The Park Inn by Radisson Palace, Southend-on-Sea

Radisson Park Inn Hotel in Southend

Southend was once the fun-filled Essex coastal spot where East Londoners headed to in the summertime, perennially associated with the classic British seaside icons: donkeys, ice creams and Victorian piers. The donkeys are gone but there are still ice creams to be had and the pier claims to be the longest in the world. But this was no time for the beach; Christmas was coming and our family had tickets to watch Nativity! The Musical showing at the Cliffs Pavilion ahead of its West End debut in December. The show continues its UK tour in 2018.

It’s hard to describe the musical written, directed and co-composed by the creator of the original film, Debbie Isitt without a cliche but it perfectly fits the gap between pantomime and musical. We cackled and wiped tears from our eyes, laughing at jokes the children missed (one about the Mayor’s ball springs to mind). As the audience swelled through the lobby en route to the exit I heard one woman moan to her friend ‘It’s like I’m stuck on the M25.’ 

Once off the ‘M25’, we walked along the cliff top, passing genteel Edwardian houses to our left and Adventure Land and the gloomy sea, to our right. Towering just above them on the Western Esplanade, the Park Inn by Radisson Palace hotel resembles a cruise liner, particularly the glass-fronted apartments crowning the top floors. Once an Edwardian seaside hotel called The Palace, it was also used as a hospital during the First World War. 

With mainly only local B&Bs for competition, which can only offer so many rooms, and a Holiday Inn, the Park Inn holds its own. It’s 137 rooms are huge with hallways-cum-dressing areas the size of most people’s bedrooms, large twin beds and sofa beds so a family of four can easily stay together instead of having to book two rooms. Six family rooms have connecting doors. Our family group was myself and my daughter Maya and my sister and her son Louis, so the divide worked well. Louis said the room was ‘sick’ and Maya said she liked the comfortable and colourful lobby. 

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I first stayed here about seven years ago and, unlike me, the hotel seems not to have aged, from the paintwork to the bathroom tiles. Coastal bright blues swathe rooms that aren’t overly furnished so while they feel comfortable, you can relax without fear of children breaking things as they bounce on the beds or run around. Even the toiletries by Dove give it a homely, familiar feel. Some have wrought-iron balconies overlooking the seafront where you can see the local attractions such as Adventure Island in all its gaudy glory is referenced in artwork such as canvases of helter skelters.

Radisson Park Inn Southend Hotel Essex stays

So this is not a bland chain hotel with little reference to its home; the lobby has modern art and a blue plaque commemorating a stay by Laurel & Hardy in 1932, hallways are hung with black and white photographs of Victorian bathing belles and donkeys and the bar and restaurant are livened up by orange and red murals of the pier and deckchairs. Its RBG Bar & Grill, pictured, above, is themed in red with multiple orange and red lamps above creating a Habitat-ish feel. The mainly buffet breakfast allows eggs cooked in the kitchen however you want them, to go with rustic loaves you slice and toast yourself. There’s the usual bacon, scrambled egg, beans and tomatoes but also butternut squash and lots of fresh fruit and yoghurt. Fresh juices such as carrot and pink grapefruit rest in vintage bottles in a suitably retro wooden crate, similarly the cereals are stored in retro tins. The coffee machine plays classical music also. I bet you’ve never experienced that before.

After breakfast, we each paid a pound to walk the length of the pier, our faces tight in the cold, the children chasing the little train that shuttles back and forth (the windows are strangely decked out with net curtains obscuring the view you would have got on it to see). Built in 1830, partially ravaged by fire in 2005, the 1.341-mile pier is open all year-round, except on Christmas Day. At its head, there’s a surprisingly contemporary Swedish designed cafe-cum-arts centre with tinted green glazing to discourage the birds from flying into it but most striking to me was the overview of Southend that it provides.

Claims that a once-seedy area is now all shiny and new can be annoying to those that always loved them, however, Southend has been the victim of some shocking town planning and if anywhere needs a shine-making boost, it’s here. Genteel villas are the rose amongst the thorns of randomly placed ugly tower blocks and even uglier shopping centres. Yes, people come for the rides, pier, arcades and beach but that doesn’t mean they won’t also come for new gallery Twenty One, which opened last month on the seafront with healthy food, art and events, curated by Focal Point Gallery. The opening of a new boutique hotel is on the horizon, providing further incentive, but if you want a family-friendly chain hotel with history, charm and a lot of space, then you know where to book. 

*Family rooms from £99 room only, parkinn.co.uk

Family Friendly Facts:

Children aged 16 and under stay free when sharing their parent(s)’s room, provided that the room type allows for the sufficient number of beds or sufficient space for a roll-in bed.

Children 12 and under eat breakfast for free when accompanied by at least 1 parent with a breakfast-inclusive rate or with a parent who is purchasing breakfast at the hotel.

Children 12 and under eat dinner free from the children’s menu when accompanied by at least one parent paying full price for at least one main course.