Stratford is surprisingly lacking in hotels. There are guest houses, sure, but proper hotels are few and far between. B&Bs are all well and good, but in Stratford they don't come cheap, and when I'm spending that amount, I'd prefer somewhere where I know the shower will work, the windows will open, and my vegetarian taste buds will find more than the touted full English in the breakfast room, which will, hopefully, be neither underground nor kitted out with plastic garden furniture. Oh yes. I've done British B&Bs before.
I was taking my mother to Stratford partly for her birthday, and partly because the tenants in her house had refused to move out, meaning she had temporarily moved in with me now she's back in the UK. My house might have previously been home to a family of 5, but somehow now it's mine it seems crowded whenever there's anyone other than me in it.
I looked online, balked at the prices coming up, and had second thoughts about Stratford. Then I came across an offer on Superbreak. They do 'Top Secret Hotels' but, like most of the hospitality industry in the UK, they're clearly not staffed by native English speakers. This 'Top Secret Hotel' had a stated number of rooms, a pool, spa, sauna and gym, a car park and other identifiable features clearly marking it out as the Holiday Inn. Sure enough, once I booked the confirmation came through, and rather than paying the £150 / night rack rate, I has just nabbed two nights including breakfast for a total of £70. Plus £6 Quidco cashback. Oh yeah.
The hotel is on the edge of town, on the riverbank. Coming from the motorway it's extremely handy as you reach it before you enter the proper one-way system, and before you come across the hoards of tourists wandering aimlessly across the streets. There's a massive sign and the car park is the next turning after this. This is open to the public too, at a higher rate, but there's plenty of space and we had no problem parking. It costs £5 per stay for residents, and you can come and go as many times as you like. No hotels in Stratford seem to have free parking, so this didn't seem like too bad a deal.
We were early so left the car and went to explore before returning to check in. This was done is the straightforward, practised way you would expect from a large chain: they had all my details, the room was ready, I only had to sign one form. They asked, rather than demanded, if I wanted to leave a card deposit for extras, and were happy for me to decline.
The hotel has rooms on 3 floors, and we were on the top one. I'm used to tall, tower block Holiday Inns, so having a window we could probably have survived jumping from was quite novel. We didn't get to test this out, though, since the windows had safety settings providing only minimal opening, but they did tilt to let some fresh air in, and the room also had excellent, easy to control air con that we whacked on, such was the temperature that day.
The room was quite plain and devoid of character, just the features I like in my British hotels (having never forgotten a hideous experience at the Adelphi in Liverpool where they think patterns are becoming, and dust adds character). As a 4* hotel it had all the basics (decent large TV, tea and coffee making facilities, seating area, writing area etc) but lacked a few things you might have expected: iron, trouser press, minibar. We didn't want these things, being on a skirt-wearing, crease-embracing, non-drinking trip, but their absence was noted.
The bathroom was nicely maintained and so clean it sparkled. The only slightly odd thing was the bath which was so short and narrow you couldn't ever have wallowed in it. As an oversized shower tray it functioned well, but it would really have been a bit of a stretch to call it a proper bath. The shower was powerful and always hot, but quite low - as indeed was the ceiling in the bathroom. Fine for shorties, less so if they happened ever to host professional basketball stars.
We had a double bed which was bouncy and soft, and came with tagged pillows (soft and firm) plus instructions on how to order others from their in-house pillow menu if you preferred to rest your head on a pile of feathers, or quite the opposite. My only complaint was that the quilt was a bit small - pretty much covering the top of the bed but not spilling over onto the sides. These things matter when sharing with a quilt hog. The bed had a golden throw but only over the bottom, not covering the whole thing, meaning I was always conscious while eating chocolate that I might be marking the startling white bedding.
As a reasonably upmarket hotel, the room came with some nice freebies - toiletries you could actually take home / stash away for Africa, lots of tea, coffee and hot chocolate (though no biccies) and a tiny bit of stationery (plus the free pens I desperately need now that Drug Reps no longer feature heavily in my life).
