Newest Review: ... fighting, screaming and police sirens. A bit like watching re-runs of The Bill. We were very high up, but these things are still audibl... more
Our 4 month refuge
Novotel Reading Centre (Reading)
Member Name: Ayesha-`
Novotel Reading Centre (Reading)
Date: 14/09/11, updated on 14/09/11 (35 review reads)
Advantages: Modern, stylish, great breakfasts, generally lovely staff
Disadvantages: Dodgy location, very expensive, small leisure facilities, housekeeping headaches, dinners not great
Between December 2007 and April 2008, my family and I were moved out of our comfy home and into hotels in order for building work to begin on our flood-washed downstairs. In comparison to many, we were lucky, and our insurance were happy to put us up somewhere decent knowing how long we would be away for. The first 3 weeks we spent in another hotel - one which caused us such disappointment we decided to move out and seek accommodation somewhere nicer.
We stuffed our bags into the car and moved off down the road, to the Novotel. With no idea how long exactly we would end up staying, we wanted to view the rooms before agreeing to stay, but I can honestly say we were soon happy to sign on the dotted line. We had to pay in the first instance as the insurance company had not chosen this hotel, but on noticing that the prices were actually better than the other place, they were happy to reimburse us.
We came by in the evening to check the place out. Greeted by revolving doors (yes, there is a side door for claustrophobics or if it is not working), we went into the lobby. The decor was very up-to-date and simplistic. The bar seating looked a little more generous than the seats in the reception area. We explained that were were interested in staying for quite some time and asked to see the rooms. We were shown the basic rooms first, then later the executive rooms plus the leisure facilities (will get back to this later). They all had very standard, modern furniture, including minibar, wide-screen tv and even a music player. The prices were good and after checking availability we agreed to book 2 rooms.
We brought our luggage, which was quickly moved into a safe storage room located on the ground floor, with a coded tagging system to ensure nothing was lost - this was a bit of a hassle purely because we had brought so many bags! We planned to check in formally later that day, and for now just made our reservations.
At check in you are asked if you wish to use the leisure facilities. If so, then you need to fill out a brief health questionnaire and your room card is then granted access.
As we were planning to stay so long, my dad negotiated an upgrade on the rooms straight away, so we got the executive rooms.
There are no locks on the en-suite bathroom doors, and as we were not used to that, it took a while to feel comfortable with it. I suppose there may be some safety justification. After all, my poor sis once had quite a traumatic time getting locked in a bathroom (in another hotel) and being unable to get out. So this has its advantages, but you might want to think twice about agreeing to share with others if this will be a problem. Also, make use of the 'Do-Not-Disturb' sign if you don't want to risk any awkward moments with the cleaners/room inspectors (will explain later).
In the bathroom, there is a bath, separate shower and sink. The toilet is next door - again, no lock.
The executive rooms were only doubles, no twins. To my dismay, this meant for some time I had to share with my silly sister. The reading lights are luckily not too bright.
One of the biggest problems we tended to have with our rooms, and I know this is not uncommon in hotels, was temperature control. One of the rooms was always too cold and the other always too hot. Air conditioning made little or no difference. My parents had the windows open all the time, and as mum is a light sleeper and we were on the main street (as mentioned above) she was constantly disturbed by crazy swearing drunks, people fighting, screaming and police sirens. A bit like watching re-runs of The Bill. We were very high up, but these things are still audible from a height. It can become very tempting to throw something out the window, but let's not break the law.
Ahh, my favourite time of the day. There is truly nothing in my mind closer to heaven than getting up first thing and being welcomed by almost all of my favourite foods. Sorry, if you were expecting me to say, "There is truly nothing in my mind closer to heaven than getting up first thing and being welcomed by warm, friendly and smiling faces," frankly I cannot. I am not antisocial, I love people, but this is me-time and I like to eat my first meal of the day with as much peace as possible. So the worst thing about staying in a hotel, as lovely as it may be, for 4 months, is that it means breakfast becomes a completely public affair. At this hotel, the staff were aware of our situation and tried to make life as comfortable as possible, but they admitted that we were probably going to miss our own space.
