Parque Santiago III (Tenerife)
Earlier this year, when deciding on a holiday destination for my daughter, mother, aunt and myself, we had three requirements when looking for an apartment. It had to be in a central location with easy access to attractions, restaurants and facilities-we wanted it to be quite busy and vibrant and suitable for families. It had to be a ... great price without compromising on comfort to suit our range of budgets. Finally, it had to be child friendly. This was perhaps the requirement I was most conscience of when looking for a holiday due to previously making the mistake of choosing accommodation geared towards 'quiet' adults. While that had been lovely, my daughter (six at the time) had found it a little boring and didn't find any friends to play with. This time, I wanted to be sure there would be other children there, to make life easier for all.
We'd already decided on Tenerife, as we were going early May we knew we'd be guaranteed the best weather there. When we found a deal with Jet2 for just £1200 self catering at Parque Santiago it appeared to tick every box.
About Parque Santiago
Parque Santiago is a group of apartment complexes around Tenerife comprising of a mix of private and company owned self catering apartments. Our booking stated we could be in 3 or 4, which as it turns out (along with 5) are actually right next to each other and conveniently located right between Los Christianos and Playa De Las Americas. What we didn't realise is the separate apartment complexes made up a larger sort of village, with shops, restaurants and attractions all owned by the same company. As a guest in any of the complexes, you are welcome to use the facilities in any of the others. Situated right on the beach, and with just a ten minute walk in either direction to Los Christianos and Playa de Las Americas it is a fantastic location.
We arrived at around 10pm at night and were dropped right at reception by the coach. What first struck me was how clean the whole area was. The street and entrance are a white tile, which is kept immaculate, and the buildings themselves traditional Mediterranean white and terracotta. despite the dark I was already impressed.
We went into the reception and were less greeted, more grunted at, by a quite surly man and with probably less than twenty words exchanged were given our apartment key and directions. We were staying in Parque Santiago 3, the same complex as reception. We set off to find our accommodation, which is in several blocks surrounding a very large pool area (more on this later!). While ours was the first block, we soon discovered that there was no lift to our second floor apartment. My Aunt has several health complaints and did manage the stairs but found them a struggle, and at that time of night none of us were overly enthralled at having to lug our suitcases up several flights of stairs. If this would be an issue for you then I highly recommend getting in touch with either the complex or your tour operator beforehand, as there are ground floor apartments available as well as lift facilities in another block. We were offered an exchange of apartments the next day, but deciding we couldn't face the move and liking the location of our apartment we decided to stay and manage.
Despite the curt service and struggle up the stairs, when we arrived at our apartment we were delighted by it. We'd booked a one bedroom and discovered it was a quaint maisonette style, with the bedroom and bathroom upstairs and kitchen, living/second sleeping area and balcony down. It has some lovely little touches, like shuttered windows in the bedroom, and the kitchen and living area were surprisingly spacious.
It was well equipped with pretty much everything we needed in the kitchen and while not very modern in appearance was immaculately clean and well presented. Myself and my daughter, being the younger two, were sleeping on the sofa bed, which was a bit heavy and a pain to pull down/put away. I have to be honest and say while my daughter loved it, I found it really uncomfortable and didn't sleep well the first couple of nights. My Mum and Aunt found the beds upstairs very comfy, however, so I'd say this apartment would work better for 2 adults and 2 kids.
The rooms were cleaned daily, and the plentiful supply of towels and bedding were also changed daily, something we really hadn't expected. The best part about the apartment however was the large balcony which faced into the central garden and pool area. it was beautiful sitting here on an evening when it was all lit up. Most of the apartments seem to have this view too.
The apartment itself was very peaceful, and because this is a very family orientated location noise from the surrounding bars and restaurants stops at 11pm. The room was also equipped with a TV and safe (at a cost) and the only thing missing was a hair dryer (luckily I'd brought my own although they can also be hired) The apartment didn't have air conditioning, which was fine when we visited but may be uncomfortable later in the year. Overall, I was pretty impressed with what we had for our money and felt incredibly safe in this apartment.
