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Remember that Movie 'Hostel'?
Youth Hostel Association Cambridge (Cambridge)
Member Name: fizzywizzy
Youth Hostel Association Cambridge (Cambridge)
Advantages: Near the station; cheaper than any hotel we could find; well equipped for proper hostellers
Disadvantages: Dowdy; daft shower room; too many notices; noisy doors; lots of extra costs
When it comes to hotel accommodation I'm not what one would call 'high maintenance' but recently I've started moaning more about hostels than I used to. I begrudge paying inflated prices for average hotels, especially when I'm not going to spend much time in the room and I have found, at least in central Europe where there are lots of shiny new hostels, that a private double in a hostel is better value (and often of a better standard) than a hotel.
It was against my better judgment, then, that I booked a twin room in a hostel for one night this January. I really didn't enjoy saying, as we left the hostel, "And that is exactly why I want to stop using hostels."
Good old Ryanair (these days you can rely on them to stuff up your holiday arrangements almost every time) made some changes to our flights and we ended up cancelling and booking with Easyjet. Unfortunately we couldn't get to Stansted airport in time on the morning of the new flights so we decided to travel part way the day before and make that part of our holiday.
In spite of much research and a number of hotel booking websites we couldn't find anything in central Cambridge that was sensibly priced and in the end we booked a private twin room in the YHA in Cambridge. We booked through hostelbookers.com and the room was priced at £41.00. We paid a ten per cent deposit to Hostelbookers with the balance to be paid at the hostel. Our booking confirmation gave the address of the hostel and no other information.
As my posting of this review on 'the other side' attracted a number of comments, let me stress now - if there had been available a Premierinn or a Travelodge in within easy reach of the city centre/train station without the use of a car and the price had not been extortionate, we would have booked it. My primary concern was to find something cheap.
There are a number of significant advantages to this hostel which I feel I ought to mention now before I catalogue my complaints. The location is one of them: it's a five minute walk from the main train station and ten into the city centre. The location is quite quiet as this is a residential area. Within two minutes there are shops, cafes, restaurants and pubs. We were going to arrive around lunch time on Saturday and needed to be away early on Sunday morning so the proximity to the train station was crucial for us.
Another advantage is that the hostel is well equipped for anyone travelling on a tight budget and though the rooms are small, there is lots of communal space so you don't have to be confined to your room. We had no need to use any of these facilities but for young travellers looking to save money by self catering, the facilities are good.
One final advantage of this hostel (over other hostels) is that the beds in our room were made up in advance. Obviously if you stay only in hotels this isn't an issue at all but YHA hostels often give you a pile of bed linen and ask you to make your own bed up. As is usual with the YHA, we did have to strip our beds in the morning.
(On the negative side, I kept waking during the night because something was irritating me and when I stripped my bed the next morning I found a length of plastic twine under my sheet). The hostel is housed in a large house that would have been at one time a rather lovely property but has been rendered quite gruesome by the unsympathetic addition of a cheap extension and horrible alterations to the interior. On the continent notices on the walls of hostels tend to be making you aware of fun events or useful services offered by the hostel; the notices on the walls of YHA properties in the UK are usually informing you of all the things you may not do (occasionally there are notices that do not read as overtly prohibitive but actually are because they imply some kind of unpleasant outcome if you do not do as you're requested). This hostel has plenty of notices telling you what not to do. If I went back I'd take some of my own to stick around the place.
"STAFF ARE POLITELY REQUESTED NOT TO NEEDLESSLY ARGUE WITH GUESTS"
When we arrived the staff member on reception was busy on the telephone. This in itself was not a problem but after ten minutes he had still not tried to acknowledge us in any way, even to make apologetic noises, and when another staff member came into reception she looked at us and walked away rather than come straight over to assist her colleague. It was not until more guests joined the queue that she decided to lend a hand.
Our booking was found and our passports requested. As we were flying out of the country we had our passports with us so it might seem silly to complain but the truth is that had we been remaining in the UK we¬'d not have thought to take our passports. The staff member maintained that it is policy for all YHA hostels to request photo identification and when I insisted that this had not been requested at either of the two Northumberland hostels I've stayed at fairly recently, the Cambridge receptionist told me she doubted this was the case. I have never been asked for photo ID when checking in to a hotel or hostel in the UK. When you are abroad you are asked to provide a passport in order that you can be registered with the local police station and so that any local tourist taxes can be levied but in the UK this is not required. Even when we provided our passports they were given a cursory glance and no details were noted which makes the request even more farcical and pointless.
What I was aware of was that as non members of the YHA we'd be asked to pay an additional charge of £3 per person (or we could join for £10). That's fair enough; I knew about this and had mentally added the additional cost which still kept the price below even the grottiest looking B&B. My complaint is that people booking through a third party site are not alerted to this and would probably not know there was an additional charge to pay.
