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From Tiny Irritations, Mighty Reservations Grow
Hilton London Docklands (London)
Member Name: andymcf
Hilton London Docklands (London)
Date: 17/02/03, updated on 20/04/03 (342 review reads)
Advantages: Lovely rooms, Superb, friendly staff, Great location
Disadvantages: Too many minor irritations to allow me to wholeheartedly recommend
To the uninitiated, London Docklands might sound pretty horrible. Images of huge industrial wharves, run-down slums and social problems are actually totally mis-placed and this is actually a part of London which has clearly undergone a very successful hip operation - and "hip" it most certainly is. Right across the river from the infamous Canary Wharf, this is an up-beat, trendy part of the British capital where everything really does seem to be happening. Be confident when you say "I'm spending the weekend in Docklands" it's a far more perfect location than it sounds. Unless you loathe "Yuppies", of course.
Those readers who have read my previous travel reviews might have formed the opinion that I'm something of a "Hilton" fan. They'd be absolutely right; I've never really had cause to complain about a Hilton hotel before and, as a fiercely loyal Hilton Hhonors Gold VIP member, I tend to get treated pretty well and earn both Air Miles AND Hhonors points when I stay, which count towards future stays. Take a seat; I'm actually going to have to burst the bubble this time. I'm not a completely happy bunny. Whilst there are very many things about this hotel which pleased me, one too many minor niggles leaves me unable to offer my usual whole-hearted recommendation until I'm convinced that they've got their act together. And I hope that they will, because this is a hotel with much to offer. Read on!
We booked a special rate and paid £169 ($272), in a
ce, for two nights' accommodation in a Deluxe room, including full breakfast for two on both mornings and dinner for two on the first night. Work commitments meant that we arrived late on the Friday evening and we were able to take our free dinner on the Saturday evening instead - this wasn't a problem. Given that the room rack rate is £140 ($225) per night, that the table d'hote menu is £25 ($40) per head and that breakfast is £13 ($21) per head, this represented a saving of £213 ($343) or 56% and represents a superb deal. I shouldn't really be complaining. Or should I? I promise to be rational in my nit-picking - it's the very least I can do!
Besides - when did anybody in their right minds ever pay the rack rate for a hotel room? They are generally completely fictional. Brace yourself! Here comes the review proper!
We arrived later than we would have liked, at about 8:30pm, parked the car in the only available space on the forecourt and headed in to Reception with our luggage and pushing Josh in his baby buggy. Reception is bright, airy and welcoming and offers good views across the river Thames to Canary Wharf on the northern bank. There's a reception desk, a concierge, a travel desk and, at this time of night, no queues - despite the hotel apparently being completely sold out for the night of our visit. The receptionist was extremely pleasant and checked us in quickly and efficiently, handing over two electronic keys for room 1310, and a key for the secure car park beneath the hotel. Secure, yes. Adequately-sized, no. I was fortunate to find the last available parking space. Had I been five minutes later, I'd have had a real headache. First minor irritation.
The hotel is formed from three four-storey buildings linked by glazed walkways passing over dry-docks leading off the river Thames. Rather quaint! Two modern buildings and one converted wharf. I was glad to see that our room
was in t
he converted wharf; it's got a lot more character and it's best connected to the important facilities such as bar and restaurants. If your room number begins with 1, you?re in the wharf. If it starts with 2 or 3, you're in the modern bits. If they've got space, it's worth trying to get a wharf room!
We found the lift - it was something of a counter-tardis! Maximum capacity: 5 people. Well, I'd very much like to see 5 people cram inside it! In we went, anyway; two adults, one baby, luggage and a baby buggy. A tight fit, but we made it. We were soon in...
...Which was, I have to say, extremely pleasant. This is a converted wharf (which I now understand is actually an acronym for "Ware House And River Frontage" - there; you live and learn!) and the room had been very sympathetically renovated. The walls are bare brick, the windows are octagonal and have huge oak shutters instead of curtains, there's a decent view of the river and it's generally very comfortable indeed. The carpet was clean and a warm red colour and the bed was not only huge but very comfortable indeed. The bathroom was of a good size, though I suspect that the heating and extraction systems were malfunctioning, and decorated smartly with grey marble-effect tiling. We had decent toiletries, fluffy towels and, as ever, just one fluffy Hilton bathrobe. Why, in a double room, you don't get two bathrobes is still beyond me but it seems to be a common, if slightly illogical, policy.
A bed time story
Well, why not? Are you sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin. Once upon a time, there were three bears. Daddy bear, Mummy bear and Baby Bear. They decided to visit a hotel in Docklands. Whilst Baby bear was used to Goldilocks stealing his porridge, he was a little disconcerted to find that his bed was not there! Despite having ordered a cot (or crib) for Josh, this was not in the room when
we arrived, ev
en though reception had acknowledged receiving the request. This was minor irritation number two. Little did I know that number three would rear its ugly head quite so quickly... We 'phoned Housekeeping. Hilton are very good at picking up the 'phone and instantly greeting you by name. Except this time, I was apparently called Simon Crompton. Now, I have never been known as Simon Crompton, nor do I ever intend to be! Whilst the requested cot was (quickly) brought to our room, I used the infamous Hilton "Check your bill by TV" system to look at my room bill. There, along with mine and Amanda's name was Simon Crompton's! Nothing against Simon, but this was meant to be a family event and there wasn't room for a stranger! OK - this turned out to be an administrative error on the hotel's part (He had apparently checked out late from our room the previous night and was still on the hotel's computer system), but - being serious here - we worried that maybe somebody else might have a key card to our room and, also, had good reason to worry about the integrity of the hotel's billing system. Neither are terribly conducive to a relaxing weekend. So - three minor irritations so far, and the weekend had hardly begun!
