Discovering London through a child’s eyes, with the help of The Athenaeum [Hotel Insight Review]

A couple of weeks ago I did something quite special.  I managed to experience London through the eyes of a toddler.  Yes, that’s right, you read correctly.  I will stop being cryptic now and explain what I mean.  My young daughter had never been to London, come to that, had never been on a train, so it was time to introduce her to my favourite city in the world and I was lucky enough to stay at one of my favourite hotels, The Athenaeum.

I stay in a lot of hotels for business, but this short trip was to be special for two reasons.  Firstly, and clearly most importantly, it was my first time taking my daughter to London and I was eager to show her the wonders of what the city had to offer (namely Hamley’s and lots of big red buses).   Secondly, we were staying at The Athenaeum.  Why was I so excited about the later?  Sure, it was a five star hotel on Park Lane, but my excitement came from the incredible reputation this property has for how they look after their young guests, and it was this aspect of the hotel I was so keen to experience for myself.

Sold strongly on the tagline “your home from home”, The Athenaeum is a wonderful 5 star property made up of hotel accommodation and apartments, located on Park Lane.  The hotel offers a huge choice of rooms, luxury suites and townhouse apartments, all with stunning view across to Green Park or Mayfair.  It’s an enviable location within easy reach of top attractions such as Buckingham Palace, Theatreland and of course all of the incredible restaurants and shopping that London has to offer.  I particularly like the map on the hotels website…

I’ve stayed in a lot of hotels with my daughter over the last few years, but have never felt that she was valued as a guest.  Sure, they all provide the necessary items – the cots, the high-chairs  maybe even some colouring if we were lucky.  But I have never felt like she has experienced true hospitality and been made to feel special.  This was a key reason why I was so excited to check-in with The Athenaeum.  I’d heard so much about their child friendly approach that it left me eager to see exactly what they had to offer, especially given that this was a five star, Park Lane hotel.  Being child friendly with that billing isn’t something that is put together and actually works in practise all that often.

So where to start…. well unusually, not at check-in.  Not even at the front door.  Two weeks before my stay, I received an email from the hotel concierge.  Attached was a special questionnaire with lots of questions about the little guest the hotel were about to host.  Questions ranged from favourite television program, most loved characters and favourite food and drinks.  This kind of pre-arrival questionnaire, aimed solely at children’s needs is something I’ve never experienced before and already filled me with confidence about my stay.  Looking at this from a marketing viewpoint rather than service, what better way to create a five star impression before your guests has even checked-in the hotel.

On arrival at the hotel and after a warm and friendly greeting from the doorman (who, if you had to draw a picture of everything a London doorman should be, you’d find right here) we arrived in the hotel lobby.  My daughter,  already excited about our arrival, took it all in, looking expectantly at her new surroundings (maybe she get’s that from her Dad?).  For such a young guest, what really helps is that the hotel is not over imposing.  By this, I mean that a lot of city centre luxury hotels have grand lobby’s, full of polished marble and people busily running around.  Although a sizeable hotel the Athenaeum retains much warmth and friendliness from its design.  Whilst on the topic of design, The Athenaeum is really is a creative space and, well, English.  So many city hotels manage to lose their identity through wild and creative design, but London truly runs through the blood of this property.  Club chairs are upholstered in gentlemen’s tweed and rich velvets… shimmering pearl buttons allude to Cockney Pearly Kings and Queens… with numerous visual elements combine to express the hotel’s unique personality.

Back to our arrival, and our room was ready early.  I’d already hinted that we’d arrive earlier than the 2pm check-in time on my questionnaire and our suite was already prepared.  We were shown to our room, via a wonderfully old and Brasso smelling lift to the third floor.  Our room was lovely.  Spacious without feeling lost, luxurious without worrying about whether little hands could break decorations at any second.  Warm, comfortable and welcoming.  Two plasma televisions, glass framed four poster bed and luxury bathroom complete with a shower a football team could have shared.  All of the rooms are very different, so I’ve included three different designs below for you to see.

But the winning thing here was the attention to detail for the children.  My daughter was presented with her very own “Arthur” teddy bear to keep (an instant hit) and the coffee table was full with activities and things to do.  From Athenaeum branded bird seed, perfect for the park across the road, to sticker books and colours, all with a London theme, my daughter was instantly immersed and feeling at home.

I was also very impressed to hear that the hotel had its very  own toy cupboard, where you were welcome to borrow a bike or scooter so you could make use of the park on the hotels doorstep – what a lovely idea for a city centre hotel.  Unfortunately, rain put paid to that idea, but it was a great service to offer.

Every aspect of hotel life was catered to my daughter.  On returning from dinner in town, our room had been turned down, including my daughters little bed, and a jug of milk and shortbread biscuit, shaped into the logo of the hotel were left on the table. Small eyes lit up immediately  but only to be outdone with the tiny dressing-gown and slippers that had also been left out for her.  We spent the rest of the evening sitting at the floor to ceiling window spotting red London buses and waving to people onboard, drinking our milk.

Sometimes with young children, the eating environment in a hotel can be scary…. will they make a mess or be too noisy?  Will other guests stare at us and tut under their breath?  The restaurant area of the hotel is quite, calm and sophisticated and very upmarket.  This would put dread in some parents!  But because of the shaped seating (I hope you can see from the photo below) you are actually pretty enclosed on your table and this made for a stress free breakfast setting whilst retaining the hotels elegance and design feel.

Whether you travel with children or not, or whether you are reading this as a hotelier as I know many of you will be, the point is simple.  The Athenaeum have provided a high level of attention to detail.  Here, they are focussing on their younger guests, but taking this much time and consideration directly impacts the parents (and the paying guests) too.  The Athenaeum have worked hard to differentiate themselves from the crowded London hotel scene over the last few years through a number of excellent concepts and services.  This could be something like their living wall on the outside of the hotel, or through their Pudding Parlour concept that I blogged about some time ago.  The famous whiskey bar could be another jewel in the crown, or even their latest credit, winning the best afternoon tea awards – a well deserved credit.  All of these actions lead to one thing – extremely happy guests.  It also leads to increased business.  These hotels have positioned their unique brand so well that they are becoming synonymous with luxury and families.  They have clearly targeted a market segment and ensured their product offering is perfect.  They’ve done this excellently in this case and for any parents out there, I can thoroughly recommend The Athenaeum as the perfect London home from home.

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