“ Address: Ringway Road / Manchester / M90 3NS / England / Tel: +44-871-9429055 „
I've lived in Manchester for 10 years, owned property in the city for 6 of those and never really had good reason to stay in a hotel in that time. That's not to say I haven't, though - I've stayed in quite a few in the very centre and beyond, but I was never paying, so even though it was perhaps ludicrous to check in to somewhere a mile and a half from my place, I did now and again when the opportunity arose. I left Manchester a couple of weeks ago, but with an 8am connection down to Heathrow for my proper flight to Sierra Leone this Sunday past, I decided I'd rather fork out myself to stay the night before rather than get a 4am taxi from the coast. I looked online and was once again drawn to the thinly veiled 'Secret Hotels' on Superbreak. There are a few airport hotels but I booked the Crowne Plaza, sorry, '4* Mystery Non Refundable Hotel at Terminal 3'.
I've driven to Manchester airport a few times, but only ever to collect or drop off people, and had never noticed the Crown Plaza in that time. There are a number of hotels physically at the airport, and some 'airport hotels' which are in fact quite a way away (I'm talking to you, the Britannia) but this one is on the airport site and marketed as the closest hotel to Terminal 3. We drove down and pulled into the carpark. Parking is free for the first 15 minutes (i.e. for pick up or drop off) but after that prices are steep, although there are deals to be had if you pre-book. I walked through a group of lads, smoking outside the entrance (or rather, I and my 5 bags pushed them out of the way) and headed inside where the reception desk was clearly visible on the right. There was a slight queue, so I joined this. There were 3 members of staff at the desk, two serving guests and one staring off into the abyss. I caught her eye and she promptly spun on her heel and disappeared into the back. I was equally unimpressed when an existing guest jumped the queue with a query and was seen immediately, despite an ever increasing number of people waiting with bags.
My check in, when I finally got served, was quick and easy. My room preferences (double bed, non smoking) were confirmed, I was asked to sign their registration form and told I could leave a credit card for extras or just pay as I went which was nice (I had no intention of going to the bar or restaurant that night, and would be leaving early). I was also told I could add breakfast for a 'discounted' rate of £9.95. Though I do love breakfast, and it was available from 4.30am (on a Sunday, no less) I really wanted to head straight over and check in when I woke up, so declined this.
The hotel has 4 floors and I was on the 2nd, so I headed to the lifts. These were not large and I rather misjudged the amount of space a small person with a large suitcase, two backpacks, a shoulder bag and a motorcycle helmet might require. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the nice little foreign family of 5 I squeezed in with. The hotel is set out like a box (or rather, around a courtyard, except instead of a courtyard, there's a car park) and my room was pretty much as far as you could get from the lifts which was a lovely bonus as I struggled on with my bags (my plans for the evening involved repacking/condensing while rather redundantly watching X Factor audtitions - it's not like I'll be watching the live finals this year).
My door opened first time (full marks for that) and I was soon in a rather unassuming room. To be honest, it could have been any generic hotel chain as far as the furniture was concerned: large bed, desk and chair, armchair and table, TV. That said, the room's contents quickly elevated it in my opinion to something far more special than a Travelodge. Focussing first on the refreshments (life's short, eat chocolate first) I noticed two complimentary bottles of water (one still, one sparkling), plus two chocolate mints. Not quite chocolates on the pillow (more like chocolates on a tray) but still, lovely and special. There were two glasses here, with additional ones in the bathroom. I also had an empty fridge which was just what I needed to store my food for that night and for the plane. It was a bit grotty inside, and I couldn't tell whether it was stained or rusty of what, so I wouldn't have wanted to put anything in uncovered, but for my stuff in Lock'n'lock boxes it was ideal. A little plaque on the cupboard next to it directed me to an additional hospitality tray boasting one pack of biscuits and plentiful supplies of tea and coffee, with even a sachet of Galaxy hot chocolate.
