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andymcf

andymcf
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    • Europcar / Transport International / 16 Readings / 14 Ratings
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      30.08.2006 02:01
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      Didn't go wrong - I'd rent with them again

      On our recent trip to Spain, we realised that we would need to hire a car. We were due to land at 15:30 at Madrid airport and needed to travel south, covering about 2/3 of the length of the country, down to our rented villa on the Costa del Sol, via the Parador de Jaen, and walking was certainly not an option. Not in that heat, at any rate, and certainly not with 4-year-old Josh who, bless 'im, walks pretty slowly at the best of times.

      And thus it was that I booked a rental car, on-line, through www.carrentals.co.uk, and ended up with a four-door economy, air-conditioned car through Europcar. The rental cost UKP 162.64 for eight days. There were mileage restrictions of, I think, 200km per day. These were stretched to the limit. It's supplied full of fuel, and you have to return it full of fuel, although I got the impression that this was fairly casually enforced - you could do your last refill within about 30km of the airport, I was told. I, however, stuck to the letter of the law. It was full to the brim on its return, and petrol is fairly cheap in Spain. Cheaper, at any rate, than in the UK by about 30%, at just marginally over a Euro per litre.

      Renting a car can be quite a stressful experience, even before one collects the car. Damage waivers, excess damage waiver waivers, deposits, fuel deposits and child-seat hire (at 4.40 Euro per day) all conspire to administer a fairly hefty, if temporary, sting to one's credit card. As a careful driver, one's tempted to do without it all and be done with it. The Spanish, however, drive with a certain bravado and gay abandon and although I didn't do so much as scrape the car, there was certainly clear potential for serious damage on several occasions. I'd never, ever, go for the bare minimum of cover. Perchance, I'm over cautious, but I challenge the person who dares to call me sensible to a duel. At dawn!

      Either that, or I'll buy them a drink, depending on my mood. Whatever.

      Air Traffic delays at Heathrow meant that we left late, but arrival was not too late, all things considered. Madrid's Terminal Four is out of this world; not so much in that it's new, modern, clean and hi-tech, but in the sense that, after endless walks along moving walkways, three escalator trips into its very bowels, an underground train ride, a reciprocal escalator ride, one finally arrives at the baggage carousel. I had expected our baggage to win the race; it certainly should have done. Alas, it didn't. Half an hour or so later, it finally popped out onto the carousel and we were on our way to the Europcar desk. And this was, at least, easy to find.

      Fortunately, the queue was not too long, and I was soon able to speak to the booking clerk.

      The Spanish, I've learned, do tend to enjoy multi-tasking, if unsuccessfully. That's a polite way of saying that once I had finally connected with the guy behind the desk, he immediately decided to deal with some other client with a problem and also answered a 'phone call. Ho Hum!

      The paperwork was finally sorted out and signed. We were asked if we preferred petrol or diesel. Speed got the better of me and I rejected the more economical diesel option. We were to spend the week in a beige Fiat Punto, and were pointed in the direction of the pick-up point in a large car park.

      Understaffed? Poorly-trained? Willing to help? Yes, yes, yes. The guy sorting out the cars, all alone, was rushing about like a headless chicken, didn't know how to fit or operate the child seat but was keen to help out. Time was running out and as he rushed out to discover how to ensure that Josh (aka El Nino) would be safe in his seat ("It's 0% or 100% safety and I must get it right"), Amanda worked it out herself in the meantime (and I wouldn't describe the operation as either calm or collected) and we were off. In our Punto.

      It was actually a very nice, comfortable car, and completely adequate for our needs. No complaints whatsoever; digitally-controlled air-conditioning was essential and the car ran very well until one met a hill. Spain is quite a hilly country, so lower gears got used quite often. By the end of the trip, I was quite used to driving on the "wrong" side of the road and dealing with a manual gearstick on the "wrong" side.

      Take note, car-renters: Inspect the car thoroughly before you leave. I did, whilst Amanda was wrestling with the car seats and noticed a few minor scuffs. These were acknowledged by the agent so (a) we were not charged for them on our return and (b) I wasn't charged for reversing ever so slowly into a tree on one of the negotiated panels! Hush! Never said that - walls have ears, and Europcar have my credit card imprint!

      On return, I re-read the contract. Return the keys to reception and on no account hand them over to the agent in the car park. I was instructed to hand them over to the agent in the car park. "Hey! I'm uniformed!" He was. I did. I checked at reception. It was fine. I breathed a sigh of relief.

      All in all, I was really pleased with the rental. Having landed in Madrid at 15:30, though, it would have been nice to have been able to leave before 18:00. They were only partly to blame for that.

      Andrew

      Recommended:
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      • Iberia / Airline / 25 Readings / 23 Ratings
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        27.08.2006 16:55
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        Good, but they're the poor cousin of their BA Codeshare partners!

        From my reasonably limited experience flying with Iberia, Spain's Flag-flying airline, which is limited to one return flight between London Heathrow (LHR) and Madrid Barajas (MAD), I actually have few complaints about this airline. I nearly wrote "no", but stuck with "few".

        They are remarkably punctual. The seats are comfortable, and the cabin crew are friendly, professional and inherently Spanish. In that sense, they absolutely adore kids and Josh was very well looked after!

        I booked our flights through British Airways. They (BA) are a very good, reliable airline and one can always rely on complimentary (which is just an unnecessarily long word for "free") food and drink on board their flights. They do, however, "codeshare", which is why we ended up flying with Iberia.

        And if you ever get free refreshments on Iberia, then I'm a Dutchman. Or you're flying Business Class and paying a fortune to do so! And I'd most probably be flying with KLM. Geddit?

        This all meant several things. We were unable, for instance, to check-in on-line before arrival at Heathrow, as we would have done with BA, or at an electronic kiosk once we'd got there. Ho Hum! We eventually got there and boarded the 'plane. A Boeing 757 outbound; Airbus A321 inbound. Each was comfortable. The B757, in particular, afforded spectacular views of baggage handlers gleefully chucking our luggage into the cargo hold, using somebody's Samsonite luggage as some kind of springboard, with gay abandon. That's not a homophobic statement; rather a lament that pathetic would-be terrorists now prevent me from carrying my beloved digital SLR in the cabin where I can be reasonably sure that it's safe and my own responsibility. And bad luggage handlers are certainly not peculiar to any particular airline. I digress.

        The cabin crew were friendly and professional and the infamous 4-year-old Josh got an Iberia aeroplane lolly on take-off on both flights from a jolly flight attendant. Drinks and snacks were charged for - whereas they would have been free, had we been flying with BA - their codeshare airline.

        Whilst airborne, the pilot maintained a straight and confident course - isn't the autopilot a terrific invention? He didn't quite manage to attain this on either take off or landing. Whereas I usually tend to enjoy the supposedly more dangerous parts of flight - both of which I have just mentioned - zig-zagging down the runway, at full thrust, in excess of those speeds which UK police officers practising their skills attain without punishment injects me with the fear of God Himself! I'm a straight-line-take-off kinda guy at heart. I can't begin to think why! I'm sure that the zig-zag take-off / landing technique were something more of a pilot idiosyncrasy, as opposed to company policy. I hope so, anyway!

        Joking apart, this was a very, very punctual airline, and a comfortable one to boot. I may speak precious little Spanish and I may be a little concerned about the fact that their Spanish announcements came first and seemed to last about 10 - 15 minutes, whereas the English translation seemed to last a whole lot less. Perhaps English is a very compact language. Perhaps, however, they were hiding a lot of information from us. This may not have been a bad thing!

        Who knows? This all happened at the heart of severely tightened airline security. We were allowed to travel with hand baggage into the UK. It was certainly not the case in the opposite direction.

        Iberia? Yeah, they're absolutely fine, but you don't get any free food or drink - and you'd actually get both if you were flying with their codeshare BA, with whom I had actually booked. And both partners, let's face it, are equally susceptible to potential terrorist attacks from moronic suicide bombers whether they fly twixt Bush and Blair or not. There's my dumb head poking above the parapet, I guess!

        I'm not going to stop flying, though. Not even with Iberia!

        Andrew

        Recommended:
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          31.05.2005 01:07
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          Amsterdam is home to three Crowne Plaza hotels; there's one at Schiphol airport, there's the "Americaine", and then there's the "Crowne Plaza City Centre". It's at the latter that we recently had the pleasure of staying. Five minutes' walk from the Centraal (sic) Station which, itself, is a one-stop, 3.90 Euro, journey from Schiphol airport, I thought that its location was absolutely ideal.

          This review breaks the mould - amongst other things. I am usually travelling with my wife, Amanda, and the nearly-three-years-old baby Josh. Amsterdam, however, is no place for a toddler and it was thus that I found myself on a trip away with two good friends, Mark and Chris. Oh dear! Mathematician that I am, I feel an equation coming on.....Three blokes + Amsterdam = Trouble!

          Let me say from the outset that this was a really superb hotel. We loved it. There has, of course, to be a downside, so I'll start there and get it over with.

          I was nominally in charge of booking the trip and I selected this hotel for various reasons, including location and the fact that I could book on-line and earn a shed load of Priority Club Points - the hotel is part of the Six Continents Group, encompassing such brands as Holiday Inn and Intercontinental. The guys agreed with my choice and I booked on-line. It's not very easy to book a double and a twin room in one booking - far better to make two separate bookings - but that's what I did. Subsequent 'phone calls to the hotel (and they spoke perfect English) and e-mails to Central Reservations confirmed my worst fear. The hotel thought I had two rooms. Central reservations thought I had only one.

          For the purpose simply of saving face, it was important to me that I'd got it right and it was only when we arrived and discovered that I was, in fact, not the total incompetent that I feared I might seem, that I was able to totally relax. The pre-booked airport parking had worked out, the BA 'plane tickets had worked out, and now the hotel rooms were ready, as intended. I used, as a boy, to love the "A-team". Were George Peppard still alive, he'd join me in a chorus of "I love it when a plan comes together". Just such a shame that I had had to worry about it so much, pre-arrival! In future, if I want different room types, I'll know to make two separate bookings. Helpful tip there, I hope!

          Worry over. Enjoy Amsterdam!