Time for a drink - I need one!
We went downstairs and discovered the Terrace Lounge bar. Comfortable and reasonably priced, we had no complaints. The staff were friendly and helpful, Josh was welcome and the atmosphere was superb. Had we wanted it, we could have ordered from a selection of Chinese food - their snack specialty. Instead, we had a few drinks and then retired to bed.
Very comfortable. We had a great night's sleep and the wooden shutters made for a great blackout. Josh slept like a log in his cot and we all managed to enjoy a lie in - which was great - since breakfast was available until 11:30am. We didn't wait quite that late, though! The
morning bath / sho
wer was hot and comfortable, though some guests might have found the bath to be a little on the small side. Emerging from the bath in the (one) bathrobe, I went to the door to collect the newspaper I'd ordered. I like the Saturday edition of the "Daily Telegraph" (it's got an excellent crossword and I also really enjoy their Travel section) so that's what I'd ordered. The front page said "In Today's 12 sections..." Imagine my disappointment, then, when I discovered that no fewer than 10 sections were missing. I got the main section and the sports pages. No Travel section, no Weekend section, no magazine, no nothing. Minor irritation number four. They?re starting to build up. I decided to check my bill through the TV; I'd bought quite a few drinks in the bar on Friday evening and thought it might be good to check how much I spent. First the good news - Simon Crompton was no longer showing on my account. Good news is often accompanied by bad news, however - and in this case; my name was also not showing. I was unable to check my bill throughout my stay. Minor irritation number five, I believe.
In theory, the hotel is very well served by transportation. You can arrive by car, as we did, and enjoy free (if very limited) car parking. You can arrive by underground (Canada Water station on the (excellent) Jubilee Line) and be met by the hotel's courtesy minibus. Or, you can use the hotel's water taxi (£1.80 single / £3.40 return) to cross to the Canary Wharf pier from whence you can catch an impressively high speed boat service to either Central London (about 20 minutes) or the delightful Greenwich Village (about 10 minutes). We'd arranged to meet up with my mother (Josh?s grandmother) in Greenwich and turned up in good time to catch the hotel's river taxi to connect with the service to Greenwich.
Now, I'm not an intolerant person, but I can
't abide stupidity.
Several of us waited on the hotel's pier for the water taxi, whilst it sat on the other side of the river. We waited, and waited. The taxi, also, waited, and waited. Then it all happened. The Greenwich boat which we needed to catch steamed up to the pier and the taxi finally decided to come over to pick us up. As it left the opposite pier, so did the boat we?d waited 40 minutes for. We boarded the taxi, waited 20 minutes whilst the "Captain" read his tabloid paper and finally crossed the river to find that the next boat to Greenwich would be another 40 minutes. We caught the "Docklands Light Railway" instead. I'm losing count of the minor irritations, but I think that this is number six. It was a cold day, but we eventually had a great time in Greenwich, Josh had a nice boat ride back to Tower Bridge, we then had a pleasant walk along the Thames embankment, a crossing of the unique Millenium Bridge and a trip to the Tate Modern art gallery. See ? I can do culture! It was fun!
Back to Base
It had been a long and cold day and we were very pleased to return to the hotel. We arrived at our room and swiped the key card. The door stubbornly refused to open. I?m not sure if this was minor irritation number seven, or major irritation number one. I left Amanda and Josh outside the room and went down to Reception to get this sorted out. We subsequently quickly gained access to our room but, to be honest, not without some staggeringly stupid questions. "Did you book the second night separately?" being one of them. Excuse me? Having gained entry to the room and enjoyed a can of lager from the fridge, we felt ready to venture downstairs for dinner. I'd reserved our table at reception when I'd gone to sort out the key problem. Or so I thought!
...Can be taken in one of three locations. Top of the range is Traders Bistro. We didn't try this, but its loca
tion is unrivalled. The hotel
spans a dry dock leading off from the river Thames and Traders Bistro is a three-masted sailing vessel moored in the dry dock. It specialises in steaks and sea-food and is apparently highly acclaimed and very popular. Bar snacks with a Chinese theme are available in the Terrace bar. We, however, ate in the Terrace restaurant; we had made a reservation. Except, of course, that this hadn't actually been communicated to the restaurant - minor irritation number eight. It didn't actually prove to be a problem, and the excellent restaurant staff sorted it out immediately - but my faith and patience were starting to run very short by now. Anyway, the fare is of buffet nature but you get a starter, main course, dessert and coffee and we really couldn't complain at the quality. The staff were absolutely superb and made a great fuss of Josh, despite his rather fractious behaviour; he?d had a long and tiring day, but nothing was too much trouble. I doff my cap to these superb people; they did a fantastic job!
I have not yet checked out of this hotel. This is the first time I've reviewed a hotel from within, rather than doing so in retrospect. This process may well provide further minor irritations, but I hope it won't. The point I'm trying to make is that whilst this is a beautiful, well-appointed and very comfortable hotel, there are just too many minor complaints to make it possible to recommend until the management gets a grip on what is clearly a well-resourced but under-performing facility and iron out the many minor problems, none of which seem to be down to the hard-working and enthusiastic staff. You go to a hotel, inevitably, to relax and, whilst I'm certainly not here looking to nit-pick, there were so many glaring, basic errors that it was inevitably impossible to do so.
This is certainly not a lost cause. It does, in my humble opinion, need to pull its proverb
ial socks up. Andymcf criticises a
"Hilton" hotel; who'd have thought it?
I thought that would probably encompass the entire list of complaints. How wrong! This morning, before check-out, I decided to take a bath. I enjoy a hot bath in the morning. For a hot bath, you need hot water. There wasn't any. In a 4* hotel? It was just about warm enough to shower in. I was not impressed.
All the best!
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