Friday, November 28, 2014

Is the ITC Gardenia a Baby-friendly Hotel?

Diwali is supposed to be about the victory of good over evil or knowledge over ignorance or even light over darkness. In Bangalore, and particularly where I live, it is about the victory of sound over silence.

Since we moved to this neighbourhood in 2011, Diwali looms like a grim spectre over our year. The firecracker bursting begins a few days before, reaches a deafening crescendo on the day, before petering out a few days thereafter with only the locality's choicest morons continuing their mischief. Swacch Bharat be damned, our streets are littered with the papers from thousands of firecrackers and our air, unbreathable.

Fortunately, the fuzzball isn't the cowering canine most dogs are at this time. She just gets annoyed by the loud noises and contributes to the madness by joining in with her barking. So for us, it's fireworks outside, and an angry, barking fuzzball inside. Whatte fun!

Knowing that this isn't exactly the most ideal of situations for us with a 7-month old, we decided to escape Diwali and celebrate it at the ITC Gardenia on Lavelle Road. We rented out a suite on the 19th floor for nearly 6 days while hiding from revellers. Here's what I learned:

#1 - Do Not Disturb is not Please Be Quiet

Things went by swimmingly until we realised that all the 'do not disturb' sign does is to tell hotel staff to knock rather than ring the doorbell. Once the door was opened, they took great pleasure in greeting us loudly, as if the loudest greeting will gain the heftiest tip. Even after they were suitably shushed, they managed to clang every utensil on their tray, and drop as many things as possible because they are nap haters.

Pro tip: As soon as you arrive, speak with the head of housekeeping/butler/someone in charge and tell them that all staff are to be quiet as dormice when in or around your room. Also, make your own sign or modify the existing sign as we did to indicate that there's a sleeping baby in your room

#2 - Pack Your Own Baby Bedding

After a sobering experience with crib availability at our earlier hotel stay, we made sure to call the ITC Gardenia three times confirming our stay and crib requirement. Thus, the crib was already in our room when we checked in. It just about fit our 7-month old but I sincerely doubt it would have fit an older child, especially since they tend to move around in their sleep.

There was a mattress in the crib but it wasn't covered with a bed sheet. While I'm sure they would have provided us with one with great flourish as 5-star hotel staff are trained to do, I packed a QuickDry sheet and a crib bed sheet.

Pro tip: Make sure to carry a rubber sheet or QuickDry sheet and baby's other bedding because a familiar smell really does help baby settle in.

#3 - Lots of Toys

E had just mastered the commando crawl when we started our stay there so we needed to make sure she had a safe play area. We used the room's various cushions and pillows to create a little fortress, occasionally throwing in a toy or two.

Pro tip: Don't give baby all her toys at once, especially if you foresee a longish stay. Give her a toy or two at a time so she doesn't get bored of them soon and start looking to you for entertainment.

#4 - Stick to Routine

I'll have a post up soon about the importance of a routine for a baby. One benefit to a routine is that it travels well and gives baby a sense of predictability in a new environment. A 7-month old is considerably more aware of her surroundings than a newborn; she isn't going to nap or sleep as well as she does at home. I think it's because they get worried about an unfamiliar place especially when they stir from their sleep or switch between sleep cycles.

However, a 45-minute nap is better than no nap so just make sure baby's getting the sleep she needs.

Pro tip: As soon as you arrive, look for and demarcate areas where baby will sleep, play, be massaged and bathed, fed, and have her clothes and diapers changed - use these places consistently. In a day or two, you'll have a new routine that baby has gotten accustomed to.

#5 - Babysitting

The hotel provides a babysitting service that must be reserved at least 8 hours in advance. Taking advantage of this, and because I hadn't eaten sushi in nearly two years what do pregnant Japanese women eat when they're pregnant/breastfeeding?, we decided to grab a leisurely 7-course meal at Edo. We put E down for the night, gave the babysitter explicit instructions to let us know if E stirs from sleep. and ran downstairs to enjoy our first night out together as adults since the baby was born.

It was fantastic. We grabbed drinks at The Pavillion and then started our dinner at Edo. Around 10 PM, we wanted to inform the babysitter that we will be an hour late and asked a waiter to inform reception, which had, in turn, been instructed to send a person on foot to the room to pass on the message to the babysitter. The overzealous waiter decided to take matters into his own hand and called the room directly.

As expected, the ringing phone woke E and our wonderful dinner was rudely cut short. When we got back to the room, the babysitter was standing at the doorway shushing our E, who was increasingly getting freaked out. Fortunately, the restaurant staff sent the rest of our meal to the room and we enjoyed it in relative silence.

Pro tip: Don't ask restaurant waiters to do anything that goes beyond taking your order and serving you food. In hindsight, we should have just informed the babysitter personally.

#6 - Show Baby Around

As mentioned above, a 7-month old is not only aware of her surroundings but is also curious. Show her around your room and hotel - point out things and name them. Let her get a sense of where she can expect you to be when she's asleep in her crib.

Pro tip: If your room has many mirrors and if your baby is half the narcissist mine is, let her see herself in all the mirrors. The joy she gets from seeing herself will somehow transfer to her liking her new temporary home.

The Verdict

The Indian service industry is characterised by unnecessary bowing and showy flourishes. In my experience, the more expensive the hotel, the lower the hotel staff bow. I expect attentive service not subservience and it irritates me when hotel staff behave like colonial staff.

That being said, the staff were very accommodating once we articulated more like yelled out our needs. While the hotel is quite baby-friendly, the restaurants aren't. The Club Pavillion produced a rather dirty high chair with a manky seatbelt that we used for a day before deciding to avail of room service. In the interim, I went home and brought back her booster seat.

It's hard for a baby to get used to new surroundings so expect interrupted sleep and general crankiness and plan accordingly. While we achieved our primary objective of a silent Diwali, we were still on edge because of the relentlessly noisy staff. Our other learning? It's better to get two adjoining rooms than one suite because baby can't hear clumsy hotel staff from her own room.

I doubt we'll be doing the whole hotel thing again next Diwali. Maybe we'll travel abroad. Or buy noise cancelling baby headphones for E. At least, finding one will be easier than teaching nap-hating hotel staff how to act around a sleeping baby. 

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