A day of British icons and Hollywood glamour

Venue: The Houses of Parliament & Planet Hollywood
Date: 05 Aug 2013

Group Leisure readers outside the Houses of Parliament.

Our latest familiarisation trip explored the fascinating history of the Houses of Parliament, before enjoying some movie-themed fun at Planet Hollywood. Rebekah Tailor reports. 

One is a British icon, symbolic of a nation’s political history; the other is inspired by the glamour of Hollywood, housing a treasure trove of movie memorabilia. Setting for the ill-fated gunpowder plot and duelling ground of the country’s leaders amid the battlements of the famous green benches, the centuries-old Palace of Westminster seems a whole world away from the lively backdrop and retro booths of trendy dining experience, Planet Hollywood.

Categorised within London’s eclectic mix of attractions and both incredibly popular in their own right, the two are separated by a short drive across Whitehall. Our latest Reader Club familiarisation trip, organised by Ticketmaster Groups, would prove to be something of a culture clash - a day of contrasts which would combine history and politics during a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament, followed by movie-themed fun and great food at the vibrant Planet Hollywood restaurant on Haymarket.

“I think everyone should do a tour of the Houses of Parliament, it takes your breath away. The guides are so good and you can really see and feel all of the history. Everything about it is great.” Gordon Haddon, B&B Group Leisure

A guided tour through Parliament

Already firmly established as a favourite for groups, with GTOs voting it the Best UK Attraction at the Group Leisure Awards two years ago; your visit to the Palace of Westminster - more commonly known as the Houses of Parliament - will comprise a 75-minute Blue Badge guided tour, following the processional route taken by The Queen during the pomp and ceremony of State Opening of Parliament.

I can honestly say it’s one of the best guided tours I’ve experienced, with thanks in no small part to our knowledgeable and animated guide Tony Anderson. Dishing out a wealth of historical fact, art and architectural highlights, plus some quirky anecdotes thrown in for good measure; Tony also emphasised the idea of Parliament as a working building, pointing out the office paraphernalia of pigeon holes, stationary desks and message walls - a notion that’s easy to forget during summer recess.

 Sampling the Afternoon Tea menu at the Houses of Parliament.

Treasures of the royal apartments

I was struck by the wealth and opulence of the royal apartments; the rich decor of the Robing Room themed by the legend of King Arthur, the magnificent portraiture of British monarchs past and present, gilded statues of warrior Kings and Queens which line the Royal Gallery alongside Daniel Maclise’s vast battle scene depicting The Meeting of Wellington and Blucher after the Battle of Waterloo.

Leading to the splendor of the House of Lords, furnished in red and dominated by an ornate gold throne and canopy, with magnificent stained glass windows lining the upper part of the chamber; it’s a huge contrast to the House of Commons, which - as of course the name suggests - is rather dull by comparison.

Appealing to every interest

For me, the appeal of the Houses of Parliament lies in its fascinating history - dating back to the 11th century Westminster Hall which has seen the trials of William Wallace, Guy Fawkes and Charles I - and traditions - including the summoning of the Commons by Black Rod during State Opening, a practice dating back to the Civil War. Wherever your interest lies, be it the stunning architecture, political evolution or the numerous artworks housed inside, there will be something to capture the imagination of your group, and each individual Blue Badge guide can help to bring a new and different perspective to your tour. 

This year, the Houses of Parliament has broadened its visitor experience with the addition of afternoon tea in the Pugin Room, and as part of our familiarisation visit we were treated to some of the menu highlights, which range from traditional scones with jam and cream to a tasty lemon meringue ‘shot’. New dates have been confirmed up until 21st December and group organisers wishing to add this experience to a tour can book via Ticketmaster Groups.

Cheers from Planet Hollywood.

Movie-themed fun at Planet Hollywood

We were thoroughly spoilt by the hospitality of sales manager Tony Lincoln and his team at Planet Hollywood, where we were able to relax in a reserved area as platters of food were brought out in a constant stream: mini portions of fish and chips, chicken skewers and to-die-for chocolate brownies amongst the selection.

Planet Hollywood is more than a restaurant; it’s an experience. Housing what’s reportedly the UK’s largest collection of film memorabilia, ranging from the motorcycle in Pulp Fiction to ‘The Hoff’s’ red Baywatch trunks, it’s great fun exploring all the exhibits. Myself and a couple of our group organisers particularly enjoyed matching our hand prints against those of the famous names featured in the wall of fame, including George Clooney and Sylvester Stallone.

“I think Planet Hollywood has been absolutely fantastic. It’s somewhere I’d never have thought of coming to so it’s really exceeded expectation.” Chris Almey, Journey Continues

Themed areas, including the Bond, Cabana and British film rooms, mean that groups of all sizes can be easily accommodated; and with such a wide variety of dishes - pizzas and salads, grill specialties, seafood, and Asian wok fired stir-fries - there’s plenty to choose from.

It’s fair to say that Planet Hollywood’s lively atmosphere, with screens previewing movie clips and music videos adding to the buzz, may not be for everyone. However a number of organisers who had previously been convinced that it wouldn’t suit their group, were thoroughly impressed by the great set up, and by the end of our tour were completely won over by this fun and dynamic venue.

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