Staying anywhere with a hidden disability, such as ME / CFS or Fibromyalgia, can be complicated. It often takes thorough research to find appropriate accommodation. However, with an inclusive attitude and pre-thought on the part of a hotelier a trip can be made considerably easier!
Environment, location and the hotels ethos are key when planning a trip with ME / CFS. Accommodation with an ethical and caring philosophy, implemented day-to-day is essential.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS) is a key symptom, which makes those who suffer from it sensitive to the chemicals used in cleaning products, air fresheners, and paints. Finding a hotel that used environmental cleaning products was my main criteria. This meant my immediate environment would make it possible for me to stay and also it would be easier to approach the hotel with other questions and requests around MCS (i.e. recent DIY work.) Putting keywords of eco-cleaning products, hotels, London in to Google, a small number of places appeared.
This was hopeful. I scoured the page and was relieved to find the sentence ‘we will endeavour to use eco-friendly chemicals throughout the Hotel.’ Being eco conscious anyway, I was impressed with their commitment to the environment, evident through their awards and certificates including Gold Award in Sustainable Tourism, Green Tourism for London, ITM Icarus Environmental Award 2008 – 9, 3 star accreditation by the Sustainable Restaurant Association in 2011 and The Cavendish London Holding Low Carbon Events accreditation, together with daily procedures to promote ethical tourism. However it was this sentence on environmental cleaning products, which meant The Cavendish stood out from other hotels for me.
On further research, I also found The Cavendish to have a comprehensive Disability Access Statement aswell, which stated ‘Recognition has been given to include guests with an impairment, which could include: Mobility, Sight, Hearing, Learning Disabilities or any hidden impairment.’ Although most practical items listed were for the more known disabilities of mobility difficulties, wheelchair users, hearing and sight impairments, hypo-allergenic bedding in the accessible bedrooms was included. This clinched my decision that The Cavendish was a suitable place for me to approach. I felt at least they were a Hotel who had some understanding of the difficulties facing the disabled traveller. They seemed to care about the wellbeing of customers and their environment.
I contacted The Cavendish with the request of supporting me to attend Module 2 London Ambassador training. It was an important module consisting of customer service training by John Lewis, the opportunity to gain a World Host qualification and meeting those from our specific team locations. Usually I’d stay with friends but this time they were unable to accommodate me due to a prior family commitment. Due to the nature of ME / CFS it would be impossible for me to do the trip in one day and finances are very limited. So, I was relieved when The Cavendish replied, saying they would be delighted to support me for one night. I requested a quiet room, away from the lifts and without recent DIY, due to Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). I had seen on Trip Advisor others mention the lift shafts could be noisy. I was impressed with the ease The Cavendish handled my ‘health’ requests and sent me a booking for a Queen Superior bedroom.
Arriving at Green Park tube on the Victoria Line early Friday morning 20th April I was able to easily transport my luggage up from the tube to the street. Green Park has recently had a lift put in and now has step free access. This is useful to know if you are arriving by public transport. If you have little energy and mobility it can be difficult carrying your luggage around the underground.
Jermyn Street is a quiet street lined mainly with shops catering to the upper end of men’s clothing. It makes a welcome relief from the busyness of Piccadilly, yet you are still incredibly close to the hustle and bustle. As I mentioned before location is of paramount importance with ME / CFS.
For all travellers The Cavendish is superbly located right in Central London. What also makes it perfect for those with ME / CFS is that it is situated in a quiet haven of Jermyn St, yet when you have some energy it is easy to reach places in very close proximity. Regent Street, Royal Academy of Arts, Trafalgar Square, The National Gallery, West End, St James Park, Buckingham Palace to name a few places. If you have very limited energy and mobility close by there is St James Square open during weekdays unit 4.30pm and a Cafe Nero in Jermyn Street itself and opposite, Fortnum and Mason for those who want the complete Afternoon Tea Experience. St James Church is almost opposite for a quiet space to just sit or personal reflection.
I found that depending on your level of energy of health on any given day, the location of The Cavendish provides you with something that is possible. This also means that you save on the endless taxi trips if you were situated further out and unable to use public transport. Also getting to the more central sites would be less costly. For those able to use the tube Green Park and Piccadilly Circus are within only five to ten minutes walk. Buses are available at Piccadilly Circus, Regents St and at Trafalgar Square. The Hotel has car parking facilities but it can be expensive.