          We arrived at the hotel at about 6pm, having found it very easily - it's extremely accessible from the Centraal Station. (I'm getting sick of writing sic after the word Centraal (sic), so don't expect me to keep doing so!)

          The hotel has a modern facade and we entered the reception area via a revolving door. I was later glad to note that it revolves pretty slowly! On your immediate left is the concierge and next to that is the check-in desk. It was quite busy. In front of us, however, was a Priority Club Priority Check-in desk. As a Priority Club member, it seemed rude not to use it and, in no time whatsoever, we were checked in and given key cards to rooms 205 (Two doubles) and 206 (King). Relief - my booking had been accurate and successful after all that pre-arrival concern.

          We headed to the lifts, found our rooms and had a 30-minute freshen-up before heading out to see what Amsterdam had to offer - which, I think, should form a different review!

          The rooms were extremely comfortable, furnished in pastel colours and with russet paintwork on the doors reflecting the Crowne Plaza branding. The bed was extremely comfortable and furnished with a plain white duvet cover - it later proved to be a superb place to sleep. A very fluffy bathrobe was neatly folded on the bed, and there were sweets on the pillows. A workdesk extended to hold a colour television with various channels, some hilarious, and there was comfortable seating. Trouser press, obviously, and a very adequate bathroom with good toiletries - some Neutrogena, and some products such as "Dove" hand cream dispensed from containers attached to the wall. Very comfortable, all in all. The minibar, as Mark discovered, played "touch-move" and charged you if you so much as touched any item. I avoid these machines like the plague, however!

          The hotel has a nice bar but, for once, I resisted the temptation. This was Amsterdam and there were no shortages of drinking holes. And we found them. One, in particular, was the "Banana Bar". Enough said, I am sure, but the entry fee was 40 Euros - which included an hour's worth of free drinking. I made a conservative start, until two American girls suggested that drinking whisky, in the circumstances, seemed better value for money. About 40 minutes of whisky-drinking later and...well, the rest is history.

          On arrival back at the hotel, I think I had fallen over half-a-dozen times and had been abandoned by my friends. I'm not proud of the time I'd spent in various gutters, but am glad that I'd avoided making the acquaintance of Amsterdam's canals.

          My final fall happened in the foyer of the hotel - and that is the one, I'm convinced, that broke my leg. I thought it was just badly bruised and it was only when I returned to England, after walking on it for two days, that the fractured fibula was diagnosed. The night porter was very kind and picked me up and, despite my protestations, kindly escorted me to my room, making sure that I was OK. The fact that, on the next night, when Mark and I needed his assistance in working out how to operate the cigarette vending machine, he made no mention of my fall, speaks volumes for his professionalism and discretion!

          So the rest of my trip was spent at a slow pace, taking in the inevitable window-shopping and having a great, if slightly painful time.

          The hotel has a superb leisure centre, and Chris took advantage of this - using both the indoor heated pool and the sauna. He also took advantage of the breakfast, not realising that it was not included in the price. "Excellent breakfast", he said, "You could have had anything. I wasn't too hungry, so just had coffee, a croissant and some cheese!" Had he known that this added 22 Euros to his bill, I am sure that he would have gone a lot more overboard!

          All in all, a superb hotel - very centrally located, modern, comfortable and with exceptionally helpful staff. There was, I noticed, a very herbal smell in the corridors in the morning - somewhat remnicent of so many of Amsterdam's coffee shops.

          What better way to have a break? Oh - and please don't think I'm whinging about my broken leg - far from it!


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          • ebay.co.uk / Auction / 8 Readings / 8 Ratings
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            05.10.2004 20:21
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            Sorry - but I'm assuming that, living in the 21st Century, you already know about the eBay phenomenon! This review is simply intended to lend a slightly different stance - I hope you enjoy reading it!

            I have just returned from a wedding in Nottingham. The happy groom was the Godfather of my son, Josh, and as a former tutee of mine, I like to further his education whenever I possibly can. It was a long journey after the weekly delight that is teaching Mathematics on a Saturday morning and, arriving at 5pm, Josh – the kilt-wearing page-boy - was just in time to participate in the practice ceremony. We watched the happy couple practise their vows. We watched the vicar declare them man-and-wife. Only a rehearsal, maybe, but it struck me that each party had made the contract and, surely, they were now married in the eyes of God. Ryan was looking forward to an evening in the hostelry in which we were all staying that night. I leant forward and told him that I now considered him to be married and that he ought to take Jane out shopping before “Coronation Street” started.

            He turned pale. “Coronation Street”? Shopping? The stark reality dawned. It happens to us all. “Coronation Street” is, indeed, a dire experience with which no right-minded male will ever come to terms. There’s nothing that can be said or done to change that. But shopping, on the other hand, can actually be fun. Oh yes!

            Enter eBay, stage-right. An electronic market-place where vast amounts of money can disappear straight down your modem in return for somewhat crappy, but amusing, goods appearing through your letter-box. I am sure that my postman despises me at times of intense eBay activity. I certainly mean him no ill whatsoever. I’m simply having fun.

            For eBay can, indeed, be fun. OK – you can buy boring things on eBay, and I’ll raise my hand and admit to having done so. The non-functioning WiFi access point I once purchased bears testament to that, although I’d have been ecstatic had it done what I was led to believe it should do. However, you can buy almost anything you want on eBay (apart from certain banned items (praise the Lord) such as second-hand underwear) and this is where the fun really starts.

            Last Christmas (please shoot George Michael, by the way), my fellow villagers decided to run an “eBay challenge”. The winner was to be he – or indeed she – who managed to purchase the most ridiculous item they could find on eBay for under £10. It sounded dead easy. I was most certainly up for it.

            Easy, as it turned out, it was definitely not! I was clearly up against some extremely stiff competition from some pretty warped minds – both selling and buying. I did, naturally, win the competition but it took one hell of a lot of effort. People were extraordinarily excited. We chatted in hushed, yet excited tones. We started to realise that our prize piece of rubbish was actually nothing compared to, say, the set of 10 toe-nail clippings that Rob had found. We got annoyed when we discovered that Rob’s vendor had been so surprised that she’d received a bid on them that she’d actually given them to him for nothing; particularly me – I’d started the bidding on a (thankfully, unused) sick bag from the last flight of the Hoverspeed “Swift” Hovercraft. I’d swaggered into the pub one night and announced I believed I had a winner. How utterly foolish - somebody turned it into a bidding war. A few days later, and £9.99 poorer, I was the proud owner of said sick bag.

            It didn’t even win the competition. Nope! What earned me the crowning glory was actually a cross-stitch pattern of the amiable, but irritating, Irish Radio 2 presenter, King TOG himself, Terry Wogan, torn out of a magazine! My autographed ‘photo of the even more irritating Z-list celebrity, Timmy Mallett, also came second, forcing the local vicar, of all people, into third place with his genuine oak leaf from the floor of Sherwood Forest – complete with its certificate of authenticity.

            The competition was, of course, huge fun. EBay is fun. My advice to Ryan? Well, shopping need not – and ought not - revolve around ASDA – and I’m sure that you’ll be able to buy a housebrick on eBay to throw at the TV the moment your lovely bride even contemplates turning on “Coronation Street”.

            Incidentally, selling can be fun, too. I once sold an air-guitar. Think about it!


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              31.07.2004 05:51
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              Amsterdam is home to three Crowne Plaza hotels; there's one at Schiphol airport, there's the "Americaine", and then there's the "Crowne Plaza City Centre". It's at the latter that we recently had the pleasure of staying. Five minutes' walk from the Centraal (sic) Station which, itself, is a one-stop, 3.9 Euro, journey from Schiphol airport, I thought that its location was absolutely ideal. This review breaks the mould - amongst other things. I am usually travelling with my wife, Amanda, and the nearly-three-years-old baby Josh. Amsterdam, however, is no place for a toddler and it was thus that I found myself on a trip away with two good friends, Mark and Chris. Oh dear! Mathematician that I am, I feel an equation coming on.....Three blokes + Amsterdam = Trouble! Let me say from the outset that this was a really superb hotel. We loved it. There has, of course to be a downside, so I'll start there and get it over with. I was nominally in charge of booking the trip and I selected this hotel for various reasons, including location and the fact that I could book on-line and earn a shed load of Priority Club Points - the hotel is part of the Six Continents Group, encompassing such brands as Holiday Inn and Intercontinental. The guys agreed with my choice and I booked on-line. It's not very easy to book a double and a twin room in one booking - far better to make two separate bookings - but that's what I did. Subsequent 'phone calls to the hotel (and they spoke perfect English) and e-mails to Central Reservations confirmed my worst fear. The hotel thought I had two rooms. Central reservations thought I had only one. For the purpose simply of saving face, it was important to me that I'd got it right and it was only when we arrived and discovered that I was, in fact, not the total incompetent that I looked like appearing as, that I was able to totally relax. The pre-booked air
              port parking had worked out, the BA 'plane tickets had worked out, and now the hotel rooms were ready, as intended. I used, as a boy, to love the "A-team". Were George Peppard still alive, he'd join me in a chorus of "I love it when a plan comes together". Just such a shame that I had had to worry about it so much, pre-arrival! In future, if I want different room types, I'll know to make two separate bookings. Helpful tip there, I hope! Worry over. Enjoy Amsterdam! We arrived at the hotel at about 6pm, having found it very easily - it's extremely accessible from the Centraal Station. (I'm getting sick of writing sic after the word Centraal (sic), so don't expect me to keep doing so!) The hotel has a modern facade and we entered the reception area via a revolving door. I was later glad to note that it revolves pretty slowly! On your immediate left is the concierge and next to that is the check-in desk. It was quite busy. In front of us, however, was a Priority Club Priority Check-in desk. As a Priority Club member, it seemed rude not to use it and, in no time whatsoever, we were checked in and given key cards to rooms 205 (Two doubles) and 206 (King). Relief - my booking had been accurate and successful after all that pre-arrival concern. We headed to the lifts, found our rooms and had a 30-minute freshen-up before heading out to see what Amsterdam had to offer - which, I think, should form a different review! The rooms were extremely comfortable, furnished in pastel colours and with russet paintwork on the doors reflecting the Crowne Plaza branding. The bed was extremely comfortable and furnished with a plain white duvet cover - it later proved to be a superb place to sleep. A very fluffy bathrobe was neatly folded on the bed, and there were sweets on the pillows. A workdesk extended to hold a colour television with various channels, some hilarious, and there was comfortabl
              e seating. Trouser press, obviously, and a very adequate bathroom with good toiletries - some Neutrogena, and some products such as "Dove" hand cream dispensed from containers attached to the wall. Very comfortable, all in all. The minibar, as Mark discovered, played "touch-move" and charged you if you so much as touched any item. I avoid these machines like the plague, however! The hotel has a nice bar but, for once, I resisted the temptation. This was Amsterdam and there were no shortages of drinking holes. And we found them. One, in particular, was the "Banana Bar". Enough said, I am sure, but the entry fee was 40 Euros - which included an hour's worth of free drinking. I made a conservative start, until two American girls suggested that drinking whisky, in the circumstances, seemed better value for money. about 40 minutes of whisky-drinking later and...well, the rest is history. On arrival back at the hotel, I think I had fallen over half-a-dozen times and had been abandoned by my friends. I'm not proud of the time I'd spent in various gutters, but am glad that I'd avoided making the acquaintance of Amsterdam's canals. My final fall happened in the foyer of the hotel - and that is the one, I'm convinced, that broke my leg. I thought it was just badly bruised and it was only when I returned to England, after walking on it for two days, that the fractured fibula was diagnosed. The night porter was very kind and picked me up and, despite my protestations, kindly escorted me to my room, making sure that I was OK. The fact that, on the next night, when Mark and I needed his assistance in working out how to operate the cigarette vending machine, he made no mention of my fall, speaks volumes for his professionalism and discretion! So the rest of my trip was spent at a slow pace, taking in the inevitable window-shopping and having a great, if slightly painful time. Th
              e hotel has a superb leisure centre, and Chris took advantage of this - using both the indoor heated pool and the sauna. He also took advantage of the breakfast, not realising that it was not included in the price. "Excellent breakfast", he said, "You could have had anything. I wasn't too hungry, so just had coffee, a croissant and some cheese!" Had he known that this added 22 Euros to his bill, I am sure that he would have gone a lot more overboard! All in all, a superb hotel - very centrally located, modern, comfortable and with exceptionally helpful staff. There was, I noticed, a very herbal smell in the corridors in the morning - somewhat remnicent of so many of Amsterdam's coffee shops. What better way to have a break? Oh - and please don't think I'm whinging about my broken leg - far from it! Recommended Yes

