival with us.
The second show of the day, God, Ltd., was a comedy about what happens when God goes on vacation. The angels take over, and hilarity ensues. Another delightful way to spend an hour, and a completely different show than the first one we saw. Pro tip: Most theaters are very small, so any seat is a good seat. Don’t stress about it.
THE ROYAL EDINBURGH MILITARY TATTOO
From there, it was nearly time to meet our gang at the entrance to the castle for dinner. One hundred people joined in the pre-show dinner package and were treated to a quick tour of the castle grounds followed by dinner in a gorgeous room, complete with views of the Royal Mile. As we started the meal, I felt like I was in a Harry Potter movie. The chandeliers glowed overhead, and the wine began flowing.
A bagpiper came in and played, to introduce the haggis. (Yes, twice in one day. I tried it, and while others liked it more than I did, it was fine.) The main course, lamb, was very good, as was dessert. But the ambiance, conviviality, and show-stopping long tables were highlights of the evening. We were treated to a short performance before being escorted out to our seats in the stands for the military tattoo.
The Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo has been going on annually since 1960, and now draws visitors from around the world to see the impressive display of performances. Military troops, musicians, and dancers perform in outstanding choreographed numbers for about an hour and half of visual delight. The show ends with impressive fireworks each night. It is a wonder to see, and something that you should not miss if you are in Edinburgh in August. But frankly, now that I have seen it once, I don’t feel the need to see it again.
Open stand seating is the norm, and only the most expensive seats have shelter. (We didn’t get those). Pro tip: Bring rain gear. It poured for the second half of the show the night we attended. To add insult to injury, it was about 55 degrees out. Brrr.
Before we went into the castle for dinner, I gave our group of thirteen specific instructions. Namely, after the show, we would be heading straight to the meeting point for our taxis. There would be no bathroom stops until we were back at the tender dock. Cars cannot get past a certain point due to the crowds, so we had a ten-minute walk to meet them. It was cold, rainy, and people were eagerly looking for transport. The two cars pre-reserved waited for us when to arrive, and quickly whisked us back to Newhaven. The passengers that took the ship excursion to the Tattoo did not get back until much later when the weather was too rough for the tenders to run. They waited a long, long time on the dock, while we were comfortably on the ship.
PRO TIP: BOOK YOUR OWN TRANSPORTATION IN ADVANCE
Our first day in Edinburgh was exhausting, wonderful and out-of-my-ordinary. Dining in the castle was a highlight, but so was walking through the main drag of the Fringe festival watching and talking to performers, and soaking up the ambiance.