I and a friend booked to stay at the Crowne Plaza St James for two nights in February 2012 as part of a show and stay package. We were very impressed with the hotel. The doormen and reception staff were welcoming and we received a free upgrade on our room. The interior decor was well maintained and our evening meal at the restaurant was good. The only down side was the noise emanating from building works on the building next door, but this did not stop us from getting a good nights kip. I enjoyed the hotel enough to be rebooking there on my next trip down to London with my husband this coming May. It is ideally placed to walk to Buckingham Palace and St James park, and not too far from theatre land.
== Introduction == In October, I went to London with my parents to meet my MP as part of a mass mobilisation of Parliament (raising awareness of the importance of Speech and Language Therapy) and the RCSLT Giving Voice Awards Ceremony. We wanted a hotel that was in central London as I knew there wouldn't be much time between meeting with my MP and getting ready to head back out for the evening Gala Dinner and Awards. My dad booked the flights well in advance but still hadn't booked a hotel with only a couple of weeks to go so my mam decided to look online and found us this 4 star hotel for 2 nights. Having stayed in a Crowne Plaza previously I was pleased with this choice of hotel and couldn't wait to get to London! This review is based on three adults staying in a suite for two nights in October 2011. == On arrival == We got the tube from Heathrow Airport, changed at Hammersmith and got off at St James' Park. It was then less than a five minute walk to the hotel. Check-in was quick and the reception were staff friendly. The lady presented us with our 3 key cards and told us how to find the lifts and our room. The reception area was large and clean, with seating areas and plenty of staff on hand to ask for assistance. There was a concierge desk and all the staff here were really friendly and provided accurate information about local attractions, how to get there etc. Once checked in, we made our way to the lifts in the hotel lobby. When we got there my mam said to me 'that man looked like David Hasselhoff!' We didn't think anything of it until a minute later he joined us in waiting for the lift. I agreed with my mam that the man did indeed look identical to David Hasselhoff, and I let her know this via a little non-verbal communication (a discreet smile and a nod!). By this time I really wanted to hear his voice to establish if he was a lookalike or actually The Hoff. He got in the lift with us and just as we were going to ask him which floor he was going to he pressed the number himself (2, for anyone who is interested!) My dad said 'hello' as we got in the lift, and Mr Hasselhoff's 'hello' back confirmed his accent!! I couldn't help but look at the man in the lift, and then back at my mam. He smiled at us and I think he knew that we recognised him. He opened his room key card, as he smiled, and my mam and I saw that next to 'customer name' read: 'Mr Hasselhoff' - we looked at each other as if to say 'I knew it!' and my mam said 'you are aren't you?' (yes mam, he is (The Hoff), but he can't read your mind!) (My mam is mortified that she hadn't thought of something more sensible to say, but it was just such a surreal moment, and I seemed to have lost my tongue completely! So I'm just glad she actually said something at all. I just stood there smiling!) The Hoff smiled at us and asked us where we were from, and we had a brief conversation. He told us he was going to his room to sleep and when we asked what he was doing in London he said 'lots of things, you'll see me all over.' Sadly at this point he got out the lift and we didn't see him again. It all happened so quickly (from ground floor to level 2) that I didn't even have time to ask for a photo! == Our Room == As previously mentioned, we booked a suite. This was amazing, but probably bigger than we needed for our 2 night stay. That said, it was truly fantastic getting ready to go the gala dinner in such a posh room and made the whole experience even more special! Our room was located in the corner of the corridor and we let ourselves in easily with one of the key cards. Straight opposite the door was a sitting room, with 2 chairs, a sofa, a coffee table and a TV and minibar. This ended up being where we asked them to put my bed which meant that I was able to have my 'own' room whilst staying with my parents. There was a short passage into the main bedroom where there was a queen size bed and a walk in wardrobe. Around the corner from the bed was a desk and a dressing table as well as a chaise longue (which look slightly worn). There was also a TV in the main bedroom. Tea and coffee making facilities were also found in the main bedroom, and although initially only two cups, when we asked they provided a third one with extra milk and biscuits. == Bathroom == The bathroom was lovely, and especially large. It provided everything we needed for our stay. There were two sinks with a large mirror in front of them both. The bath and shower were separate, meaning someone could have a bath at the same time as someone was in the shower cubicle should they wish. I couldn't help thinking what a brilliant bathroom it would be for when I go on holiday with my two cousins, as there is more than enough space for three people to