Without doubt, it was the facilities at Parque Santiago that made the holiday. Our complex had not only a huge pool which was styled to have a busier area for kids, snaking around into a quiter 'cul de sac' for grown ups, but it's very own water park for kids. This area, which is suitable for children aged 3-12 years old had numerous slides and a park area. It was big enough for parents of younger children to find a spot to sit, but for us, we managed easily everyday to get sun loungers just to the side giving us a perfect view. It's constantly supervised by at least two lifeguards and the slides are small enough to be safe for older children's parents to leave the kids to it without having to get on themselves. The pool is very shallow, so a splash area rather than swimming. My daughter made lots of friends, and we spent almost everyday there rather than the beach. At 6pm sharp, the water park closes, which also meant we avoided the 'five more minutes' whining!It was fantastic.
The layout of the enormous pool area is extremely thoughtful, so that the water park and family area are completely separate from the more peaceful, quiet area. So well thought out infact, that a work colleague stayed in the same complex a couple of weeks later without children and didn't even see the water park. There are an abundance of sun lounges and parasols, again laid out in such a way that people without children could enjoy a quite area.
The complexes catering facilities are limited to pool bar food and ice-creams and is quite pricey. however, from 5-7 every night there are buy one get one free offers on all drinks, so we enjoyed rounding the day off at the pool by sampling different cocktails. However, as all the apartments are well equipped for self catering, the supermarket directly opposite the hotel provided plenty of budget supplies. We loved the cheese, bread, fruit and beautiful cakes...I've never seen cakes like them. Alternatively, by walking a few minutes along the beach you find plenty of café's selling sandwiches and toasties for just a couple of Euro.
The complex has excellent shopping facilities, however again a short walk towards Playa De Las Americas and you will find similar, if not the same, items for cheaper. The same applies to the restaurants, with the ones owned by the Parque being significantly more expensive than the ones in Los Christianos and Playa De Las Americas themselves, and for this reason we didn't use them.
The Parque also has a mini golf park and gym, which we never used. As we were able to use the facilities in all complexes, we had a nosey in neighbouring 4, however this was very obviously more geared to adults and much quieter...although lovely. We did enjoy meeting up with my daughters friends at the small play park just outside 4 on an evening after eating out. This area has a very nice outside bar for the adults, and my daughter thought it was great to play out until midnight. The whole area is very well maintained, with security an unobtrusive presence, so we felt very safe. We never once witnessed any drunk, loutish or anti social behaviour in this area.
A note on the staff
I think perhaps this is a common theme in resorts of this sort, but I found the staff at this complex to be particularly miserable. Luckily I had very little reason to need their service, but on the few occasions I did, it was painful to say the least (and nothing to do with the language barrier). Apart from checking in, the only time I encountered them was when booking tickets for Siam Park, and after leaving my kindle at the pool. My fault I know, but I was literally met with a shrug when enquiring if by chance it had been handed in. I felt like such a bother just by being there! The one member of staff who stood out, however, was the lovely lady who ran the pool bar, who was always ready with a smile and a nice word. This attitude is certainly not continued outside of the complex however, as we found the people extremely friendly and welcoming in the restaurants and attractions we visited.
Parque Santiago 3 wasn't without some flaws, namely accessibility to the apartment and the severe lack of customer service towards guests. However, as this was a self catering holiday, we could let this go and found the facilities, cleanliness, location and safety of the area for our party far outweighed the niggles. For families, this is a pretty close to perfect location with plenty for kids to do and an array of shopping, restaurants and attractions on the doorstep. I wouldn't stay here though without kids, despite the thoughtful layout providing quieter areas. Not for many other reasons other than it just wouldn't be what I'd choose if I didn't have a child to consider. I'd prefer something smaller, more remote and authentic.
Price wise, I think we got a lot for our money. At just £300 a head including flights, the Parque certainly offered value for money. Being located right on the beach and easy access to both the neighbouring resorts, it's location couldn't be better. I'd happily recommend Parque Santiago to families of children under 12 looking for a reasonably cheap but quality holiday in a safe and secure area with guaranteed sun of course!
