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A Little London Luxury
Crowne Plaza (London - St James)
Member Name: collingwood21
Crowne Plaza (London - St James)
Date: 24/05/08, updated on 24/05/08 (163 review reads)
Advantages: The room, The location, Good reception service
Disadvantages: The breakfast
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!
Address: 45-51 Buckingham Gate, London, SW1E 6AF
Summary: A posh London hotel near St James' Park
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