Elizabeth Mistry and her family went to spy on the former headquarters of MI6 for a couple of nights.
31 October 2012
What would James Bond do if he found himself with a handful of sprogs for the weekend?
He would find a hotel within walking (or toddling) distance of some of London's major tourist attractions that would satisfy M(um)'s craving for luxury yet welcome her three year old spy and his fellow secret agents Frankie, age nine and Georgia ten.
But as the world's most famous spy wasn't on hand to help, M had to locate the perfect hideout herself. Luckily she had received a tip off that St Ermin's Hotel - which had served as a base for M16 during World War II - and was still used as a 'dropbox' until only a few years ago - now offers a number of family rooms designed to accommodate up to five people - perfect!
Last year, the hotel underwent an extensive refurbishment and as part of its bid to woo families - and commemorate the hotel's long association with the Intelligence Services, it now offers younger visitors (and their handlers) a special package: The Budding Bonds.
The offer includes accommodation in one of the new 'double double' rooms - surely that should be 007? - and a special 'spy trail' quiz that leads from the hotel to a number of surrounding landmarks.
As anyone who has ever tried to book a hotel room which can take three or more children will know, most hotels will try and steer guests towards choosing an expensive suite or even two rooms - not the most appropriate option if you are travelling with very young children. Even with connecting rooms which are only suitable for older kids or teens who can be trusted not to empty the minibar (which of course a good hotel will have discreetly emptied beforehand) - it can be an experience that can leave parents shaken and stirred.
At the St Ermin's, the large 'double double' rooms have been configured so the whole family group can play and stay together; two double beds and two compact but fully equipped bathrooms mean that our party was accommodated in style.
Make no mistake, doing the double double will set you back a tidy sum - so a Bond-like skill at the card table (we got very good at Snap!) would be handy, but the hotel's location, just a few minutes from St James Park underground station and around the corner from New Scotland Yard makes it an excellent choice for a special sojourn in the capital.
By the time M and Miss Moneypenny (aka Frankie and Georgia's mum) had ushered their would be spies out of the tube, there was palpable excitement as they turned into the immaculate courtyard and up the steps into the newly restored lobby.
M remembered how, a decade ago, the entrance hall had looked tired but now it was sparkling and the adults in the group were very taken with the fine plasterwork while the double staircase leading up to the ballroom was catnip to the smaller members of the group who quickly made friends with the concierge staff.
M had to check in under her real name but the charming hotel receptionist got into the spirit straight away by asking how many little spies were in the party before returning with three brown envelopes marked 'TOP SECRET'. One of the kindly - and infinitely patient - concierge team offered to store our buggy (MiniMistryGuest travels in a MacClaren not an Aston Martin sadly) which was just as well because even if we had managed to squeeze it into the narrow lift, there wasn't any space for it in our second floor bedroom - even the lovely room service boys had trouble fitting the hostess trolley in at dinner time.
The room is dominated by two gloriously comfy beds. There is also a large daybed in the recess in the window giving a brilliant view over the courtyard - so you can watch all the comings and goings below without anyone realising!
There was a bit of wriggle room around the sides of the bedsbut not really much extra space for three children to play. But they were more than happy bouncing around and making a den in the space between the beds while M and Miss Moneypenny sat on the daybed and watched as the Secret Agent Packages were torn open to reveal the quiz sheets and a guide to the trail.
Once the Mini Spies were briefed - no running away with strangers - and armed (with pens and a handy map) we were off, setting a course for Buckingham Palace - home to Bond's New Best Friend, The Queen.
As soon as we left the hotel there were clues to pick up. We liked the fact that the questions had clearly been chosen so that they appealed to a range of ages and abilities.
Bond probably doesn't have much spare time to play running games in Green Park - he is too busy parachuting out of helicopters with the Queen or racing along the river Thames in a RIB speedboat but it was such a lovely afternoon so we diverted from our mission and chose silly names for our Spy alter egos and then chased each other through the trees until we couldn't run anymore.
And then it was time to finish the trail but even M and Miss Moneypenny had trouble with a few of the questions so they resorted to asking a policeman who was stationed at the side entrance to the Palace. Only later did we find out he had given us the wrong answer!
Fortunately, back at the hotel, we learned that the Mini Spies had answered enough questions correctly to win a really handy little prize - and their own child-friendly fresh fruit juice 'mocktail'. M and Miss Moneypenny went for the signature drinks, expertly mixed by the barman who impressed the children with his flair and warmth.
After an afternoon of intense service to their country we thought that three tired and excitable children might be a bit much for other guests in the Caxton Grill downstairs so we plumped for a movie and room service at dinner.
Sadly not even the skills of the hotel's resident Q could fix the broken DVD player in the room which had clearly been tampered with by enemy agents intent on thwarting our evening's entertainment. But the marvellous maintenance chaps were determined not to let that ruin things and quickly invited the Mini Spies to choose a film from the in house childrens' library instead. Miss Moneypenny and I agreed the chaps certainly knew how to get out of a tight spot in a hurry.
It wasn't until the next morning that the Mini Spies finally presented their report to M, right in the middle of breakfast which after scoffing their way through the kids menu the night before, we thought might have been a mission too far.
"This is the best hotel ever," declared the Spies who were also very impressed with the jelly beans left on their pillows at turndown. "Even though it doesn't have a swimming pool," they added, conferring the highest honour of all.
Family rooms at the St Ermin's Hotel, London, an MGallery Hotel from £244.30. The Budding Bonds Package costs from £550.00 including two nights B&B accommodation in a double double room and a Secret Agent Package for every child.
To complete your 007 experience, take the 007 James Bond London Tour. Visit more than a dozen James Bond London film locations, take pictures and walk in the footsteps of Ian Fleming, Sean Connery, and Pierce Brosnan. Find out how the blockbuster Bond films were made, and learn trivia about the actors who starred in them. Get an insight into the secret world of spies when you see locations associated with the real world of espionage.
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