Posted by Ric Garrido

London and Paris are the top two international tourism destinations for Americans and international travelers.

I have been to London four times and Paris three times.  I would like to spend more time in these cities, but my travels have not worked out that way. There are so many places in the world to visit.

TripAdvisor.com shows 1,079 hotel listings for London, UK in 28 neighborhoods.

My recent one night stay in London was March 13, 2013 at Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, a Club Carlson category 6 property at 50,000 points per night. The hotel is ranked #73 of 1,079 London hotels on TripAdvisor.com.

I have only stayed in three hotels in London, all in the neighborhood of Westminster.

Honeymoon in London 1989

Kelley has always been fascinated with British Royalty and history.

Kelley and I started our March 1989 honeymoon flying from San Francisco to London, spending several days in Edinburgh and then back to London on a 15 day trip.

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Buckingham Palace, Westminster, London.

We financed our own honeymoon trip in 1989. Even then I was looking for travel discounts. I booked Pan Am tickets just a month after the Pan Am Flight 103 Lockerbie bombing. Two roundtrip tickets San Francisco – London were priced around $425 each all-in.

I booked a hotel called the St. James Court for our honeymoon hotel in London. St. James Court was the closest hotel in London to Buckingham Palace. It probably still is the closest hotel to Buckingham Palace.

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One of two historic iron gates for St. James Court is now the front entrance to the Crowne Plaza London St. James.

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Crowne Plaza St. James courtyard entrance.

Pan Am, still reeling from the Lockerbie bombing disaster, was running a promotion to earn a free economy class ticket anywhere in North America and Caribbean when flying Pan Am to London.

Kelley and I traveled to the UK in March and April 1989 and then St. Croix US Virgin Islands in August of that year.

Travel discounts before the internet

For that trip 24 years ago I had discovered the Entertainment book for dining and travel discounts. This was a valuable book for travel discounts in the days before internet.

In 1989 there was an Entertainment book for London. I booked hotels for 15 nights In London and Edinburgh using Entertainment discount rates.

 

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Courtyard of St. James Court, London

The Construction

In 1894 the site was sold and was acquired in 1897 for an unknown sum by Major Charles Pawley. His highly original concept was executed to the highest professional and artistic standards – and at great cost. It called for the erection of eight more or less self-contained six-storey houses, each with porched entrances opening onto the great central courtyard, and each named in keeping with the area’s historical associations. King’s, Queen’s and Prior’s House were the first three to be completed, followed by Falconer’s, Minister’s, Almoner’s, Duke’s and Regent’s House; names that have been retained to this day in the present 51 and Crowne Plaza properties.

As far as the street is concerned, Pawley restricted himself to an elegant façade of red Bracknell brick outlined in creamy Portland stone. The ornamentation is restrained, confined to an occasional carved column or support and to the two magnificent gates that guarded the entrance and exit to the court itself. These were designed by Pawley but executed by a friend, John Starkie Gardner, probably the finest decorative ironworker alive at the time.

Pawley ran riot when it came to embellishing his hidden court. Here, the surface of brick and stone was broken into turrets, balconies, arches, columns, cornices, gable ends, consoles and copings, and all overlaid with scrollwork, bas-relief and statuary. Every portico had attendant nymphs to hold up the pediment and each balcony had supporting satyrs, while the entire brickwork up to the second floor was tiled over with a sea-green glaze. Topping this glittering green curtain is that monumental frieze – actually carved out of the brickwork – in which characters from Shakespeare’s plays endlessly disport themselves in scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Love’s Labours Lost, As You Like It and Much Ado About Nothing. This and much more was the work of the Doulton Brothers of Lambeth, as famed in their day for their pottery and glazing, as J.S. Gardner was for his artistry in iron. The old story that the fountain was a gift from Queen Victoria herself proves to be unfounded, for the fountain post-dates her decease.

Taj Hotels – 51 Buckingham Gate London

St. James Court Hotel is now two branded hotel properties.

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This iron gate is the entrance to Taj Hotel and gives direct access to the St. James courtyard.

51 Buckingham Gate, Taj Suites and Residences is currently ranked #4 of the 1,079 hotels. The hotel is also a Travelers’ Choice 2013 winner for Luxury hotels on TripAdvisor. Weekend rates are as low as $305 April 12-14 for a Junior Suite.

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The property was not branded a Taj luxury hotel in 1989 as far as I recall. Although, reading the history of the hotel reveals Taj International bought the hotel property in 1982, so I guess it was a Taj hotel in 1989 without Taj branding until 1999.

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Courtyard entrance to Spa at 51.

St. James Court was a luxurious hotel for us on our 1989 honeymoon trip in London.

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I think I paid $135 per night in 1989 using my Entertainment membership discount rate for the residential apartment stay on the side of the hotel now branded Taj 51 Buckingham Gate.

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The hotel rates are as low as $305 per night for a junior suite at Taj 51 Buckingham Gate with discount weekend rates in April 2013.

Crowne Plaza London St. James

Even in 1989 the St. James Court functioned as two parts with a regular hotel, currently Crowne Plaza London St. James and the residential rooms, now Taj 51 Buckingham Gate. We stayed in both sides of the hotel.

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Crowne Plaza London-St. James is the part of the property we initially stayed in 1989 for under $100 per night. This property is ranked #135 of 1,079 hotels in London on TripAdvisor.

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Two rookie traveler mistakes we made on our honeymoon trip.

First we packed far too much luggage. We must have brought 120 pounds of stuff in six or more bags.

We had about 15 pounds of camera and video equipment. I shot 12 hours of video on the trip. One 15-minute piece of the penguin parade at Edinburgh Zoo is a video we have shown to school kids for 20 years in our classrooms.

This taxi is not for you.

Upon our arrival at Victoria Station in 1989 the taxi cab refused to take us and our luggage to St. James Court hotel. He did not want to get out of the taxi queue for a three block drive. He pointed us in the direction to walk to our hotel.

We walked to the hotel dragging all our luggage and arrived dripping sweat. London was having record high March temperatures at the time and it was in the upper 60s F.

Packing light is always the number one tip for international travel. We learned the hard way.

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Hotel appearance from Buckingham Gate Road.

The other rookie traveler mistake we made upon arrival was passing out from jet lag in the early afternoon and waking up at midnight on the first night of our hotel stay. Late at night with no food we discovered the mini-bar. We went crazy mixing drinks and eating snacks. We had never stayed in a hotel with a mini-bar before. There was no price list in the room.

Two days later while the mini-bar was being restocked I asked to see the price list. We had already consumed about $120 in drinks and snacks.

I think that was the first and last time I paid for mini-bar purchases.

Travel tip number two I have learned from experience is when arriving during the daytime at your international destination – Do Not Go to Sleep.

Take a shower and stay awake. Immediately move yourself as close to the local time as possible. Walk around, go eat and try to stay awake until evening so that the next day you are awake during regular business hours.

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Spa at 51, St. James Court.

Seeing the beautiful and historic St. James Court Hotel recently on my 20 hour layover in London, 24 years after our honeymoon stay, was a nice remembrance of times past.

3 Responses

  1. This brings back some memories….I forgot about those sub-$500 fares to London and being rookie.

    Great post Ric, thanks for sharing.

    Comment by aadvantagegeek on March 23rd, 2013 at 12:31 pm
  2. Thanks Ric, Crowne Plaza St James is one of my favorite hotels because of the great location and the Victorian elegance of the place. We have stayed there 3 or 4 times.
    W

  3. […] Revisiting St. James Court Hotel, London (now Taj 51 and Crowne Plaza St. James) […]

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