get ready to go out in the bathroom! The shower was good; powerful and hot. Plenty towels were provided with fresh ones each day if required. I didn't use the bath but my mam did and said it was suitable, if slightly too large. == Breakfast == Breakfast was included in the price of our room and there was a good selection of hot and cold food. The waiting staff showed us to a table and asked if we would like tea or coffee and toast. Both mornings we asked for all of these and they arrived fairly promptly. The cooked breakfast was nice with a good selection of food. There was the usual selection of breakfast foods that you see at buffet breakfasts which was all good quality and tasty. == Checkout == Check out was simple and the staff friendly. We did not have any problems with checking out. We left our bags in our room and a member of staff collected them and stored them for us until we came back later to collect them (our flight wasn't until the evening). == Location and Surroundings == I've only visited London a few times but this has ended up being twice in the same year! When I visited London last February we stayed near King's Cross, so always had to plan ahead if we wanted to sightsee. This hotel was the perfect location for what we wanted for our particular trip in October as I knew I needed to be near the Houses of Parliament and Church House Conference Centre (for the awards ceremony) and this proved perfect! A couple of minute walk to the left of the hotel sees you arrive at Buckingham Palace and the same to the right is the heart of Westminster. We went to the theatre on the Monday night (the hotel hailed a cab for us). We decided to walk back to the hotel as it was only a 10 minute taxi ride and the weather was mild. It took us about 45 minutes to walk but wasn't unpleasant, and we passed Buckingham Palace (signalling we were almost back!). == Cost == Prices vary depending on room type and when you stay but a double room for 2 adults on a week night at the end of January starts from £119 per night (I searched this on 8th January 2012), so it would be worth checking a number of dates etc to suit your needs. == Other == The hotel has a number of restaurants and a spa. We did not use any of these so I cannot comment on them. The hotel has a total of 8 floors, 340 rooms and 21 suites. The staff speak a large number of languages (see website for more details). Check out: 12noon Check in: 2pm 45-51 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AF Tel: +44 20 7834 6655 Before our stay, my dad contacted the concierge via email asking if the hotel has a hairdressers onsite as I wanted to get my hair put up for the Gala Dinner. They emailed back promptly saying that they didn't but would recommend the hairdressers next door. On the Monday, we went in and enquired about getting my hair put up the following day. I made an appointment (even though it was expensive) as I wanted the Gala Dinner to be perfect! The hairdresser was very friendly and I think the hotel made a good recommendation. (It cost £45 to get my hair put up, which is probably £20 more than I would pay for the same style at my local hairdresser) == Advantages == * Comfortable * Friendly and knowledgeable staff * Location * Large bathroom * Good breakfast == Disadvantages == * Cost * Chaise longue was a little worn == Overall == We thoroughly enjoyed our stay at this fantastic hotel. I've been fortunate enough to stay in a number of good hotels over the years and this one compares very well. The staff are attentive, friendly and knowledgeable, the room was spacious and comfortable and breakfast was nice. Although expensive, I would recommend this hotel as it's luxurious and is located in central London, within easy walking distance of Westminster and Buckingham Palace. I would happily stay in this hotel again, however, due to the cost it would need to be for a special occasion, as I'm sure there are other suitable hotels more budget friendly. But iff it's good enough for The Hoff... :-) Thoroughly recommended! Thanks for reading!
INTRODUCTION I booked dinner and theatre for my wife's thirtieth birthday, and needed a relatively up-market hotel in London - with a bit of "wow" factor - to overnight in. I am a frequent visitor to IC Hotel Group properties on business (these include the five star Intercontinental Hotels, the four to five star Crowne Plaza, and the three to four star Holiday Inn) and am a member of their award-winning "Priority Club" loyalty scheme, so I decided to use my accumulated points to redeem a "Reward Night" and stay for free. The hotel is on Buckingham Gate, with extensive frontage and an attractive red and white brick façade with decorative arches, reminiscent of Florentine architecture. GETTING TO & FROM The hotel is in the heart of Westminster. It's a short, three minute, walk from St James' Park Tube station on the District & Circle Lines and about five minutes walk from Victoria Mainline and Tube stations. For national bus services, the Victoria Bus Station is a further five minutes walk down Buckingham Palace Road from Victoria Station. There are no local buses serving Buckingham Gate itself, but it's a short jaunt up to Victoria Street (which runs between Victoria Station & Parliament Square), which is usefully served by the No. 11 (to Liverpool Street via St Paul's eastbound - and to Fulham Town Hall via Sloane Square & Chelsea westbound) and the No.24 (Leicester