Hotel Review – Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim, Norway

Image (c) Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim, Norway

We figured it was about time we covered some hotels in Norway, on account of the fact that Grown-up Travel Guide.com is based in, er, Norway. Even better, the opening of the biggest congress hotel in the country right here in our home town of Trondheim gave us the perfect excuse for some truly local coverage. Trondheim has a lot of hotels but clearly there is more demand than supply – mainly from the business and conference crowd – hence the opening of several new properties.

None has been more controversial than this one. It is huge and depending on your taste either hideously ugly or bold and daring. Opinion is very divided on this aspect, for me I found it quite interesting but I dislike the fact that it completely blocks the view of Pirbadet, Trondheim’s indoor water park right behind it which is a far more attractive building. Still, its location and size allows the hotel to offer views over the fjord from many of its rooms. It also houses a large live music venue/conference hall.

By the water? That’s not very central then?

Look, Trondheim’s not exactly Tokyo. You can walk to the centre of town in ten to fifteen minutes and even less to Solsiden, the popular shopping and restaurant area. There is a shuttle bus service too if you can’t handle such distances.

It is also very handy if you are arriving by cruise ship, as the terminal is in the same area. For all those lovers of Norwegian pop and rock music (there are some) it is also next to Rockheim, a new addition to the Trondheim cultural scene in the form of an interactive music museum. You know, you can play the guitar along with one of Norway’s rockers, fiddle with things etc. It’s actually very good fun and well designed, even if your knowledge of Norwegian music is limited to aha and a few ‘null points’ efforts at Eurovision. That’s perhaps a little harsh given that a certain Alexander Rybak still holds the record for the most points awarded when he annihilated the rest of the contenders in 2009.

Getting back on track here if you would – this must be the newest hotel you’ve stayed at then?

Yes, it opened a couple of weeks before we visited which does account for some of the teething troubles. I’ve actually been there twice; once to check out the bar and live music and once to stay.

The local newspaper carried an advert for an opening offer with heavily discounted rooms for a few weeks after opening which was very popular. We were not the only guests who wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Clarion Hotels are part of the Choice chain in Scandinavia which in turn is owned by Petter Stordalen, a flamboyant (other adjectives also apply) millionaire who is not exactly shy of publicity – a sort of poor man’s Richard Branson.

Image (c) Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim, Norway

He laughed off all criticism of the hotel’s design and made a lot of noise about his recruitment policy for staffing the establishment which was to have an ‘audition’ process to find the most talented workers. We’ll return to this later…

Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim, Brattørkaia1, 7010 Trondheim +47 73 92 55 00

Website: http://www.clariontrondheim.com/starten

Email: cl.trondheim@choice.no

When?

Late May 2012.

Vital stats:

Four stars (unofficial rating as Norway does not use the international star system). Opened 2012, 400 rooms and 3 suites over 9 floors.

Location, location, location?

Situated right next to the terminal for cruise ships at the dock area north of the city centre, the hotel is a ten minute walk from town. Public buses pass close by and the main train station is also within walking distance. Note that a pedestrian bridge is under construction which will link the station (and thus the town centre) with the Brattøra area which will make it even more convenient. Airport buses stop at the hotel in both directions if you are arriving by air. Pirbadet and Rockheim are basically next door, and there is a supermarket over the road.

Image (c) Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim, Norway

The best part of the location is the view over the water; you may be able to enjoy this from your room but the Skybar (above) is more spectacular.

What about parking?

Parking is ruinously expensive in Trondheim (and Norway in general) at the best of times but if you have to there are 300 spaces under the hotel. Rates on application to the hotel.

Why choose this place?

We were curious to try Trondheim’s newest hotel. Yet there are plenty of reasons for picking this place – be it the proximity to Pirbadet, Rockheim, the cruise terminal or the railway station, the waterfront location or perhaps because of a gig in the concert hall.

Room

Image (c) Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim, Norway

There are four different types of room – Single, Double, Superior and Deluxe as well as several suites. We were booked into a Double and paid for an extra bed for our daughter. The room was modern and well-equipped but small – even without the extra bed it would have been cramped. Room features were as follows: LCD flat-screen TV, iPod dock, kettle, writing desk with chair, mini bar, iron, telephone, wired and wireless internet. The main bed was big and very comfortable, the additional bed was hard but did the trick.

Carpets?