On the first morning, it was quite refreshing. We had come from another hotel, where the breakfast staff were quite friendly etc., but the atmosphere here was still different and somehow more genuine. We were treated more like guests in someone's home, by some members of staff, which made a really nice change. Generally there are no queues for seating, but breakfast gets busy at different times. It is open from about 6.30, and at this time there are usually only one or two people around, so a perfect time for me. The only trouble is that staff seem to be equally scarce at this hour, still preparing for a day's work, I guess. There will normally be someone wondering in and out of the kitchen to see if anyone has arrived, and after half an hour there will normally be someone posted at the entrance to welcome you. The staff here are very polite and will normally greet you and ask for your room number, although a few strict so-and-sos also insist on your full name, every morning, even after you've been there a month (lol). Some will then offer you a newspaper, on a stand by the entrance. Otherwise, help yourself. There is also a newspaper stand by the lift, if you want one later. Some staff will direct you to a specific seat, others will give you the choice. If you prefer to sit elsewhere, just say so and as long as it's not taken, it should be fine. As I say, they are quite polite, but it is obvious in a hotel when you come to breakfast that there are standard ways of doing things and you need to let them know you are there, so out of courtesy, don't go straight in and help yourself, because it then means someone has to awkwardly chase after you - the staff are reluctant to have a go at customers. Plus you might take someone else's seat (that has happened!).
Anyway I know I'm not here to review the customers, so I'll move on. There are two special solo tables, for people who eat alone. These are placed against a wall with big swivel chairs on impossible-to-move wheels. Each table is equipped with a small flat-screen telly on the wall, and a set of big headphones. Occasionally these were missing or broken. This facility is wonderful as it recognises that there are now a number of people travelling alone, for whatever reason.
Tea/Coffee...or hot chocolate?
Staff will offer you tea and coffee. But if you want something else, let me remind you that if you don't ask, you don't get. They do hot chocolate, machine-style, with a sugar stick on the side (really not needed). The hot chocolate is delicious and comes in a reasonably large mug/ It is normally quite hot when it comes and stay hot for a while. If you ask for tea, you get a pot. Most staff will pour your tea straight away, then it goes cold. If you're not ready, you do have to ask them not to pour yet. I started drinking the coffee towards the end, which comes in a big thermo coffee jug and is generally very rich, sometimes sickly. It kept me awake, anyway. Usually drinks arrive shortly after you are seated, so if you are waiting a while it is worth checking you have not been forgotten. That can get annoying, but rarely happens.
At the weekend you are expected to make your own toast, but it is quite easy. Or at least I thought. The toaster is conveyor-belt style, you bung in the bread at the top and it rolls through and comes out the bottom all brown, then you pick up the tongs and pull it out and put it on a plate. For some people this caused confusion, much to my amusement. The trick is not to be intimidated by the toaster, and not do anything other than put in bread and take out toast, if you are. Sadly, it was occasionally on too high and toast would get burnt, but more often than not people would reject their toast or forget it then it would stay in and get hotter. There is a tray underneath to catch crumbs. This is taken out when the toaster is cleaned. You are not cleaning the toaster so don't pull it out. I know, you'd be surprised.
During the week you are offered white or brown toast and given two slices of whatever you require. My mum, on numerous occasions, asked for just one slice but still got two - this seems to be some sort of policy!
I do like the occasional cooked meal for breakfast, but I am ten times less trusting about how my food has been prepared and made. I eat fish and eggs, but very, very strictly do not eat any other kinds of meat. Sadly, for a person of my type, I tend to find the food layouts very off-putting. The cooked breakfast counter offers all the standard foods, poached eggs, beans, mushrooms, hash browns, black pudding, sausages and bacon. It also has vegetarian sausages. The counter is self service, with a stack of warm plates and serviettes plus dishes with the serving utensils for each tray of food. Guests have a tendency to pick up one utensil and use it for everything, so eventually I stopped having cooked breakfasts altogether.
