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Archive for April, 2012

Great hotel in a good location in Delhi Apr 29

My wife and I stayed at Shangri-La’s Eros hotel in New Delhi for a couple of days in April 2012. I booked the hotel online on Agoda and it cost 475 USD for two nights for the superior room. I travel a bit for work and pleasure and I have stayed at various 4 and 5 star hotels around the world just to give you an idea about the background for this review.

IMG_1999We normally just use public transportation to get from the airport to our hotels but as this was our first time in India and since we had such a short time in Delhi, we decided to pre-book transport from the airport to the hotel and combine this with a half day tour afterwards. The trip from the airport to the city takes 30-45 minutes depending on where you are going and how heavy the traffic is. You can arrange for transportation through the hotel but I think it was a bit expensive (costing about 3000 Rupee – (60 USD)) – but if you want to really live it up you can be fetched by the hotel’s Rolls-Royce if you pay for it Winking smileWhen we arrived at the hotel there was an inspection of the car before entering the hotel area and before entering the hotel we also had to go through a security check including scanning of bags and metal detectors. I have to say that the check was pretty superficial. I was a bit disappointed when entering the lobby as it didn’t have the signature scent that I feel one finds in other Shangri-La hotels that I have stayed at.

IMG_1863Check in was pretty quick but I was told that I had to pay extra as I had only booked a room for 1. I reminded them that as a Golden Circle Jade member this is one of the benefits. I also asked about breakfast and reminded them that this was also a Jade member benefit and they agreed to that. The lady that checked us in also took us to our room 1014. We also got a complimentary gift of two Kingfisher beers, Perrier water and some chocolate – it was great of them to give us a room so early in the morning IMG_1862(we arrived at about 9 am). When entering the room the floor was in large black tiles but it went over to a carpet as you stepped into the bedroom. There was a height difference between the tiles and the carpet and I kept stepping on it for some reason. In the hall there was a wardrobe with two robes, enough hangers, a mini safe (large enough for a laptop and with a socket to plug the laptop in) and there was also an iron and ironing board. The small mini fridge included soda and beer and a coke was about 200 rupee (about 4 USD).There was also a water boiler in the entrance and a selection of tea/coffee – and the drawers included coffee cups and glasses. As tap water is not recommended to drink we got two big bottles of complimentary water each day.

IMG_1865The room itself was in cream and yellow colors with dark furniture – one desk and chair and one small table with a chair and stool. The main feature in the room was the HUGE king-size bed which was firm but comfortable. A lot of downlights and lamps filled the room with enough light. The flat screen TV was mounted on the wall and it was a bit to the left of the bed – it would have been great to be able to pull out the screen to see it directly from bed. There were a number of local and international TV channels. One thing that was slightly annoying was the smoke detector on the ceiling directly above the bed – the blinking seemed to light up the room and woke me up in the middle of the night. The aircon seemed to work fine even if it did get a bit hot in the room at night.

IMG_1874The bathroom was in white and black tiles and included a sink, toilet and bathtub with a shower option. As per the new trend, there was a window between the bathroom and the rest of the room but there was also a blinder that could be pulled down for privacy. As usual at Shangri-La there are lots of amenities but the brand of shampoo etc was not the same as I have seen in Asia-Pacific – maybe that have changed it recently? But other amenities included shower cap, toothbrush, sewing kit etc. A cool detail is the heat in the mirror that prevents it from steaming up when taking a shower. The shower curtain worked out pretty good but make sure you have one curtain on the outside and one on the inside to prevent minor flooding ;-)

IMG_2014The view from our room was towards Windsor place – basically a large roundabout and towards Le Meridien hotel. Even if there were lots of traffic on the outside, it was not disturbing at night.
The breakfast buffet was very good – they had a great selection of cereal including granola, muesli and fruit. There was also staff at all stations to provide us with fresh juice (even a mix to your liking), waffles or pancakes, eggs the wayIMG_2013 you like them etc. There was also a good selection of local breakfast dishes but also bacon, sausages etc. Basically this place had all that I could think of having for breakfast. The staff did seem to get a bit stressed out when the restaurant was completely full and on two mornings we were placed at a table where someone had already been assigned. This lead to a bit of discussion between the waiters and the welcome staff in the restaurant but staff in general were very helpful and brought us the food that we ordered. Note that you can also sit outside near the pool area to enjoy your breakfast.

IMG_2015The pool was reached by taking the lift to the lower ground level and it was a large pool with depth of 1.35 meters. When we were there pool seem to go into shade at about 4.30 PM – and you might have to fight for your place in the pool as there were lots of pigeons that seemed to enjoy taking a dip! We also tried out the spa at the hotel and we enjoyed some Indian massage. 1 hour of massage was 3900 rupee (75 USD) according to the spa menu but when we were done with the treatment we found out that this was excluding taxes so it got closer to 5000 rupee (95 USD)– so this is something to keep in mind!

IMG_1878The concierge was very helpful and helped us book restaurants and they also made sure that taxi drivers understood where we wanted to go and they gave us a Shangri-La business card that we could use in case we needed to call the hotel for assistance. I also got help from them to buy a local sim card to be able to call locally without breaking the bank. The shopping arcade in the lobby was a bit of a joke – only two stores and not much happening. And every time you enter the hotel you have to go through a security check.