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                06.07.2004 07:05
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                I?ve done it yet again! I?ve stayed in Slough. To remind you, Sir john Betjeman wrote: Come Bombs, and fall on Slough, It isn?t fit for humans now! There isn?t grass to graze a cow. Come, friendly bombs Swarm over, death! The bombs have not come, yet. Slough is still standing. And Priceline send me back there time and time again. I accept an element of blame; perhaps I?m growing fond of the place. Perhaps the fact that the ?Legoland? theme park is nearby and that Josh absolutely loves it is a bonus. Whatever! We found ourselves in Slough once again; this time, at the Courtyard by Marriott. It?s officially rated as a 3 star hotel, and I was not exactly enamoured about the idea of staying there (the Slough issue aside) ? so I?ll try to say exactly why I?m wary of three-star hotels. Hotels tend to be rated on a five star system. Those that get four or five stars tend to be aiming at the luxury end of the market and are often dependable chain hotels. Love ?em or hate ?em, at least you know what to expect. You can be wrong, of course, but there are clearly-defined expectations and you can complain if these aren?t met. At the other end of the scale, those that get just one or two stars might be lovely, cosy family-run establishments with some character that just don?t happen to meet certain requirements such as 24-hour room service. In a tick-a-box system of hotel grading, the 3-star hotel is the un-known; the middle ground; the median. Is it a luxury-hotel-wannabe that never made the grade, or the little gem that went that little bit further? Time to dip my toe in the water ? although not in the swimming pool, because there isn?t one ? possibly the reason that this hotel didn?t get its fourth official star. Located by Junction 6 of the M4 motorway, and very convenient for Heathrow airport, this hotel is a modern 8-storey brick-built building. Functional, but of no great architectural interest, it?s easily locate
                d. The car park is adequately sized - and free to residents. We found a space and trundled our luggage towards reception. I think I understand why this hotel is only rated as 3 stars now. It?s all down to the public areas. There?s a reception desk, a lobby the size of an average living room, a small bar, an informal brasserie and meeting space for 40 delegates. Nothing over-the-top, yet everything you need. Reception was very friendly and check-in was efficient, helpful and informative. Nothing more, nothing less. No fawning, but that?s absolutely fine by me. Nearby lifts whisked us to our room on the second floor (205) and we were soon settled in. No fuss, and it?s the standard ?Marriott Room? ? extremely comfortable double bed, colour TV with a decent selection of channels, comfy chair (though two would have been nice, in a double room) and all the usual accoutrements such as trouser press and iron / ironing board. The bathroom was fine, with own-brand toiletries and plenty of towels. This was a four-star room within a three-star environment. No frills, but certainly nothing to complain about; I?m writing this review the following day in the so-called comfort of a four-star hotel that leaves a lot to be desired. Tonight?s venue ought to be better than last night?s. Officially. Actually, it isn?t, pool or no pool! So much for star ratings. We all visited the bar, where Amanda and I enjoyed a quiet drink - and Amanda, Josh and I enjoyed a bar snack. I think that the bill for food and drinks came to £20. Informal and relaxed, small and comfortable, the bar reflected the ambience of the hotel itself. Back to our room, and a peaceful and comfortable night?s rest was had by all ? I?ll repeat the fact that the bed was supremely comfortable. We did not take breakfast at the hotel but I have to say that the breakfast bap on offer looked inviting and would have been the best value hotel breakfast I?ve yet seen, at a mere £4.50. W
                e checked out quickly and efficiently, having enjoyed our stay. Courtyard by Marriott seems to be the poor relation of the Marriott family but I have to say that that would indicate nothing more than the fact that it has very rich relations. In this case my doubts about three-star hotels were most definitely allayed. I?d recommend it if you?re more into friendly service at a decent price than pampering. And if you read my next review, you?ll see that not even hotels in the next bracket can guarantee that. Andrew Recommended Yes

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                  06.07.2004 07:01
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                  I expect that the usual DooYoo capitalsare omitted in the first few paragraphs. Read on, anyway! Aficionado Extraordinaire, as ? on reflection - I would appear to be, of staying in bizarre hotel locations, I recently found myself at the Le Méridien Hotel, Gatwick Airport. Not, I?m somewhat embarrassed to admit, that I was actually flying anywhere. Nope! It?s just where (for £40 for the room, against a considerably greater rack-rate) the infamous Priceline decided to send us. And when the hotel is as good as this, at that price, I am certainly not one to complain. In fact, the trip turned out to have several advantages. Let me say from the outset, however, that if you actually are flying to or from Gatwick Airport, south of London, this is a superb airport hotel, with only minor faults. There are two hotels on site ? the Gatwick Hilton is located at the South Terminal (and I?ll confess that I have a real soft spot for Hiltons), and this hotel, which is linked via a covered walkway to the North Terminal. As both terminals are linked by a free, very efficient and rapid automated transit system, location is not really an issue. You could be at check-in in either terminal from either hotel within ten minutes. So that?s the background. I was rather embarrassed about my destination, to be honest, given that I wasn?t flying anywhere, and tried to keep it secret from most of my friends! It actually worked out very well, however ? travelling with Josh, who?s now 2 1/2 years old, we found that there were all sorts of things at the airport to keep him entertained and excited. He would also appear to have inherited his father?s interest in aircraft and he was more than happy to sit by the large picture window in the bedroom and watch the ?planes. I?ve never seen him so happily entertained in a hotel room, and happy children make very happy parents. We arrived by car and parked in the hotel?s car park. Special off-site parking deals are ava
                  ilable for long-term stays, but we paid £12 to park overnight just outside the hotel. It wasn?t easy to find a space, but we managed. A short walk brought us to the ground floor entrance and through the automated glass doors, where an escalator leads to the reception area on the first floor, named the ?Podium Floor?. Whether you arrive by car, via the escalator, or from the airport terminal via the covered walkway, you can?t fail to get a bit of a ?Wow!? factor from the atrium that greets you. This is a hotel within a very busy airport, yet here is an oasis of peace and air-conditioned tranquility. The hotel is an eight-storey, clean, white, square superstructure, built around this impressive octagonal atrium. I?m never sure about the architectural economics of atriums (or should that be atria?), but an atrium certainly does it for me every time! But enough about me and my atrium fetish! What?s the atrium got? On your right is the first port of call ? reception. We checked in quickly and efficiently. Rooms face either the airport or the Surrey countryside. Mindful of the fact that an airport view would keep Josh occupied, I requested one, and we were allocated to room 374 on the third floor. This afforded the best of both worlds ? pleasant green views in one direction, and airport activity in the other. It couldn?t have been much better. Of the room, more later! Back in the atrium (sorry!), you?ll find the ?Café Montparnasse? on your left, where you can get a drink and a light meal, and a comfortable (and reasonably priced) bar where you can enjoy a drink and happily people-watch as you sit by the interesting water features in the centre of the atrium. Moving past this, and the self-playing grand piano, brings you to the Gatwick Oriental restaurant ? the hotel?s signature eatery that provides food from a menu created by Ken Hom. There?s another bar on the first floor that has a sports theme ? satellite television brings you the latest l
                  ive action if that?s your thing. Anyway, we took one of the four lifts to the third floor to find our room. If I?ve raved about this hotel so far, it?s time to introduce a small niggle. The atrium was spoilt a little by the existence of scaffolding and building works. No complaints there ? I assume the building work is both essential and very temporary. However, as we walked to our room along the corridor, the paintwork on almost every single room door was in need of maintenance. It?s a small point, but this is a public area and as you walk to your room, this neglect sends out totally the wrong messages. At this stage in the hotel-client relationship, the hotel should still be trying to sell itself as you anticipate what the all-important room will be like and, for the cost of a couple of coats of paint, I was surprised to see this. Fortunately? ? Our room was fine. A corner room, essentially triangular in shape, a short corridor led into the main room, passing adequate wardrobe space on the right. The main room contained a very comfortable, large bed (with duvet), colour TV with a decent selection of channels, minibar, comfortable chair (in the singular) and table, together with decent storage space in drawers. There was also an iron and ironing board, a trouser press (of course!) and a safe. And the picture window with the Josh-entertaining view ? priceless! The bathroom was adequate and, like the room, spotlessly clean. All in all, the room was a comfortable place to spend the evening, although I can?t say that the air-conditioning was terribly efficient. As ever, I popped down to inspect the bar because that?s what you want me to do ? at least, that?s what I always tell Amanda. I enjoyed a beer at a reasonable price, but £8.95 will buy you a decent cocktail and about £4.25 will get you a liqueur coffee. I enjoyed myself, almost de facto - I was in an atrium! We had supper and, indeed, breakfast in the airport terminal ? th
                  e value was more competitive and the quality was fine. After a really good night?s sleep, we checked out efficiently and headed off. Another bizarre location awaited and Josh had a surprise appointment in ?Legoland?. All in all, this hotel comes highly recommended. Were I the General Manager, I?d arrange to slap a few coats of paint on the bedroom doors and get the air-conditioning checked; the temperature in the rooms wasn?t comfortable. Other than that, I?d be pleased with the fabric of the building, the peaceful ambience in the public areas and the friendly nature of my staff. For an airport hotel, this does very well. Andrew PS - For those following Baby Josh?s progress, I offer two transcripts of father-son conversation: Josh: ?Look, Daddy ? there?s a ?plane!? Me: ?Yes ? it?s an Airbus? Josh: ?Silly Daddy ? it?s not a bus; it?s a ?plane!? D?oh! Josh: ?Look, Daddy ? there?s a ?plane!? Me: ?Yes? (learning from previous experience) ?Where d?you think it?s going?? Josh: ?The sky? Obviously! Don?t kids have superb logic? Recommended Yes

