Hotel Review – Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, Chicago, USA

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

Radisson Blu is a familiar hotel brand to us in Scandinavia but the company has only recently opened its first US property which they chose to locate in Chicago. My three nights in the Windy City seemed like a good opportunity to check out how they were approaching the American market.

I guess the chance of staying in a luxury hotel less than six months old must have been quite tempting too?

It was. Not only is the hotel centrally located in Chicago but the building itself is a local landmark; indeed its rather unique ‘wavy’ design is highlighted on the river trips run by the Chicago Architecture Foundation. Trivia fans take note: this is the tallest building in the world to have a woman as lead architect.

So what were your accommodation criteria?

Knowing that decent hotels in Chicago were going to be pricey, I was trying to find somewhere under US$200 a night. Note that as in many US cities Chicago imposes a state tax and a city tax on hotel stays – together this will add 16.4% onto your bill. I left this out as it’s usually payable on departure and not included in quoted rates. Being walking distance from ‘the bean’ and some Batman locations was a nice plus in addition to the aforementioned central position.

 

Radisson Blu Aqua Hotel, 221 North Columbus Drive, Chicago, IL 60601 (01) 312 565 5258

Website: https://www.radissonhotelsamericas.com/en-us/hotels/radisson-blu-chicago-aqua

Email: RHI_CHII@radisson.com

 

When?

Mid-April 2012.

Vital stats:

Four stars. Opened November 2011. 346 rooms over 17 floors.

Location, location, location?

The hotel is located a couple of blocks south of the river and a few blocks west of Lake Michigan. Millenium Park is at the end of the road and the nearest L-train stop can be reached in 10-15 minutes. The surrounding area contains offices and plenty of other hotels. If you come across a taxi driver who does not know where it is ask for the more established Fairmont Chicago hotel which is right over the street.

What about parking?

Should you be driving you can choose between self parking in the garage under the hotel or valet parking. Neither comes cheap – US$43 and US$53 respectively.

Why choose this place?

It’s new, it’s very funky (check the lobby area below with its wall of fire) and it’s well-located. There are two pools and the rooms are well appointed. If you can’t quite run to the Trump International or the Intercontinental then you can still get a taste of luxury here. Make sure you book as far in advance as possible and watch out for good deals – the price I paid was far below that offered on other sites and was booked through the hotel’s own homepage.

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

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

There are essentially three different types of room – City and Park View, Business Class and Suites. There are a range of different suites including one type aimed at families. You can request a discount upgrade on booking and if you’re lucky will pay a minimal charge to move up the ranks. I wasn’t lucky, but was very satisfied with my City View corner room, which was large, light and airy with a modern feel.

Image (c) Cvent.com

The room had the following features: flat screen LED television with the usual mass of cable channels, writing desk with chair, private safe big enough for a laptop, telephone, iron & ironing board, blackout curtains, non-opening windows (which I don’t like but probably has to do with health and safety legislation), a fancy coffee machine, radio with iPad dock. And a great bed.

Carpets?

Yes, this is the US after all so carpets are the norm. Mine was scrupulously clean so thumbs up there.

Bathroom

Image (c) edibleobsession.blogspot.com

The bathroom was large, modern and practical with a double shower, separate toilet and washbasin. Nice Anne Semonin toiletries. Hair dryer provided.

Free internet I hope?

Yes, free and fast. No complaints here.

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Following the trail of Scandinavian crime fiction – Sarah Lund, Copenhagen

Holiday season is upon us, and as if that’s not enough other work duties are taking all of my time so to make sure you have something to read on a regular basis for the next month or so we will be republishing some forgotten gems from the past. And adding new content when we can, of course.

Here’s the second of our Nordic Noir locations articles…

Scandinavian crime fiction is still riding the crest of a wave and we have been finding out how the various tourism offices have been capitalising on its popularity. As fans ourselves, it’s certainly fun to visit locations used in films and books too.

Even more fun to play at being Wallander or Sarah Lund for a day?

Er yes, I didn’t realise we’d been spotted…

It was the whisky drinking in Ystad and that jumper in Copenhagen that gave it away mate…

Image (c) BBC/DR/DR

Can we get back on topic please? Right, having wandered after Wallander in the lovely town of Ystad in Sweden it was time for Copenhagen and a few of the places used in “Forbrydelsen”.

What?

Oh right, “The Killing” as it’s known to you guys. The Danish television series was a massive hit in its home country when it came out in 2007. Indeed it was seen by almost half the population – imagine that in UK or USA terms and you begin to see why it stirred up international attention. The BBC in the UK sat on it for some reason but when it was eventually shown there it attracted more viewers than “Mad Men”. The BBC didn’t wait so long to broadcast the second series…

So Copenhagen is all fired up to make a Killing from fans then?

Well, actually no. The tourist board could learn a lot from Ystad about how to promote the connections with the TV series. I suspect they were rather taken by surprise and do seem to be working on it though. When we visited in the summer there was no mention of the TV series on the official website but they have now posted some details on a specific page. Annoyingly (and somewhat unforgiveably) a lot of the deeper links are broken and some of the location details are vague. But it’s a start, so there’s enough for independent travellers to mark on their maps. A better alternative is a guided walk with Peter and Ping (a small company that specialises in literary tours) but these are currently infrequent – again the summer season will presumably offer more regular tours.