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Hotel Sahiwa (Dharamshala)
~Setting low expectations~ Sometimes you know that your hotel is going to be really rubbish and there's nothing you can do about it. In India it happens quite often and you just have to accept that not everything about your holiday is ever going to be controllable. When makemytrip.co.in sent me their suggested itinerary for ... our (not very) made to measure tour in November 2012, my crap hotel antennae were quickly twitching about the hotel they offered in Dharamsala. A quick check on Tripadvisor soon confirmed my worst fears about the Hotel Sahiwa with only 20% of reviewers recommending the place. To be fair, it was soon apparent that almost all the hotels in Dharamsala were pretty poor. I guess part of the problem is that a lot of the potential clientèle are there to visit the Dalai Lama's temple complex and pre-disposed to be charitable about just how rubbish the hotels are. Others are just looking for somewhere really cheap to stay and don't care about the standards.
I tried to get makemytrip to change the hotel and they offered an alternative with even worse reviews. I gave up the fight. I'd beaten them into submission at our hotel in Shimla but it was clear that I'd have to admit defeat on Dharamsala. It was just two nights, how bad could it really be?
We arrived after a very long drive from Manali. It took about 9 hours on twisty mountain roads and after such a long journey in a small car, I think I could have slept standing up in a cupboard. We passed through Dharamsala main town and kept going on up the mountain to McLeod Ganj, the 'suburb' of Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama and his followers live. When we reached the centre of McLeod Ganj, it looked quite fun - lots of restaurant, lots of shops, lots of people wandering around. We then headed down a one-way road leaving the bustling centre behind us, passing some market stalls and eventually ending up too far from the fun. When we pulled up outside the hotel we were just relieved the journey was finally over. Our driver, Mr Singh, spoke very little English but he didn't need any advanced vocabulary to tell us what he thought of the hotel - it was writ clear upon his expressive face. His face said "How dare Makemytrip put my lovely passengers in this dump?"
The reception area was nothing special but it wasn't desperately dirty or falling apart and it was clearly recognisable as a hotel reception which isn't something you can ever take for granted in India. A man appeared, looked surprised to see us and took our paperwork and gave it a long, hard and uncomprehending look. With a shrug he handed a key to a porter who appeared as if by magic, grabbed on of our bags and trotted up two flights of stairs to room 208 on the front of the building. Perhaps he knew how crap the room was because he opened the door, dropped the bag and shot off to get the other one, returning with the second bag and repeating the quick escape with such haste that Tony couldn't even tip him. Normally in Indian hotels the porter hangs around, shows you everything he possibly can and loiters for a tip. This one gave us a sympathetic and embarrassed look and ran away before he could be asked to explain the hot water boiler.
~Room for Improvement~
My expectations had been low and they were met in full. The room could have been OK if it had ever seen any love or care. It was quite big but very grubby. I've not stayed anywhere quite so yucky since we spent a night on the border of India and Bhutan about 5 years ago. The curtains were a weird purple velvet with a tassled pelmet and they'd seen better days as one of the panels was hanging oddly. The bed was large and hard with a very thin foam mattress of the type that you know means you'll never be able to lie on your side. Bed side tables were placed either side of the bed and then there was a large wardrobe and drawers, a full sized fridge, an old style television, two old soft chairs and a coffee table. The strange thing was that all of the furniture matched and might well have been quite grand when it was new. The wall behind the bed was clad in wood and the other walls were wood clad to waist height. The floors were tiled and chilly under foot. The view would have been impressive if you could have seen it through the filthy windows.
The bathroom was pink and battered which makes it sound like a chip shop saveloy. The tiling was laughable but the highlight of the room was the electrical socket for the water heater where the plug was missing its cover and the bare wires were exposed. I've seen worse - I've seen open wired directly beneath a shower head before now so this was mile by comparison. The bathroom didn't smell but it looked like it really needed an intense steam clean and a good sweeping to remove the hairs on the floor. (Have I disgusted you yet? Or do I need to keep trying?) On the other hand, there was plenty of hot water and good water pressure but we just couldn't crack the secret of how to get the water temperature right and resorted to bucket baths which were effective and much more controllable than the shower.