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                  06.07.2004 06:56
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                  I was looking for a weekend away; it's been a busy week at work, and it was the weekend before my birthday. A change of scene was needed, so I delved into the Priceline website searching for anywhere - and I mean anywhere - that would provide a change of scene. Quite what possessed me, after several failed searches, to select "London Airport Hotels - Gatwick", I don't know, but I did. Before you could say "Now I don't believe you wanted to do that", I found myself booked into the Arora International hotel, Gatwick airport. I suppose I'd gone for the Gatwick option, knowing that there are actually some really nice hotels in the area (Le Méridien, Hilton, a couple of Copthornes, to name a few), yet this hotel was a new one on me. Still - £50 for a room for two (and baby Josh) in a four star hotel is not bad value (and a great saving on the rack-rate), and I'm prepared to try anything once. Without letting too many cats out of the proverbial bag, I have to say that I'd actually happily try this place more than once. That, at any rate, explains why, yet again, I'm writing about an airport hotel in what is, let's face it, far from being an ideal holiday destination. Thanks, Priceline! This hotel faces stiff competition in several ways. Whilst Le Méridien and the Hilton are both on site at the terminals and offer incredibly easy access to your departing or arriving flights - as well as all the facilities that the airport has to offer - this hotel is actually situated in Crawley, which is about four miles from the airport. It's situated right next to Crawley rail station, two stops and a £2.20 single (£2.90 return) ten-minute train ride from the airport, but it has already lost out in terms of convenience. So it's going to have to really stand on its own two feet if it's going to compete, and the only way I can see it doing so is on price. Enter Priceline - you can clearly get good deals he
                  re. But then, the same is true at the terminal hotels. We arrived late in the afternoon and experienced some difficulties finding the place. Not major ones, but it's not as straightforward as, say, Le Méridien. It's right next to Crawley station, so is easy if arriving by train - and even has private access from the railway platform. Arriving by car required a little more guile, but we got there. Eventually. We parked the car in the spacious underground car park and headed up the stairs to reception. The hotel is newly built and whilst there have been attempts to jazz up the architecture, it's still fairly bland, although water sculptures and fountains are pleasing to the eye. Step through the automated fake-revolving door, and you're in the front lobby. In front of you are three glass lifts. To your right is a shop selling all the sorts of things you wouldn't expect to find in a hotel (especially foodstuffs that might reduce the risk of relying on room service when the hunger pangs strike), and on your left is reception. We checked in quickly and efficiently; there was no queue, and the receptionist was helpful and friendly, issuing a keycard for the room and an instruction sheet on how to best enjoy the hotel. Slightly unusual, as was the absence of welcome literature in our room. Behind the lifts and reception area is a large atrium area (oh, bliss!), with a bar, deli and Starbucks, all decorated in a mixture of whites and warm beige colours with interesting furniture, such as chairs sculpted into the shape of a human hand. The lifts are enclosed in glass and, en route to the first floor, we could watch the quiet activity in the atrium below us. I think it's a five storey hotel; our journey aloft stopped at the first floor and we were delivered very close to our room, number 152. I'd been led to believe that this was a hotel with American-sized rooms, but wasn't particularly stricke
                  n by the amount of space. Go to Brussels if you want space - but it was certainly adequate and definitely not cramped. The usual design was in order - entry hall, with bathroom on the right, leading to the inner sanctum, dominated by what proved to be a supremely comfortable large double bed. In the entry hall, is a slot into which you insert your key card. This activates the lights. I've encountered this system before and I think it's quite a good idea - unless (as was the case tonight) they only give you one key card. If one of you (guess who) gets the urge to pay a visit to the bar, the person remaining in the room must sit in darkness. "You could always knock on the door and let Amanda use the lights" I hear you say. True. However, hotel security is such that you can only ascend in the lifts if you first swipe your key card in a slot. In other words, if anybody is not in the room, a key card is required. Amanda was actually happy to sit with the lights off and the TV on - it helped to get baby Josh to sleep - but the arrangement wasn't ideal. I guess that a second card could have been requested, but why should we have had to? Minor niggle - and I've only got two about this hotel! The room was decorated in warm beige colours and the bed had a striking blue duvet on it. It proved to be extraordinarily comfortable and the pillows were to die for. Complemented by very effective black-out curtains, a good night's sleep was eventually had by all. There was plenty of storage space, an interactive TV with a decent selection of channels and a comfortable armchair and table. Again, why there was only one chair in a double room is beyond me, but hoteliers can be a strange breed! I was a little surprised by the lack of the usual hotel welcome guide in the room. I put this down to the fact that there's nothing to do in Crawley. I may be wrong. What nearly surprised me even more - even to heart-attack l
                  evels - was the lack of a trouser press. But there it was, nestling in a little cupboard, along with an iron, ironing board and tea / coffee making facilities - except that the kettle didn't actually work - the other minor niggle, which was only discovered the next morning. The bathroom was superb and, like the room itself, was spotlessly clean. The bath was spacious and comfortable and there was a stand-alone power shower. Decorated with granite-effect furnishings and clean white tiles, one wall was adorned with a huge mirror that, miraculously, didn't steam up either when the bath or the shower was used. Toiletries were of a good standard, too. All in all, the accommodation was of a very high standard, even if the view from the window was (as you might expect) nothing to write home about. As the climax of the Holland / Sweden quarter-final of the Euro 2004 football tournament approached, I felt the urge to complete my duties as reviewer and make a trip to the bar. There are two, as it happens. The atrium bar is peaceful and geared up more to serving cocktails and shorts. Finding myself more in rowdy football-watching mood, I was drawn to "Morgan's Pub" - a friendly place to enjoy a few beers and watch Sweden get knocked out of the tournament on a large screen projector TV. My first beer was bought during a late "Happy Hour" and was ridiculously cheap. The second was at normal price and still didn't break the bank. I returned to the room and enjoyed a thoroughly pleasant sleep - the bed really was comfortable. We needed a reasonably early getaway, and booked a wake-up call through the TV. It worked and it wasn't long before we were on our way. Check-out was a breeze and the staff were very friendly. I handed my car park ticket over for validation and was charged £5. I was told that the car park barrier was actually out of order, however, and that I could simply drive
                  out of the car park. Well if I'd known that..... "At least you won't be leaving with a guilty conscience" said Sarah, the smiling receptionist. "You watch me", I said, as I called across the reception to Amanda, checking that she'd packed the hotel's fluffy bathrobe into the suitcase. This hotel does not provide fluffy bathrobes. Honest! My conscience is clear. Andrew Recommended Yes

