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Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Our Weekend At The Hallmark Hotel, Croydon

Recently, The Hubby, The Boy and I attended a family wedding. It was held down South, near where we used to live, and to make life easier and so we didn’t have to attempt four hours of driving plus leaving the reception early in order to get home at a reasonable hour, we decided to book ourselves into The Hallmark Hotel, Purley Way, Croydon, where the wedding reception was being held. We found a good online site where we got a good deal on two nights at the hotel, and we requested a cot in the room for The Boy.

We left home later than planned on the Friday evening, and the journey took longer than anticipated, but The Boy slept in his carseat quite contentedly and we arrived at the hotel shortly before . We received a lovely welcome from the lady on reception who was polite, friendly and professional, and we were impressed by the hotel which has recently been refurbished.

The lady on reception confirmed that a cot was ready for use in our room, and asked us if we needed any assistance with our luggage which I wasn’t expecting! The Hubby declined as he was quite happy to sort out the luggage himself, and we headed up to the room. Though still fairly early on a Friday night the bar area was quiet, nobody was in the restaurant, and upstairs the corridors were empty and quiet. The lift took us upstairs, and we found our room was at the end of the corridor closest to where the lift was, which was handy given the fact that we would be up and down throughout the weekend to the room with The Boy for nappy changes etc – which was another reason we chose to stay in this particular hotel, as we knew it would make life easier for practical things like nappy changes, clothes changes, naps and providing us with somewhere quiet we could go to if it all became too much for The Boy.

Our room was small but nicely decorated and clean. Not only had a travel cot been set up, including bedding, but a fold-out single bed had been put up and made up at the foot of our double bed. I’m not sure whether the hotel weren’t sure whether the travel cot would be big enough for a 20 month old, or whether they misunderstood the booking and when we’d stated we would have a child with us as well as requesting the cot, I’m not sure whether they thought we meant we’d have a child and a toddler with us and therefore would need a cot and a single bed. Anyway, the presence of the single bed really limited space in the room so once The Hubby had brought up the luggage from the car we folded up the single bed and put it out of the way as it wouldn’t be needed, and it gave us a bit more floor space in the room.

My first concern about the safety of The Boy in the room was the door. While it had a lock on the inside you could use, this would only prevent someone else accessing the room from outside with a room key – it didn’t stop you opening the door from the inside, and the handle was just the right height for The Boy to reach. Due to this, we had to use the chain on the door when we were in there to ensure The Boy didn’t make a run for it! The TV had Freeview, which was great as first thing in the morning we put on CBeebies to keep The Boy entertained as we got ready.

The bathroom was a good size with sink, toilet and bath, with a shower over the bath, and after the long drive I decided to have a nice bath before going to bed. I discovered when getting in that it was a small size bath, and despite the fact I’m not a particularly tall person it felt a bit cramped and sitting upright my knees were still bent, so it wasn’t the type of bath you could really relax in! As every mum knows, you don’t get any privacy even when you’re in the bathroom, so I had The Boy running in and out (he was far too interested in his new surroundings to go straight to bed) and The Hubby running about after him. The plug wasn’t attached to the chain, so once I’d finished in the bath and tried to remove the plug I soon found that was a problem and it took a while to do! We soon noticed that the sink wasn’t particularly toddler-friendly – it’s a bowl style coming out from the wall, without a pedestal underneath it, and a small silver bin stood in the corner, so The Boy kept leaning down to look at the bin (he’s a real neat freak, and forever finding bits of fluff and carefully placing them in the bins at home, so he was doing the same in the hotel room straight away – he found the empty coffee, sugar and milk packets after our first drink and wanted to put them in the bin for us) So there he was, putting things in the bin, but then he’d stand straight up and into the bottom of the sink! Needless to say this caused lots of tears several times over, as he kept forgetting, and while we did move the bin so he really had no reason to stand under the sink he continued to go to that corner and stand up into the sink, and that became quite annoying very quickly!

There weren’t a great deal of plug sockets in the room – just enough for what you needed – and they were all positioned fairly high up – a couple over the dressing table, a couple more in the built in wardrobe section and a couple by the kettle, so they were all well out of reach of little fingers, which was great. There was a free standing lamp on the dressing table but it was wired into a switch rather than a plug so that was fine, and the lights either side of the bed were also on switches rather than being plugged in, so while he could reach the switches and spent a lot of time merrily turning them on and off, there was no way he could pull the plug out or anything so it was quite safe. He did pull the drawers out of the bedside tables, and he thought the cubby hole at the bottom of the wardrobe was specially for him to climb in so we couldn’t use it to put anything in as he kept turfing it out for his own purposes,

When the light was on in the small entrance hall of the room, The Boy was thoroughly amused by the full length mirror on the back of the door and kept walking up to it and pulling faces at himself, laughing and running away. However when we decided that we wanted to calm things down and get ready to settle down for bed, we turned this light off – and almost immediately The Boy forgot that there was a mirror on a door there, and went belting across the room and the entrance hall at full speed, running headlong into the mirror. Again, more tears (and a big bump on his head) it’s a wonder he didn’t crack the mirror he hit it so hard. Despite the grippy bumps on his sleepsuit feet, he slipped over quite frequently on the laminate floor of the entrance hall and on the tiled floor in the bathroom; more tears, more bumps, and both me and The Hubby worrying that for the wedding photographs The Boy would be black and blue!