Yes. This baffled me as they are not shown in the promotional images and not usual in Norwegian hotels. The carpets were clean (they could not have been used much given how new the property was) so that was fine but I’d much rather have had wooden floors.

Bathroom

The bathroom was small with a shower and toilet and supplied with the company’s own-brand toiletries. Hair dryer provided. Underfloor heating but no shower door at all. It would seem that the architects had finally given up trying to prevent leaking shower cubicles by not bothering to install anything to stop it.

Free internet I hope?

Yes, free to guests who receive a code at reception. If you are belong to the Nordic Choice Club loyalty programme you can use your membership number to log on which is a nice touch. The service worked fine in all areas of the hotel as far as I could tell.

(more…)

Continue ReadingHotel Review – Clarion Hotel & Congress Trondheim, Norway

Hotel Review – Sofitel Paris La Défense, France

Image (c) Sofitel Paris La Défense Hotel

So you need  hotel in Paris. Okay, they don’t come cheap, assuming you are after a decent standard and the closer you are to the centre the more you are going to have to pay. A good compromise is to find a place offering the service and facilities you require in one of the suburbs of the French capital, provided that there is good access to the sights. An often overlooked area is La Défense, a business district to the west of the Arc de Triomphe featuring very un-Paris modern skyscrapers and stunning architecture. The area itself boasts the amazing spectacle of La Grande Arche with excellent views across the city, and is also home to a number of large hotels. Sofitel, a brand normally out of our reach (except on expenses, perhaps…) has a superb property here with good rates when booking two weeks or more in advance through the hotel’s own website.

It looks a long way out of town though?

It does, but with a Metro stop right round the corner you can be on the Champs Elysées in ten to fifteen minutes.

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

There is also an RER stop about ten minutes walk from the hotel which can be a fast way to reach other parts of the city as it doesn’t stop so often. It’s certainly worth it if you can secure a good rate, as we did. Rather like the Kempinski in Frankfurt, this is an opportunity to experience five-star service and facilities for the cost of a lesser hotel – but unlike the Kempinski this feels like five star in every way.

Yes, I suppose you’re getting used to what to expect at this kind of establishment now?

Well, I guess it has been a while since I slept at a hotel with a concrete floor, bars on the windows and no electricity. I’m hoping that those days are long gone, too…

Sofitel Paris La Défense, 33 Voie des Sculpteurs, 92800 Puteaux +33 1 47764443

Website: http://www.sofitel.com/gb/hotel-0912-sofitel-paris-la-defense/index.shtml

Email: H0912@sofitel.com

When?

Early May 2012.

Vital stats:

Five stars. Opened 1987, complete renovation 2006. 135 rooms and 16 suites over 8 floors.

Location, location, location?

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

You can just about make out the vertical Sofitel sign directly above the statue just right of centre in this photo. The hotel is located in the business district of La Défense, which resembles no less than a Parisian take on Manhattan. The nearest Metro station is less than five minutes from the front door at Esplanade de la Défense and the RER stop is a little further at La Défense – Grande Arche, as the name implies right next to La Grande Arche (below). It’s about 40 minutes by car/taxi from Charles de Gaulle airport, depending on the traffic – a taxi will cost you around EUR 60.

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

While some may find the location a little far out and it is certainly quiet in the evenings and at the weekends (rather like the City of London) we found it to be a good excuse to explore the surroundings which we otherwise would have missed. With the fast and frequent Metro service you really won’t notice the fact that you’re actually staying outside of Paris proper.

What about parking?

Note that it can be difficult to find the hotel; call if necessary. The website provides GPS coordinates. There is valet parking under the hotel for EUR 25 per day.

Why choose this place?

It falls into that five star property for a three to four-star price category, provided you get a good deal. It’s in an interesting and peaceful location, the service is excellent and it has most of the facilities you could need.

Room

Image (c) Sofitel Paris La Défense Hotel

There are three different types of room – Classic, Superior and Luxury, as well as two types of suite. As I have Platinum status with Accor, which is the loyalty scheme for the chain which owns Sofitel, we received a free upgrade to a luxury room. We will be covering hotel loyalty programmes in a future series – I achieved Platinum status simply by applying during a special promotion so this was a nice benefit.