Square, Tottenham Court Road and Camden Town eastbound). If you need more options, just walk down to Victoria Station which has a large local bus station in front of it. It took us around twenty minutes by Tube to get to Leicester Square (Eastbound District Line from St James's Park, changing for the Northbound Northern Line at Embankment) for our pre-theatre dinner in Chinatown, so it's a convenient base for the West End with easy and quick access to points further East. WHY THIS HOTEL ? I can't claim to have undertaken much extensive research on this property. The main reason for booking here was personal. It is only a few doors down from historic Westminster Chapel, where my wife and I used to attend Sunday evening services, and also where we were married. Our wedding photos were taken at the very photogenic decorative fountain in the lovely internal courtyard garden of the hotel (It won the '''Westminster in Bloom Best Hotel Garden''' in 2006). Our reception was at the Sheraton Skyline at Heathrow, so we didn't actually stay at the Crowne Plaza on that occasion. Everything about her birthday was a surprise - she had no idea where we were dining, what we were seeing at the theatre or where we were staying - so it was a lovely surprise for her when we arrived for our stay. FIRST IMPRESSIONS First impressions were excellent. The hotel has an impressive entrance, replete with doorman and red carpet and the reception staff were very friendly and professional. They actually seemed pleased to see us, and we were thankfully spared the gushing obsequiousness or, conversely, the downright haughtiness that you can find in some London hotels. The interior was in very much in keeping with exterior of the property with plush and expensive looking furniture, fittings and fixtures. My wife, not so easy to impress, was quite delighted. The only slight down side is that there is very little natural light in the foyer area, so its not really somewhere you would want to linger. GUEST FACILITIES As we stayed just the one night, we did not get a chance to explore all of the varied facilities, so although I cover these below, my personal comments are confined to the room, breakfast and the main bar, which we enjoyed on our return in the evening. + Restaurants The hotel has three (3) restaurants on site. '''Bistro 51''' , just off the foyer, serves British and European style café food (and doubles as the breakfast restaurant in the morning). '''The Quilon Restaurant''' which overlooks (and in summer spills out into) the interior courtyard, is a Michelin-starred Indian restaurant specialising in southern coastal cuisine and is the sister restaurant of the more famous Bombay Brasserie. '''The Bank Westminster and Zander Bar''' serves contemporary British food. The main bar, '''The Hamptons''' is covered in detail below. Twenty-four hour room service is also available. + Gym & Spa There is an in-house luxury spa and gym called '''Spa at 51''' which has a fully equipped, state of the art gym (with personal trainers and physiotherapists available by appointment - for a fee of course), separate male/female sauna and steam room facilities, but no swimming pool. The modestly sized gym periodically runs yoga, abs and circuit classes which are all free for guests. The Spa offers a full menu of various beauty treatments and massage therapies ranging from around £25 for an express manicure, £125 for a 90 minute Traditional Thai massage, and an ultimate £285 for a four hour, all-in pampering experience. Needless to say, having not factored any of this into my weekend budget, I kept the treatment menu well out of the sight of my wife! + Business & Events On the business and special event side of things, there are conference and banqueting facilities for up to 250 delegates/guests with twenty-one (21) variously sized rooms available for conferences and meetings. There is also a business centre on the ground floor, providing twenty-four hour internet access, stationery, typing, photocopying, faxing, binding and PC printing services. Priority Club members get a 20% discount on the rates for these services. OUR ROOM Our room, on the third floor, initially seemed to take an eternity to get to (probably because as nominated Sherpa, I was carrying everything) and was eventually reached after a few twists and turns which betrayed the age of the building (i.e. converted for hotel use rather than built as one). The room itself was bright, airy and spacious and as a big bonus, it overlooked the aforementioned courtyard. Included were a twenty inch LCD TV with video on demand, a selection of luxury toiletries in the well-appointed bathroom, a fully stocked mini-bar (admittedly with eye-wateringly expensive London pricing), complementary bottles of still water, trouser press, tea making facilities with posh biscuits, iron and ironing board and room safe. The bed was very comfortable - in fact, probably the best hotel bed I have slept in - and coming from a veteran, that means something. The bathroom had separate bath and shower facilities. The shower enclosure was very generous in size, and could comfortably accommodate two (nudge nudge, wink wink) with excellent water pressure. Until we recently renovated our own bathroom, I used to see hotel showers as a real treat and this one did not disappoint. I also appreciated the extendable shaving mirror, and my wife was equally chuffed with the lighted make-up