Newest Review: ... courteously and efficiently. There were three staff on reception, plus a manager flitting between them to deal with any complicated queries... more
A Good Place to Stay When You're Going Somewhere Else
Member Name: Hishyeness
Advantages: Good food. Comfortable and well appointed rooms. Great transport links.
Disadvantages: Soulless. Patchy service. Uninspiring.
STRATEGY AT THE RENAISSANCE
When I was invited to our company's three day leadership team conference to discuss our latest business strategy, I secretly hoped that we would be treated to a few days somewhere exotic. As our organisation is spread across Europe, the possibilities were endless. However, our management opted for prudence and settled on the Renaissance Hotel at London Heathrow as our venue. The airport is a scant ten miles away from where I live, but with our daily sessions starting at 8am and chit-chatting at the hotel bar into the wee hours practically mandatory, I booked myself in for three nights on the company's dime.
I checked in on a Monday evening and had the good fortune to be dropped off by my wife. For those not being chauffeured, the Renaissance, as an airport hotel, offers excellent connections. There is a paid-for bus service (£4 to Heathrow terminals), and a public bus stop on Bath Road (A4) just outside the main entrance, and both Heathrow and Hatton Cross stations (Piccadilly Line) are a short taxi ride away. Ample on-site parking is provided at a charge of £10 per day for overnight guests, but is included for those on the hotel's "park and fly" deals.
On arrival, I was distinctly underwhelmed. The hotel is massive and rather monolithic, with a functional and plain-looking main entrance. The drab image wasn't helped by the shop-fitting work being undertaken on a new Starbucks adjacent to the front door, which typically, opened for service just as I was checking out. As I was picking up my bags to make my way in, my eardrums were assaulted by the roar of an Emirates Airbus A380 landing on one of Heathrow's main runways, located just across the road and over the fence from the back of the hotel. I couldn't imagine how I was going to get any sleep, or who on earth would want to build a hotel so close to these deafening jets.
Thankfully, things started looking up considerably when I entered the building. The reception area is spacious and well appointed. Actually, the word "cavernous" better fits the bill, and, ceilings apart, it had more in common with the an airport terminal than a hotel lobby. However, given that the Marriott-run Renaissance has almost 650 bedrooms spread over four sprawling floors and substantial conference facilities, it soon becomes apparent that the space is totally necessary.
There are several large seating areas both directly in front of, and to the left and right of the main reception counter, as well as a separate airline crew desk which was busy catering to a large Korean Air contingent (looking rather resplendent in their pale blue uniforms). A number of TV screens silently show SKY news and there is one dedicated to Heathrow departures information.
Despite joining a queue of around ten people, each guest in front of me was dealt with courteously and efficiently. There were three staff on reception, plus a manager flitting between them to deal with any complicated queries, and in a matter of minutes, my credit card had been swiped and I was given the key card to my room. I was directed to the bank of four large lifts to the left of reception which seemed to take an age to arrive. The lift progressed serenely to the second floor - at such a deliberate pace that I could probably have walked up and down the stairs twice.
Although the ground floor had given me a hint of the size of the hotel, it doesn't really hit you until you come out of the lift, which disgorges you into an endless warren of identical and labyrinthine corridors. I was tempted to make like Theseus and use ball of yarn to find my way back to the lifts. After what seemed like an interminable walk (which, to be fair, was well sign-posted) I finally found my room, only to discover my key card didn't work. I still had my bags with me, so had to trudge back to reception with all of my gear to get it sorted. It turns out my Blackberry holster had scrambled it. Lesson learned, I trekked back to my room. Check-out was simple. A bill is pushed under your door on your last night, and if you have no issues with it, you simply drop your key card off in a labelled box at reception as you leave.
I fought to open the firmly sprung door and was surprised how small the room was relative to the size of the hotel. The entrance is fairly narrow, so if, like me, you are carrying a shoulder bag, you can barely get through the small "hall". The room was fairly typical of a four-star hotel aimed at the businessman or traveller and consisted of a desk area, a queen sized bed (with one mattress - not two put together), a couple of side tables, a TV cabinet that doubled as a storage chest, tea making facilities and wardrobe. There was a trouser press, iron, clock radio, telephone and hairdryer provided in the room and a non-functional mini-bar which you have to pre-arrange if you want stocked.
I was disappointed to see that the TV was the old CRT type, and would have expected a flat screen in a four star establishment. In any event, after an initial flick through the standard and pay channels available, I turned it off and never used it during my stay. The bathroom was spotless and very well lit, and featured a handy shaving/make-up mirror, a small display of complimentary up-market toiletries, and a bath/shower with an impressive looking shower head. Water pressure in the shower was magnificent, making for a brilliant early morning wake-up. The only issue was with the sink tap, which squealed something chronic when turned on, and would have been very annoying to anyone sharing the room with me.
