THERE’S something about staying in the heart of Mayfair with its hushed streets and glitzy shops that makes you feel as though you should be a wealthy American tourist visiting England for the very first time.
We might not have the money but as compensation we do have a couple of Americans close to hand – both our children were born in New York and despite six months back in the UK have yet to renounce their Brooklyn state of mind.
So who better to try out Dukes Hotel’s Mini Dukes and Duchesses package, which is geared entirely at smaller visitors, transforming them from unwanted appendages into the stars of the show?
It’s rare for a five star hotel to target children in this way – and at first glance Dukes, which first opened its doors in 1908, seems like the least likely place to book a family holiday. It’s tucked away down a quiet Mayfair backstreet, it’s tastefully decorated in minimalist tones and is exactly the sort of discreetly luxurious spot I could imagine my father staying in.
Indeed prior to visiting it all I knew about Dukes, which was named Europe’s leading boutique hotel at the 2012 World Travel Awards, was that it was famously the hotel where Ian Fleming came up with the phrase ‘shaken not stirred’ and apparently still serves the best Martini in town.
'I am a prince, he announced before spending the rest of the day strutting around the hotel'
From the moment we arrive Ruby, five, and Oisin, three, are made to feel special. They have their own adjoining bedroom (the large bathroom and luxurious bath products get an instant thumbs up), their own welcome message and best of all their own stuffed toy, a little dog named Dukesy, whose name tag asks them to look after him and take him everywhere.
They also have their own costumes as befitting miniature royalty. Before we arrived I was a bit concerned about the dressing up aspect of the Mini Dukes and Duchesses package. While Ruby loves pretending to be a princess and was guaranteed to enjoy wandering around dressed to the nines, Oisin is only interested in pretending to be a pirate captain named Captain Skunkbeard, whose defining feature is that he’s ‘very stinky’ and has ‘a long beard’.
I needn’t have worried. While Ruby was delighted with her red and gold medieval princess gown (and full marks to Dukes for providing something a little bit different from the standard pink and frilly fare), it was Oshie who fell truly in love. ‘‘I am a prince,’’ he announced before spending the rest of the day strutting around the hotel in his costume and doffing his hat to everyone he met.
As every royal could tell you, there’s no point in being all dressed up if you have nowhere to go, so clad in our finery we made our way to Dukes’ drawing room for afternoon tea. Again I was a little nervous about this aspect of the stay prior to arriving thanks to Ruby and Oshie’s propensity for rolling around the floor like a couple of bear cubs, behaviour which is just about tolerable at home but absolutely out of bounds in a five star hotel.
Thankfully the costumes appear to have wrought a personality change as both children perch happily on the comfy sofa, chink their china teacups together and proceed to gleefully stuff their faces.
Ruby awards top marks to the hot chocolate, apparently the best she’s ever tasted. It’s so good she has to drink three cups of it, just to make sure. Oshie, meanwhile, makes a bid to be hired as a restaurant critic by tasting every cake and sandwich available. Sadly his critique is limited to a beaming ‘mmm jam’ followed by a rapturous ‘ohhhh chocolate’. As for their parents: we get to enjoy a glass of champagne and some lovely scones and sandwiches without the nagging feeling that we’ll be thrown out any second.
For Dukes goes out of its way to make the children feel at home. The staff from housekeeping to front desk are warm, welcoming and clearly keen to make families welcome: had we wanted to, we could have taken the kids to eat in the hotel’s highly regarded 36 restaurant, which has its own children’s menu, or gone out leaving them in the care of a babysitter.
As it was when the afternoon tea wiped out the smaller members, necessitating a rethink, the concierge immediately provided a DVD player and a choice of family movies and we spent the evening lying on the bed watching Ratatouille while picking at what was left of the cakes.
It was so relaxing that none of us really wanted it to end. As we headed off to see the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace – if you’re staying in the heart of London’s tourist district you might as well view the main attraction – Oisin, by now surgically attached to his prince’s costume and delighted he was allowed to take it home, looked wistfully back at the hotel one last time. “It’s disappeared, hasn’t it?” he said. “The hotel was magic and now it’s gone.”
The Mini Dukes and Duchesses package at Dukes St James London is priced from £390, for a maximum of 4 people. Afternoon tea for children and costumes included. Valid until March 31 2013. Nightly rates in a Dukes room at the hotel start from £270 inclusive of VAT. For more information please call 020 7491 4840 or visit www.dukeshotel.com.
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