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                  06.07.2004 06:51
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                  Aware of the DooYoo capitalization problem....but I hope you enjoy the review itself! Here we go.... Part One - Two, two, two awful! It?s Friday night. I?m sitting at my desk in my hotel room at the Hilton Sheffield writing this. I?m booked in for two nights, whilst we visit family to celebrate my mum?s 70th birthday ? though you?d never guess it if you knew her ? she?s a ?game old bird?. The hotel is apparently full. Quite why, I don?t know, but apparently it is. And, to explain the subtitle, I?m sitting in room 222, hating every minute of it. I don?t make a habit of complaining but tonight, after watching ?Hell?s Kitchen? on the TV, I had to ?phone the hotel?s duty manager to complain, politely, about ?Hell?s Hotel Room? that?s a first. She was very helpful and promised to move us to a decent room in the morning, so this will be a review in two parts. You?ll get the truth of tonight?s experience in part one, and we?ll see what tomorrow?s room will muster in part two. I?m a fair person after all, but so far, everything that could go wrong has done so. Perhaps tomorrow will bring better things. We?d booked the two-night stay about a month in advance via the Hilton web site. I?m a Gold VIP Hhonors member and, as such, am entitled to a room upgrade. Room 222 is not only not an upgraded room, it is also ? I sincerely hope ? the worst in the hotel; for if this is the standard, then Heaven help us. I?m not over-fussy, but the following faults simply couldn?t be ignored: Carpet went up the skirting board, but was falling off it. (Minor complaint) There was an unsightly paint repair behind the TV. (Minor complaint) There was an armchair (just one) but one of the castors was missing, making it unstable and uncomfortable. (Fairly major complaint) There was no minibar, but a vending machine outside the room ? this was out of order. (Observation ? may or may not concern you) The drawer in the desk
                  , and one in the chest of drawers also, was broken. (Minor complaint) There was no air-conditioning, yet the window only opened about an inch. (Major problem) TV volume could not be adjusted above half-level. (Irritation) One of the wall-mounted bedside lamps was totally missing. (Starting to get annoyed now ? does this hotel have any attention to detail?) Door chain was totally absent and hence inoperative. (Major complaint) Smoking room ? booked and re-booked three times had not been allocated and had to be sorted out at check-in. (Irritation ? but probably aimed at central reservations) Add to those facts that dining room service was shabby and unprofessional and that when I visited the bar (of this 4-star hotel), customers were dropping their trousers, you can possibly appreciate why I was not 100% impressed. (Huge complaint, although I?m not sure how a hotel should manage unruly customers.) The room was unacceptable. Restaurant service was below par. I don?t whine, but it was time to make a complaint, and I ?phoned the Duty Manager. To be fair, she was fantastic and arranged for an upgrade the following night. I really hate complaining ? all I want is to enjoy the room that I?ve paid for - and wasn?t made to feel like a whiner; I was actually thanked for bringing these faults to her attention ? though why it remained the responsibility of a guest to have done so still escapes me ? a greater attention to detail is clearly needed. We counted our losses and went to sleep. It was a hard mattress, yet we slept well and woke up in time for the included breakfast. This was fantastic, and the breakfast staff were terrific, looking after Josh in the way that excellent Hilton staff know how. He was a happy chappy, and happy kids make happy parents. As instructed the night before, I proceeded to Reception to arrange the promised change of room. Everything was in order but c
                  ould not, understandably, be actioned immediately. No problem, but we were due to be out with my family for the day, so left our luggage in the room. They promised to move it to our new room. They did?. Part Two ? Much, Much More Like It! It?s Saturday night, and we?ve been effortlessly relocated across the corridor to room 225. It?s a ?Club Room?, with free mineral water, filter coffee machine, bathrobe (which I?m wearing as I write this), and a spacious balcony ? accessed via French windows ? with table and chairs ? with a lovely view over the canal and the boats moored in the basin. More importantly, the room is intact; the armchair (still singular) doesn?t rock all over the place, since it has all four feet. In fact, none of my previous criticisms (apart from the door chain) persist. I?m no ?Prima-Donna?, but I am very concerned that it took a complaint to achieve decent standards ? upgraded room or not. The second night was fantastic; the first night should not have been so sub-standard. I can?t decide whether or not to recommend this hotel. Based on the first night, I?d probably never stay in a Hilton again ? certainly not if I were a ?Hilton Virgin?. Based on the second night, I?d really rave about the place. What, I think, surprises me most, is the fact that on returning to the hotel tonight, it was clear from the outside that room 222 had been re-let. If they had rectified all the many problems that I?d identified, then ? all power to their elbow. Otherwise, they?re treating someone else as a complete sucker. I sincerely hope that the latter is not the case. I?ve tried to give you both sides of the equation. Whether you decide to stay here is up to you. You?re the jury and you?ve heard the evidence. Good luck ? this is a hotel that CAN deliver. I hope it does for you. Andrew Recommended Yes

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                  06.07.2004 06:46
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                  This review will possibly suffer from the usual DooYoo capitalisation problem. I've never managed to get my head around this - despite kind offers of help! I do hope that you enjoy the content, nevertheless! Regular readers - and I love you all to bits - will no doubt once again raise their eyebrows Heavenwards in supplication one more time when they read that I've just stayed in a hotel in Ashford, Kent. This time, however successfully I have managed to root out an undesirable holiday location - and, believe me, it is - there was method in my madness. It may be a convenient conference location, but there are certainly better centres from which to explore Kent, the "Garden of England". Try Canterbury, for example. It's where I live and it's less than 20 miles from Ashford. So why, exactly, did I do it? Baby Josh and I decided that Amanda needed a weekend away (?Mothering Sunday? was looming) and we arranged a short break in Brussels. The best way to get to Brussels from the South East of the UK is by Eurostar, without a shadow of doubt, and if you live in Kent then Ashford International Station is the station of choice. There are some superb hotels in Ashford ? and by that, I?d highlight the ?Eastwell Manor? ? and there are also some very good ones. We chose the Holiday Inn Ashford Central on this occasion ? it was good value and suited the purpose more than adequately. Most importantly, it was less than a ten minute drive from the Ashford International railway station ? very important when an early departure on the Eurostar is combined with preparing the infamous 2 ½ year old baby Josh for the journey. It also helped us to relax the might before the voyage. OK ? so, having explained away the reason for staying in this cultural backwater, let me run you through what was actually a very pleasant experience. I booked the stay on-line through the Holiday Inn website ? or Six Continents, earning ?Priorit
                  y Club? points in the process. Standard rooms were available for £49. The hotel has 103 rooms, including 8 ?Executive? rooms and for a reasonable £57 I got one of these. Not a bad price for an upgrade, I thought. We arrived in the early evening and parked in the free car park. The hotel is a modern, low-level (2 floors) building and is welcoming whilst being neither unattractive nor architecturally inspiring. A well-lit pagoda-style porch leads to the reception area. The reception desk is on the right as you enter the cosy lobby and the staff were efficient and very friendly, correctly confirming our reservation and assigning us to room 202. In most British hotels, I would have hit button 2 on the lift / elevator. In this case, we would have ended up in the rafters ? except that there was, in fact, no lift. Disabled guests shouldn?t worry, since there are plenty of ground floor rooms. We, however, trundled up the stairs to our room, passing a table full of complementary newspapers, and loads of rather quaint prints by a local artist (each for sale at £59) on our way. Our key card gained us access to the room and, although fairly compact, we were very happy. Clean, white decoration, comfortable double bed with plain white duvet. Sofa and footrest, minibar and (small) workspace, telephone with data port were all there, together with an interactive TV. Fairly small, but fairly smart, too, and perfectly adequate for our needs. The bathroom was impeccably clean and came supplied with great Neutrogena products. My only complaint, to be honest, was that the water pressure was unreliable. And very unreliable, at that! We were very happy. However, it?s only fair that Josh has somewhere to sleep and we?d requested a cot (or crib) for him. I have to say that this was not in the room and we had to re-request it. It was delivered whilst we were out, but not assembled. This sort of engineering challenge isn?t exactly beyond me, but it?s not
                  exactly fantastic customer service, especially when no bedding is provided either. Bless him, he made do with a spare pillow and blanket from the wardrobe but, for a supposedly child-friendly hotel, this didn?t earn that many Brownie points. All in all, however, a more than adequate hotel room for the price ? and I didn?t mention the curtains! There weren?t any! Much better ? a sort of Japanese-style sliding wooden shutter in beech effect that created a total blackout. Combined with a really comfortable bed, this made for a great night?s sleep once Josh had finished playing with it! We ate out, missing out on the 3 courses for £15 deal ? extremely good value, but the restaurant looked good and room service was available at a reasonable price. Staying at a hotel without reviewing the bar would be totally out of character, so I forced myself downstairs ? as ever, in the name of research! Comfortable and reasonably priced, the staff were friendly and the ambience was OK. I?m not a fan of televisions in bars, but they had one and I found myself drawn between straining to hear the selected TV programme and the moans of the locals drinking in the bar who were keen to download their criticisms of the place. Personally, I didn?t think it was that bad ? and if it were, why did they obviously keep returning? Keep the place in context and you?ve actually got a decent place to stay that ?does exactly what it says on the tin?. It?s not the Ritz, and it doesn?t pretend to be. Nor is it a Youth Hostel. This hotel is an un-pretentious and comfortable lodging in a location, which aims to serve particular needs. I think it reacts more than adequately to its intended market. We enjoyed our stay, had a great night?s sleep and were able to catch our train to Brussels in the morning, relaxed, refreshed and unhassled. That is what this hotel is about. Recommended Yes