A large array of towels are provided - including washcloths (more and more hotels seem to be forgoing these) - and a very generously sized terry cloth bathrobe. I unpacked into the three drawers under the TV cabinet, which were quite spacious and gave me more than enough room. However, the wardrobe was a bit of a squeeze. It is fronted by a full length mirror and is also used to store the iron and ironing board. An outer jacket, a pair of suits, and two shirts was about all it was going to accommodate without removing the iron (or having to use it!). If my wife had come with me, it would never have been enough space.
The room was very well lighted with a number of different options available depending on mood or need, and the desk was spacious enough to comfortably hold a laptop, documents and still have free space to work in. Having unpacked, I decided to try the WiFi connection (there is a "hard" connection at the desk, but I had also brought my net book along). The hotel charge £5 an hour for broadband access, or £15 for the day (per computer!), which allows you to surf in your room and any of the hotel's public areas. Access was very simple, quick and reliable with a strong signal almost everywhere I needed to use my PC's in the building.
Having arrived at night, I hadn't yet opened the curtains to check out the view. When I did, I was shocked to see an American Airlines Boeing 747 touching down on the main runway opposite. Apart from an ever so slight rumble, there was almost no noise - the hotel has state of the art soundproofing and you could be forgiven for forgetting you were next to the airport. In fact, the in-room air conditioning was probably louder.
SLEEP, EAT & DRINK
I don't sleep well on my first night away from my bed, but after meeting up with a few international colleagues, I managed a G&T aided peaceful slumber in a very comfortable bed. The linens and duvet are first class and easy to melt into, which made it all the harder to get out of bed in time to nab breakfast and make our punishing 08:00 conference starts. Breakfast is served, buffet-style, at the large Duo Restaurant. The usual hot and cold continental and English ingredients are on offer, and there is a manned central station where you can have fresh pancakes made and waffles pressed, and your eggs made in any style you want. My poached eggs were perfectly done at the first time of asking - a feat not often managed in many of the hotels I have visited, least of all when prepared in full view of the customer.
I had two dinners at the restaurant, and on each occasion, the food was impeccable. However, on the first night, we arrived to eat at 21:30, just as the restaurant was closing and I felt staff somewhat resented the last minute appearance of twelve hungry-looking covers. Service was slow and bordered on sulky, with everything seemingly too much trouble. Things were much better for our corporate dinner the night after. The hotel also provided snacks and buffet lunches during our three day conference, although some of the items on offer were a decidedly strange (scrambled egg and poached trout baps?) and smacked of a few leftovers cobbled together in the hopes we'd be too hung-over to notice.
Speaking of hangovers, the hotel bar was unremarkable and had the feel of an airline lounge. It is almost apologetically screened off from the rest of reception by large, open shelving, with one large screen television showing MTV, or as it happened, Champions League football. It certainly isn't somewhere to go for a cosy nightcap and signature cocktails. Staff were efficient but overstretched and struggled with any requests that were out of the ordinary. In fact, they ran out of ice at one point in the evening and seemed to make very little effort to get some, despite the fact that I, personally, had passed three ice machines on my way down from my room.
I have colleagues who relish staying at hotels because it means a guaranteed work-out. I see it as a chance to sleep, drink and stuff myself silly. Each to their own. I didn't bother visiting the gym, even for a look-see for the purposes of this review, but was reliably informed that - having recently been refurbished - it is clean, spacious and well equipped. There are is a barber and a salon on the ground floor, as well as a shop selling over-priced souvenirs, toiletries, sweets and other sundries. Pets are allowed on site but only on payment of a ridiculous "non-refundable" £50 sanitation fee. An on-site ATM provides access to cash if needed (for a transaction fee of course).
The contemporary and modern styled Renaissance London Heathrow has a transient look and feel about it that isn't helped by its sheer size and frankly uninspiring decor. It is really nothing more than a four star place to rest your head - somewhere to stop on your way to somewhere else, unless, like me, you are there to take advantage of its sizeable corporate function facilities. It seems most popular with air crews (we saw staff from at least fifteen different airlines check in and out) and business types. That said, it is comfortable and relatively affordable hotel with a touch of class for anyone looking for an overnight stay before using Heathrow, but discerning and cost-conscious families may prefer more affordable or child-friendly affordable (for instance, surprisingly for its size, there is no pool on-site).
Given the competition in the area, its rack rate of £220 per night is on the expensive side, but there are always deals to be had, and around £100 to £150 is achievable depending on occupancy levels (see the comprehensive web-site - reference below - for details). There is even a "plane-spotters break" which gives you a run-way view room and access to a club lounge with uninterrupted views of the airport. Go figure.
Recommended. Sort of.
Renaissance London Heathrow Hotel
Bath Road, Hounslow TW6 2AQ
Phone: +44 20 88976363
Fax: +44 20 88971113
Toll-free: +44 20 85646166
Check-in @ 15:00
Check out @ 12:00
Summary: A very good stopover hotel with good Heathrow connections.
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