I arrived earlier than my time to check in, as I wanted to make the most of the short time I had in the area. I had already emailed previously to ask if I would be able to leave my bags in the concierge before checking in and that was fine. I found the concierge to be friendly and most willing to help. The receptionist was extremely welcoming. Bags deposited, I found myself feeling extremely exhausted. The sun had come out and so I just wanted to rest a while to gather my strength. I remembered from a previous visit to the area that the Royal Academy of Arts, about five minutes from The Cavendish, had an outdoor courtyard.
I wandered across and bought myself an earl grey tea. Just enjoying feeling the suns rays on my face with a cultural atmosphere around me.
I still had time before I was to check in at 3pm. So I thought I would take this opportunity to check out the Petrichor Restaurant for lunch. This is The Cavendish’s own restaurant, which provides lunches, pre theatre meals and evening meals for both guests and passing public. I was looking forward to experience the food as I had researched the menu quite thoroughly before hand via the Internet, mainly due to my intolerance. Also if you book your meal via The Cavendish Facebook Page you can have 20% off your a la carte dinner.
As explained on their website Petrichor is a noun meaning ‘The scent of rain on earth after a dry spell arising from the yellow organic oil that yields the scent’. The restaurant is ‘committed to sustainability and targets 100% sustainable sourcing of ingredients with a commitment to support local, British farms and producers.’ The chef himself Nitin Padwal has also championed the idea of a sustainable restaurant, as with his team, produce bi monthly menus which are based around ‘the seasonal ingredients available in the local markets’. With ME / CFS it is important to eat where possible an organic based diet, free from as many chemicals as possible. Many people with ME / CFS need to follow various combinations of free-from diets as intolerance is a common factor. Also, my own ethics are to support organic and locally produced food from an eco aspect. The ethos in the Cavendish’s restaurant is important to me. Also after looking through the menu there seem enough options without wheat. I have wheat intolerance and so am keen to be able to eat as nutritiously as everyone else, in a restaurant that is able to cater respectfully for this.
The rain is beginning to fall outside and I enter the restaurant. I am ushered politely to a table near the window, facing Jermyn Street and the department store Fortnum and Mason. Around me there are a few groups of diners, some having what seems like a business lunch, others who are at the Hotel for pleasure. I order some still water to drink and a bottle of Blenheim Palace water is delivered to my table, along with some bread which is quickly replaced by some gluten-free bread as I explain I am unable to eat wheat. My main course is Pan fried Wiltshire wood cider cured trout, potatoes Anne, glazed carrots, sapphire and herb sauce. It tastes superb.
Its full of flavour, possibly due to the organic quality. I decline a sugary desert this time, as I am limiting my sugar intake, due to following a low glycemic load diet. I order the cheese and crackers, requesting gluten-free crackers. The waiter brings me some with local Paxton & Whitfield cheeses. I am comfortable with the ease they have dealt with my request for a gluten-free option. The attitude of an establishment towards intolerances and allergies is as important as being able to cater for the intolerance and allergy itself. Petrichor were easily able to provide for my requirements, leaving me feeling comfortable.
I finish my meal with a beautiful rose tea. Fresh rose buds steeped in hot water. I am feeling totally nourished on a rainy Friday. The only reservation I have is when I asked the waiting staff about the organic and sustainable aspect of their food they were unable to really enter in too much conversation with me about it. I was keen, from my own interest, to learn more about this, after having read some information on the website. They explained where possible food was bought from local business, and the Paxton & Whitfield Cheese was from the shop in Jermyn St. They also pointed me towards a sign as regards the origins of the bacon for breakfast. Both the waiter and waitress were very pleasant and attentive throughout my lunch but I would have preferred them to be more informed as regards the detail of the local and organic produce they are serving.
Nearly 3pm and I retire to The Cavendish’s Lounge which is on the same floor, next to the restaurant. It is alive with the chatter of people having afternoon tea or just relaxing in the comfortable sofa chairs or single seats. The Lounge is in the centre of the Hotel so there is no natural light but it is still an inviting space. I hadn’t received any phone call as the receptionist said I would when my room was ready but it’s the time I am officially due to check in. I make my way back to the reception to collect my key. I am given an electric swipe type key.
