For me, at one point London mainly existed on paper. I got to explore the vibrant city through stock images and wordy descriptions that were highlighted in a likewise vibrant yellow. The sceneries looked beautiful even from the front row seat of my classroom desk, but those words coloured in yellow were the absolute worst. They were to be studied, memorized, remember, and recited and when your grade is at stake, none of that sounds remotely fun.
I’ve always appreciated things more when they were less theoretical and more practical so roaming around a big city through a large English textbook was never just enough to satisfy my cat-like curiosity.
My life outside those books was in a little town in Italy – beautiful as ever – but that was seas away from the cities I was getting to know from pictures.
As you know, it only took a couple of years, my long-awaited high school graduation and an application to a foreign university to pluck me out of sunny Italy into rainy England.
I haven’t explored England as much as I thought I would whilst cramming the names of rivers and historical monuments before classroom exams. I definitely should. But after moving to Manchester and settling into life here, well, life took over.
As the curtains closed on the year last month, my sister and I decided it was time we went exploring London in a very cold December. We stayed at my brother’s place in Greenwich for a couple of days right before Christmas and it was a well-deserved break after the year it was.
It was my second time in the city, and I had to make it count.
Back in the spring-like summer of 2018, I visited London for the first time with my best friend and my sister. We were filled with excitement back then and made it our goal to live it out in all the places we’d seen depicted and described in heavy textbooks. One of the places we’d always wanted to visit was the very famous Madame Tussauds museums.
Whilst we were all eager to see the infamous wax figures in real life, I couldn’t stop raving about the fact we were going to be there in skin and bones. In my wallet app, I saved the tickets we had purchased as a bundle for other London attractions like the London Eye and with anticipation we got to the venue on time.
Well, life as a wheelchair user is always full of surprises and plans are just that – plans.
I still have the picture from back then. The look on my face after a long uncomfortable conversation with staff who informed us renovations were ongoing, the elevators were not in service, and wheelchairs couldn’t enter most parts of the building. It was a bummer, as it always is when these things happen – and they do often – but I brushed it off as always and focused on how to request a refund as I went in the opposite direction of the building. The others refused to go in without me, so it was a double bummer as we went away on a mission to tick something else off our bucket list.
Going back there this time, I knew I would want to review my experience, especially in regard to accessibility around the museum. Once again, we got our tickets online but this time we chose the one that didn’t come in a bundle. We had decided our second time in London wouldn’t be spent like obvious tourists, but rather we wanted to experience the not-so-mundane life of Londoners in their natural habitat. Nonetheless, Madame Tussauds was a must-see.
Public transportation had been a constant pain to navigate as pretend-locals, so we made sure to get there a little earlier than the time stated on our digital tickets. It was an early Monday afternoon in a jolly and merry December so there was barely a line at the entrance. A very distinct contrast to a pre-pandemic August afternoon in 2018 where bodies stood in a messy line and pressed on each other. A blissful naïve world it was indeed back then…
I had pre-booked a wheelchair slot in advance to carefully dodge the repetition of history, and with amateur expectation, we headed to the entrance.
The staff at the doors requested to see our tickets and backpack. We complied. Once inside a photo of my sister and I was taken, and we were then introduced to a staff member whose job was to get us from floor to floor with the lifts.
The first one we visited was the ‘Awards Party’ floor. The entrance was set like a red-carpet event and for a moment we felt like A-listers. That feeling did not last long though when we noticed the lady at the corner of the room holding a camera was indeed – you guessed it – a wax figure. Upon realizing it, we felt a little stupid frankly, but in our defence, the room was pretty dark and although she was rather static, she (it?) looked pretty real. That’s the point though, right?
After the initial misunderstanding, we hung out with the likes of Dewayne “The Rock” Johnson, The Beckhams, Harry & Meghan, Tom Cruise and more stars I’ll only have the honour of being so close to in their wax form. We then moved on to the floor that had politicians and musicians. I stuck my tongue out to pose with Miley Cyrus and got starstruck by the sight of Queen B herself – even her wax figure can do that to a person.
After not being able to access the premises in 2018 due to renovations, my big question really was, how accessible is Madame Tussauds in a wheelchair?
Well, I don’t think that question has a super straightforward yes or no answer.
I’d say it was a fairly good experience, but there are some things to take note of. After the staff member, who was lovely by the way – let us off at each floor she’d go away until we were ready to move on to the next floor.
At first, I found no flaw with this system as it seemed to work initially. It wasn’t until we were done taking pictures with Barack Obama and were looking to get off the floor that we noticed we’d have to look for her. The issue with this was she was nowhere to be found on the same floor, and we had no way of letting her know we were done.
In our case, we asked other members of staff to find the lady assisting us and whilst it was resolved not too long after, they were initially quite unsure how to find her. I couldn’t help but wonder if that was the most efficient way to do things.
On a different note, I am certain my opinion on how accessible the museum was had very much to do with the fact that there was not a large number of people there. The lack of a crowd meant it was easy to roam around without getting sandwiched between overly excited humans and precious wax figures. This meant it was not too much of an issue when after visiting a floor I was expected to do a U-turn to the entrance on every floor to get back to the area where the lift was in use. To be fair, I recognise the museum may operate differently when there is a large number of people visiting… or is that my wishful thinking?
I was unaware that in the museum there is also a ride called the ‘Spirit of London’, hence I failed to research that in terms of wheelchair access.
Essentially you hop onto rides that are designed to look like signature black cabs that take you on a journey through historical events of London from the 1960s to the present day. The ride was short and sweet. It lasted about 5 minutes and you should probably consider that when deciding whether to get on or not.
When it was time for the ride portion of the visit, I was informed by the members of staff that there were stairs to climb to get on and off. It was up to me to choose if I could walk up the few stairs or if to carry on with the visit. Of course, this will depend on each wheelchair user, but I decided I would go up. After I told them I could indeed get on, I had a manager come ‘read my rights’ before they let me on. Basically, he explained what would happen in the case of an emergency and then they let us on.
Accessible toilets are of course the thing I search for carefully whenever I’m in a public space, so I did wonder if there were (I imagined there would be) and how they would be. Getting access to the accessible toilet was pretty easy. I just had to ask a staff member who fetched a key. The whole thing was quick and stress-free and the one on the floor I was on at that time was pretty spacious too which was perfect.
Well, my experience was generally positive. After so many years have passed since my textbook days, it was nice to see the museum come to life. It was cool to see celebrities I’d seen on the big screen, whose songs I’ve listened to a billion times come to life so vividly.
A museum where a moment in time is captured still, as it once was – that was the magical part.
It wasn’t all perfect though. A few wax figures were a bit off or I’d say outdated rather. Some of them could definitely use a bit of an update. In fact, my favourites were the most recent ones; the resemblance was uncanny and looked so real. Little Mix and Dua Lipa were so well done it was hard not to find them impressive honestly.
I was a little surprised though about how close they let people get to the figures. Like, I don’t think my trust in human behaviour is that strong!
All of that aside, and things I’ve mentioned about accessibility, I had a good time. Our visit lasted almost exactly two hours as we went at a steady pace.
Would I go again? Honestly, I don’t see myself going back anytime soon. It’s not an experience I feel is designed to be done over and over. I don’t think my heart would flutter the same way a second time so soon. If there were major upgrades, however, or new additions to the collection, then I’d for sure love to see them for sure.
My petty self is still a little annoyed I wasn’t given the popcorn I paid for with my tickets, but I guess I have to let that one go now, huh!
Click here to check out the Photo Diary from my tour of Madame Tussauds!
Your restless romantic roamer