Sunday, April 16, 2006

The contrast between Harrods and Madame Tussauds (and Jennifer Aniston)

On Good Friday we decided to go to Harrods for lunch and then have a look around Madame Tussauds. It is unusual for me to go to one of London's tourist attractions, let alone two in one day, so this was definitely going to be an interesting day.

We started by venturing on the train to Harrods. This was painless and simple and getting a train from the suburbs into central London and looking at the scenery always reminds me of the sheer size of London. We arrived in Knightsbridge and made our way to Harrods, the shop, the institution. It really is an experience, there is no other store in the world like it. The ambience, the people, the sights, they are all unique and wonderful.

If you have read some of my previous blog entries you'll know that good customer service is a particular passion of mine. Harrods lived up to my expectations. Every single member of staff we encountered, whether to ask directions to the toilet or to buy something, treated us impeccably. There were people everywhere, yet we were served as if we were all potential customers with huge spending power. After a bit of looking around we found ourselves in the food hall. It is worth going to Harrods just to have a look at the food hall alone. The architecture is quite spectacular and the variety of food and delicacies on display is awesome.

We ate lunch in a bistro type place within the food hall. The food was particularly nice. I had a mixed grill, which consisted of bacon, kidneys, steak, lamb chop, mushrooms, liver and a sausage. It was exceptional, cooked deliciously and served quickly. The section we were in had a bar type of arrangement, where all the customers sat on stools which were arranged around a central counter, in the middle of which was the cooking area, a huge barbecue with grills and things around it. Although it was clearly in the interests of the restaurant to get its customers to eat as quickly as possible, as there was always a queue of people waiting for a seat, we never felt as if the staff were rushing us. The service was superb, the food was very expensive in comparison to what I would have paid in a restaurant elsewhere, but it was worth every penny. I consider it a pleasure to pay a bit more than the norm if I can get good service and food for my money. We then left Harrods, had a browse around Knightsbridge, then made our way to Madame Tussauds.

What a contrast. When we got there we immediately became aware of a long queue. I realise that Good Friday must be a busy day for tourist attractions and we decided to join the line anyway. Every time I have ever driven or walked past Madame Tussauds I have seen a long queue so I figured that, if we came a different time, we'd probably have a fairly lengthy queue anyhow.

We then spent two hours queuing. I don't actually mind that. What I did mind was the lack of thought that the management of Madame Tussauds had seemingly put into this. The general tidiness of the area was appalling. We had to stand for about an hour outside in the street and then the line went into the building for about another hour. It was disgusting. There were piles of rubbish strewn everywhere and the few dustbins around were all overflowing. I am amazed that a place like this didn't appear to have any institutional pride. Surely I am not the only person to see this as a place by which tourists may judge London. I was also surprised that the management had not done anything to make the queue more interesting. The only entertainment was some TV screens showing a looped reel of adverts for other Tussauds attractions. I would suggest that they should employ some street entertainers to walk up and down the line to do a bit of juggling or magic or mime. It would be too hard to make the act of queuing a positive experience. Come on Tussauds, if you sort this out it would make a world of difference.

Once we got into the attraction I was quite disappointed. It was simply too crowded, we couldn't get enough time to look at the waxworks because of the sheer amount of people. Some of the waxworks seemed realistic and others not as good. My kids wanted their pictures taken with many and the thing that struck me was that the wax appeared to reflect flash, so all the photographs had an unnatural shine on each waxwork I guess a more diffused flash would help, but these things are hard to overcome under the conditions.

Jennifer Aniston, the only one I really wanted to have my picture taken with, was actually incredibly different to how she looks. Of course I know how she looks in real life as I have dreamed about her, a lot.

We had a good look at everything, including the planetarium, which is a largely outdated concept now. Then we left. It was worth going but I won't be returning in a hurry.

Overall I would give Harrods a 9 out of 10. Madame Tussauds gets a 2 out of 10. I'd give Jennifer Aniston 1. It was a day of distinct contrasts but the staff and general ambience at Harrods were the runaway winners.


childof25 said...

Absolutely hate Madame Tussauds, spent 3 years in London before finally caving in and going..worst 15 pound I ever spent in my life. IMO it is by far the most touristy, overrated attraction in London!

Rhythmic Diaspora said...

I think I'd probably agree with you.

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