Location of the hotel is pretty good – located half way between Rajpath and Connaught Place in New Delhi, it is in one of the better neighborhoods of the city. You can actually walk to the places mentioned above but if you do this you must be prepared to be mentally “assaulted” on the way by the auto rickshaw drivers, by beggars and by “accidental” friendly people that want to show you the way to a shopping mall that is very cheap.

Conclusion
Shangri-La hotels are normally a safe choice and the Shangri-La in New Delhi did not disappoint in any way. We had a great stay there and I can’t think of many things that could be changed to make the hotel any better. If you are going to Delhi and want to pay for a 5 star hotel you should really consider Shangri-La Eros.

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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Starwood Preferred Guest vs. Golden circle Apr 25

Over the last few years I have travel a bit for work and pleasure and due to this I have spent a few nights at hotels. Once you start to stay a lot at hotels it can be useful to stick to an alliance of hotels to achieve some benefits like you do on airline alliances. I have ended up staying at Starwood Preferred Guest hotels (Sheraton, Le Meridien, Westin, St. Regis, Aloft etc) and Golden Circle hotels (Traders and Shangri-La).

IMG_1858Just recently I went to Madrid and I ended up staying at Westin as the location was good and I was hoping that my SPG gold card would give me some benefits. To save some time I booked the hotel and flights as a package deal on a travel website and when I checked into the hotel in Madrid I was a bit annoyed that I did not get any benefits from my card as I had booked the room through a third party. Normally it is possible to get free wifi due to the gold card but this was not the case due to this – and it cost like 16€ per day if I wanted to pay for it. I think it is totally over the top to charge 16€ per day for wifi but I guess they assume that if you can afford the room, you can afford to pay extra to get access to the net. I did twitter about this and the response I got was that they offer free wifi in the lobby. Yes, they do offer a bad 256K wifi connection in the lobby but who wants to sit around in the lobby when skyping, surfing the net etc? And I can’t understand this policy of not giving me benefits when booking through a third party – with so many travel websites out there it is perfectly normal these days to use a third party to book plane tickets, rental cars and hotels. So I do hope that Westin and the other SPG hotels soon realizes that having access to the net should be for free as everyone will have some use for it these days. With 16€ per day it was cheaper for me to buy a local sim card and surf using 3G!

The other thing that annoyed me about Westin in Madrid was breakfast. When we checked in the guy in the reception said that they had a special breakfast promotion and it was 22€. I said I would think about it. Next morning we decided to have breakfast at the hotel and I went to the reception to ask about this promotion and it turned out that it was 22€ per person for breakfast and it was not possible to just have breakfast one day. If I wanted the promotion I had to go for breakfast the entire stay. I should of course said that I just wanted a regular breakfast rate for that day as there were breakfast places just around the corner – I normally just have some cereal for breakfast so paying 22€ per day for that was a huge mistake.

IMG_1999A week after I went to Madrid, I was on the road again and this time I went to New Delhi in India. I had the option of Shangri-La or Le Meridien that was just across the road and I think the price was about the same. As I have a Jade membership on Golden Circle (equal to a gold card on SPG I guess) I get certain benefits. I get a room for two for the price of one and breakfast is on the house. In addition to this Traders and Shangri-La hotels also provides free internet at the hotels! So what should I choose? A hotel that charges me for internet, breakfast and gives me no benefits if I book through a third party? Or a hotel that welcomes me with free breakfast for me and my wife, gives me free internet access and actually awards me with a welcome present due to my Jade card? I did ask the same rhetorical question to SPG on Twitter Winking smile Maybe this is just ranting and raving about nothing – I guess for some I must appear as a spoiled brat complaining about these things. Maybe I should just be happy that I get to stay at nice hotels. But the fact is that I do feel more appreciated at Shangri-La and Traders due to my Jade card compared to the SPG gold card. So which alliance is the best? And what should you choose? I guess it depends a lot on where you travel and your budget. Due to the recent events I will be staying more at Shangri-La and Traders at least!

Regards
Gard
gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

Nice hotel with a great location–but expensive breakfast and wifi Apr 11

IMG_1858We decided to go to Madrid during Easter of 2012 and to stay at the Westin as it looked like a good location and I hoped to get some advantages as I have a SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) card. After some price comparison, we booked plane tickets and hotel in one go using travellink.com and we had to pay 16.000 NOK (2700 USD) for the flights and 6 nights at the hotel. We arrived at the hotel at about midnight – the hotel is located between the Prado museum and the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum so very well positioned. IMG_1495The taxi ride in from the airport only takes no more than 20 minutes and costs about 23€ – additional costs for airport, day of the week and time apply. The Westin is an elegant historic hotel built in 1912 and the sign still says Palace hotel outside. Check in was fast and we got room 630 on the top floor (6th floor). The problem with old hotels is that they are not necessarily equipped to handle modern expectations – like there are stairs leading up to the reception, steps leading up to the lifts – not that practical when you are dragging along a big suitcase. Although there are staff on hand to help carry luggage to your room.