My room is now ready and I am told it its a Queen Superior room on the 9th floor, a nice room’ the receptionist says. I have done a bit of research on the room and it seems it is the next one above the classic room. I think the main advantage of this is that you also have a bath as well as a shower. They offer for the concierge to take my baggage upstairs for me. I agree as by now I am feeling very fatigued and in need of a good rest. If you have mobility and muscular problems with lifting, it is helpful that this service is offered rather than you having to request it.
On arrival in my room, bags deposited and I take what I think will be a quick look around, to see how ever thing functions. In reality this took me some time, over an hour. When you have cognitive difficulties, as with the ME / CFS, it can take time to absorb new information and work out instructions.
There are a couple of booklets on the desk, one a functional handbook, the second some historical notes on The Cavendish and a feedback form. There’s also a breakfast menu on the bed…
a note from the maid who has cleaned the room…
and finally a poem letting guests know that you can relax, that this is home from home and you can order certain small additional extra home comforts free of charge.
I become aware that many of the instructions are on the TV screen. For the moment this is ok for me, but those who suffer with electro sensitivity may find this problematic. However, they do say that if you require the instructions in written form to ask. This may also be more suitable for those who have to minimise their contact with electrical equipment due to fatigue. One thing that struck me afterwards, if your cognitive difficulties are severe, it would be worth contacting housekeeping and ask them to spend some time running through how the heating, air con, mini bar, windows opening, breakfast ordering etc works. Especially if you have been housebound a while and staying anywhere is a new task for you. It may be easier than trying to work it all out on your own.
For example, as strange as it may sound, it took me until the middle of the night to realise that I could open the windows and so switch the air con off. I had seen on The Cavendish page on Trip Advisor that someone’s windows were locked shut and made an incorrect assumption that mine were also when they weren’t. Also it took me the best part of the day to work out the heating system. Keeping an even temperature is key with ME / CFS and this would be easier if you know straight away how to operate this.
As I looked around, I found the room beautifully and neatly presented with earthy colours of green brown and cream cushions, bed spreads and curtains. This provides a relaxing atmosphere and also the abundance of cushions and pillows helps when you need to just rest your back, as is often with Fibromyalgia. I am pleased to say that the bedding, towels and room atmosphere were all suitable for me as a person with Multiple Chemical Sensitivity (MCS). There were no chemical smells and I had no adverse breathing or headache reactions. The Cavendish had passed my main criteria!
There were also some very nice touches in the room, as I said before a note left by the maid, a carafe of still water, some interesting magazines including National Geographic, a gown and slippers, umbrella in case of rain and tea / coffee making facilities (a mini bar if you require this option, although unlikely with an alcohol intolerance! Items which get clocked to your bill as you remove them). All was left for me to do now was to fill in the breakfast menu to be left outside by 2am. I decide to go for the breakfast in my room option, as I have to be up earlier. Time and energy will be in short supply. Again this is an option I would recommend those with ME / CFS consider, especially if you have plans to be active for some of the day. This way you can conserve your energy for your excursions.
Anyone on holiday, with or without ME / CFS, often looks for total rest, recuperation and relaxation. Despite my tight schedule with only one night here and a full days London Ambassador Training the following day, I am immediately put at ease in the room and I start to unwind. I had been feeling under the weather the past days and tired from getting to London. I needed to switch off so spread myself across the two twin beds pushed together and ‘rested’ for a good few hours. Again, I found the room conducive to this. It is was quiet, high up from any immediate street noise, away from any daily Hotel activity.
My room on the 9th floor is north facing and opposite Fortnum and Mason. I am so high up that I mainly get a view of the rooftops towards Piccadilly. But you get a feel for London even at this height.
I think for a more spectacular view you would need to request a room higher up. Please see the post ‘Birds Eye View from The Cavendish’ on The Cavendish’s own blog for options This may be more appropriate if your ME / CFS is such that you have to spend a lot of time in your room. That way at least you will have an expanding vista. Although the higher you go the more expensive it may get.