A final touch to remind us of home could be found on the wall - a large framed picture of Battersea Power Station.
As we looked around and giggled nervously at just how shocking the room was, there was a knock at the door. The manager or the receptionist or one of the other random employees needed our passports in order to complete the check-in paperwork. At this point we'd seen no evidence at all of any other guests in the hotel and were starting to wonder if we were the only people stupid enough to be booked there.
~The most important diners - in fact the only diners~
We took a nap to kill time until dinner and set off up the road to look for somewhere to eat at about 8.15 pm. We weren't looking for much; I fancied a cup of coffee, some momos, maybe a beer but not a big sit-down dinner. Nothing within a hundred meters of the hotel was open. We had high hopes of the coffee shop just down the road but they were putting the chairs up on the tables and it was clear we were too late. We tried a place up the road in the other direction, only to be told they were closing too. Our room rate included dinner so we gave in and headed back to the hotel to see if we could get some food.
The restaurant on the ground floor was empty and they took us upstairs to where we imagined there might be lots of other guests but there weren't. The man in the restaurant seemed really excited to have some customers and we felt like we might well be the entertainment for all the staff. I have no idea what we could have eaten if we'd been more hungry but after a few head wobbles and a few questions of the 'So what have you got then?' type we opted for a veg fried rice and a veg chop suey and two sweet lime sodas. The restaurant man looked disappointed that he couldn't persuade us to have more and would have loved to pile our plates high with goodies, but we were keen to avoid getting too much and risking it being horrible.
The classic presentation of a sweet lime soda in a 2 star Indian hotel seems to have been one of the few standards that's taught to all restaurant staff. You will have a slightly grubby looking glass and you will perform a bizarre origami-style folded wrap of paper napkin. You will also present said drink with a low quality straw of such low density that it takes only two or three bubbles of carbon dioxide to lift the straw out of the glass and dump it on the table. At this point, the wary travel has to decide whether the straw now has more germ potential than drinking directly from the glass. As I sit watching my straw and swearing about the inability of a country with a space programme and a nuclear bomb to design a straw that doesn't leap out of the glass like a suicidal rodent.
The food was ok, not very exciting, not very spicy, but entirely edible. We polished off about two-thirds of what we'd been offered which was enough to not look rude. We turned down offers of nan bread or chapattis but we were quite touched by the enthusiasm of the guy who was so pleased to have people to feed. Before we headed back to our room we asked if we could get another blanket and he quickly arranged for one to be sent up.
~When you need clean undies and spiritual enlightenment~
We were about half way through our trip so we decided to get some laundry done. Sixteen items cost us the princely sum of 300 rupees for washing and pressing. At the time that was around £4. So if you ask yourself 'What price clean undies?' the answer in Hotel Sahiwa is not very much.
We started our first morning as we ended the first evening - in the restaurant with the man who'd fed us the night before. He whipped up some good cheese omelettes and some toast and we were happy travellers. He also complied with my request for boiled hot water for my cafetiere mug without even questioning what I was up to. The service was good, the food entirely acceptable and we were in the mood to see the town. After breakfast we headed up to the top floor to the roof terrace to look out at the mountains and the town and towards a large building where Buddhist monks kept walking past.
We stepped out of the hotel at 10 am to meet Mr Singh who smiled, pointed down the road and said 'Temple, you go, me here' and waved us on our way. Whilst we'd spent the previous evening cursing our location for having no restaurants, we'd totally failed to spot that we were about 50 meters from the entrance to the famous Buddhist monastery. This may well be the reason why the Sahiwa manages to stay in business but throughout our visit we didn't actually see any other guests.
On our second evening we skipped dinner after stuffing ourselves in a lovely coffee shop where we felt it our duty to try out a wide range of the available cakes. The man in the restaurant was so pleased to see us when we came back to the hotel and then quickly disappointed when he realised that we didn't want dinner. I felt guilty, but not guilty enough to eat another meal.
