After our long drive north, we arrived in Chester in the dark and rain. The car park for the hotel was nearly full and we had to rush to reception in the howling wet wind. From the outside, the hotel didn't look awfully appealing but on the inside I think we were all immediately surprised. Neither myself nor Mr. B. has ever knowingly stayed at a Holiday Inn before and our expectations were a bit more motel than hotel. Our expections were definitely exceeded - Holiday Inn Chester South felt like a very smart hotel once we were inside.
We were allocated an executive room at the very furthest part of the hotel from reception - sigh! Despite the trek, the room was worth the walk. Holly has, in her short 6 months, already stayed in 8 different hotels and this was by far the smartest. It was well appointed (it even had bathrobes which Lara didn't hesitate to try on), clean and comfortable. Lara had a sofa bed made up and Holly had a travel cot. One of the things we liked most about the room was the great big thick shutters instead of curtains - this meant we could get a total blackout in the room which was handy come the morning.
Unfortunately we were too late to get a table for dinner in the hotel so we headed out to explore Chester in the wind and rain. We know the area a little bit so we took a short drive north of the City to the Cheshire Oaks outlet centre near Ellesmere Port where we knew there were lots of restaurants. We all had dinner at a Harvester restaurant and both Lara and Holly gorged themselves on food!
Our night was very disturbed because Holly was really suffering with bad teething pains. We needed a good breakfast to wake us up enough for our day out! Breakfast was great - a good quality buffet of hot and cold food. The staff provided us with a highchair for Holly without being prompted. In fact, throughout our stay at Holiday Inn Chester South every single member of staff we spoke to was cheerful, friendly and polite (very unusual in a UK hotel in my experience).
After breakfast we headed out to the north of Chester to Chester Zoo. It was about a 6 mile journey from the hotel and by the time we got there, the sun was shining and the day looked bright. We met up with some of Lara's cousins who live nearby and they couldn't wait to tell us about the baby elephant who had been born just a few hours earlier - I don't think Lara quite realised how priviledged we were to see the family of elephants gathering round their new arrival.
I love most UK zoos but it is many, many years since I had been to Chester zoo as a child and I can tell you it is just about the best zoo I have visited in Britain. There has obviously been a lot of investment in the zoo - alongside the smart cafes and shops it has lots of large, tailor-made enclosures which, while being spacious and well-tailored to the animals, are also designed with the public in mind. We saw all sorts of animals from tiny mongooses (mongeese?) to massive Orangutans. Lara's favourite animals were the tigers but I think I enjoyed seeing the Red Pandas and Cheetahs most.
Lara and her cousins had great fun on the play areas and running through the tunnels that were part of the mongoose exhibit. We all had lunch (pricey but lots of options to suit all budgets and tastes) before we had to head back south for the long drive in the Sunday night traffic.
It was a brilliant weekend and we will definitely be going back to Chester Zoo again in the future.
If you fancy taking the same family trip as us, Holiday Inn Chester South are offering a discount for Mellow Mummy readers if you book at least 21 days in advance - see their website for details.