It’s only as he finishes his breakfast (waffles with maple syrup and fresh berries) that Ethan asks the question I’ve been waiting for:
‘Why are we staying at this hotel?’
As a travel writer’s child, my eight-year-old has got very used to spending the night away from home. In his short life, he’s helped me to assess and review everything from the swanky Savoy in London to campsites in France, farm-stays and youth hostels. But today is unusual even by our standards – the hotel we’re staying at is in our home city, Manchester.
I remind Ethan that my job entails finding great places to tell other families about. But as I do, it strikes me that spending the night in a hotel within striking distance of your own home is really just an exaggerated version of the ‘staycation’ and might not be such a silly idea as it sounds. For those who live in the suburbs, for instance, staying ‘in town’ can make all the difference to a day or evening out – though we’re just 8km outside central Manchester, at busy times the bus in or out can take up to an hour, and taxis are fiendishly expensive. We make repeated ‘day-trips’ in to see the sights or to shop but never feel that we get time to see everything we want to, or we rue that it always has to be a rush-job.
What’s more, with fierce competition between hotels, spending a night or two at a hotel not so far from home might be a more affordable treat than you’d imagined. At some hotels, you can now sometimes get a free room on certain nights if you book a table in the restaurant, while super-hot deals can often be bagged on Sunday nights when occupancy is low – keep an eye on websites and play around with dates and you might be agreeably surprised (especially if you have an inset day that falls on a Monday).
Staying at Manchester’s Lowry Hotel on the Sunday night beginning half-term meant we could head into the city to sightsee then check in with time to relax before drinks and dinner, obviating the need to rush home to shop, cook and all that domestic jazz, before exploring again the following morning. The boys were given a very warm reception by the staff, who chatted to them and made them feel special by asking them to fill in their own registration forms stating their likes and dislikes, and giving them vouchers for free ‘mocktails’ in the bar and a hotel quiz-trail that would net them a little prize at check-out. Our large, bright and airy interconnecting rooms bore goodies including a big box of DVDs, a painted toy chest full of books and games, mini bathrobes and slippers, and kids’ toiletries (the hotel emails you a few days in advance to ask what amenities, both practical and in terms of entertainment, your kids need or desire).
Both the boys and I were worn out from a long afternoon at the Imperial War Museum North – my eight- and six-year-old are impressed by guns and tanks but not yet able to get their heads round the seriousness of war and the impact it has on lives, and it was hard-going trying to talk to them about it and keep an eye on my two-year-old. Most of the of the hands-on gizmos were a little old for them, too, while the half-term activities on offer in the Learning Studio felt a bit lacklustre. The highpoint was the café, where the kids were able to create their own ‘ration bags’ from items including hardboiled eggs, fruit and cheese, play table football, and complete war-themed puzzles as wartime music spilled from a jukebox.
With more museum-visiting on the agenda for the following day, staying at the Lowry enabled us to recharge our batteries. It seemed rude not to enjoy a couple of cocktails in the bar as the kids slurped their mocktails, before dinner at the hotel’s fabulous Riverside Restaurant with its great views over the Irwell, crossed by Santiago Calatrava’s modern Trinity Bridge. And again, the kids were made to feel very welcome, with colouring materials and a very good under-16s menu including melon and strawberries, home-made fish fingers, and apple crumble with custard. Slow-ish service was made up for by excellent food including, for adults, cured salmon, oyster and citrus-marinated scallops, and Welsh saltmarsh lamb with rosti potato, aubergine flan and sweetbreads.
The next morning, I took advantage of the children being enthralled with their games and DVDs to leave them in the care of my husband and nip down to the spa for an hour’s recuperative lounging in the sauna. Hence, by the time my husband headed home to start work, we were all feeling refreshed and sprightly for the short walk through uncharacteristic Mancunian sunshine to the Museum of Science and Industry, the city’s biggest and best museum. It being half-term and also the Manchester Science Festival at the time of this visit, there were oodles of special events rivalling for our attention – some were booked up by the time we arrived, but we enjoyed an aeronautics workshop, a birds-of-prey demonstration and an RSPB activity pitting kids against animals in terms of physical prowess. My middle son, meanwhile, was delighted to have at last reached a height when he is able to ride the Morphis motion simulator.
With so much to do on the day, we left still not having exhausted the museum’s pleasures, meaning there’s always something to go back for. Of course, we won’t always be in a position to stay at a five-star hotel when we do so, but our Manchester overnighter has given me a taste for what you might call an extreme mini-break. Having once, incredibly, stayed in London with my kids for just £19 a night (during a Travelodge sale), I’ll be looking out for ways to take short breaks in Manchester and around whether it’s in the form of slash-and-burn deals or a night at a local family-friendly youth hostel.
Read more about things to do, places to eat and family-friendly places to stay in Manchester.