The room was modern and well-equipped. It was smaller than I’d expected but still fine for a couple, and had the following features: LCD (LED?) flat-screen TV, BOSE audio system with iPod dock, Nespresso coffee machine, writing desk with chair, private safe big enough for a laptop, telephone, wired and wireless internet. The bed was big and very comfortable.

Carpets?

Yes, but immaculately clean so they get a pass there.

Bathroom

Image (c) Sofitel Paris La Défense Hotel

The bathroom was small but had both a shower and a bathtub. As you can see from the picture of the room the bathroom and bedroom were separated by a clear glass window, but this frosted at the press of a switch if you wanted some privacy – a nice touch which was missing at the Andaz Wall Street, for example. High quality Hermes-brand toiletries. Hair dryer, robes and slippers provided.

Free internet I hope?

Yes and no. There is free access to a wireless service with a limit on downloading speed; it was also supposed to last up to three hours after which a charge would be made. But whether I failed to reach this limit or it reset each time I logged on I was not charged. Note that this may be a feature of the luxury rooms – this would seem to be the case from the website. If you are planning to download the Lord of the Rings trilogy in HD you will have to pay or risk having to leave your laptop in Paris for a month while it finishes the process. For regular surfing and email the free service was fine. You can use the same code to surf on a mobile phone and laptop simultaneously.

(more…)

Continue ReadingHotel Review – Sofitel Paris La Défense, France

Hotel Review – Kempinski Hotel Gravenbruch, Frankfurt, Germany

Image (c) Kempinski Hotels

Right, let’s assume that you need to stay over near Frankfurt Airport but would like somewhere not directly overlooking the runway. A quick search will reveal a few choices within shuttle bus/taxi distance of the terminal and competition for your cash can often result in some good deals, particularly through third-party websites. As you’ll probably know I generally prefer to use the hotel’s own website but if (a) there are no good offers or (b) I’m not worried about not earning points then Booking.com, Hotels.com and their ilk are worth checking.

So what did you come up with here?

The Kempinski brand is one I most associate with their immaculate Adlon hotel in Berlin, although I have only ever had a drink at the bar and a snoop around the lobby. So when I saw this place near the airport which boasted of its five stars and was available for a reasonable EUR 160, I decided to go for it. The website listed both an indoor and an outdoor pool and the free shuttle bus was the clincher. A little luxury before my trip to Chicago the next day seemed to be just the ticket.

Yes, especially considering you would be flying first class…

Well, may as well keep up the pretence, right? The reviews were a little mixed but mostly positive, and it did seem that experiences were a little coloured by the room which was allocated – clearly there was a section of the hotel that had recently been renovated and that was the better place to be. Despite the fact that there are many claims to the contrary, I am convinced that the rooms offered cheaply by third-party vendors are worse than those assigned by the hotels if you book directly. I’ve been through this several times myself and I think I was subject to the same treatment here, but I digress…

 

Kempinski Hotel Gravenbruch, Graf zu Ysenburg und Buedingen Platz 1, 63263 Frankfurt +49 69 389 88 0

Website: http://www.kempinski.com/en/frankfurt/hotel-gravenbruch/welcome/

Email: reservations.gravenbruch@kempinski.com

 

When?

Mid-April 2012.

Vital stats:

Five stars. Opened November 2011. 284 rooms over 3 floors.

Location, location, location?

The hotel is located 10km from Frankfurt Airport in a quiet location on a lake. It takes about 20 minutes in a taxi or driving your own car. Big minus here is that despite what it said on the website at the time of booking (now changed) there was no shuttle bus. I looked in van for the right bus stop only to find that a sticker had been placed over ‘Hotel Kempinski’ in the list of destinations. I called the hotel and was told that the service had been withdrawn and had to get a taxi. Not a big deal and not very expensive either, but nobody likes misinformation.

What about parking?

If driving yourself there are 350 parking spaces available for a charge of EUR 15 per day.

Why choose this place?

Well it’s a five star property that can be had for a three to four-star price if you time it right. Throw in the two pools, an acclaimed restaurant and its peaceful location and that’s an appealing package.