As I only had one night, I was determined to make the most I could of the central location, in spite of feeling exhausted. Usually I would have taken this day to rest fully and depending on the level of your ME / CFS and also finances, I would allow for extra time in your travel schedule anyway. It can be taxing on the body and mind travelling and you need that time to recuperate to be able to enjoy fully the times that you are well enough to explore and ensure that you complete your holiday in one piece. Often I have found sleep can get disturbed if you don’t allow yourself this pacing time, which, as we all know, lack of sleep or over doing it can cause health to go downhill. So although my body needed to rest I also needed to see how easy it was to get about so I could write about it!
There are many activities that you can do in the near vicinity of The Cavendish. They provide an extensive listing on their website of sights that are within walking or at least travelling by tube or taxi distance. Also of current ‘Reasons To Visit London’ that particular month. I often enjoy the art galleries of London and earlier I had spotted that the National Gallery was open during the evening on Friday. I had hoped to see Turner but that didn’t work out and I ended up on a free-guided tour of the paintings. They seem to run these every Friday evening and I would thoroughly recommend it.
So having regained a little energy I stepped out on to Jermyn Street…
It was a pleasant, easy walk, and as a woman alone I felt safe. I was soon in the cultural heart of the National Gallery. It was my first time here and it was fascinating learning about five of the paintings, including Botticelli’s Venus and Mars, Michelangelo’s The Entombment and Picasso’s Sunflowers. The guide was extremely enthusiastic and this spread to us all. To be honest I’d have had no clue where to start without this guided tour so I would recommend it to anyone. They seem to cover different paintings each week, so you can attend again and again. Some on the tour had already come before.
About 8pm, I was easily able to return to the Hotel and, even though it was darker by now, I still felt safe getting to and from the Hotel.
There was just time for a deep soak in the bath. I had been looking forward to this as my muscles had been aching all day. I thought I would make use of the housekeeping advice on the poem. I ordered a ‘bath waffle cushion’ for my head and some ‘gluten free biscuits’. The poem said they were available to request, as they only provide normal ones to go with the tea I made via the tea and coffee-making facilities provided.
At first the staff didn’t seem to know what I meant by a bath waffle cushion but they did deliver the right item. Also they seemed to have run out of gluten-free biscuits and asked would a gluten-free cake be ok. I would have preferred biscuits but appreciated the effort they were going too. I was a little taken a back when the waiter tried to charge me for it, as it says they are free. I did mention this and it was obviously taken on board, as on my final check out bill nothing appeared. Unfortunately I did not have the energy to blow up the bath waffle pillow so gave up. It didn’t really matter as I had a therapeutic soak in the bath.
Prija are toiletries are made using natural ingredients and oils and would be suitable if you can tolerate these. They are also hypo-allergenic. If however, like me, you need ‘no scent’ toiletries, then you would be better to bring your own.
I had a broken nights sleep but this was nothing to do with the room or the Hotel. I found the bed extremely comfortable, the room quiet and very little noise at night from Jermyn St. It was more to do with the rushed timing of my visit. As explained earlier with ME / CFS I often have to plan a day or so either side of travel to just rest, as otherwise it causes an extra strain on my body and sleep goes out of kilter. In this instance, I think I was just over stimulated with all I had to cope with in the short space of time: arriving at the hotel, adjusting to the room, unpacking and packing early first thing at 6am and a full days training before leaving that night for Cardiff. The bedroom environment itself was restful and calming.
The next day I had an early start and had set the alarm for 5.30pm to be packed, showered and breakfasted by 7.45am, in time to leave to get to the training at Stratford International by 9am. There were a number of alarm options, which I used, one on the TV and a telephone alarm service. The TV alarm woke me fine but the telephone alarm never went off. After hurriedly packing I jumped in the power shower. I’d loved to have lingered a little longer but needed to be ready by 7am for my room service breakfast.
A scrumptious breakfast, which was included in my complimentary stay, arrived promptly at 7am, delivered by a very cheery waiter, the same one from the Petrichor the day before. Along with a morning Telegraph, which although I had ordered (they ask if you would like a free paper to save on papers from an environmental aspect) I had no time to read. Breakfast included scrambled egg and smoked kippers, fresh fruit, gluten-free toast, herbal tea, honey and jam. There is a lot of choice and variety so again it is easy to cater for a wheat free diet. I took as much time as I was able to just take in the view as I was eating, but unfortunately I never had time to fully finish my meal.