I quite liked the hash browns, although they were generally very greasy. I do wish catering staff would at least drain some of the oil before serving or use paper towels. The mushrooms are cooked and served in oil, so I only had them a couple of times.
Cereals, breads and fruit
There were normally 5 or 6 different cereals available in bowls. These occasionally changed, but tended to be bran flakes, fruit & fibre,
There were also packets of weetabix.
I can't imagine having them for my breakfast personally (shame, really) but there was a wide selection of breads always there for you to cut up. There was also a bowl of fruit, which I think is also used for making the smoothies and fresh orange juice.
I decided to talk about the room cleaning after the breakfast section, since it does tend to happen later in the day and this would therefore more effectively reflect my experience.
We suspected that some of the cleaners did not have good English as we would ask them for something and they would be too scared to clarify it. Also, the 'Do-Not-Disturb' sign, which has 'Please-Clean-My-Room' on its reverse, was only 50% useful at times. Personally, I think they were just slow at getting around to us (plus there are lots of rooms), but my mum reckoned that some cleaners did not understand the sign and so to be on the safe side just stayed away. Either way, it does mean that sometimes rooms would not be done until midday. If your DND sign is kept up all morning, you will still be disturbed by housekeeping, but by phone. I suppose you can take it off the hook, but this did anger my mum who cat naps and never gets more than a few hours kip a night because it woke her.
The one thing that really did annoy me was that on certain days, the housekeeping lady would come to inspect the rooms and make sure that the cleaners were doing their jobs properly. It seemed random and so her visits were always unexpected and unwanted. Frankly if I have a problem, I'll report it. If she does not trust her staff to do their jobs properly, perhaps she needs to either replace them or just be a cleaner herself. I felt sorry for one of the cleaners, as on one occasion this woman walked in while she was working and started patronising her in front of me with 'did you do this?' and 'did you do that?' I found that both demeaning and embarrassing. The frustrating thing was that she had no regard for my privacy. While cleaners always knocked and listened out for an answer, knocking on my door was purely a formality for her, and she would walk straight in. On one Sunday, before I had realised she would do that, the cleaners had been so I took off the DND sign, then as it was a lazy Sunday for me and I'd been up late, decided to get a bit more kip. A couple of hours later I heard the door go and shouted for them to wait, then dived out of bed and started dressing. I am fast, but the door was opening and in spite of my shouting, 'wait, please wait a second' was half naked when she walked in. Was I angry? You think?
The leisure centre
The wonderful thing (for us, anyway) about this hotel is that the leisure centre is not open to the public - only for guests. This means there were never that many people there (except one freak day everyone suddenly become health conscious and went to the gym at the same time - argh weirdoes). On the other hand, the facilities were all very small-scale, so just having a few people there could become an annoyance.
The leisure centre is not manned, although there are surveillance cameras. As noted under check-in, you must let reception know what you will be using the facilities during your stay and fill out a questionnaire. To access the leisure centre, you must swipe your room card. This leads into a sort of lobby area, where some relaxing music is usually being played and there are two big orange plastic armchairs and a table-light (fascinating). The towels are kept on shelves in the lobby, don't forget to collect one. The changing rooms are accessible from here - separate for male and female.
I'll admit I had a few things to rant about during my stay at this hotel, but 99% of that was more to do with other customers. I guess you do start to miss having your own home and your privacy after an amount of time, and sadly there really is no place like it. I must say, however, that for a holiday or even conference stay, this is one of the best hotels I have stayed in. It is obviously not for people on a budget, unless a special offer comes up, and to be honest it is unfortunately located, but otherwise I would have highly recommended it.
Summary: A very comfortable place to stay
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