St Jerome’s The Hotel is a city staycation that will long be remembered – it captured all of our imagination and the kids absolutely loved LOVED it.
Where: Melbourne Central MELBOURNE (also coming to Hobart and Aukland)
Cost: Starts at $420 / night, click here for details
Before I go into the ins and outs of our visit I just wanted to reflect.
I think my curiosity/desire to go glamping must stem from my early childhood when we lived in the USA. I recall a trip through the Badlands where there were teepee-shaped motels that, to my five-year-old eyes, looked pretty darn awesome. I was desperate to see inside one, but we never stayed in one of those teepee motels (my mother did point out that they weren’t real but were in fact made of concrete with no windows, so I get it).
I don’t come from a family of campers… well there are some cousins on one side of the family who are hardcore campers, but my parents were hobby farmers so when I was growing up our little country shack was practically camping (we slept on the floor in sleeping bags even) – so there was no need to actually go camping. In my 20’s I spent enough nights in tents (at both camp sights and perched precariously on sides of mountains) to know that unless you have all the right gear and know what you’re doing – camping is a mugs game.
And yet there is something magical about making tents in the living room and dreaming about sleeping outdoors. My kids have been dreaming about “camping” for ages… I feel a bit guilty about this as there is a 5-man tent hiding in the spare room – but I am hardly going to pitch it on our concrete courtyard!
Glamping is not camping.
I had this epiphany whilst reflecting on our glamping experience. I think this is where I had gone slightly wrong in my thinking. When we set off to St Jerome’s (on the city loop train) the kids and I were buzzing with excitement about our camping adventure in the city – and don’t get me wrong there was plenty to delight. But that night after the kids went to sleep (as I edited the photos from our afternoon on my laptop) I started to reflect on what it was we’d signed up for.
While I sat there in semi darkness listening to the sounds of the city in the distance, I put a note on my Facebook account wondering at the juxtaposition of paying to sleep outdoors in the city. My friends quickly weighed in and the response was fabulously wide ranging (clearly the notion captured imaginations and emotions alike!). There were the romantics who thought it sounded absolutely fabulous, there were the purists who felt camping was best done in the wilderness, there were the pragmatists who couldn’t get their heads around the idea of being in the CBD surrounded by fancy hotels with ensuites yet choosing to sleep in a tent, and then there were the socialists who reminded me of those downstairs sleeping rough. So if you are reading this and identify any of the last three pigeonholes – I suspect city glamping may not be for you.
There is something infinitely romantic about bell tents… it’s hard not to be drawn to them. They are large enough to walk around in and open up bags (without having to actually crawl over everything). They are large enough to fit actual furniture – such as beds, rugs and chairs – and yet they are also cosy and intimate. You can still be part of the elements – the night of our visit it rained just as I was drifting off to sleep and I can’t think of a happier sound to hear when you are snug and cosy under the canvas.
So let me tell you about our visit!
As I mentioned earlier we caught the train into Melbourne Central – it was by far (for us) the easier option for getting to the hotel. My instructions for finding the hotel’s reception was to head to Strike Bowling and keep going – thankfully the kids had been to a birthday party at Strike only two weeks before so we knew exactly where to go. When we arrived at reception there were two staff members on duty and after confirming the time our breakfast should be delivered the next morning one of the staff lead us through an unmarked door onto the roof of Melbourne Central. It was a rather unglamorous entrance that didn’t hint in the least as to what lay behind. Outside the 360-degree view included the cone on top of Melbourne central, office skyscrapers and the Myer Emporium.
As we were led to our tent a few things were explained to us – there was a little hut called the General Store which was stocked with complimentary cupcakes for patrons afternoon tea (and a fruit bowl and a lolly jar). At the far end of the roof were the bathrooms (porta-loo showers) and if we needed anything we just sent a text message to the staff (apparently the number was located within the information folder in our tent).
In our tent were complementary iPad’s to use during our stay (thankfully one for each child!) and they connected to the hotel’s complimentary WiFi (which was a bit dodgy as it did drop in and out making watching Netflix and Stan tricky if both kids wanted to watch something different – but worked okay when only one of them was streaming something). The tent was beautifully heated (and during summer there is air-con) and, had we wanted, there were electric blankets on the bed. Included is a complimentary mini bar (with soft drinks, water and alcoholic ciders) as well as colouring supplies for the kids.
After our brief tour we explored our tent, explored the rooftop surrounds, ate some cupcakes and explored the inside of the General Store (there were supplies in there you could help yourself too if you wanted to make a cup of tea or a piece of toast etc) we also relaxed in our tent for a bit. We’d had a really busy first five days of school holidays and had just dropped off our friend, who’d visited from Sydney, to the airport before we arrived at St Jerome’s – so it was actually nice to be quiet and just sit for a bit. Eventually, I dragged the kids away from the iPads and we went inside Melbourne Central to investigate dinner. The food court is an easy option if you don’t want to go very far – and given we were all tired this was just perfect. After dinner, we popped into Strike and the kids redeemed the bowling vouchers and got competitive. The walk “home” was an easy 1-minute amble.
