Seeing my nine-year-old silhouetted in the dark lights of the theatre, mouth agog and eyes bulging wide, reminds me why seeing a West End musical is worth every last penny.
London has been lonely. With no tourists to fill hotels, theatres only recently reopened, and far fewer people feeling safe enough to ride the rails of the underground, the streets of the UK capital have had a rough time of late.
But, as restrictions lifted, London has begun to get her mojo back. And where better to take the kids to reignite their love of culture?
Rosie, 12, and nine-year-old Poppy are visibly giddy at the thought of a smart hotel. We’re staying at The Kensington – and, after a five-minute-walk from the Tube station, we see the flags flying in the breeze.
The girls gasp as we check into the recently refurbished family room, where giant beds are surrounded by daring floral wallpaper.
Stepping through the city, we lick ice-creams on the South Bank and jostle for a view of a street performer juggling with swords while riding a bicycle.
More sights await on board the London Eye, where we ogle Big Ben, The Shard and every inch of London’s skyline. Then, at the Tower of London, the kids get a one-to-one history lesson with chief yeoman warder Pete McGowran.
On the Secrets Tour, Pete rattles the Queen’s giant set of keys, and shows us the lamp they light every night as they lock up the Tower.
We sneak out the back to the royal entrance, through gates dating back more than 500 years (although parts of the building were built in the 11th Century) and marvel at the pet cemetery and boules lawn. Stories abound of past kings, queens, deaths, prisoners and “the greatest whodunnit in history” (the princes who went missing in the Tower). The council chamber where much of Guy Fawkes’ interrogation took place is housed here, as well as a room and toilet prepared for Hitler – just in case he was caught.
The Crown Jewels are the star of the show, of course, and we squint at the 3,000 gems adorning the Jewelled Sword of Offering, and the glistening Cullinan diamond and Stuart sapphire presented on the Imperial State Crown.
After pounding pavements, we head back to The Kensington, flopping our tired bodies down on the velvet chairs in the drawing room.
Tea is poured from heavy silver teapots. We tuck into finger sandwiches and bite-sized treats depicting the skyline (the Big Ben lemon curd tart is my favourite) before unwrapping the cotton napkins keeping the freshly baked scones warm.
We sleep like queens before soaking up culture at the Victoria & Albert Museum, courtesy of the Alice In Wonderland exhibition.
We wander over to the river scene, where Charles Dodgson (better known as Lewis Carroll) first told the tale to the real Alice – Alice Liddell, who begged him to write it down as a keepsake.
We follow white rabbits around as excerpts from the book bellow out of speakers, and tread a curiouser and curiouser world of doors, casting giant shadows as we peek through windows.
Deckchairs await beneath a giant lit-up mushroom for anyone needing a sit down, and screens showcase Alice adaptations.
A tea party table for 13 is laid out with teapots, plates, jugs, teacups and cutlery, all lit up by projectors beaming ever-changing scenes on to the tablescape. It all culminates in a virtual experience, where we sit beneath fabric flowers and swirling green vines, wearing headsets which take us on our own journey into Wonderland.
As if our senses could take any more, the call of the Lion King becomes the cherry on the cake of our London escape. Every tottering stilt walk of giraffe, every stealthy stalk of the leopard, each and every actor embodies the characters like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The choreography, casting, costumes and sets continue to blow our minds.
“This is the best,” whispers Rosie, as Poppy fist-pumps the air in ecstasy.
Who needs the sunshine when we have all of this on our doorstep? London is bouncing back from tough times. And the West End? Hakuna Matata.
From the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party to the House of Cards, the Curiouser and Curioser exhibition at the London V&A will take you on a mindbending tour of Wonderland. It runs until December 31.
The London With The Family offer at The Kensington (doylecollection.com/hotels/the-kensington-hotel) includes accommodation in two adjoining guest rooms with a 50% saving on the second room, a la carte breakfast for all, complimentary evening meals for under-8s and special guest amenities for little ones.
Rates start from £375.
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