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July 21, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    London

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Speaking of Virgin America, I recently wrote about my flight on their partner airline, Virgin Atlantic; I flew them from New York to London to attend a one-night naming ceremony party for Seabourn's newest ship, Sojourn. Of course, I wasn't going to just go to Europe for one day like some of the other invited guests, so I made a two-week trip out of it. Here's part one of my trip, which includes staying at The Dorchester Hotel and attending a British Airways party.

The best way to get to central London (Paddington Station) from the airport is via Heathrow Express. It only takes 15 minutes and the trains depart every 15 minutes, so there's no need to rush. A one-way ticket costs £16.50 for adults and £8.20 for children (it's £3 more on the train). You can book in advance at or at the station. I booked in advance and all I needed to do was give the conductor my confirmation number.

Heathrow Express is currently offering a 50 percent discount for groups of two or more adults. These round-trip tickets need to be booked online before 11:59 P.M. September 5, 2010, with return journey valid within one month of initial journey. For more see

Without a doubt, the best way to get around London (besides walking, of course) is on the Tube and bus. To save money on your fare, get an Oyster Card like the locals (it has a £3 refundable deposit). It'll transform the usual £4-ride into a £1.60-ride (although it could cost more for longer distances).

Did you know: Only four European countries require driving on the left-hand side of the road: Britain, Ireland, Malta, and Cyprus.

I was invited to spend two glamorous nights at the 248-room Dorchester Hotel. In case you don't know, The Dorchester is a five-star luxury hotel and one of London's most prestigious, if not the most prestigious. It's an iconic British landmark that has been operating since 1931. According to Wikipedia, a ton of high-profile celebrities have stayed there, including: Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Cruise, Johnny Depp, Nicole Kidman, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Peter Sellers, Michael Jackson, The Beatles, and Lady Gaga.

It's also in a perfect location to use as a base to explore London. The building itself sits off Park Lane in the trendy Mayfair district. Directly across the street is Hyde Park, and a notable landmark for Americans, the Hard Rock Café, is just a few blocks away. FYI: The nearest Tube stops are: Hyde Park Corner (0.27 miles, 0.43 km), Green Park (0.41 miles, 0.66 km), Knightsbridge (0.49 miles, 0.79 km), Bond Street (0.52 miles, 0.84 km), and Marble Arch (0.52 miles, 0.84 km).

The Dorchester has impeccable service, as you might expect. There's always a doorman dressed immaculately in tails and a top hat to welcome guests and manage all the foreign luxury cars pulling up one after another. As always, when I checked in I had a ton of questions, and two of the ones I fired at the clerk he wasn't sure of the answer. So instead of wasting my time, he made phone calls to two different people at the same time to find the quick answers. Gotta love it.

Unfortunately, to respect the privacy of their guests, the Dorchester doesn't allow photos in their lobby. It's a shame, because their Promenade, which was furbished by Thierry Despont, is jaw-droppingly stunning. They have a couple restaurants there (I had breakfast) and it's especially popular for afternoon tea (served at 2:30 and 4:45) or drinks while listening to the live piano player. I don't think their professional photo of the lobby (shown above) does it any justice. To me it seems all doctored up and looks nothing like it really does. I think they need a new photographer, do you?

It was a long walk to my room, but well worth it, to say the least. I almost fainted when I opened the door-I got upgraded to a suite since the hotel was full, and the living room alone had two couches, a retired fireplace, exquisite English furnishings, and artwork. I spent a good amount of time working at the antique desk, trying not to be enticed by the marvelous views.

The bedroom was almost bigger than my whole apartment. The centerpiece was the four-poster canopy bed that was like a dream to sleep in on the first night. The sheets were so soft that I could've spent the whole day in bed. Unfortunately, the maid changed my sheets and replaced them with some that weren't as soft. This is the one thing that drives me nuts about fancy hotels-many times guests don't even have the option to keep the same sheets, towel(s), and robe for their entire stay; most guests are so high-maintenance that they demand new sheets and towels. I'm not high-maintenance, and I'm not ashamed to say I only change my sheets once a week at home. Other room features included a stocked minibar, flat-screen TV, and fresh fruit basket.

The Italian marble bathroom was a destination in itself. It was designed in the classic art deco style to echo the hotel's 1930s origins. The bath/shower was so deep you practically needed a pole vault to get into it-they did have a stool-and there were heated towel racks and Floris toiletries. FYI: The water did take a while to warm up.

The Dorchester has six restaurants. All of them are top of the line, including Alain Ducasse, which is the only three-star Michelin restaurant located in a London hotel. The other popular one is The Grill Room, where I'd eaten with my dad a few years ago. Its interior design has to be one of the most beautiful I've ever seen in a restaurant.