mirror (one of those with the disconcerting fun fair effect of making you face look huge). THE HAMPTONS BAR After a fantastic night out (dinner at the Imperial China on Lisle Street, followed by great seats at Les Miserables) we hailed a cab on Shaftesbury Avenue, which took less than ten minutes to deliver us "home" (it cost around £6.00 with tip). On arrival, we settled into the main hotel bar (Hampton's) on the ground floor, just past reception, and treated ourselves to a couple of cocktails each. These were excellently made and professionally presented (my Mojito was perfect, as was the proprietary rum cocktail - a variation on a Cuba Libré - which followed). Service was attentive without being intrusive. Staff had the knack of turning up just at the right time, without the need for us to employ the drinks menu as a hailing device. We had a lovely relaxing late evening. Prices were high as expected (four drinks came to about £35 including gratuities), but as the room itself was free, we felt able to splurge a bit. The bar has an outside area, overlooking the internal courtyard, with patio heaters to keep the chill away at night. I understand you can also take a traditional English afternoon "Cream" tea at The Hamptons between 3pm and 5:30pm daily. OUR DISTURBED LIE-IN After a very comfortable night's sleep, we experienced our only real niggle - we were woken up at 7am to a consistent banging noise outside our door. It turns out the housekeeping closet was just outside our door, and a careless member of staff kept letting it slam shut behind him. A quick word sorted the problem out, and we enjoyed another couple of hours snooze - a luxury usually denied us by our four year old daughter. Thankfully she was at my mother-in-law's for the night! BREAKFAST We descended for breakfast at a very civilised 9:30. Breakfast was not included in our "Reward Night" and was charged at a very princely £20 a head for the hot and cold buffet offering. Being a difficult sort, I ordered two poached eggs and skim milk for my coffee. The eggs arrived without fuss, expertly done and served on small discs of white bread. The buffet itself was well stocked with the usual gubbins - everyone from the Full English crowd to the muesli and yoghurt brigade - and points in between -appeared well catered for. We stoically resisted the temptation to try and fill our bellies to justify the cost (we were doing posh for the weekend, so that sort of crass behaviour just would not do). My only complaint (and this comes down to personal preference) was that the bacon was a little too wet and fatty for my liking, but such was the impression created by the excellent service, that I'm sure they would have frazzled it for me had I been bothered to ask. DEPARTURE Check-out was hassle free. Our extras (breakfast and drinks) were all we had to pay, and we were happy to do so given our very pleasant stay. Having acquired a taste for black cabs the night before, we had the doorman hail us another one for the trip back to Waterloo Station and reality. C'est la vie. LOCAL ATTRACTIONS I'm sure that most people will be familiar with the sights and landmarks in London and will not need reminding of them here. That said, the hotel is in comfortable walking distance of the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, the London Eye & County Hall attractions, the South Bank, Horse Guards Parade, Downing Street, the Cabinet War Rooms, the Tate Modern, Buckingham Palace, the Mall and Trafalgar Square. St James's Park and Hyde Park are close by as well. VERDICT We had a lovely, albeit brief, time and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. Staff were courteous, attentive and professional. The room was of an excellent standard and the facilities we used were clean an well maintained. As such, I would heartily recommend the hotel to anyone looking for a relatively high standard of overnight accommodation without breaking the bank. Footnote: As I did not pay for the room itself, I didn't feel it appropriate to comment on its value for money. As such, my rating is what I would have perceived it to be, given the going hotel rate (£100 to £200 per night depending on room and time of booking) and our extras. © Hishyeness 2009 - Previously published on ciao.co.uk under the same user name.
We stayed here last month as part of an ebay package - 2 tickets to see The Lion King at the West End, and a hotel for the night. As we walked up to the hotel, we were faced with a beautiful, grand looking hotel on the right and a grotty building on the left - we joked that it was going to be that one, but we were shocked when we found out it actually was the other - after all, we'd paid £189 for the entire package and weren't expecting such a fancy looking hotel! The main foyer was pretty grand and spectacular - in fact we both felt incredibly out of place, being about 20 years younger than the average guest and we weren't wearing particularly smart clothes either! Still, the receptionist was lovely to us and asked what newspaper we wanted in the morning etc. Much better attitude than most of the snobby cashiers at John Lewis! Our room looked identical to that in the picture above...except without the tray of breakfast - that was anything up to £45 so we decided to make the most of the (included) breakfast buffet, which had hash browns, scrambled eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, cereals, toast