The quality of hotels you stay in acquires new importance when you're travelling with young children. Whilst you may have been happy to bed down in a fleapit as a student, once you've got family in tow it's very different. You will probably be confined to your room once your children go to bed, so if you're looking at those four walls from 8pm, it helps if you're in pleasant surroundings.
My ten-year-old daughter and I were invited to try out the Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes Hotel on Baker Street in London. A major benefit of this hotel for families is its location: right in the heart of London. Madame Tussauds is less than five minutes away, and a few more minutes' walk in the other direction will take you to Oxford Street. The Everyman cinema is just a few steps away, with Regent's Park and London Zoo both close by. London can be tiring to travel around, so for a relaxing break with children this is ideal.
When I looked at the hotel's website, my first thoughts were that this place looks too posh for my (decidedly unposh) family. But the hotel gets largely positive reviews on Trip Advisor, many of which praise the friendly and welcoming staff. And so it proved to be when we stayed at this elegant but unstuffy hotel.
We arrived at the hotel on Friday night, to find Sherlock's Bar buzzing. In contrast, our room was tucked away on the mezzanine floor and felt entirely quiet and secluded. Although the hotel has 119 rooms, we saw little of our fellow guests and it was almost a shock to find that there were plenty of them at breakfast the next morning.
We stayed in an Executive Twin room, which was very spacious – even if you added in a travel cot (which the hotel can provide), there was still plenty of room. A desk off to the side of the main area provided an area to use WiFi (available at a charge). The room was spotlessly clean, not even any dust bunnies to be found when my daughter was playing hide and seek under the bed.
A sliding opaque glass door into the bathroom makes it easy to supervise your children. Unfortunately they can also supervise you ("Mummy! I can hear you having a wee!"). The bathroom also offers a selection of gorgeously scented Molton Brown products.
Tea and coffee making facilities were tucked away in a drawer, and another cupboard revealed a hairdryer and white towelling robe. Instead of a Gideon Bible, the bedside cabinet contained a selection of Sherlock Holmes books. And the Holmes theme is everywhere, with portraits of the character himself and his trademark pipe and magnifying glass. The room's TV had all the usual channels, though no children's channels, much to the shock of my child who's surgically attached to CBBC.
Other services on offer include a fitness centre with gym, sauna, steam room and beauty treatments.
Rooms start at £99, and if you're on a budget you can opt for a room only. There are many restaurants close to the hotel, and a Tesco Express just next door if you want to self cater. But do try out the hotel's excellent Sherlock's Grill restaurant if you can. It features Modern European cuisine using fresh organic produce, cooked in a wood burning oven. The open kitchen means you can see the logs all stacked up and ready to go.
The children's menu offers restaurant-quality versions of favourites like pasta, pizza and burgers, with two generous courses at £10. High chairs are also available. Whether you have a fussy eater or a mini-gastronome, you'll find something to keep them happy. My daughter, astonished to be faced with a bowl of chocolate ice cream she couldn't finish, was moved to write the chef a note: Dear Chef, your food is very nice - love from A Customer.
Breakfast is also served in the ground floor restaurant, and features something for everyone, from continental through to cooked fare. There's even an awesome-sounding English Breakfast pizza, which I wasn't brave enough to try.
My ten-year-old's verdict: "I like this place because it reminds me of a museum and makes me want to read some Sherlock Holmes books. The food was really yummy and I liked hiding under the bed". As we were leaving, her only question was: when could we come back? High praise indeed.
Rates start from £99 per night (excluding VAT) for a superior room
Park Plaza Sherlock Holmes
108 Baker Street
London W1U 6LJ
Tel: +44 (0) 20 7486 6161