I don't know exactly what we paid to stay at the hotel as it was part of our package. The hotel website which calls Sahiwa the 'most beautiful hotel at McLeod Ganj' is perhaps at risk of being smacked across the knuckles by trading standards, but exaggeration is not unusual on Indian hotel websites. Room rates start at 1500 rupees (less than £20 at that time, now closer to £15) for room only whilst the tarrif on the website suggests ours was probably around 3000 rupees with breakfast and dinner included. For the standard of the rooms, that's not particularly cheap but you almost certainly pay for proximity to His Holiness's temple. Our room was classified as a double 'deluxe' but looking at the photos on the site, it's hard to tell the difference between the base level 'semi-deluxe' and the top level 'super deluxe'. They'd all make you desperate to trade them for a Travelodge. However, despite our initial shock at the grubby conditions once we got used to the weirdness of the place and the lack of other people, we actually quite enjoyed staying there. The staff were friendly and eager to please if we could actually find them, the breakfasts were good and the proximity to the hottest attraction in town (the Dalai Lama's temple) made it a great location. Once we'd found the marvellous Mandala Cafe with it's spectacular cakes, any short comings in the hotel suddenly didn't seem like quite such a big deal.
Do I recommend it? That's hard to say and it really depends on how much dirt and decay you can handle and whether your glass is generally half full or half empty.......
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Venetian Resort and Casino Las Vegas (USA)
There isn't much about Las Vegas that doesn't knock your proverbial socks off. Driving up the strip and pulling up in front of this stunning hotel was a particular highlight of my Vegas experience. First impressions were just amazing, the first thing that hit me was this beautiful scent that was in the air. Moving into the grand ... hotel lobby, with its gold features and Venetian art and decoration, was an absolute pleasure.
From first minute to last, the staff here were just amazing. Considering the large volume of people, check-in queues were relatively short. The lady on the front desk upgraded us to a large suite as she found out it was our honeymoon, which was an unexpected suprise. Any qualms or orders we rang downstairs for were dealt with quickly and pleasantly.
Very reasonable indeed for such an amazing hotel. Saying that, I paid for a double room and was upgraded to a suite, so very good value indeed!
The bed was huge with very high quality bedding. No outside noise whatsoever, considering the hundreds and hundreds of rooms.
Immaculate from top to bottom, not just the room but the entire hotel.
Right on the strip, surrounded by the other Iconic Vegas hotels. Next door to the Wynn and The Pelazzo and across the road from The Mirage.
The suite was huge. Very luxurious bathroom with huge bath, amazing shower and dressing area. Sleeping area raised up some steps above a large living area with comfortable sofas, coffee table and dinner table overlooking a courtyard (with views out across the horizon)
Didn't use the spa, but the many pool areas were incredible. Large swimming pools, Jacuzzis and spot-on service staff who bring your drinks to you.
Of the 5 days we stayed we ate breakfast in Buchon 3 of the mornings (The French restaurant) which was great. We recieved breakfast via room service on the last day and it was very good indeed.
40 or so restaurants and cafes, Casino, Spa and health club, shopping mall, theatre, Madamme Tusauds....should I go on? Ok then. Gondola rides on the canal, an authentic Venetian town square, award-winning bars and nightclubs...
I visited a number of the other hotels on the strip, and have to say The Venetian is the most luxurious. All of the hotels are themed and "gimmicky", but the Venetian isn't as in your face about it.
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Hotel International / Address: 2815 Ramada Way, Green Bay, WI, US, 54304
Hotel International / Address: Bosweg 15 · Hoofddorp, 2131 LX Netherlands
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Hotel International / Address: Imerovigli 847 00 22860-22618
Hotel International / Address: The Majestic Malacca, 188 Jalan Bunga Raya, 75100 Melaka, Malaysia
Hotel International / Small hotel in the Moroccan coastal town of Essaouira.
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Hotel International / Address: Kannikegade 14 - 8000 Aarhus C
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