The Cavendish are generous with their checking out time and, if you are here for leisure, I would recommend you take advantage of having midday as the final check out time. This would give you time to get up, read the papers and indulge in a leisurely breakfast in comfort, before heading in to the day. I dropped my bags off at the concierge and gave in my key. Again I had already previously arranged to leave my bags here for the day whilst I was on training and pick them up that evening. I found the concierge extremely helpful and accommodating. It would have been impossible for me to carry my bags to Stratford International with me. The last two receptionists were slightly less welcoming than the very first one I saw but still pleasant.
After a full days training, which I shall talk about in the general storyline when I write it up in a month or so, I return to The Cavendish to pick up my bags at 8pm. I decide to have a meal of fish and chips in the Lobby Bar, where once again the bar staff were very attentive and polite. The concierge called me a cab off the street and helped with my baggage in to the taxi as I headed off to Paddington.
I would highly recommend The Cavendish to any traveller with a ME / CFS / Fibromyalgia for reasons of service, location, sustainability and disability commitment and generally a place to feel nourished amongst the bustle of London. As I mentioned earlier, there are particular points that can make or break a trip with a hidden disability. I found the food suitable, bed comfortable, environment chemical free, service friendly, polite and warm and accommodating healthwise. The Hotel is an older 60’s style building which is more inviting on the inside than the outside. Although in the Petrichor under my table could have done with a quick flick of the vacuum cleaner, I found everywhere else to be spotless and well presented.
As is often with ME / CFS when you need to return to your base after the day it is important for it to be nurturing, calm, quiet and a place where you can collapse and replenish your strength and health. I found The Cavendish perfect for this. On a physical level they have a Disability Access Statement which highlights if you need accessible bedrooms, lifts, step free etc. Although I didn’t need to make much use of the Disabled Access Statement myself, I found it helpful on a physical level for planning my energy when it was more limited.
Also as I said before, Jermyn St itself is a fairly quiet street anyway for Central London. It is off the main streets of Piccadilly and Regent Street and has a calm distinguished feel. Possibly because of its history and current shops being mainly catering for the distinguished gentleman. Also St James Church consecrated in 1684, is almost opposite. With St James Square just around the corner…
‘In 1661 a court suburb centred on St James Square, was planned and developed by Lord St Albans (Henry Jermyn after whom the street is named). Jermyn St was then completed in 1681-82, extended West in 1746 and East in 1819.’ taken from The Cavendish History brochure.
The Square is very close by and if you are having a day with less energy and just want to see some nature it is perfect. It is only open weekdays though until 4.30pm (at least this was the case in April 2012).
However, as you have no doubt become aware during my blog post, a hidden disability requires a whole different set of needs that are often left out of disability guides. You can be made to feel as thought you are being awkward rather than just asking for requirements due to health. I found none of this at The Cavendish they were respectful of my requests when booking room and ordering food. Which highlights to me that if a hotel gives pre-thought to the areas of sustainability and disability and over all how a visitor feels, the stress of going on holiday with a hidden disability can be greatly minimised.
Time Out have produced a comprehensive ‘Open London’ Guide to London in 2011 in preparation for the Olympic and Paralympic Games 2012. It is excellently researched if you have mobility problems or a hearing and sight disability, but there is nothing mentioned on facilities for those with of the type of hidden disability myself and many others experience.
I am aware I was very fortunate to get the chance to review The Cavendish in this way and I want to thank them for this opportunity. Also for enabling me to participate in the London Ambassadors programme by being able to attend Module 2 training, in providing me with a place to look after my health during this time. The fact that they came forward and took me up on my request for support highlights that as a Hotel they go one step further than most and is testament to their long 200 year tradition as a Hotel. No doubt this is why they have received The Considerate Hoteliers and Hospitality Assured Awards.
These are my views with the level of ME / CFS / Fibromyalgia / Multiple Chemical Sensitivity that I am currently at. I have gone from being bedbound to now being more mobile and active in the world. So please read my experience with the awareness that all ME / CFS levels can be different. I will be re posting this account of my experience and more about the surrounding sights when I write-up London Ambassador Module 2 training. I have still yet to write-up Module 1 training fully. I am writing so far reflectively due to my health and needing to focus on the work on the London Ambassador programme. So keep tuned!