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                  06.07.2004 06:41
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                  Apologies - no doubt the usual DooYoo capitalisation problem will occur; I can't quite work around the solution. I hope you enjoy the content! I enjoy staying in decent hotels and in the course of finding different places to stay (and review) at bargain prices, I can often be found in hotels in fairly bizarre locations - take Basingstoke and Slough as previous examples. Who in their right minds...? My latest delectable destination was charming Chatham - one of the "Medway Towns" in mid-Kent, with what can only be described as an "interesting" reputation. It's not exactly somewhere you'd choose to go on holiday. Forsaking all reason, I went there last night, to stay at the Bridgewood Manor Hotel. Which was nice. Just don't tell my friends I did it! The hotel is located in quiet woodland and pleasant enough gardens, near to the M2 motorway in Kent. I've already ruled it out as being a holiday destination, and can only assume that it thrives on conferences and weddings. The rack rate is in the region of £150 per night for a double room. I paid just £30 for a double room, with breakfast included, via laterooms.com, which goes - I hope - some way towards explaining what those in the know might describe as insanity on my part. I hope so! With rooms on offer at such a small fraction of the rack-rate, it's clear that, on the night of the May Bank Holiday, the hotel was struggling to fill its 100 rooms and the car park certainly had plenty of space. We unloaded the car and strolled over to reception - again, very quiet. Not at all unpleasant - just peaceful. The main lobby of this modern hotel is welcoming. Despite being fairly newly built, the designers have attempted to create a Gothic feel to the place and there are vaulted ceilings and cast iron chandeliers to complement the angular architecture. The lobby is a very bright and airy, naturally-lit, octagonal space with reception on the rig
                  ht. Further to your right is the Terrace Bar, whilst the more upmarket main bar and "Squire's Restaurant" (awarded two AA rosettes for its food) are on your left. Four or five comfortable seating areas, each with its own unique theme, surround the area in alcoves and here you can enjoy a drink or snack as you watch the world go by - except that it was very quiet today, and only a very small fraction of the world actually seemed to be going hither or, indeed, thither. We proceeded to reception. Nobody there! There was, however, one of those little brass bells that you strike from above to attract attention (straight out of Fawlty Towers!). I struck it! What fun! A receptionist appeared instantly and in next to no time, I was welcomed, my reservation was acknowledged, my key was issued, and we were heading off to our room. We were offered help with our luggage, but declined - we're pretty self-sufficient and tend to travel fairly light. This is a three-storey property and we found ourselves on the first floor (or second floor if you're using the American system) in room 141, after a short ride in the lift (or elevator if....). Public areas of the hotel seemed to be "in good nick", with cheerful decorations and quality carpets. There's a sense of space and, on a nice day, plenty of places to sit in the open air and enjoy refreshments - there's an especially nice courtyard, for instance, leading off from the main lobby. Our room was pleasant and comfortable, if a little small, and fitted the mould of a typical four-star hotel room. The entry lobby, decorated in deep russet tones, with (small) bathroom leading off to the left, led into the room itself, which was painted in neutral magnolia and sported a comfortable green carpet. The bed was of an ample size and was actually supremely comfortable, with good quality sheets and a lovely fleece blanket. There was plenty of storage space, two chairs and a t
                  able, and a decent sized colour TV with a reasonable selection of channels. I need hardly mention the presence of the ubiquitous trouser-press, surely? The welcome guide was comprehensive and a 24-hour room service menu was available and looked decent. There's no minibar as such but - in what I reckon is probably a sensible idea for guest and hotelier alike - various "packs" (such as four bottles of beer and some peanuts) can be ordered and pre-paid for. We'd brought our own - but don't tell anybody. If you're wondering about baby Josh - he could have had a cot (or crib if ....) free of charge, but we'd just invested in a "Ready Bed" - essentially an airbed and sleeping bag in one - and given that it was adorned with Thomas the Tank Engine, he loved it. Nothing better than a happy chappy! The bathroom matched the room in the sense that it was somewhat small, but it was more than adequate and there plenty of decent towels and own-brand toiletries. Bridgewood Manor is owned by a well-respected independent hotel group called "Marston Hotels" and one really helpful thing that they do offer is a free baby-listening service. You coaxe your child to sleep and then call reception to invoke the service. You then leave the 'phone off the hook whilst you retire to the blissfully Scooby-Doo-free environment in the bar downstairs, whilst they keep an ear open for any stirrings. You have to fill in a consent form and let them know exactly where you are, of course, but it certainly helps to put your mind at rest whilst you escape for 45 minutes' respite from those meddlin' kids - and by that, I mean Shaggy and his friends - not Josh! Of course, the real reason we popped down to the bar was to get you a proper appraisal of the place - I'm totally selfless in that regard, you understand! There are two bars, and we chose the Terrace Bar - the more informal. It's a peaceful pl
                  ace, with a calm ambience. It's here that you get the stone-lagged floor and the cast-iron chandeliers. There are comfortable sofas and an unobtrusive large-screen TV, as well as tables where you can enjoy a bar snack. I had a beer and Amanda had some white wine - the quality was fine and the prices were reasonable. Leading off from the bar was the leisure centre. We didn't try it, but there's a decent indoor pool and a fully-equipped spa, where you can book all manner of treatments if the fancy takes you. Satisfied, we headed back to our room and enjoyed a pleasant night's sleep in the really comfortable bed. Nice, thick curtains provided a perfect black-out on what was not a very dark summer's evening. I'm not really a fan of breakfast, but it was included in the deal, so down I went. A comprehensive buffet of cereals, pastries, fruit and juices was available and tea / coffee and toast could be ordered. The tea was superb. I inadvertantly ordered a full English breakfast. It was very good, but too filling for one so inexperienced in the art of early-morning eating. After a brief recovery session in our room, the time came to leave and we checked out quickly and efficiently. A friendly and comfortable hotel, fully deserving of its four AA stars, I can heartily recommend it to anyone who has, or can think of, a good reason to visit the Medway towns. Therein, however, lies the rub! I've a few more unusual locations up my sleeve for the week ahead.... Andrew Recommended Yes

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                    14.04.2004 08:49
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                    As ever - apologies for the inevitable DooYoo capitalization probs. I know there's a fix, but...... read the review! I hope you enjoy! Marriott must be absolutely mad! Slough not only sounds disgusting, it even has a poem written about it. In 1937, Sir john Betjeman wrote famously wrote: "Come friendly bombs and fall on Slough! It isn't fit for humans now, There isn't grass to graze a cow. Swarm over, Death!" And many more lines ensue; you get the picture, I'm sure! The first paragraph sets the scene, anyway, for this new town adjacent to London's Heathrow airport. Holiday destination it ain't! And yet Marriott call this hotel "Marriott Slough / Windsor". Why not settle for Windsor (which, with its imposing castle and idyllic location on the river Thames, is lovely)? In the AA hotel guide, you won't find this hotel listed under Slough - nor under Windsor. Nope - look under Heathrow Airport and you'll find it there, just adjacent to junction 5 of the M4 motorway - right under Heathrow's flight path - which is absolutely great if you're a 'plane spotter. You'd happily stay here if you were flying to / from Heathrow - like many hotels in the locale, they tend to offer very good parking-inclusive deals that challenge the exorbitant airport parking prices. You might also consider the hotel if you were visiting one of the local Theme Parks - Legoland, Thorpe Park or, at a pinch, Chessington. If, on the other hand, you simply thought that a night out in Slough might be rather nice, then you might well find that your therapist has an equally comfortable couch, with a straight-jacket replacing the fluffy bath robe. It was Easter and I thought that baby Josh deserved a treat. "Legoland", Windsor, looked to be just the right sort of place for his first theme park experience (and - yes - it caters very well for the y
                    ounger adventurer; he adored it). I pointed my web browser once again in the direction of Priceline and before I could say "Come, friendly bombs", we were booked into the Marriott Slough /Windsor for two nights at the remarkable rate of just £30 per room per night. Bargain - and from my experience, you can't go too far wrong with a Marriott. In fact, I'd say that this was about as far wrong as you could go with Marriott! The hotel was easy to locate - just of junction 5 of the M4 motorway near Heathrow airport. What was more difficult to locate was a parking place. The hotel offers special deals whereby you pay for a night's accommodation and receive free parking for up to 15 days. Superb deal that really can't be beaten. If, however, you're just staying for a night or two, it's extremely irritating to have to circumnavigate the car park several times before you find somewhere to leave your car. And from there, it will doubtless be a long-haul trip to reception. Ho Hum! We made it. It was a welcoming lobby in what is a modern, purpose-built hotel. There's a five storey tower section but this is mainly a low-level sprawling hotel. The main lobby houses reception and concierge, with "Chats" bar / cafe and the "Mediterrano" Restaurant to your left and a rabbit-warren of corridors leading to bedrooms on your right. Check-in was friendly and quite efficient. My booking was quickly acknowledged, but my request for a King size bed was refused. Instead, we were offered a room with two double beds. I am, to this minute, really confused about this. A room with two double beds. Hmmmmmmm! Who on earth wants these rooms? Swingers? Large married couples who no longer enjoy each other's company? I just can't imagine the scenario. Perhaps they're intended as family rooms. Whatever! That's what we got - room 0308 on the ground floor. We picked up our keycards and headed
                    off to find it. Eventually, we did. The room was large and clean. Without one redundant double bed, it would actually have been very spacious indeed. Clean, cream decoration and warm green carpet, comfortable seating and decent workspace all combined to give a very refined feel to the room. Being on the Heathrow flightpath, the quadruple glazing went some way to quelling the noise of aircraft traffic. There was actually an air of peace. The picture windows overlooked the car park. At least we could shut the curtains - there were very many cars to look at, but none - to be honest - of particular interest. The wardrobe contained an ironing board and laptop safe as well as a minibar. The armoire contained a standard colour TV with information services. The bed was very comfortable. All standard Marriott stuff - very comfortable. The room was faultless in a fairly clinical kind of way. The ensuite bathroom was spotlessly clean, with decent toiletries - no complaints, although some might find the bath a little small. The room was compact and bijou, however, and if I need to amplify the fact, I'd simply note that my arm was only just about long enough to reach from the lavatory - on one side of the room - to the toilet-roll holder that, in their infinite wisdom, the designer hand decided to place on the opposite side of the room. You get the picture, I'm sure. The bed was extremely comfortable and we had a great night's sleep. Josh, too, enjoyed his cot. We all awoke on the first morning to find that the newspaper we'd ordered had not been delivered. Apologies and explanations were offered, and one was delivered on the second morning of our stay. These things happen. Regularly, in my experience! It would, of course, be remiss of me not to visit the hotel bar. So I did. After a long day at Legoland, Josh had decided to catch some Zeds and we decided to take him with us. He's a very well-behaved lad, most of the ti
                    me, and the bar was clearly very child-friendly. We felt comfortable taking him with us and enjoyed a few moderately priced drinks tasty snacks. As I said, it was child-friendly. In fact, it was far too child-friendly and we were soon extremely irritated by the fact that at 9pm, kids were noisily running in and out of the bar incessantly whilst their parents just sat by and let them ruin everybody else's experience; there was no peace. In - out - in - out - crash into someone carrying drinks... you get the picture. As we left, I couldn't help thinking that the entrance to the bar was like the grid line-up to a pram Formula-1 race. Sad, really. In conclusion, this is clearly an airport hotel, with all the baggage that that carries with it. The accommodation is of a good, comfortable standard. The parking is over-subscribed and the bar is not a quiet haven. It's not a holiday location by any means yet it serves its purpose well. Know exactly why you're going there and you'll be perfectly happy. Andrew