IMG_1487The room was pretty inviting when walking in. There are light tiles on the floor and a huge mirror on the entrance wall. From the small entrance the room opened up and here there is beige/light carpet and light yellow/cream colored walls. The view was not that great as we had windows facing into the courtyard – looking down on the large glass dome on top of the dining room. IMG_1479If you stay here during Easter, try and get a street view room so you can catch the Holy Week procession on Good Friday. The room was equipped with dark furniture – a desk and chair, a cabinet for the 32” flat screen TV and mini bar (where a coke cost something like 7€), a small table and a bigger chair and a bed. The queen sized bed was firm but quite comfortable. Along one of the walls there were three doors which revealed the wardrobe with enough hanging and drawer space, an iron and ironing board and a mini safe (which included space for a laptop and a plug to charge it while storing it). The TV had quite a variety of channels but the menu system seemed to make it a lot slower to start, change channels etc.

IMG_1480We had some problems with the air-con when we were there. April in Madrid was quite cold in the evenings. When we had the air-con on it got too cold in the room (there is no display for choosing the temperature) and when turning it off the room got a bit stuffy. The rooms are not very well sound insulated either – we could easily hear people talking when walking past our door. The bathroom was impressive– quite large with a combination of wall IMG_1484paper and tiles and with two sinks in marble finish. There was a bathtub with a shower option which worked out pretty good. I normally don’t like shower curtains but this had a curved pole which prevented the shower curtain from sticking to me when taking a shower. There were also two shower heads with good water pressure and hot water. There were standard amenities like shampoo, conditioner, lotion, mouth wash but no shower cap (which baffled my wife). There was a small separate room (separated from the rest of the bathroom with a frosted glass door) with a toilet and bide – separate toilets are quite a good solution in my opinion. We had some issues with the telephone and it took 4 different calls to reception to finally get a technician to fix it – he ended up replacing the phone.

As I mentioned earlier, the location of the hotel is very good. It is located right next door from both the Museo Nacional del Prado and El Museo de arte Thyssen-Bornemisza and it was only a bit more than 500 meters to walk to Puerta del Sol and just over 1 km to Plaza Mayor.

IMG_1790Let us talk about some of the stuff that I was not that happy with. When I booked the hotel I was hoping to get some perks with my SPG gold card but that was not the case. When checking in I knew that breakfast was not included so the receptionist said that they had a promotion for breakfast for 22€ and I said that I would think about it. My wife and I talked about this and next morning we decided to use this “promotion” but it turned out that it was 22€ per person and we could not only do it for one day – IMG_1491we had to do it for the entire stay. Charging 22€ for a breakfast is  totally over the top, in my opinion – I normally just have some cereal and fruit in the morning and I think it is annoying that you still have to pay for the entire buffet. That said – the breakfast is great here. You have an excellent selection of cereal, fruit mixes, good quality juice, eggs made the way you like, healthy options – and even some local specialties like churros. My recommendation is: go around the corner to buy your breakfast at VIPS or Starbucks. The breakfast area is also mentioned in guidebooks and we saw a number of tourists stopping by to admire the dome.

There was no coffee/tea option in the room but there was a note saying that you could get this by calling room service – and they would only charge 4.50€ as a delivery charge! In other words: it is cheaper to walk around the corner and get your coffee from Starbucks.

IMG_1493Another thing that annoyed me about the hotel was the internet situation. Having access to the internet is getting more and more important as it is a great tool for planning a stay in a new city, booking restaurants, looking at maps etc. More and more hotels are offering this for free (e.g. Traders and Shangri-La chain that I also stay at) but this is not the case for Westin. They wanted 16€ per day for access to the net which is totally insane in my opinion. I think it is one of the perks you can choose when you have a SPG gold card but I think the rules states that as I booked it through a third party, they didn’t offer this to us. IMG_1483SPG also argues that they have free wifi in the hotel lobby but this is a 256K internet connections and who wants to sit around the lobby whenever you want to check something online? I have stayed at Westin hotels in Asia too and it has been the same there – even when staying on business levels the internet is not included. I usually end up buying a local SIM card to get online (you will need your passport to get one in Madrid). I hope that SPG hotels soon realize to move with the times and introduce free internet. I don’t want to seem petty and complain a lot – but the internet and breakfast issues actually annoyed me quite a bit. I guess they figure if you can afford the hotel you can also afford to pay a lot for these services?

Conclusion
IMG_1489It might sound like I’m very negative to the hotel based on what I have written above but all in all the Westin hotel is a great traditional hotel with reverend façade, ballroom etc. The location of the hotel is great as you can walk to the most important museums in minutes and you can also easily walk to the most important squares of Madrid. The room was pretty well laid out and it is a nice mix between the traditional and the modern hotel. I have given feedback to Starwood about my annoyances – it is great of them to respond to Tweets. If you are going to Madrid and need a 5 star hotel with a good location you should look into staying at the Westin.

Regards
Gard
http://gardkarlsen.com – trip reports and pictures

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