The room was cool when I entered, with the windows open. I shut these later as some aircraft noise could be heard, but this quietened down once the room was airtight. Air con is also available, and easy to use, so I popped this on instead. I saw a small box next to the bed and, on spotting the word 'Sleep' on it, wondered if it could be ear plugs. It wasn't, but instead contained two small aromatherapy sprays designed to help you relax and sleep tight. I'd never seen these before and though they were a great idea, though I decided I'd rather bring them with me sealed than try them that night, so they went straight in the suitcase.
The room had lots of natural light, but no ceiling light. The bedside light, desk light, hall light and bathroom light were more ok, but I would have liked a bit more illumination. Overall, though, as I put on the dressing gown and lounged on the bed, I thought it was an extremely comfy room, well equipped with the essentials, and enhanced by a few little treats. The bed was extremely comfortable, and I appreciated the 4 pillows that came as standard (with a pillow menu offering additional options).
The bathroom was the main let down of the booking, and that was mainly because it was just a bit average, not special like the rest of the space. The bath was small and had a fixed showerhead you couldn't adjust. It was clean enough, but there were a couple of chips on the bath itself. The free toiletries included shampoo, shower gel and moisturiser, but no shower cap (I had one with me, but to use it would have meant it was wet when I repacked it, and it was hard to go without since you couldn't adjust the angle of the shower).
No free Wifi is available, though a business centre means you can check emails if you need to. I went down to see but the computers needed a password to get into them, and as they were attached to the Club lounge I wasn't quite sure I would get it if I asked, as a mere normal guest. I also struggled to get a signal on T-mobile in the room, but with a bit of perseverance was able to send the texts I wanted. The in room information file was comprehensive, but randomly switched to German only in some sections, or German and French, but no English. The TV also had German and French channels, in addition to the usual ones 1 to 5 and a few satellite options. In room cinema included Sex and the City 2 and Death At A Funeral (the latter a relatively new release).
The hotel has two restaurants (one Asian, one international) but they were exorbitant, and their 3 course meal for £25 was not what I would consider good value given the options. Room service is also available, with some dishes available 24 hours. The selection is good and had I needed to eat I could have found a number of different things to choose from, but I was not going to spend £12 on bog standard spinach and ricotta ravioli, £14 on a feta salad or £7.50 on a cheese and pickle roll. They also do curries, pizza, burgers (£13-£15 each) - pretty much something for everyone (or everyone with money to burn).
I asked about airport transfers as I was rather loaded down (but kudos to BMI for realising that a year in Africa requires a hefty 46kg of luggage) and was told they couldn't be pre-booked but operated on a constant loop, so would arrive within 20 - 30 minutes of requesting them. I don't know about you, but when I have a 6am check in, getting up 30 minutes earlier just to wait for a shuttle bus seems a bit excessive. I decided I'd go down in the morning, see if it turned up while I ate my breakfast (and tasty combination of sandwich, pillow chocolate and malarial tablet) and then decide whether or not to walk.
The hotel has a gym on the ground floor, but access is restricted, and first you have to go to the reception desk to complete a questionnaire and get a special key. This is no doubt their way of covering themselves in the event of accident, or unattended children sneaking in and running amok. I couldn't be bothered to fake interest to get a pass, but from peeking through the glass door it looked reasonably large for a hotel gym, with scales and water machines, and changing rooms on site.
I settled into bed to watch Cheryl Cole's malaria battle on X Factor (research, obviously) and soon drifted off on my pillowy bed. In the morning I checked out easily and was told to wait outside for the shuttle which would loop round at some point. It did, about 15 minutes later, but was rather small and only seated 6 people. There were 8 of us waiting... Being England, a queue had formed and I was near the front so got a seat, but it's worth allowing yourself extra time if you're planning on getting the shuttle, even at 5.30am.
I paid £51 for a night room only (I was checking in about 6am so breakfast would have gone to waste) and going through Quidco meant I got another £4 in cashback. The room rate was for up to 2 people. So under 50 quid for a night in an airport hotel? That's a good deal. But that price for a night in a 4* hotel with lovely extras? Bargain. Or, as my sister said, 'Free chocolates in the room? What a great start to a year of adventure'