etc. - but no fried/poached eggs unfortunately. Though the dining room was full we were taken through the staff area (the 'quick way') to another dining room were people were eating so that was fine. Back to our room - the bathroom was nice and clean, nice complimentary shower gel, shampoo etc., and lots of fresh towels. We also had a large flatscreen TV from which we could watch channels, order movies etc., which had a nice welcome screen with our names on. The view was nothing special; just buildings, but you can get rooms that overlook the beautiful courtyard I think. I was a bit worried about the noise, as I'd read reviews that the street side was very noisy, but this wasn't the case. The bed was of average comfort, nothing amazing, nothing to complain about. We had to check in after 2 and check out before 12, and breakfast was something like between 6/7 and 9/10 (can't remember exactly as the clocks changed), but it was good. The decor of the bedrooms is not as impressive as the foyer, and some of it feels very olde-English-let's-please-the-foreign-tourists, but overall we had a fantastic weekend and I'd definitely stay there again, especially as it is right near Buckingham Palace and lots of other main attractions.
A couple of years ago I spent two nights at the Crowne Plaza London St James. My husband was there on business and not being one to pass up on a freebie; I took a couple of days leave and tagged along. Because my husband had such a heavy schedule, he didn't appreciate just how good the hotel was overall but he did comment on the well appointed board rooms, the very good corporate lunch and the excellent staff service. I on the other hand was able to digest the lot. I was so impressed that I made a mental note to return on our next leisure trip to the city. Last month, I checked out the hotel's website with a view to booking a room for a couple of nights. I was having difficulty with my computer and decided to ring the hotel direct. There is a central number for Crowne Plaza reservations but experience has taught me that if you can speak directly to hotel staff you get a better service. The receptionist was very helpful and her advice on types of rooms available very useful. I had requested a standard no smoking room, but she explained that that standard rooms were only allocated on arrival. The last time I spent a night in a smoking room, it stank of cigars as did the bed linen. Picking up on my vibes, the receptionist asked me to hold the line. A few seconds later, she informed me that she had upgraded my room and allocated me a no smoking superior room for the same price. My experience had paid off. The hotel is a traditional 4 star deluxe and is situated in Westminster. On Saturday we arrived at the hotel by taxi. The door was immediately opened by the hotel's door man and a porter appeared from nowhere to take our luggage. The reception was a little busy and it we had a wait of around 15 minutes. Our Brazilian receptionist was very pleasant and informative and apologised for our wait. She gave us directions to our room and only then did we realise that our luggage had been taken ahead of us and was waiting for us when we got to our room. Our room had a massive bed, big enough for four people. It came with eight pillows and on both nights, I lost hubby amongst the snow white linen. There was plenty of space to house the television, desk and chair, dining table and chair, mini bar and ample clothing space. There was internet access, ironing board with iron and a hairdryer. The bathroom was of a good size but the bath a little narrow. The usual toiletries and plenty of towels were neatly displayed. Notice that I said table and chair and desk and chair. This was my only niggle. Although the room was large, it appeared to only cater for one person. If we had wanted to dine in the room, one of us would have to use the desk chair and the other, the dining chair. We wouldn't have been sat at the same level -a bit like Peter Kay's house on Christmas Day! Add to that, there was only one bathrobe and one pair of bathroom slippers. Tea and coffee facilities did not include herbal or fruit teas and came with UHT milk. I did ask for fresh milk and this was brought immediately. I stored this in the mini bar and it kept for the two days of our stay. I do wish hotels would provide fresh milk as standard especially when a fridge or mini bar is to hand. The hotel boasts three restaurants, Bistro 51, Quilon and Bank. There are two bars, Hamptons which also serves snacks throughout the day and the very chic Zander Bar. On our last stay, we dined at Bistro 51. This is a very pleasant room, decorated in lemon and blue. The menu is extensive and includes meat, fish and vegetarian. There is also a set menu, three courses for £21 with a choice of three per course. On Saturday evening we decided to eat at Bank Westminster. This is a light and airy restaurant set in the hotel's conservatory and overlooking the Victorian courtyard. We were very fortunate with the weather and on this sunny evening, tables were set in the courtyard too. Surrounded by colourful bushes and beautiful flowers, we thought we would make the most of it and plumped for alfresco dining. Again the menu is extensive with a modern British flavour. Starters range from £4 to £7 and mains from £9 to £20 plus. Char grilled prawns followed by chicken with coconut and sweet potatoes and washed down