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Crowne Plaza St James - A Lovely Experience
Crowne Plaza (London - St James)
Member Name: Hishyeness
Crowne Plaza (London - St James)
Advantages: Great location, excellent service, good value for a London hotel
Disadvantages: No Pool.
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 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.
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.
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, 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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Summary: A great hotel for an overnight getaway in London
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