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                      04.04.2004 19:39
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                      Apologies for the inevitable dooyoo lowercase problems!!! Mothering Sunday, 2004, was approaching and the 2½-year-old baby Josh nudged his proud father and suggested taking Amanda away for the weekend, which seemed like a great treat. Believe that if you will, but a bit of rather crafty pre-planning on my own part meant that I just happened to have a pair of cheap ?Eurostar? tickets to Brussels already sorted out and I pointed my web browser in the general direction of ?Priceline?, looking for a decent hotel. Not for the first time, I might add! It?s an exciting experience if, like me, you?re fairly cheeky. To cut a long story short, my offer of just £32 was accepted and we were allocated to the excellent ?Sheraton Hotel and Towers, Brussels? ? to give it its full title. I might add, in retrospect, that this was an absolute steal - just check out the rack-rate! Incidentally, Brussels? ?Eurocrats? migrate at the weekends and there would appear to be superb prices all year round at weekends ? it?s a schizophrenic city with some superb deals to be had if you?re prepared to visit at the weekend. Brussels! Hmmmmm! I?ve been there before and stayed at the ?Conrad? on the very fashionable Avenue Louise ? an absolutely superb hotel; one of the best in Brussels, if not Belgium, although I bet that Rocco Forte?s ?Hotel Amigo?, adjacent to the infamous ?Grand Place?, is hot on its heels; it certainly looks good. However, beggars cannot also be choosers and we had been allocated to the Sheraton. We were far from being disappointed. Preparing myself for the experience, I did some basic research ? much as you are doing now, I guess! I saw caveats about the hotel being in a ?Red-light district? and, although not exactly a prude, I was starting to prepare myself for the worst. ?Priceline? deals can be like that, let?s be honest! You get what you?re given. In this case, I am not one to complain. I?ll level with you: Yes: there is a fairly seedy street in
                      the vicinity with ?adult shops? (or should that be ?adolescent shops??), but we never once felt in danger, or even slightly uncomfortable ? certainly not so much on red-alert as when waiting for our return train on the other side of town at Brussels-Midi railway station where ? in my humble opinion ? there were simply too many people just not actually travelling anywhere. I?m sure you catch my drift. Having arrived, anyway, at the Eurostar terminus (and having spent 30 minutes sorting out an extremely bewildered old lady who?d failed to get off the train at Lille with the rest of her tour group (well, we couldn?t just leave her to fend for herself with no money and no command of French, could we?)) we made our way to the tram and took the short journey underneath the city to the Place Rogier metro station, where our hotel was located. Emerging from the underground, the hotel was easily visible, directly opposite the ?Hilton Brussels City? and the ?Brussels Crowne Plaza?. Despite the warnings about red light districts, I instinctively realised that there was nothing, in fact, to worry about. I think (hope) I was right. So ? finally we got to the Sheraton. Not exactly a picture postcard, it?s a 30-storey concrete-and-glass superstructure in the Brussels Business District, but with excellent access, too, to the more touristy areas; an excellent compromise. It doesn?t actually look that tall, but count the floors whilst waiting for the traffic lights to change and you?ll see that it?s correct. Access is via a revolving door, leading to an oasis of a lobby. On your right is the Concierge, adjoined by a diamond / gold jewellers which I pretended not to notice. Amanda spotted it, but Josh and I concentrated on the Check-in desk to the left. Partly obscured, it didn?t have the completely open / welcoming feel of some hotels, but the staff were certainly very friendly and welcoming. Maud, the extremely friendly girl that checked us in, immediately made f
                      riends with Josh, who sat blissfully in his buggy saying ?Weeeeeee?. She read this as ?Oui? and was convinced that he was, in fact, bi-lingual. He probably is. I leant down and explained to him that the word ?Upgrade? is understood in every language. Maud grinned. We got a standard room; 518, to be precise. One tries! Check-in, anyway, was a friendly and efficient procedure and we were given a complete, yet concise, breakdown of the hotel?s facilities ? backed up by an A4 ?Idiot guide? ? including restaurants, bars and the leisure centre, which is situated high up on the 30th floor with commanding views over the city. This was exemplary customer service, and a very good welcome. We were shown the way to the lifts, passing a comfortable lounge area and Espresso Bar on the ground floor and were on the 5th floor in next to no time. Our key card provided entry to the room. Brussels hotel rooms are noted for being very spacious and this was very much the case here. Absolutely loads of room for Josh to run around in and he did precisely that, as we settled in. The room had a beige feel to it and there was, as I?ve said, lots of space to enjoy ? with the room being dominated by a huge, 7-foot wide, King Size bed, which later proved to be very comfortable indeed. There was a sofa and armchair arranged around a stylish glass coffee table and a separate working space, which would have been perfectly adequate, had we not been staying on leisure. A large armoire contained a minibar and television ? although I?d say that the screen could have done with being a little larger, given the size of the room and the location, relative to it, of the seating area. Hanging space was adequate and the windows were large, affording a view of a building site. Not the best view in the world, but then we were not there to sit and stare out of the window of our hotel room! Josh?s cot was delivered, as requested, and there was plenty of space for it to fit in totally unobtrusively. The bathroom was clean and well presented. No bath robe, but plenty of Sheraton-branded toiletries and a decent bath / shower, lavatory and bidet. It?s Europe, after all! No ?phone ? but do you really want to be on the ?phone when you?re ?washing your bits? in the bidet? Personally, I?d say no! Before arriving, I?d ?phoned the hotel to book a babysitter for Saturday night. Five minutes before the 7 o?clock booking time, the Concierge ?phoned through and announced that Valentine, the delightful babysitter was on her way up. She was superb and did a very good job of looking after Josh whilst we went out for supper and a few drinks ? and where better to enjoy both than in Brussels? ? without having to worry about finding somewhere toddler-friendly such as a McDonald?s / Pizza Hut! On our return, Josh had been well entertained and was fast asleep in his cot. The bill for the babysitter (42 Euros, including a taxi fare home (which I didn?t think was an unreasonable extra)) was added to our room bill. It would, of course, have been negligent of me not to visit the bar and ? for the benefit of my readers, as always ? we did so. The O-bar, situated on the ground floor is very stylish, indeed and is probably a very good starting point if dining at the hotel?s first-floor signature restaurant, ?Crescendo?, to which there is direct escalator access. Dimly lit, with a blue theme following the Bombay Sapphire Gin brand, it was an upbeat yet relaxed place in which to enjoy a couple of drinks. I had a beer; Amanda went for a ?Banshee? (being a banana-based cocktail). We concluded with excellent Brandy Alexanders and retired to bed, with 33.50 Euros being added to our bill. Morning came and, instead of opting for the hotel?s 25 Euro breakfast, we walked into town for sustenance. Our return Eurostar departure was at 17:56 so, despite the fact that the hotel?s standard check-out time is 13:00, it was much appreciated that we were able to check out
                      late ? at 15:30. Hotel policy is to add (with the option to opt out) a Euro to your bill as a donation to the children?s charity, UNICEF. It?s a 533 room hotel, so that?s quite a donation and although I?m not really a believer in charity for strong and sound political reasons, it?s clear that they are able to make a difference. Needless to say, I didn?t opt out. All in all, this was an excellent hotel, at a superb price ? and it comes with my very strong recommendation. One last tale ? on check-out, Maud, the receptionist, ran through my bill and everything seemed fine. She hit the print button on the computer but must have missed, seemingly deleting my bill. It does them great credit that they had sufficient IT skills to be able to retrieve the details within minutes. In the intervening time, I tried to get Josh to mutter the phrase ?Personne n?a besoin de savoir? (nobody needs to know). Again, Maud grinned broadly as she handed over my retrieved bill! Ah well ? you can?t win all of the time! Andrew