The following morning I went for a shower before getting ready, and this was a bit confusing as the shower tap was fitted the wrong way round; when you set it to be hot, it came out freezing cold, and vice versa, so it took me a couple of minutes to get the temperature right before I hopped in the shower and once in there I noticed there were quite a few cracked tiles around the bath and shower too. I’m not saying I expected five star luxury, but I was a bit disappointed about these minor things as it isn’t what you expect when you book a hotel room in a place that has just been refurbished and looks as good as The Hallmark does look on their website.

Once we were ready we headed off to church for the ceremony, which was at . We’d tried to get The Boy to eat plenty during the morning but he wasn’t interested, so by the time we got to the church he was fussing for something to eat. Luckily my mum was on hand with a packet of breakfast biscuits for him to munch on, and the groom assured me that the hotel had been made aware of the provisions required for all the young children present – a high chair had been arranged for The Boy to use, and the children would be served their meal first, as the waiters brought the starters out to the rest of us.

Back at the hotel, we spent a long time mingling in the reception area with the other guests as the photographer took some more photos in an area in the suite where the reception was held that had been set up specifically for photographs. We got back to the hotel around four, and had taken The Boy straight upstairs for a nappy change, but by five he was creating a fuss as he’d refused breakfast and only had a packet of breakfast biscuits and some fruit as his lunch, and the staff assured me that dinner would be served soon and confirmed the children would be served their meals first.

When we did go into the Amy Johnson suite for the reception I knew where our table was positioned in relation to the top table, and straight away noticed the high chair in place for The Boy. I was pleased about that as it meant I didn’t have to fuss about asking someone for a high chair, then setting it up etc, but I was disappointed to find that it was stained on the tray from previous occupants and that the harness was broken so I couldn’t harness him in properly. Anyone with a toddler knows that you can’t risk not harnessing them in, as they’ll do their best to escape, so we used our own walking reins to put on the boy and secure him into the highchair – so it’s just as well we had them with us.

Waiters started emerging from the kitchen with the starters. The Boy started flapping with excitement as he realised food was coming – but then nobody came over with his meal. More and more waiters came out and served the adults with their starters, but still the children’s meals were nowhere to be seen and The Boy became increasingly frustrated that everyone else had started eating and he hadn’t got anything. The Hubby and I tried to get him to try our starters, but he wasn’t interested so he continued moaning, crying and banging on the tray of the highchair. The head waiter kept checking everyone was OK and that the food was OK and I asked him if we could hurry up with serving the kids meals as it was very difficult to keep The Boy calm and entertained as he was hungry and annoyed that everyone else was eating before him, and he rushed off to the kitchen so I thought within a couple of moments the children’s meals would be served. Instead it was another full ten minutes later that chicken nuggets, chips and beans were served for the children; by which point The Boy was creating a hell of a fuss, and I was becoming very annoyed as the staff seemed oblivious to the fact that if only they’d sort out his food he’d be happy, and they continued to serve starters, water and wine as if they had all the time in the world. When the food did emerge for the children the waiter put the plate on the table which was great, but then it was obviously just out of the oven as it was boiling hot and no way could we give any of it to The Boy straight away. Of course this frustrated him more; he could now see his food and as far as he was concerned we were just being mean by not allowing him to have it straight away. More bashing of the highchair tray, stamping of his feet, screaming and crying ensued as we desperately tried to cool the food down quickly so that he could eat. The plates from the adults starters were removed and there was a very long gap between this and the main course being brought out, during which we tried to give The Boy some food and keep him happy but by this point he was pissed off and over tired (he usually naps between three and five, and he hadn’t done, so he was very grumpy and the delay over dinner really hadn’t helped matters either) By the time the main course was served, The Boy’d had enough of his meal, though he hadn’t had much he’d lost interest, so then we faced the issue of trying to keep him entertained while everyone ate their main course. We had Scout with us to play with but he was being a real grump and wasn’t in the mood for that, and we had a small wooden train with us that kept him amused for a while, but then he started throwing pieces around as he decided it was more entertaining to watch us scrabble on the floor collecting up small wooden train carriages and animals.