Room

There are two different types of room – Classic and Comfort. Go for the latter if you can choose. There are a range of four different suites starting with the Comfort suite aimed at families up to the Presidential aimed at, well, presidents.

img_6310-640x480

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

The room I was appointed was a major let-down, to be honest. After the entrance and the lobby, the service at reception and the bar (all of which I made use of before getting to my place for the night) I was expecting something a little better. Musty and dull, it had seen better days. I’ve had a similar experience in other German hotels with a vast disparity between the public areas of a hotel and the actual rooms and I believe it’s to do with the fact that they are slow to renovate.

img_6311-480x640

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

Presumably they’ll replace the CRT television (I know) when they do.  The room had the following features: Big old jurassic television, writing desk with chair, private safe big enough for a laptop, telephone, opening windows, radio. The bed was comfortable.

Carpets?

Yes, the Classic rooms have them and mine was not nice. If you go for a Comfort room you get a hardwood floor but hopefully they’ll strip all the carpets out or at least upgrade them when they get round to renovating the section of the hotel I stayed in.

Bathroom

img_6313-480x640

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

The bathroom was small but had space for a bathtub. Good quality Kempinski-brand toiletries. Hair dryer provided.

img_6315-480x640

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

Rather hilariously there was even an ashtray in the bathroom presumably for when you savour a cigar in a moment of quiet contemplation. This was of course a no-smoking room, although they do offer smoking rooms.

Free internet I hope?

No. The connection was fast but there’s a charge. Not unusual for Germany but not good nevertheless.

(more…)

Continue ReadingHotel Review – Kempinski Hotel Gravenbruch, Frankfurt, Germany

Hotel Review – Conscious Hotel Museum Square, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Amsterdam is truly one of the great European cities to visit, and over the years I’ve been there seven times – running the gamut from broke inter-railer and hitch-hiker through weekend tourist from Berlin to a short break with the family.

I imagine your choices of accommodation have been similarly varied?

You could say that. I don’t think I’ll be returning to the Sleep-in hostel any time soon, though it served its purpose at the time. On this particular occasion we had a few days in Amsterdam book-ending a Muse concert in Nijmegen (more of which here) and were after a room with space for two adults and a child.

Any other criteria?

After having stayed in more central hotels before and being a bit put off by the noise we wanted somewhere in a quieter area, but of course not too far from the centre. Hotels in Amsterdam are surprisingly expensive and do not always offer great value for money, so we wanted to avoid paying for more than we got too. Even with our swimming-crazy daughter we decided against the extra expense of a hotel pool and after some research online found that this place near the National Museum seemed a good choice.

Conscious Hotel Museum Square, Amsterdam

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

Conscious Hotel Museum Square, De Lairessestraat 7 , 1071 NR Amsterdam +31 (0) 20 671 95 96

Website: http://www.conscioushotels.com/hotel/museum-square/

Email: museumsquare@conscioushotels.com

When?

Mid-June 2010.

Vital stats:

Three stars. Opened summer 2009. 36 rooms over 5 floors.

Location, location, location?

As the name suggests the hotel is located close to Museum Square (Museumplein) and bus 197 passes the building. The nearest tram stop is at Concertgebouw. The hotel is located in a very pleasant residential area within walking distance of the Van Gogh museum and Rijksmuseum. It’s an appealing area for wandering and seeing how the other half of Amsterdam lives – a very different atmosphere from the city centre.

What about parking?

It’s not a good idea to drive in Amsterdam but if you arrive in a  car public car parking spaces are available for a fee but cannot be reserved of course.

Why choose this place?

It’s that classic combination of being quiet and accessible once again. If you’re going to the Van Gogh museum it’s also very handy as you can get there early to avoid the queues. Rates are good (especially through third-party sites and in advance) and the rooms are a good size if you need to have an extra bed.

Also, if you like to go green this is a perfect choice – the hotel is run according to environmentally-sound principles and has been Green Key Gold Certified. All the wood in the furniture comes from sustainable forest sources and hotel cleaning is carried out using an ‘Ionator’ which doesn’t use any chemicals. Breakfast is of course organic.

Room

Three different types of room – Standard, Premium and Family. We booked a Family room with a large and very comfortable double bed and an extra full-size single. The room was large, light and airy with a modern feel.

The room had the following features: flat screen LED television with cable channels, writing desk with designer (but comfortable!) chair, private safe, telephone, iron & ironing board on request, blackout curtains, opening windows.

Carpets?

Yes, but they are kept scrupulously clean so we’ll let that go.

Bathroom

The bathroom was modern and practical with a shower and washbasin. In keeping with the hotel’s green image soap and shampoo are in dispensers instead of small bottles. Hair dryer provided.

Free internet I hope?