with a very cold bottle of Pinot Grigio proved to be an excellent choice. We sat out until around 11 and reflected on our recent Greek holiday, having to remind ourselves that this was indeed England. On our last night, we booked a table at Quilon, a south Indian restaurant which is adjacent to the hotel. We had met with some vegetarian friends and having looked at the menu, this looked like a well chosen venue. When dining with veggie friends or family, we also eat vegetarian. Most dishes priced at around £9. I ordered steamed asparagus spears "tempered with olive oil, mustard leaves and fresh grated coconut". The other three all ordered the mini Masala dosa, thin rice and lentil pancakes "filled with tempered potatoes, served with sambar" For our mains we chose four dishes to share, potato and cauliflower with fresh fenugreek leaves, mixed vegetable green curry, chickpea masala and a mango curry. I have to admit that this is one of the best, tastiest and interesting meals I have had in a long time. The service was second to none. At the end of the meal, I completed the little questionnaire and had nothing negative to quote. Breakfast is served in Bistro 51 and was delightful. There was the full range of everything possible for an English/American breakfast. However, I didn't feel the need for cooked food and plumped for the healthier option of fresh fruit including figs, prunes and apricots, Bircher muesli and fresh orange juice. Danish pastries, pan au chocolat and croissants were also available. There are spa facilities in the hotel and a gym, but no pool. I didn't feel the need or have the energy for the gym and although a spa treatment would have been nice, I didn't have the time. We used the express check out service when we left. Our bill had been put through the door on the morning of departure and everything was in order. I did however complete the hotel's feedback form "Let's serve you better" and left it with the receptionist. I think my filling in questionnaire forms comes from years of working in customer service. It's very rewarding receiving compliments and 99% of my feedback was positive. We paid £155 per night for a standard room and breakfast, but the superior room we were allocated would have cost another £40. I have been to London many times and stayed in hotels in most districts. This hotel is a gem of a find. The location is wonderful in that it's a quiet little oasis and yet within walking distance to Buckingham Palace, Trafalgar Square and Covent Garden. The walk to and from the hotel along the mall or through St James's Park is literally a breath of fresh air. Being claustrophobic and with the fear of underground attacks, I haven't caught the tube for years. Where I can, I walk and if it's too far, I catch a cab. Having walked my socks off throughout the day, it is very convenient to be able to take a relaxing bath or shower and choose one of the excellent hotel restaurants or opt for the 24 hour room service. On both occasions I have found the staff to be charming and very helpful. Unless the service and standards drops, I shall be using this hotel for all my trips to London. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED! Update Just received my post and received a very nice letter from the hotel. The Rooms Division Manager states "the points you have raised have been shared with the team here at CP. We hope to have fresh milk in the mini bar by the time you visit us again" I've also received an email from Quilon thanking me for my comments and offering me 10% off my next visit - how's that for service?
This month saw a rather special landmark for me - the 10th anniversary of being together with my partner. We normally choose to mark our anniversary with a meal out or a day trip, but thought that something a little more special was in order to mark our "decade day". With this is mind (and the fact that we hadn't had a holiday in three years), we thought it would be a good idea to have a weekend away in London to visit the Tutankhamen exhibition at the O2. On the odd occasions that either of us have stayed in hotels over recent years, it has been something along the lines of a Travelodge; perfectly serviceable and well within our budget, but hardly special. We thought for once something a bit nicer was called for, and while London is hardly the cheapest place for hotels, we were fortunate that our anniversary weekend fell outside of the bank holidays and half-term breaks. We were hopeful that this would work in our favour, and we would be able to find something a bit more memorable that was still going to be affordable. Last month, I dropped lucky when I found a spring break offer advertised on the website of the upmarket hotel chain Crowne Plaza (www.ichotelsgroup.com). I was unfamiliar with the brand, but noted that they described their hotels as "truly stylish", "unique" and with a "comfortable environment with a high level of professional yet discreet service", suggesting that any one of their establishments would certainly fit the criterion of being memorable. The advertised offer was available for May outside of the aforementioned holidays only, for a limited number of rooms in a limited number of hotels, which were offered at heavily discounted rates. Such offers are usually too restrictive to be useful, but I investigated further and found that there was a room available for the weekend we wanted it, on the spring break