When you step inside a grandly imposing reception of a five star city centre hotel, you don’t expect things to go quackers.
It might have been voted one of the country’s top five business hotels in the UK by Conde Nast Traveller, but week-ends at the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel in the heart of London are all about ducks.
It certainly belies its serious exterior and flies in the face of its dour past as headquarters of the Pearl Assurance company.
But there is absolutely no reason why grand surroundings and excitable children shouldn’t go hand in hand – and this is no snobby establishment.
There is a nod to an underlying sense of humour in the middle of the huge reception area, where the hotel’s pastry chefs have created a magnificent piece of sugar art depicting ducks.
So why ducks?
For a start the hotel has teamed up with the independent London Duck Tour to offer families a memorable trip around the capital’s streets in an amphibious vehicle before plunging into the Thames (but, more of that later).
That in itself is enough to tempt youngsters, but there are a host of other duck-related activities to keep children occupied.
Upon arrival, children are handed a duck passport, which requires them to complete six simple tasks in exchange for a stamp. Many of the hotel staff are involved – from the door-man to the business centre manager – and they bear with tolerance and smiles the intrusion from keen youngsters, desperate to fill the book.
One of the tasks was to tell the door-man their favourite joke. There was much debate in our large, comfortable hotel room as to which were the funniest.
It might be unkind to tell a six year old that what his potential offering is not remotely funny, but when you hear countless non sequiturs and bizarre knock-knock jokes, even the smile from an indulgent parent wears a little thin.
Eventually my two went off armed with their funnies (including my favourite: what’s brown and sticky?* See below for the answer) and were rewarded with a stamp for their efforts.
Having the children complete tasks is a good way to explore the hotel, which was built at the turn of the last century. A listed building, it was transformed into a hotel in 2000 by Marriott, although much of the original interior has remained.
It is an opulent feast of long windows, mahogany and marble. In fact, the central staircase is a magnificent and spectacular example. Made of marble, it is thought to be worth about £1 million today
There are 345 bedrooms, 13 of which are suites. Our room was spacious with two double beds, a small sitting area with TV and a desk with internet point.
Light and airy, the room was deluxe without being stiflingly so. It was just as well, seeing as the huge double-glazed windows that looked onto High Holborn were locked, so we were unable to open them.
I always look at the prices in the minibar – just for a laugh – but as the trip was not on business expenses, I left it well alone. Instead, I reached for the tea and coffee making facilities. And it is here where a minor complaint can be made: the coffee provided was nasty, instant stuff, where a small cafetiere and ground coffee would be far more appropriate for this class of establishment.
Of course, only ground coffee is served at breakfast, which is taken in the stunning Pearl Restaurant. Taking its name from its previous incumbent, there are trails of hand strung pearls that hang from the ceiling, as dividers and around light fittings, walnut panelling and leather seating and banquettes.
Guests take their pick from the buffet, which includes the usual breads, pastries, cereals, fruit, yoghurts and cooked choices, setting them up for a day of exploring in the city.
Our appetite satiated, we made the Tube journey across to Waterloo to take our 70-minute duck tour. What a fun way to see London! Starting off at the London Eye, the tour takes you past the Houses of Parliament, Horse Guards Avenue, Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace and Lambeth Palace before making a dramatic dive into the Thames for a ride up and down the river.
It was difficult to hear some of the commentary from our cockney guide as the vehicle, originally known as “DUKWS” and used for the D-Day landings, was incredibly noisy. Nevertheless, we picked up some gems of information, although I’m not sure I agreed with his explanation for the history of the word “slut”. Our guide reckoned it came from an area by the Thames known as The Sluts, where women worked the streets; I thought “slutte” was a medieval English word to describe a dirty woman. Not that I was prepared to argue, I was having far too much fun as a tourist.
There have been times when I’ve been in London and gone out of my way not to appear like a sightseer, but there is no escaping the fact that you are there to see the sights when you are inside bright yellow vehicle with 29 others, gawping at Buckingham Palace.
Returning to the hotel, the duck theme continued. Awaiting our return were four little chocolate cupcakes, each decorated with a duck, as well as duck-shaped sweets and chocolates. I half expected to see a rubber duck in the bath, nesting among the White Company toiletries, but it was not to be.
The hotel is perfectly located for those wanting to explore the capital. It is just a 10 minute walk from Covent Garden, five minutes from the British Museum and Bloomsbury.
It is also just a short walk from the fascinating, yet tiny, Cartoon Museum, which is hosting a Beano exhibition until November.
For those of you needing a little pampering, there is a luxurious spa on-site that offers more than 40 holistic treatments, but expect to pay five star prices for some treatments. While a 55-minute hot stone massage seems reasonable at £80, a manicure is £70.
Instead of heading to the spa, we sank into the soft sofas in the CC Bar, taking advantage of an excellent wine list. But where is the duck theme in that? Let’s just say, we put it on our bill…
*The answer to the joke? A stick.
Jayne Howarth and family were guests of the Renaissance Chancery Court Hotel, High Holborn, London, for its duck weekend. It costs £395 per family for bed and breakfast for two nights. For details, visit marriott.co.uk/hotels or telephone 0207 829 9888.
They travelled to London with Chiltern Railways from Birmingham Snow Hill-London Marylebone. It offers a range of tickets for families travelling to London – or elsewhere on its network. It also has other offers, including two for one entry into some London attractions. For details, visit chilternrailways.co.uk.
This appeared in The Birmingham Post in September, 2008. It must not be reproduced without prior permission of Jayne Howarth