I pried the telephones out of my 15 year old grandson, Davis, and my 18 year old granddaughter, Dominique’s hands and told them, “We’re taking the Clipper to Victoria for tea.” You’d think I just announced the Internet had crashed.
I ushered them down the Victoria Clipper dock at pre-dawn. “Why?” They whined. “We’re going to have High Tea where the Queen had tea.” We sleepily ambled toward the vessel.
“Who cares?” Dominique snorted.
“We have a queen?” Davis looked bewildered.
“Get on the boat.”
I was excited to take them to the Empress Hotel for the world famous Afternoon Tea. But, by the time we boarded the 8:00 a.m. Clipper, I doubted whether or not my quintessentially American teenagers could appreciate the ceremony. But, by then we were near the San Juan Islands – no turning back – no tossing them overboard.
On the boat Davis purchased a deck of cards. We played Fish, ate, laughed and enjoyed the view for the 2 hour voyage. It was a rare opportunity for interactive, gadget-free time with them.
When we arrived in Victoria’s stunning inner Harbor we disembarked and headed out to explore one of my favorite cities. The air was crisp and the horse drawn carriages clip-clopped along the festive avenues. I showed them the Parliament building, China Town, and St. Anne’s Academy while we waited for our reservation.
“When do we eat?” Davis asked. “Soon.” Why can’t I have burger before this ‘tea’ thing?” “No burgers.”
By the time we finished the fascinating Empress Tour given by Mandy Kray of Walk Abouts Historical Tours, we were ready for tea and tiny sandwiches.
Our gracious Tea Hostess, Kristin overwhelmed the kids with her desire to make afternoon tea a grand experience. In direct response to her professionalism they donned their finest behavior.
Kristin skillfully explained what would transpire during the traditional service and brought us our selection from the tea menu, the Empress Blend. Dominique graciously poured Davis a cup without calling him stupid or making ‘that’ face. He courteously accepted, lifting the sugar prongs, offering her a sugar cube. Nobody’s eyes rolled, nobody snickered or made sarcastic remarks. Who were these people?
Kristin served our exquisite three-tiered plate of sandwiches and decadent desserts.
Davis quickly snatched a sandwich off each plate. “Davis,” Dominique whispered, “Start on the bottom plate like Kristin said, then work your way up.”
“I couldn’t,” he said, squirrel cheeks swollen with food. “It all looks too good.”
Dominique smiled. Kristin poured more tea. They politely thanked her. Yes! I kept thinking. These are the grandchildren of whom I dreamed.
One little girl sat at the mahogany table next to ours in her high back chair next to her brother. They were twins, about seven, he dressed in a suit and she a pink dress and tiara. (The Empress has tailored their famous Afternoon Tea to suit the tastes of even the tiniest globe-trotters.) The little girl batted her eye-lashes at Davis. He smiled. She giggled as if sprinkled by fairy dust.
“Kristin’s so genuine,” Dominique spoke softly, “so nice. She acts like she really wants us to have a nice time. It’s so sincere…it’s creepy.” She sat back and took another sandwich from the tray of lusciousness. “I mean creepy in a good way.”
Davis shoveled a delicate Smoked Salmon Pinwheel into his mouth and rolled his eyes. “What is that?”
“It’s lox,” I took one. “My favorite.”
“That’s sooo good.”
“I like the décor.” Dominique admired the beautiful burgundy and cream walls, tapestries and dark woods of the traditional Edwardian style room, as she settled back – a queen sipping her tea.
“I love the dishes.” I held up my cup. The Royal Doulton china is produced especially for the Empress, but dates back to George V. “And the Green Tea Cheesecake, of course.” I placed one of each yummy dessert on my elegant blue and gold rimmed plate.
When it was time to go, the kids were reluctant to leave such luxury and impeccable service. It was then I knew I’d successfully introduced them to a cultural experience they’d never forget.
Back on the Clipper we played cards again all the way back to Seattle. I had worried all morning that my grandchildren would not rise to the classic occasion. It never dawned on me that the splendor of place and tradition would lift their dispositions to meet the grandeur of the day – and that they’d actually like it.
The 5th annual Victoria tea festival: On February 12 & 13 2011 you have the opportunity to explore new teas from around the world.
The Fairmont Empress (721 Government St Victoria BC) www.fairmont.com/empress/GuestServices/Restaurants/AfternoonTea.htm
Make Reservations early: Fairmont Empress Fairmont Empress: (250) 389-2727
Dress code: casually elegant; no flip-flops, torn jeans, short shorts, cut off’s, beach wear, or baseball caps.
Cost: $44 – $55 CAD per person. The Prince and Princess Tea is approximately $18 CAD plus taxes. Tiara optional!
Tip: While waiting for your reservation take The Fairmont Empress Tour starts at 10:00am (11am winter season.) in front of the Fairmont Empress store located next to the Tea Lobby (on the Belleville Street) at 9:55 a.m.
The tour runs 1 to 1 1/2 hours. The hotel has a captivating history, and you’ll learn all sorts of interesting tid-bits about the hotel, and some of the people who have been residents, guests and even “ghosts” within its walls.
Tour Cost: $10.00 + tax Canadian for Adults; $5.00 + tax for children 6-12 years; children under 6 are free. Tickets can be purchased at the Dining Reservation Desk at the Fairmont Empress or by reserving ahead by calling 1-250-995-4688. http://www.walkabouts.ca/empress.htm