rate and in a good, central London location - at the Crowne Plaza St James. The offer rate was valid for standard rooms only (rather than superior rooms or suites) and began at £60 per night including breakfast for up to two adults, varying up to around £100 per night for those hotels that had higher non-offer rates; we paid £95 a night for our room. To me, this still seems like quite a lot of money, but a quick search on google showed that staying in the nearest Holiday Inn (incidentally, part of the same chain as Crowne Plaza and usually much more budget-friendly) for the same weekend would have actually cost more! More to the point, the normal room rate for a standard room at the Crowne Plaza St James was a whopping £295 - and you need to pay a further £18 per person for breakfast on top of that. After seeing these figures it didn't take me long at all to snap up the room! - Location, Location, Location The location of the Crowne Plaza St James hotel is a large part of why it is usually so expensive to stay there. Situated on Buckingham Gate, it is just around the corner from the St James' Park tube station and within 15 minutes' stroll you can reach the park itself, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey and the Houses of Parliament. A few minutes further on, and you can walk to the London Eye and the London Aquarium. This really is an excellent location for leisure travellers like us - and as an added bonus, the local tube was on the same line as Paddington station, so it was very easy to access the hotel from the train. The local area around the hotel is largely office blocks (so I guess it would be a promising location for business travellers too), which means that it gets quite quiet of an evening, although there are a couple of convenience stores, nice-looking pubs and sandwich shops in the immediate vicinity so you are not short of local services either. It certainly gets top marks for the locality: 10/10. - First Impressions While I knew to expect a "traditional deluxe four star hotel", I was still impressed by my first sight of the Crowne Plaza St James. A rather grand Victorian building complete with doorman, it has a large marbled lobby with leather chairs and a piano (it turned out a musician plays there every evening), and plenty of staff available to help you. Despite it being a busy Friday afternoon when I arrived, I was served straightaway at the reception desk and check-in took only a matter of a couple of minutes. As we had arrived slightly before our check-in time of 2pm and the room we were originally assigned was not ready yet, the receptionist quickly found an alternative that was ready so that we could go straight to our room. I was pleased to see that we were given a key card each (in my experience, you usually only get one), presented to us in a card marked with our room number, and we were directed towards the lifts. There were two lifts in the lobby (although one was undergoing repairs during our visit, so getting to and from our rooms could be rather slow at busy times of the day) and another one in the hotel's business centre, although this was rather harder to find. Away from the lobby the hotel was less ostentatious, although still comfortable and well presented; room numbers were clearly signposted in the corridors, although there was nothing directing guests to the stairs and we only found them by accident on the second day. Overall, my first impressions were very good, although extra signposting to the lifts and stairs would have been helpful: 8/10. - Our Room Our room was of a good size and was quietly understated in design; it was spotlessly clean and well presented, with a complimentary bottle of mineral water and two chocolate mints awaiting us on our arrival. The bed was a queen size and comfortable, and an extra blanket was provided, although no extra pillows (which I would have liked, given the ones we were provided with were a bit flat and hard for my liking). In addition, we had a desk, chest of drawers, wardrobe, full-length mirror, mini-bar, bedside lamps, two seats, and a coffee table with glasses and an ice bucket (to use with the ice machines that were provided on each floor). The room had recently been modernised, with the inclusion of a climate control system (which we tried out, but found opening the window to be a quicker and easier way of cooling the room!), flat screen HD TV (with 25 channels, including all those on Freeview, international news stations, Sky One and pay-for-movies), and internet access available at 30p per minute. I was left wondering why there was a wireless keyboard sitting on the desk, until I realised it was for using the internet via the TV - all very clever, but not worth investigating further at that price! A rummage inside the wardrobe revealed a tray of tea and coffee making facilities (including hot chocolate), an iron and ironing board, trouser press, sewing kit and a white towelling bathrobe each. A further nice touch was the selection of free magazines (including that week's "Economist") on the bedside unit. Moving into the bathroom, I was pleased to find there was both a bath and a shower, and a selection of toiletries available (soaps, shampoo, some lovely body lotion and a bottle of Dove shower crème mounted on the wall). There were plenty of towels available, a window (which makes a nice change from the loud extractor fans I seem to usually end up with