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News & Advice

Katy Holland: Why the Barbie hotel suite has made me a nervous Shrek

Am I imagining things, or has the world been taken over by kids' fantasy icons?

The latest craze among hoteliers suggests it has. Family suites furnished with everything from Barbie wallpaper to Toy Story pillowcases are springing up quicker than you can wave a Harry Potter Magical Illuminating Wand. Speaking as an experienced pestered parent, I know better than anyone how important it is to make room in your life for dodgy Disney socks and cutlery with ants from A Bug's Life painted on it; I've been well and truly had by the marketeers over the years. But this rather cynical craze to lure icon-mad kids to hotels is ringing more alarm bells than Fireman Sam on a busy day. Is there nowhere left to escape to?

Marriott Hotels, which struck a deal with Nickelodeon last year to create themed packages for families including SpongeBob Square Pants-style rooms, were one of the first to cash in on such ploys. Now, the US-based hotelier Gaylord has announced a deal with DreamWorks Animation. Plans are afoot to brand entire family hotels with characters such as Kung Fu Panda's Po, while penguins from Madagascar might join you at breakfast, or a giant Shrek may pop up and greet you at reception.

It's not only the large hotel chains that are getting in on the act. Last week, came the shock announcement that the luxury Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris has just opened two new "Barbie" suites.

Yes, you can choose the "Modern Princess" room, with a pet-grooming table and royal linens, or the "Fashion Icon" room, with designer furniture and a computer. Pillows have Barbie hearts on them, the furniture is embossed with her logo, and there are Barbie dolls strategically scattered around in case you forget where you are.

And for those who prefer "boys' toys", Mattel has also worked with the hotel to create a "Hot Wheels" room.

Is there no sanctuary from all this? Well, I thought I'd found one when I booked our usual rustic no-mod-cons cottage in a remote part of Cornwall – the perfect place to dodge the hype. It was all going so well until I spoke to the owner, who proudly told me that they've just refurbished – with Jungle Book wallpaper for the kids' rooms.

Ah well, if I can't beat 'em, I suppose I'll have to join them. Now, where did I pack those Shrek pyjamas?