After showers, the kids snuggled into bed with the iPads and finished off the movie they’d started earlier. We saw other people coming and going from their tents – but everyone spoke in hushed tones and was respectfully quiet. Before our stay, I had been worried we’d be listening to people coming and going throughout the night – but for all intensive purposes we felt like the only people there.
As well as the complimentary double pass to Strike (on weekends it’s advised you book ahead), complimentary burgers can be delivered to your tent from 8-10pm (but I failed to read about the burgers until the next morning). During happy hour (I think, but don’t quote me, this happens from 5-7pm daily) guests are invited to have a complimentary cocktail or mocktail from the daily specials board at the General Store – staff don’t tend to hang out here unless they are making cocktails for someone, so you need to send a text message to put your order in… by the time I got the kids settled for the night it was nudging 7 pm and cold outside – I felt drinking a cocktail by myself while the kids watched a movie about a dolphin was borderline #sadcase, so I reached into the minibar and helped myself to a cider instead.
Outside our tent, it was a cold spring night – but inside it was deliciously warm. After the kids were asleep I went and had my shower (the idea of getting up to a cold morning and having to leg it to the bathroom in my PJs was not attractive). Thoughtfully St Jerome’s supply you with loads of towels, robes and thongs – and their bathrooms are filled with soaps, shampoos and sanitary items (although each bathroom seems to have different offerings – from Tony Guy to Tresseme). Thankfully for those frosty mornings and cold nights the bathrooms are heated – so my evening shower was a lovely one.
Our tent was set up with an extra bed – in theory you can sleep a family of four in the large tent (or you can organise a separate smaller tent with single beds just for the kids). However, neither of the kids were interested in sleeping on the rather bouncy airbed we were provided with – and neither was I (hello physio). So they both fell asleep in the queen size bed… when I turned in for the night I had to relocate Charlie into the airbed – which worked fine until he woke in the middle of the night and relocated himself back into the big bed with Immi and I… then I became the meat in the sandwich and struggled to properly return to sleep. I could have moved myself (or a child) back to the air mattress but this kind of common sense tends to fail when you’re in that quasi-zombie state at (what I am guessing was) 3am.
I am not sure if it was the glow of the city lights or just the pre-daylight savings early day break, but many hours before 6 am I convinced myself it was 6 am. What felt like an hour or two later one of the kids got up to get a drink of water and I asked them to check the time… it was 5.10am – gahhhh. I forced myself to doze but by 6 am the game was up and so was the sun. So my top tip – bring a sleep mask!
At 7 am our breakfast arrived – concierge decided to give us both options from the breakfast menu and toasties for the kids. So I had a sample of the gourmet delivery whilst overwhelmed by the smell of fresh toasties – that the kids demolished. Coffee was also delivered (and the kids juices came in latte cups too = clever thinking). I was beginning to feel vaguely human after the caffeine hit and food… I don’t bounce back quite as quickly as I used to from three hours of unbroken sleep – but by 8.15am (and second coffee down) we had packed up and were ready to check out.. sadly no lazing about that morning as (boo) I had to go to work… the upside of a night out literally on the town, my commute to work was two train stops!
What would I do differently? I would have liked to have had more time – probably arrived as soon as check-in begins at 2 pm (and not have to work the next day) to make the most of being in the centre of town. I would pack a sleep mask and keep my phone handy (to see the time in the middle of the night). I’d ask for single beds instead of the double air mattress (not sure if that’s an option – but worth asking!). I’d leave my laptop at home (given there is no way of securing the tent I had to take my computer out with us when we went bowling and had dinner). Thankfully neither myself or the kids needed a bathroom visit in the night – but if you’re prone to these (and it’s a cold night) you might want to pack your uggies.
St Jerome’s The Hotel is constantly changing and evolving – what we experienced in the spring of 2015 will no doubt be quite different to what patrons during summer will get to experience. And that is part of its charm – no two visits would be the same. Both the kids had an absolute ball – I have no doubt that this is something they will remember for the rest of their lives. As soon as we left they asked me when we could go again – it really was a special adventure. And as an adult who has little interest in actual camping – glamping is a very happy (and easy) solution. I loved all the quirky little touches throughout. Would I do it again? I am definitely up for more glamping – maybe next time I’ll try a different view.
St Jerome’s The Hotel offered us a press discount for our stay. All views expressed are my own, and I’m happy to be able to support this growing Melbourne company.