We had a breakfast included rate. This comes in the form of a buffet served in the ground floor restaurant from 7am - 10am (or 30 minutes later at weekends) and is marketed in house as £13.95 per person or £15 per couple if you have a room only rate. Having seen that, I was quite excited about the splendours that would be provided, but was disappointed with what we got. The restaurant is attractive and spacious, and the buffet is laid out in the middle of it. Though it's all help yourself, they have menus on the tables so you know what to expect: again, these raised my expectations, but on both days the selection on offer was much smaller than that promised. It was all a bit....generic. The only bread was cheap loaves for toasting (in a hideously temperamental machine) with no fresh rolls or pancakes, despite these being mentioned on the menu. The cooked food was ok - the usual full English - but, again, other options were limited. There were plain croissants on day one, but not the following morning, and the other Danish pastries were hard to identify and tiny, bite sized options (with the pain au chocolat being rather heavy on the pain and lacking on the chocolat).
Their 'selection of cheeses' was Babybell and Laughing Cow on day one, and nothing on day two. Their 'fresh tomatoes' eventually showed up on the second morning, but only as a garnish to the salami. Their 'oranges, apples and bananas' were invariably only one or two of these at a time. When you love breakfast as much as I do, ending up having bran flakes with yogurt, and a glass of juice, as the best options from a buffet is rather anticlimactic. They cleared the tables quite quickly: had I realised this I wouldn't have bothered emptying out my cereal into the bowl at the counter and disposing of my box right there into their rather vicious bin that took a massive chunk out of my finger in the process.
Drinks were served both at the buffet and at your table, but we only got the fresh proper coffee when we arrived. Refills weren't offered, and it was implied that you should switch to the cacky machine versions after that one cup.
I think the menus on the table are a ridiculous idea, since they raise expectations enormously: I'd never have expected pancakes on a UK buffet had they not put the idea in my head. Since it was included in out room rate (and since we were paying barely £17.50 pppn for bed and breakfast) we could hardly complain, but I'd think twice about paying for it if it's not included. I should also mention that Tripadvisor reviewers had whinged about the breakfast and said there was nothing left when they went down at 9.30am. Before going, I read these and thought we'd be fine as we'd be down for breakfast way before then, but even going just after 7am the selection was limited. I don't think they'd 'run out' later on, I think they just had less than expected to start with.
The hotel had a few other facilities we saw or made use of. The restaurant also serves lunch and dinner, and though we didn't eat in, the menu looked ok. A limited selection is also available as room service 24 hours a day. There's also a neighbouring bar, with outside seating by the river, which looked very cosy though was never really occupied.
The hotel has a fitness centre called 'Club Motivation' which you really have to be full of motivation to find since it's a trek and a half away, and you have to walk through the restaurant and around the conference centre to find. We went on our first night and enjoyed a swim and Jacuzzi. The pool was nice if rather more chlorinated than I'm now used to, and there was also a sauna and steam room. The gym overlooks the pool and looked small but well equipped - I think most of the people in it were locals who had a membership rather than hotel guests. The changing rooms were well equipped but the floor was a bit wet and manky. Unfortunately due to the location you couldn't really scuttle back to your room in a towel, so had to change here. Lockers need a £1 coin, but towels are provided.
There didn't seem to be a conference on during our stay, but we passed a number of meeting and syndicate rooms. The hotel was quite attractive with lots of lovely polished tables and plants and flowers. There were two racks of local leaflets, and the Independent is available free every day, with other newspapers available to order.
The hotel is really well located for the shops, restaurants, Shakespeare houses and river cruises that make up Stratford. It may be on the edge of town, but the town is quite small anyway, so nothing is really too far away.
For £17.50 pppn we got a real bargain: a comfortable, safe hotel in what is quite an expensive tourist trap (many of the tiny B&Bs cost much more than that). But, we got an amazing deal from Superbreak. If I'd paid more I'd probably still have thought we got a good deal since we made use of the facilities like the pool, and had a pleasant stay, but had I been paying separately for the breakfast then I'd definitely have had words to say about it.
This hotel is available from most online booking sites, including the Holiday Inn's own (with a Lowest Price guarantee). Typical rates are about £100 per room, usually not including breakfast