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Ramada Encore Hotel (Chatham)
Member Name: plipplop
Ramada Encore Hotel (Chatham)
Advantages: Clean, modern, comfortable
Disadvantages: Not luxurious, no room service, food not very good, maintenance issues
The Ramada Jarvis is to the North of Chatham, the central of the three towns. The hotel has been built adjacent to the 'historic' dockyard, long since closed to industry, but now, partly at least, re-invented as a tourist destination. The hotel is plonked on the corner of a main road, immediately adjacent to the dockyard itself, but also on the approach road to the popular shopping outlet and cinema. It's generally a good location, with fast road access to the A2/M2 to Dover and/or London via the newly built Medway Tunnel. For car drivers, the main irritation is the fact that you have to drive a long way round an enclosed body of water to get to the car park and entrance, made more irritating after dark when a pointless security barrier is in place to slow you down even more. Fortunately, the parking is free once you actually get there. It's not such a good location for public transport, though. Gillingham railway station is probably the closest, but is a good ten minutes in a taxi. There's a free shuttle bus to the area during the day but at night, you're on your own.
This is a relatively new hotel (about two years) and is part of Ramada's new concept chain 'Encore'. There are a number of these dotted around the country and they all seem to be pitched somewhere between the Travelodge and the City Inn markets. The Encore hotels share the same of sort of contemporary styling as the City Inns, with laminate flooring, wet rooms and futuristic lighting, but have the same sort of facilities as the Travelodges when it comes to food, drink and service. How you feel about this will vary wildly, particularly according to how much you have to spend. Secure a room at the rate of £49.95 per night and it seems quite reasonable, but when the prices start to hurtle towards twice that during the week, it doesn't seem like such a good deal anymore. It's very popular with builders, presumably because of the construction work going on nearby, and also with tourists who have just come through the Channel Tunnel or are on their way. Delightfully, it's quite close to Brompton Barracks, so occasionally you get visiting army types too, who stand out a mile in the bar (not that I'm looking or anything, you understand).
The main entrance to the hotel leads to an open plan reception desk, bar, lounge and restaurant. It's quite a nice idea, giving a feeing of space and (potentially) welcoming bustle to a lone traveller, but more often than not it falls rather flat. The area is nearly always deserted, which presents a drink in the bar as a lonely concept and virtually rules out the idea of a meal. This is compounded further by the hilarious limit of staff members on duty of an evening, meaning that the guy behind reception will probably have to check you in, dash over and serve you at the bar, take your food order, cook it, serve it and get you another drink. In fairness, all is done with a remarkably calm demeanour, but it doesn't always look terribly professional and you can sometimes be left waiting, particularly if you phone up to ask for additional towels or to have something in the room fixed.
...which brings me on nicely to the rooms. On the positive side, they're always very clean and the beds are extremely comfortable. A contemporary lounge chair in the corner is a nice place to drink a coffee and chill out and the flat screen televisions give access to the basic terrestrial channels, along with a couple of the popular satellite stations. The lighting isn't bad. The overhead lighting is a little bright, but you can opt to have funky little sidelights on instead, complete with long, wiry, movable necks to point directly at your book or laptop. The desk space is big enough to work comfortably and has its own lamp too. There's air conditioning too, which is always welcome in the heat of summer, even if it seems to have only two settings - 'unbelievably cold' or 'ridiculously warm'. The bathrooms are reasonably big and also well lit. There are no baths, only showers within a wet room arrangement, which, in itself, provides more space. The showers are powerful and there are never problems with hot water. Towels are provided, even if they suffer from being a little on the small side and the toilet roll is acceptable (although nowhere near as soft as the likes of Andrex).
The problem with the hotel stems entirely from the fact that it clearly wasn't fitted properly in the first place. After well over 20 visits, I can confirm that I have never found everything to be in working order and, indeed, many of the problems are entirely consistent. The toilet flushes are often broken, requiring a staff member to come up and 'fiddle' in the cistern. The plugs in the washbasins get stuck in place and have to be (literally) chiselled open by the maintenance staff. Those groovy bedside lamps can't cope with people playing with them all the time and end up droopy and sad. The wet rooms are only partly successful. The floor has a shallow gradient such that the water isn't supposed to spill into the main bathroom area but the power of the water is such that this doesn't work and you end up flooding the place. The paintwork around the bathroom therefore suffers from the dampness and looks consistently shabby. On the subject of the water, the pressure is such that the noise of the water hurtling through the pipes is horrendous and it's extremely likely that, during the week at least, the sound of your neighbours running their taps will wake you up at around 06:00. In fairness, the staff members manage these issues promptly but if I were Ramada, I'd be going back to the contractors.
The bar and restaurant are adequate. The bar serves a basic selection of lagers, spirits and soft drinks at normal hotel prices. The restaurant menu is very mainstream, generally comprising dishes that can be cooked in the microwave or baked off whilst you wait, so there are pizzas, pasta, chips, steaks and salad. It's all terribly over-priced (think Wetherspoon's quality at three times the cost) and generally only to be used in an emergency, as evidenced by the fact that there are hardly ever any diners in the restaurant area. Breakfast is a little better, and much more popular, with a reasonably good buffet of hot and cold items and the room rates with bed and breakfast mean this will only have cost you about £4 if there are two of you in the room. There's a rather chavtastic little terrace out the front of the hotel where guests have a drink and a cigarette. Pay heed to this when checking in. If you're in one of the rooms that directly fronts over this area and you want your window open, you will be smoked like a kipper and/or deafened by people laughing raucously and telling fanny jokes.
If I'm honest, I'm quite fond of the staff members at the hotel, most of whom now recognise me. They seem to have this vague air of embarrassment about them all the time, as if they're expecting the walls to collapse at any time, but they seem genuinely committed to being as helpful as they can. Given that many of them have to carry out eighteen different roles at any one time, they're remarkably patient. Watch the housekeepers though. Silly things have gone missing (a box of organic tea bags, a bottle of beer) more through over-zealousy than anything I think, but if I'm staying more than one night, I tend to be wary of what I leave out.
Room rates vary enormously, starting at £49.95 and going all the way up to £99.95 according to demand. There are deals at weekends to include entrance to the Dockyard and or Dickens Experience nearby that probably work out quite well for families but offer little to lone travellers or couples or people who are easily bored. The hotel is part of the Wyndham group and if you sign up to the Rewards scheme, you get access to the very best deals on the web site. (If you're a Rewards scheme member, you get a free bottle of water and a Twix when you check in too. The tourists seem to think this is charming. I think it's a bit Wal-Mart, but there you go.) The reward scheme probably deserves a review in its own right but is largely to be ignored. I should have earnt thousands and thousands of points by now, but they never get credited to my account and (frankly) the hassle of chasing them far outweighs the benefit of having them.
Of course, the hotel's strongest weapon is almost certainly its lack of competition. The main competitor is the Holiday Inn at Rochester Airport, but this is miles out of the way and looks like a prison. The other competition comes from the likes of Travelodge and Premier Inn, which, once the room rate at the Ramada hits £70, offer comparable facilities for less money. The Ramada is better quality and has a better feel to it but not enough to justify more than £10-£20 per night compared to the budget chains. All in, if you need to be in the area AND you can get the right rate, I'd certainly recommend the Ramada but I'd caution against spending more than £69.95 because it's just not worth it.
Summary: A sort of upmarket Travelodge
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