Experiencing the real Downton Abbey

Highclere Castle © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP
Our Product Development Manager, Judy Poliva, traveled to London and Iceland as the tour leader of our Downton Abbey Christmas Ball passengers, and here is her account.

Being a true Downton Abbey fan, I didn’t hesitate to volunteer to lead our Downton Abbey Christmas Ball with London tour two years ago. In fact, the only hesitation I experienced was selecting my outfit for the ball. So many options! So many accessories to consider! After months of planning, and brushing up on my Downton knowledge, our departure day finally arrived.

On our way

The true Downton experience started right away, on the flight over the pond, with episodes from seasons 1 and 2 of Downton Abbey on the in-flight entertainment. What a coincidence! It felt like even the airline wanted to make our tour the memory of a lifetime. I got to experience great moments of the show again, like Lady Mary and Matthew Crawley meeting for the first time, as we made our way. During our layover, we all reminisced about our favorite scenes from the show, and of course discussed what we’d be wearing to the ball (a very common conversation on the tour!). The buzz of anticipation was palpable, and the common thread of a love for travel and Downton Abbey was on full display. I already knew it would be a great trip.

The Christmas Ball at Highclere Castle © Highclere Castle Enterprises LLP

The Ball

Everyone in the group spent the entire day getting ready for our visit to Highclere Castle, where Downton Abbey was filmed. After all, it’s not everyday you get to attend a ball at the residence of a Lord and Lady. You want to look the part! The women were dressed to the nines in vintage evening gowns and opera gloves, the men in black or white tie tuxedos.

And finally, off we went to the ball. It was impossible to stifle the ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ as we drove up the familiar driveway to the entrance of Highclere Castle, as the Earl and Countess of Grantham had done so many times before in the show. It was a cold night, but incredibly clear, great for taking pictures of the exterior. There were more ‘oohs’ and ‘ahs’ as we entered and toured the castle, marveling at how the rooms looked exactly the same as on the show. We gathered by the Christmas tree. Beautifully decorated and dressed in white lights, set against the classic stone arches and wood interiors, it makes the perfect backdrop for a holiday photo-op. A welcome glass of champagne only added to the spectacle. We even had a chance to see the Egyptian collection of Lord Carnarvon, who was a sponsor of the archaeological expedition in search of King Tut’s tomb. The present Lady Carnarvon didn’t disappoint, entering from the grand stairs and introducing us to her home. She even stayed to answer a few questions.

We were summoned to our meal by the dinner gong and ushered into the library, now arranged with elaborately set tables. Wine, food, laughter, Christmas crackers and raffle prizes, carolers on the staircase with the lit tree in the background. It was a festive and magical evening of great food and better conversation, but before we knew it, it was over, and we returned to our hotel in London.

Westminster & Big Ben, London

London

While the Christmas Ball at Highclere Castle is the highlight, you can’t forget the four nights in London! The next day, we all slept in, with visions of elegant castles and sparkling champagne dancing in our heads. On our Vintage Bus Tour of London, we visited so many of the familiar and iconic sites of London: Buckingham Palace (which doesn’t have an internationally renowned and awarded six-season historical period drama about it, but is still spectacular nonetheless); Big Ben; Parliament; and Westminster Abbey. We even walked through the neighborhood where scenes from the last season of Downton were filmed, past lady Rosamund’s residence and more. We finished the afternoon with a glass of champagne and a traditional English Tea, complete with a tiered tower of finger sandwiches, cakes and scones with cream and jam. For the afternoon, we were English nobility!

The Northern Lights, Iceland

Reykjavik

It was difficult to say goodbye to London and some of our traveling companions, but for myself and others, it was simply off to the next adventure. This particular tour has an optional extension to Reykjavik, Iceland, which is conveniently located on the way home.

It felt like before we were even off the runway, the question started coming: “Will we see the Northern Lights tonight?” While the city and its surroundings have plenty of attractions, and more than enough to occupy your days there, of course most people come to Iceland for the country’s superstar tourist attraction—the Aurora Borealis. Honestly, like most of traveling, getting there was half the fun and half the adventure. Hunting for this elusive attraction through the outskirts of Reykjavik and the barren ice fields, is worth it even if you don’t see the lights. And finally, a glimmer of neon green in the distance, dancing on the horizon. It was not the full-blown Northern Lights. But we all agreed, it was spectacle enough to check it off our bucket-list.

The next morning, we awoke to pitch darkness. But don’t worry, it’s not because we are waking you up too early! It’s just that sunrise this time of year is after 11:00am. And sunset is at 3:00pm. But it does give you the perfect opportunity to take in the full splendor and grandeur of an Icelandic sunset from the observation deck of the Pearl, a futuristic looking structure that has a restaurant and viewing platform, and also a massive natural thermal water tank which supplies hot water to the city. This was the last stop on our included city tour. Afterwards, some of the group spent the remainder of the afternoon at Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon. Unfortunately, before we knew it, we were on our way home. But what an adventure it was!

We have just one departure, with a limited amount of space, of our Downton Abbey Christmas Ball with London tour, departing this year on Dec 14. It’s a spectacular way to celebrate the holiday season and still be home for Christmas!

2 Comments

  1. Pamela Cox Previte

    send prices from Houston, texas for 2017. and will you be doing it in 2018? Pam

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  2. Amanda Klein

    Hi Pamela! We can absolutely help you with information regarding costs for additional gateways (including Houston!). Please give our reservations team a call (Mon – Fri, 9:30AM – 6PM) at 1-800-555-5765 and they will happy to explore 2017 options with you! For 2018, Highclere Castle generally announce their intention to host a Ball and the date about a year in advance. We hope to have to this information by the end of the year!

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