in hotel bathrooms) and a telephone (am I the only person who finds this a little odd?). It is safe to say I was impressed with this set up and felt very comfortable in the room (I think their description of it as "generously appointed" was fair), although I would suggest that guests avoid the mini-bar and in-room movies, as they were extortionately expensive (£4.50 for a Toblerone and £7.95 for the movies sticks in my mind): 9/10. - The Breakfast One of the big treats for me when I stay in a hotel is getting better breakfast than normal (and better still, having everything prepared for me and not having to clear up after myself). Breakfast in the Crowne Plaza St James can be served to you in your room at no extra cost, but we both decided to go down to breakfast so we could fully sample the buffet for ourselves. It was served between 6am and 11am in Bistro51 (one of the hotel's three restaurants), but a polite letter in our room had noted that the hotel was busy that weekend, and guests might have to wait to be served if they arrived during the peak time of 8.30am to 10am. This proved to be the case when we arrived for breakfast at 8.45am on Saturday morning, although we didn't mind given that we had been warned this might happen - the hotel also provided coffee and pastries on a table in the lobby for guests who might have to wait a while, which I thought was a nice touch. It actually only took 5 minutes for us to be shown to a table, and I was quite surprised how small the restaurant was. The waiter offered us tea or coffee and directed us over to the self-service buffet - also smaller than I expected. There was a selection of cooked "full English" items on hot plates, cereal, juice, tinned grapefruit, yogurt, more pastries, rolls and a brief gesture towards continental meats and cheeses. While the selection was far from the greatest I have ever had in a hotel, the quality was very good, although I abandoned the cooked options once I found out that the hot plates merely kept the food lukewarm. There were several waiters working the breakfast room, but they were kept busy and I gave up trying to get milk for my cereal the first day after it took a lot of effort just to be served toast - although they were very quick to clear plates from tables. On one morning, my partner's plate was snatched from beneath his nose so quickly that he barely had time to grab his piece of toast from it! I wasn't sure whether this was because they were busy and under pressure to seat guests quickly or whether a nice hotel like that didn't want the likes of us cluttering up their smart restaurant. Either way, it wasn't a leisurely breakfast with "professional yet discreet service" on any of the three mornings we ate there; I felt rushed, it was hard to get anything that had to be asked for, and there was never enough butter on the table (and more, inevitably, was one of things you had to ask for as it wasn't included in the buffet). I was prepared to accept this as the breakfasts were included in the price, but if I had forked out £18 each for the two of us I think I would have complained (or at least asked for some hot eggs to be made for me!): 5/10. - Other Services The hotel had a number of other services available that I didn't use - principally for financial reasons! Notably, it has three restaurants: Bistro51 with a British and European menu; Quilon, a Michelin starred Indian restaurant, and Bank Westminster that offered "modern British" dishes. It has its own spa and gym available to guests (apparently included in a list of the World's top 100 spas by Harpers & Queen), a business centre offering meeting and conferencing facilities, a cocktail bar called The Hamptons, and a courtyard garden open throughout the summer. Guests could also have a complimentary newspaper in the morning if they ordered it when they checked in. The one other service that I did use was check-out, which was as wonderfully quick and efficient as the check-in. Based on the range of the services available and how good the reception staff were: 8/10. - Conclusions and Final Thoughts I have been left with mixed feelings from my stay at the Crowne Plaza St James. My individual ratings from the different aspects I have discussed come to 40/50, and I think a dooyoo rating of 4 stars does adequately reflect my experiences - it was good, but not great. Better than a Travelodge and special enough for us to enjoy our anniversary trip, but I was left with the vague feeling that perhaps it should have been a bit better. The special offer rate I got did represent good value for money based on the location we were in and the host of little extras provided in the room, but I would never choose to stay in this hotel at the full rate (however rich I was). The room and the reception service was good, the location excellent, but the breakfast was a disappointment. Indeed, with a decent breakfast (and the service that accompanied it) I would have been happy to award the fifth star to this hotel, but that just wasn't up to scratch for a hotel that describes itself as "deluxe". Would I recommend it? Yes, if you can get a special offer rate and want an excellently located hotel for sightseeing - or if you are going there on business and someone else will pick up the bill! Website: http://www.ichotelsgroup.com/h/d/cp/925/en/home Contact: email@example.com Address: 45-51 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AF