Yes, free and fast. No complaints here.

(more…)

Continue ReadingHotel Review – Conscious Hotel Museum Square, Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Hotel Review – Andaz Wall Street, New York, USA

Finally, after over 40 years, I made it to the USA. And where better to start than the Big Apple?

You certainly took your time about it. Was it worth the wait?

Absolutely. New York is one city that lives up to both its reputation and the expectations we create for ourselves. I was fortunate enough to have a good friend living in Manhattan who put me up for the first couple of nights, but I had decided not to impose the while time I was Stateside, and needed somewhere to stay three nights.

It seems as though the YMCA wasn’t on your mind either...

No. I figured I’d splurge on somewhere good. Now New York doesn’t come cheap anyway but I was prepared to up my budget for something memorable. I’d read a lot of good things about the Andaz properties (it’s a Hyatt brand – a bit more trendy than their regular hotels) and the hotel on Wall Street fitted my requirements.

Which were?

I like to stay somewhere fairly quiet so I wasn’t interested in Times Square. While a pool is always nice I wouldn’t be having much time to make use of it so that wasn’t a priority. I also had plans for breakfast so there would be no point in paying for a hotel buffet spread. I considered the Andaz Wall Street to tick all the right boxes and with a slightly cheaper rate for booking in advance the choice was made.

Andaz Wall Street, New York City

Image (c) Andy Higgs, Grown-up Travel Guide

75 Wall Street, New York, New York, 10005 USA

+1 212 590 1234

Website: http://newyork.wallstreet.andaz.hyatt.com/hyatt/hotels/

Email: wall.guest@andaz.com

When?

Early May 2011

Vital stats:

Four stars. Opened January 2010. 253 rooms.

Location, location, location?

Er, on Wall Street. The hotel is located inside a rather unassuming former J.P. Morgan building at the opposite (near-waterfront) end of Wall Street from the Stock Exchange. It’s quiet here in the evenings after the offices have closed, but you’re within easy reach of the subway and buses pass the front door.

What about parking?

If you’re nuts enough to be driving in New York city, the Andaz has its own parking facilities which start at US$34 for 24 hours.

Why choose this place?

The quiet yet accessible location was the major factor – it’s also convenient for the waterfront, Battery Park and Ground Zero (walking distance to all three). If you’re signing the deal of a lifetime on Wall Street it’s handy too. But the biggest draw is probably the high standard of the hotel itself and the excellent service and facilities it offers.

Room

Three different types of room – Double, Large and Large King, and three types of suite – Suite, Large Suite and Buttonwood Suite. I booked a Large King (as I said, I was splashing out) which had a huge and very comfortable bed, a bathtub and a shower. The room was large, airy and stylish – it felt like a loft apartment. There was a glass wall between the bathtub and bedroom so if you need privacy this may be a bad option unless your partner is focused on the television.

Image (c)  Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

The list of features is impressive: first of all an excellent idea – a complimentary minibar with snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. Of course free beer would have been great but they have to draw the line somewhere. Essentially this was enough for a light breakfast before moving on to eat properly – orange juice, energy bar, healthy potato chips and less healthy chocolate. When returning from a hard day’s sightseeing it was also good to have chilled water and soft drinks and more snacks on hand. In addition, the hotel provides a complimentary morning newspaper, 24-hour room service, cable/satellite TV channels,Video on demand, iPod docking station, 42-inch LCD TV, a large desk, speakerphone, voicemail, dataport, checkout and bill display via the TV, safe large enough to store and charge laptop computer, iron & ironing board on request, complimentary beverages in the lounge (featuring excellent coffee), special lighting with dimming controls, radio alarm clock, cordless phone, individual heat control, individual air conditioning control, desktop power strip, opening windows (nice).

Carpets?

No! Beautiful hardwood floors with a rug under the bed. That’s what we like – and increasingly expect – from a modern hotel.

Bathroom

Image (c)  Andaz Wall Street

The bathroom was very cool. On one side of the hall was a basin and the toilet, on the other the (big, marble) bath and rain shower (with space for two). Bathrobes provided, as were C.O. Bigelow natural bath amenities to which I became addicted (which is a problem, as they are not easy to find in Norway. Hair-dryer provided.

Free internet I hope?

Yes, free and fast. No complaints here.

(more…)

Continue ReadingHotel Review – Andaz Wall Street, New York, USA