Dessert wasn’t served until almost , again a long delay between the main course being cleared away and the dessert coming out. For the kids, there was ice cream, which The Boy was pretty pleased about and ate a fair bit of it, but by this point he’d been in the highchair for ages and he was annoyed about that and wanted to be free. People finished their dessert and started getting up and sitting at other tables to mingle for a while, and we got him out of the highchair but kept him on the reins in order to keep a close hand on him; in a room full of strangers, a door constantly opening and shutting into the hotel kitchen and another door standing open that lead out to the suite bar area and a million places The Boy could hide in, we decided this was the safest option. Throughout the speeches I was loitering around the back of the suite with The Boy on his reins and the other children playing, which meant I pretty much missed all of the speeches but I just wanted to ensure The Boy wouldn’t kick up a fuss and start screaming and crying right next to the guy videoing the event!

After cutting the cake and more photographs, the DJ started up with the first song, throughout which I kept The Boy on his reins much to his disgust, after that I decided to take the reins off and let him run about. This meant The Hubby and I were running around like mad things after him, and soon my mum joined in, as well as my cousin and the best man, all trying to keep The Boy safe and entertained. Every time the door was left open to the area behind the bar, The Boy was running in there and trying to touch bottles of alcohol, the fridges, the glasses etc, and the staff running about behind the bar almost falling over him, it was dangerous and I kept closing the door to stop him getting in there, but the staff kept opening it to come in and go out and leaving it open, so a few minutes later the same thing would happen again.

By eight thirty The Hubby and I were exhausted by running round after The Boy, so I suggested that The Hubby went to our room with him to see if he would settle down to sleep – since he hadn’t had a nap all day and it had been such an exciting day I was hoping he’d go to sleep easily and sleep well throughout the night – especially adding on top of that the fact that he’d not settled on the Friday night until almost 2am on Saturday morning! So The Hubby disappeared upstairs with him, and I could finally relax a bit!

I went upstairs a couple of hours later, and found The Boy asleep – still in his clothes, but that didn’t matter, he’d climbed onto the bed to lie with his daddy and have his milk and fallen asleep there, so The Hubby had just put him into the travel cot and not worried about getting him into his sleepsuit. We took the rest of the night in turns; one of us staying in the room with The Boy while the other enjoyed some time at the reception party which was in full swing downstairs.

So it happened that I was in the hotel room watching TV when The Boy woke up. So much for sleeping through! Wide awake, he was jumping up and down in the travel cot and creating a fuss, so I let him out and we had a naughty late night snack since he was so interested in the little packets of biscuits the hotel supplied to go with the tea and coffee. The Hubby returned to us around twelve thirty, by which point he said everyone had gone home and the party had finished, so we gave The Boy a while to run around in the room before getting his nappy changed and putting him into his sleepsuit and giving him some milk. That seemed like the magic answer, and by he was sound asleep in the cot and The Hubby and I crashed out ourselves. It had been a long and exhausting day and we were desperate for sleep, but unfortunately once again didn’t sleep particularly well; The Hubby was up at eight in the morning, dressed and reading by the time room service arrived just before nine with our breakfast tray. When they arrived, The Boy woke up, so the three of us sat on the double bed and ate our fill of cooked breakfast, toast, fruit, yoghurt and cereal, all of which was superb and just what I needed to start me off for the day.

Another shower later, I found The Hubby had done most of the packing by the time I emerged from the bathroom. After I dressed we took it in turns to go downstairs for a cigarette, bumping into the bride and groom eating their breakfast downstairs. We were packed and ready to go by , which was great as the room had to be vacated by eleven, but then in the reception area we had a problem keeping The Boy happy as we queued behind others to check out. In the car park I was thoroughly annoyed to find some idiot had parked their car at an angle with the back end right up next to the door we needed to open in order to get The Boy into his carseat. I had to pull the car out of the space in order for The Hubby to have enough room to open the door and get The Boy in.

All in all it wasn’t a relaxing weekend but it was a thoroughly enjoyable one, and The Hallmark Hotel didn’t do a bad job, but I would have liked to see some more effort made toward the children that attended the wedding (The Boy was the youngest of about ten children there) Getting the kids dinner out quickly and ensuring doors were shut would have made things a lot easier for everyone. I appreciate The Hallmark isn’t particularly geared toward being a ‘family’ hotel, but at the same time they made excellent provisions in as much as the travel cot being ready in our room, and though the highchair wasn’t in very good condition at least they were able to supply one, as some places may not have done. Also a couple of parking spaces marked out for people with children to prevent cars parking ridiculously close so we couldn’t get our child into the carseat would be beneficial, though again this probably won’t happen as it isn’t a concern for the majority of guests at this hotel.

I’d give the hotel three out of five, because the staff were friendly and an effort had been made, but to my mind more of an effort could be made and the basic issues like the shower controls being the wrong way round was just a simple thing that should have been noted and rectified long before now.

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