By the time I got situated it was 10 P.M., and I figured I should eat so I wouldn't wake up hungry in the middle of the night. It was too late to walk to the grocery store, so I got a table at David Tang's China Tang. It's known for the best Chinese cuisine in London, and the whole experience was memorable. I felt like I was transported to a James Bond movie set the moment I walked down the stairs from the Dorchester's lobby. The sight of the restaurant's mood lighting, Chinese decor, well-dressed staff, and the beautiful patrons was almost overwhelming.

I was only going to get an appetizer, but the maitre d' or manager came over and said, Let me order for you. I'm not sure why I agreed, but I told him what I don't like (seafood, lamb…) and then out came dish after dish. My favorites were the assortment of Shanghai steamed dumplings and their signature dish of black-pepper beef. The others were only OK because I'm not a huge fan of bok choy or mushrooms so the E Fu noodles with assorted mushrooms went to waste. But I went out with a bang, as the grand finale was an assortment of exotic fruits (lychee, mangosteen, passion fruit, papaya, pineapple, mango…).

The Dorchester Spa was recently named Favorite UK Hotel Spa 2010 by readers of Condé Nast Traveler magazine. It's on the ground floor in a beautiful space with attentive help and striking colors. The nail room is a grown women's candy store, as the windows are lined with tons of different nail-polish shades. The spa is famous for their facials, but my back was killing me so I switched to a Swedish massage at the last minute. The therapist was just OK at giving massages, but after talking to her I could tell she was the top of the line at facials. Either way, the experience was relaxing, and I was greeted with fresh lychee juice with ginger (I think) accompanied by a hazelnut biscuit. What's surprising is that most high-end hotels import masseuses from Thailand or Eastern Europe, but not the Dorchester. I love that most of theirs are English, since I was in England.

The men's lockers had individual safes and the key came with a large safety pin to stick to your fluffy robe. The table had a heating pad built into its neck rest and afterwards many guests (not just spa patrons) were dining at the Spatisserie: an intimate space for light lunches, afternoon tea, or sipping champagne and spa cocktails.

From August 1 to September 12, 2010, the Dorchester is offering a Summer in the City package deal, which includes breakfast. Prices are:

Superior Single From £215.00
Superior Double From £255.00
Deluxe Double From £325.00

Every day I was in London, I would walk through one of London's eight Royal Parks. The closest and biggest was Hyde Park, which is across the street from the Dorchester and has 350 acres (142 hectares) with over 4,000 trees, a lake, a meadow, and even horse rides. It seems even bigger because it's connected to Kensington Gardens, which covers an additional 275 acres (111 hectares) and has one of the most beautiful gardens ever.

Although dining at the Dorchester was special, it's just not in my or most London traveler's budgets. My favorite inexpensive place to have lunch is in Hyde Park. It's so easy, relaxing, and inexpensive. On more than one occasion, I purchased a sandwich from either Pret A Manger (there's one on practically every street corner) or at Harrods' food court. My favorite thing from Pret A Manger is their tomato, full-leaf basil, and brie sandwich (£2.60). I top it off with a Love Bar, made with oats, caramel, dark-chocolate chunks, vanilla pumpkin seeds, pistachios, almonds, and honey (£1.20). Although Harrods is notorious for overpriced items, their takeaway food court is affordable. I had a spicy chicken with mango sandwich for £4.99. And an even shorter walk from the hotel is Marks and Spencer, which is also a perfect place to get picnic food.

What's great about Facebook and Twitter is that I can easily tell my friends/followers where I am. Because I posted that I was in London, I scored a last-minute invite to British Airways' cocktail party at the Halcyon Gallery. It was just a few blocks from the Dorchester and I was able to see a bunch of media friends. I also got to chat with BA's CEO Willie Walsh and British actor Bill Nighy (from Love Actually). BA was showcasing their brand-new first-class seats, which look amazing-hopefully I will get to test them out so I can write a full review.

The Halcyon Gallery(website) is free to the public and has a bunch of Bob Dylan's original artwork (I didn't even know he painted). Afterwards we walked a few blocks and had a fine dinner at The Wolseley.

More London stories

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Note: This trip was sponsored in part by Dorchester Hotel

Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


The Dorchester


Dorchester Bellman


What Service




My Suite


Retired Fireplace


Working Desk


View From Room




Canopy Bed


Mini Bar






China Tang


China Tang Dumplings


Exotic Fruits


Dorchester Spa


Nail Room


Men's Locker


Halcyon Gallery


BA Party


BA's New First Class Seat


I Could Get Used To This


BA CEO Willie Walsh


John & Paul


Chris McGinnis & Bill Nighy


Bob Dylan's Art Work


BA Girls


London Media





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