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                        08.03.2004 00:49
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                        Apologies for the traditional lack of capital letters in the first few paragraphs - common Dooyoo trait!!! It being Amanda?s birthday, and coincidentally being the end of a very gruelling ?OfSted Inspection? (ie the school inspectors had swooped on her school for a week!), I decided to treat her to a well-deserved weekend away in London. I decided to book via ?Priceline? and selected a five star hotel in London?s fashionable Mayfair. My bid price of £80 (plus about £18 taxes and charges) was accepted and we were allocated a room at Le Meridien Piccadilly, a property with an official AA five star classification right on Piccadilly Circus. I was delighted. Well, up to a point; that point roughly coinciding with our eventual arrival at the hotel yesterday afternoon. Several days before we were to stay at the hotel, I decided to ?phone them and check the room type. I was disappointed to learn that they?d reserved a twin room and asked if a King was available. Only, I was told, in an upgraded room. I enquired about the additional cost and the operator, apparently being unable to tell me, transferred me to Le Meridien?s central reservations department. They were also, apparently, unable to help and suggested that I ?phoned Priceline, which I immediately did. Priceline were as bemused as me but ? all credit to them ? were friendly, helpful and efficient. They ?phoned Le Meridien on my behalf and, after a short delay, came back to me with news that they had secured a King bedded room at no extra cost! Tickety-boo! I relaxed and started to look forward to our break, happy in the logical assumption that they had secured me a free room upgrade in the process. We arrived at the hotel and walked, past a liveried and friendly doorman, through the rotating door and into the smart lobby. This was very elegant, with a concierge desk, semi-open-plan reception desks, business centre and steps leading down to the welcoming Burlington Bar. Above
                        us, on a mezzanine, was another bar area. Together with its absolutely superb ? arguably unbeatable - location in t he heart of London?s theatre-land, the calm, sophisticated ambience made us feel sure that we were in for a real treat. We were greeted at reception by Tristan, who checked us in with a smile and, once the somewhat laborious process was complete, handed over the key cards to room 705 - adding that he?d managed to upgrade us to one of their nicer rooms. Excellent! Couldn?t be better! Actually ? it couldn?t be much worse. We opened the door to this large, well-furnished room and liked it very much ? except for the overflowing ashtrays and the unmade bed. One can draw one of two conclusions when this happens (and it has happened to me once before ? and more spectacularly, I might add). Either the housekeeping is abysmal or one has been given the key to somebody else?s room. Assuming the latter, we headed back down to reception with our luggage. This time, we were dealt with by Victoria. Possibly, she?d had a long and hard day, or an argument with her boyfriend ? I can?t tell. Maybe she just wasn?t cut out to work with the public; I don?t know. Nothing, as they don?t say, seemed too little trouble! She tried to sort things out but it became clear that a quick and suitable solution was not to be found. Tristan intervened and invited us to enjoy a drink in the bar (on the house) whilst the problem was resolved. The Burlington Bar was very comfortable and nicely decorated in warm shades of green and we enjoyed polite service, a comfortable sofa and cool G&Ts, whilst watching England fall behind Ireland in the Six Nations rugby match on a wall-mounted wide screen plasma TV screen. Before long, Victoria appeared and gave us new key cards, this time to room 210. It?s at this point that the nightmare really began to escalate. We finished our drinks and headed off to our room. I decided to drop by at receptio
                        n to check that room 210 was still an upgraded room. It wasn?t. I?m struggling for words to describe a supposedly world -class hotel that offers guests a complimentary upgrade, lets them see the room (albeit in its unserviced or double-booked state) and then puts them back down to a standard room with no explanation or apology, but ?Rude?, ?Amateur?, ?Unprofessional? and ?Incompetent? all spring to mind. ?It is, at least, a King?, I asked. Nope ? it was a Queen. Central Reservations had not, it appears, managed to inform them of the confirmed re-booking Priceline had secured earlier that week. Ah well. We headed off to the room, on the second floor, having been assured that our luggage had been sent up. We arrived and opened the door. Good grief! I know that London hotel rooms are notoriously small ? but this certainly took some beating in the anti-Tardis stakes. The fact that it was completely dominated by the 4?6? Queen size bed possibly gives you an idea of the size. Had baby Josh been with us, there would have been no way of accommodating a cot (or crib). It was clean, though, and blandly decorated in a magnolia colour scheme and turquoise carpet. There was a small desk and chair with a fax machine / computer printer and high-speed internet connection. There was one armchair and an occasional table and an interactive TV set, offering a rather disappointing collection of channels, although pay-movies and Playstation games were available. There was a large walk-in wardrobe with a safe and (and I never understand why hotels don?t provide two, in double rooms) one fluffy bathrobe. Cleverly hidden next to this was a well-stocked minibar although I didn?t actually find this until the morning, and there was no price list to be found. A minibar is a dangerous thing at the best of times, but one without a price list is, in my humble opinion, to be avoided at all costs. The minimalist theme of the room was admirably complemented by the absen
                        ce of a room service menu (despite room service apparently being available) and ? worse ? the absence of our luggage. Amanda decided to wash her hair in the small, but clean, bathroom and I returned, once again, to the increasingly familiar reception desk to investigate the luggage. I was assured that it was on its way and returned to our rather depressing room. On my return, I learned that reception had ?phoned to promise delivery of our luggage and eventually it turned up. Time to admire the panoramic view from the window. Except that half of it was boarded up. Probably a thoughtful gesture, since the only thing visible from the upper, un-boarded half of the window appeared to be the hotel?s air-conditioning unit. It?s at this stage that one might explode with rage. The alternative strategy is to relax, fairly confident in the knowledge that things really can?t get any worse. We freshened up and went out to enjoy the sights, leaving our depression behind us. One thing I?ll repeat is that this hotel would be difficult to beat in terms of its excellent location. We eventually returned and thought it might be nice to enjoy a drink in the mezzanine bar ? designated the ?Cigar Club?. Indeed, it would have been lovely ? but it was shut. And so to bed. We skipped breakfast ? at £47 for two for an English breakfast in bed, it would have been the final insult. Had it not been Sunday morning (when it?s closed), a far better option would have been to nip across the road and enjoy breakfast (for £11.95 each) in the world-famous ?Fortnum and Mason?s? (The Queen?s favourite deli!). Being the gourmand I am (and having spent a small fortune out on the town the night before), a local McDonald?s did the trick this time! The hotel has two smart and stylish restaurants ? The acclaimed ?Oak Room? and the more informal Terrace. We ate out on Saturday night, so I am unable to comment on the quality. There is also a ?Champney?s? spa
                        and leisure club. This is currently, however, closed for refurbishment. A nightmare has to end eventually so we decided to check-out ? again, with the charming Victoria. Whereas at check-in, we hadn?t been offered a wake-up call or newspaper (free or otherwise), I had to smile to when I won a bet with myself by correctly predicting that she wouldn?t even ask if we?d enjoyed our stay (and I?d not moaned once about it). Le Meridien have a customer comment card called ?The Moment of Truth?. I filled it in truthfully and hope that the General Manager will read it with interest and act quickly upon the flaws I highlighted. Unless that happens, I cannot see how there is any way that ? in a competitive market ? this hotel can be recommended.

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                          03.11.2003 00:50
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                          DooYoo will no doubt refuse capital letters in the first few paragraphs. Ho Hum! Read On! Having recently visited Amanda's parents in Scotland, we decided to split up the return journey by stopping off in Newcastle - it's a very long drive otherwise and, whilst not exactly halfway distance-wise, it actually made an excellent stop-off point. Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, in the North East of England, has heaps going for it and Amanda found herself in shoppers' heaven at the adjacent Metrocentre shopping mall. Baby Josh didn't do too badly out of the deal either, leaving with bags full of goodies from the "Warner Bros" store and "Toys R Us". Having selected Newcastle as our destination, I decided to book via "Priceline". To be honest, I'm something of a Hilton fan and I knew that Hilton had just opened a brand new hotel in Newcastle, which I was very keen to try. With "Priceline", however, the luxury of choice is denied and you have to go with what is offered. As it happens, I was very far from disappointed with this lovely Marriott - especially when my accepted bid offer was a mere £42.00 (plus taxes and charges amounting to about £10.00), representing a significant discount on the rack rate of about £135! Arriving from the north on the A1, the hotel is exceptionally easy to find and is located opposite "IKEA" and adjacent to McDonalds, Pizza Hut, TGI Fridays and various other food outlets. A five-storey rectangular block, it has a tinted glass façade and, whilst not particularly attractive, it has a certain style. The car park is free - you press a button to open the entry gate and then enter a code (available at reception) to leave it again. We managed to get a space near to the hotel entrance and headed in with our luggage and Josh's various accoutrements. The lobby was bright and welcoming and the reception staff were efficient and friendly; it was n
                          ot long before we were allocated to our room (405) on the fourth floor and given our keycards. I'm a relative Marriott virgin and, based on reasonably limited experience with the brand, was expecting to be given a card to operate the room's electrics (as at Bristol and Birmingham, for instance). Not so here; the key gets you into the room and the electricity just - well - works! It was Halloween and there were special, pseudo-spooky menus for the restaurant (I'll spare you the corny details but you can imagine, I'm sure, what was on offer) - we were asked if we'd like to reserve a table. We declined, since (a) Josh would no doubt have ruined everyone else's dining experience and (b) there were other places in the immediate vicinity and we feeling slightly mischievous! We headed for the lifts, one of which was out of order, and were soon on the fourth floor, heading for our room, which we found easily. No huge surprise in terms of layout (traditional L-shape!), but we very impressed with the amount of space - the room was very large indeed. I have to say that my initial impression was that the room was rather gloomy. Amanda, on the other hand, thought that it had a somewhat "cosy ambience". It grew on me and, as time went by, I have to say that I soon came round to her way of thinking. As I've said, the room was large and featured a very spacious bathroom with a huge bath and over-bath power shower and a decent selection of "Neutrogena" products. Later investigation proved that the bath sloped at both ends and it was thus actually quite difficult to get up from a lying down position! Also, the side mounted tap tended to dispense water onto a ledge in the bath, causing quite an irritating spray - but, hey - these are minor criticisms! The bedroom itself was spacious, well decorated and impeccably clean. The bed must have been seven feet wide and was very comfortable; we enjoyed a
                          good night's sleep later on! There was a comfortable sofa (well, a sofa bed), easy chair, coffee table, working desk and an interactive colour TV. Storage space was adequate and the wardrobe contained a safe, iron and ironing board. There were ample tea / coffee making facilities and a minibar of the variety that charges you electronically if you so much as move anything. The air-conditioning was easy to operate and, apparently, switches off automatically if you open the window. What a tit-bit of information there! Everything, in fact, you needed was there - except for Baby Josh's cot - which I had specifically requested by 'phone when confirming the booking. These things happen. Regularly! Ho Hum - every cloud has a silver lining! We headed out to investigate the Metrocentre - a superb shopping mall that even has a funfair to keep the kids occupied whilst the "hunter-gatherers" hunt and gather. And there's a lot to hunt and gather! Even "chaps" will enjoy it! As we left, we asked reception to deliver Josh's cot to our room. Returning to our room, we were disappointed to note that Josh's cot was still not there. Time for a second reminder, and I drew the short straw. Somebody, after all, had to do it and, besides, what a perfect excuse to pop in to the hotel's Chester's Bar in order to ensure that the review of the hotel was complete! The cot got delivered efficiently whilst I enjoyed a few beers in the bar. I'd noticed, at check-in, that there was a "happy hour" between 6pm and 9pm (possibly part of the Halloween celebrations) and I enjoyed a few pints of "Stella Artois" at just £2 per pint - a good price anywhere, but a superb price for a hotel bar. The staff were friendly and helpful but the bar didn?t really hit the right pleasure buttons for me, to be perfectly honest. Inoffensive, comfortable and clean, but somewhat bland and lacking in character -
                          it was not an unpleasant place to drink, but it's really not the sort of place that I'd actually choose to drink in. I don't believe that televisions lend anything at all to bars and the fact that they had a plasma screen TV on the wall showing, first, "Sky Sports" in silence and secondly - wait for it - "Coronation Street" with sound was actually quite a turn off. I wish, in fact, that they'd turned off the TV. Sorry, but TVs and bars just don't mix, in my humble opinion. Amanda managed to pop down to the bar with me later. The TV was off and we actually managed to enjoy a decent conversation. We returned to our room and perused the 24 hour room service menu. It was then that I had a brainwave. I sneaked out and returned with a take-away pizza from Pizza Hut from across the road. Tasty, cheap and not a blinking of an eyelid as I sneaked it past reception! Classy, eh? No - of course not, but it filled a gap! After a very good night's sleep, we managed to check out quickly and efficiently the next morning and were soon on our way home. I'm still keen to try out the new Hilton in Newcastle but, I have to confess, I'd very happily stay here again. It certainly suited our purposes, was very comfortable and - thanks to "Priceline" - it was very attractively priced. If we'd had more time, we would have tried the leisure club - the gym and indoor pool looked very inviting! Andrew

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