We arrived at around 1.30 and were told that our room was not yet ready. However we could leave our bags at the hostel while we went off into town. The receptionist gave us directions to the luggage store and then told us it was not recommended to leave anything of value unless we used a locker. Depending on the size of locker used the charge can be £2 or £3 and it is non refundable. We decided to remove iPods, lap top and Kindle from our holdalls and take them with us, avoiding the additional charge. It would have been helpful had the receptionist told us about the cost of lockers the fact that they only take £1 coins before we went to the luggage store; as it happens we didn't use the locker but people who might want to use one might not have the change and would need to go off, get some and come back.
"Would guests kindly refrain from having sensible requirements"
Our first floor room was pretty much what we expected. Bunks beds, in room basin and grotty old furniture. There was paint splattered on the curtains. The veneer on the vanity unit was chipped and there were scrape and bump marks on the paintwork. There was some sort of clothes storage/hanging unit but the hanging space was not tall enough for coats and these had to go onto the floor. If if was raining or snowing and you came in with a wet coat there would be nowhere practical to hang a larger item.
There was one cane chair that had seen better days and creaked in an alarming way when anyone sat in it. Some really daft person had installed two reading lights, presumably one for each bunk but had mounted them on the wall in such a stupid place that the light from them was almost entirely lost: there was no way that I could read in bed in the lower bunk unless the main light was on and I lay hanging out of the bed.To me a reading light is a really basic requirement but these ones were really pointless.
"Guests should not expect staff to take any measures to reduce noise."
Except for notices telling guests to keep the noise down between 10.30pm and 7.00am there was nothing to minimise noise. Our room was near a fire door which creaked when opened and slammed loudly when it closed. I'm pretty sure something could have been done to muffle this noise. It would also have been more sensible to remind people about not making a noise in the areas round the bedrooms and dormitories as they'll have no doubt forgotten about the instructions on a notice they might have read at the bottom of the stairs.
There were three separate toilets and two showers off the landing near our room. They were all clean and we never had to wait to use the loo or a shower. The showers however were simply tiny wet rooms with a very small section just inside the door where you would undress and then dry. It was impossible to shower without also soaking this little space too and therefore not possible to leave the shower with dry feet.
"Guests should understand that while rooms may initially appear cheap, they will have to pay for each individual service until they have something approaching a basic standard."
Normally if staying in a hostel I'd pack a towel. Actually, in most of the hostels we've stayed at in Europe we've been provided with one but I know they're not standard in YHA hostels in the UK. However, on this occasion we were en route to our flat in Slovenia and had just packed what we needed to get us there; it hadn't crossed my mind to pack a towel for one night. If I'd realised this when we arrived at the hostel I'd have bought a couple of cheap towels in town and taken them to leave in Slovenia. As I didn't realise this until almost five in the afternoon I didn't have that luxury and so we paid £3 to hire one grotty old towel that had been left by a previous guest by the look of it.It was clean but not what you'd describe as 'fresh' or 'fragrant'.
Other items you may have neglected to bring, such as toothbrushes or shampoo, can be bought from reception for extortionate prices. A packet of Red Sky crisps (a small packet, not a large one, mind you) will set you back a whopping £1.25. You are requested not to bring in your own alcohol but local real ales as well as some other alcoholic drinks can be bought from the hostel.
The hostel has wi-fi access for which you'll need to buy a card from reception; it costs £1 for 20 minutes. You can also use one of the computers belonging to the hostel and the cost is the same. There's some comfortable seating in the computer room and more in the television lounge. The computers are, however, in the room with the bar and the pool table which might be a bit of a distraction.
All the public spaces are tired looking and while they're not really dirty as such, there's a general air of grubbiness that comes from over use and age. I can see how someone thought that using bright colours would make the place look younthful and cheery but they didn't quite choose the right colours and mustard isn't sunny yellow.
Daily specials as well as things like soups and sandwiches were listed on a board for those not wishing to self cater. I thought the food sounded nice but while the prices were not expensive, they seemed steep for somewhere that's meant to offer cheap accommodation. We also peeked in the large self catering kitchen that has shelves and shelves of mismatched and battered but perfectly serviceable cooking equipment. Only if the hostel was absolutely heaving and every guest wanted to cook would these facilites be less than ideal.
"Staff here merely accept the way things are and don't do anything proactive to improve the hostel"
There's a strong sense at this hostel that it is the way it is and that's that. By which I'm trying to say that so long as there are beds and saucepans and it's not cold the place is OK. I think this is a problem with YHA in general. It tends to be the old fashioned choice but I fear this hostel and others belonging to YHA are being left behind as fresh, new hostels open, ones that understand what young travellers want and that can provide those things at a fair price.
I realise that this sort of establishment will quickly look a bit worn around the edges but I don't think it would take too much effort to try to keep on top of minor repairs and to paint over any marks on the wall. A high reception counter is oppressive and very institutionalised so they could drop the counter and instantly make the place look more welcoming. Instead of telling guests what not to do, emphasise the positives and promote what there is to do; this happens to some (small) extent but those notices are obscured by all the ones telling you to behave.
This hostel isn't a really terrible place but there are lots of little things that mount up to become major irritations and by the time you've paid for everything you could probably have got yourself a hotel room with breakfast.
Summary: Old fashioned and dowdy hostel that should move with the times