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A crumbling monument to insanity – the “Colossus of Rugen”

I think it was the bread rolls that really brought it home to me. The sheer scale of the place was one thing, the madness of the entire concept another. But it was when our guide told us about the bakery that I truly understood how reality hadn’t been factored into these grandiose plans. How many workers would be required to produce fresh rolls for 20,000 people each day? In the 1940s?

Okay, I think you need to back up a little there buddy. What?

Sorry, let me start at the beginning. Early last year while surfing the web I came across an article about this place – an enormous holiday resort conceived by the Nazis but never completed.

Located on the idyllic island of Rugen in former East Germany, it had been off the radar (and off the maps) for years as it was used by the DDR military. After the wall came down the unified German army took over before giving it back to the local council in 1990. The problem was what to do with it now – the reason it was in the news was that the biggest youth hostel in Europe was due to open in one of the renovated blocks and this was the subject of huge controversy – would it become a place of pilgrimage for neo-nazis?

They like hanging out in youth hostels?

No, that’s not the point…given the sensitivity of the period I suppose it was inevitable that there would be opposition, but if we are to abandon all buildings tainted by the Nazi era then there will be a lot of vacant office space in European cities. And this place was never completed either.

True. Okay, so having found this interesting place you jumped on a plane?

No. We were already planning a trip to Germany by rail and needed somewhere to break the journey from Berlin back to Ystad. Rugen has some great beach resorts, including Binz (which also has a station).

I see. So you hijacked the family holiday to satisfy your fetish for abandoned buildings?

Hmm, it sounds a lot worse when you put it like that. We all ended up happy – we had a hotel on the beach in Rugen with a pool, which was handy as it poured with rain the day I hired a bike and cycled to Prora.

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Hotel Review – Crowne Plaza Hotel, Marlow, England

So the time has finally come. After all that nagging you’ve decided to give in and finally take your daughter to Legoland in Windsor, England.

You mean after all these years she’s developed enough interest in Lego to justify the trip YOU have been waiting for?

Well, there’s a bit of that in the mix, yes. But that was more about the real Legoland for us of a certain age – the one in Denmark. Having made the journey there in the summer we had already planned a holiday during the autumn half-term, and it was her that wanted to check out the UK version. Honestly.

You were easily persuaded though...

That’s true enough. I mean who doesn’t dig Lego? We’ve shown our love for the plastic bricks by covering the London Christmas Tree, Underground map and Big Ben on this very site, so assuming we could sort out the practicalities of course I was keen.

Like a place to stay?

Right. After doing a little surfing I found this place which wasn’t far from Legoland and had a pool (those were essentially the criteria). We’d already booked a hire car so would be independent – which is pretty much essential given the location. But more on that in a mo’; here’s our unbiased review.

Crowne Plaza Hotel Marlow

Fieldhouse Lane, Buckinghamshire, SL7 1GJ

ENGLAND +44 (0)1628 496 800

Website: http://www.cpmarlow.co.uk/crowne-plaza-london-marlow/crowne-plaza-london-marlow.html

Email: enquiries@cpmarlow.co.uk

When?

Early October 2011

Vital stats:

Four stars. Built in 2002. 168 rooms over 3 floors

Location, location, location?

Not its strong point. You basically need a car, and to reach the hotel you have to drive through an industrial estate (the unattractive walk from Marlow centre will take you at least 30 minutes) but things improve when you finally reach the property as it is located in pleasant surroundings with a lake behind the main building. A taxi would be your other option – a very expensive one.

What about parking?

There is plenty of free parking here, which is just as well as I would imagine that every guest has a car.

Why choose this place?

As stated above it was the short driving distance to Legoland that was the main appeal. We wanted a place with a pool as there would’t be much else to do in the evenings without a journey and the price was competitive given the criteria – this was a “Book Early and Save including Breakfast” rate, payable upfront. Make sure you try all the usual tricks to secure the best rate you can – see our Grown-up Travel Tips category for the low-down. Note that the hotel also offers Legoland packages including accommodation and entrance tickets but these may not be the cheapest option.

Room

Three different types of room – Guest Rooms, Executive Club Level Rooms and Suites. We booked a regular Guest Room and had two comfortable double beds. Executive Club Level grants access to the (otherwise locked) Club Lounge, which has some food an drinks but was completely dead whenever we passed it. Our room was clean and comfortable but rather dated – I mean an old style CRT television in a wooden cabinet? The TV signal was bad too.

CRT TV(!), work desk,  tea/coffee making facilities, mini bar, small fridge space, safe, iron, ironing board. The majority of rooms are listed as non-smoking rooms – I didn’t realize you could still smoke in a hotel room in the UK but it may be that the information provided was out of date.

Carpets?

Unfortunately, yes. They were clean enough in our room but a little worn. Regular readers will be aware of my dislike of carpets in hotel rooms, but it is rare to find anything else in an English hotel. Or an English house, for that matter.

Bathroom

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

The bathroom was fine and a bathrobe was provided. Always a plus to have both a bathtub and a shower cabinet. Hair-dryer provided.

Free internet I hope?

There was supposed to be a free 30 minute period but the connection was unusable in our room. This is a major flaw for a four-star hotel in this day and age and even if you could get online the charges after this initial period were also excessive, with an ‘initial charge’ of GBP 14.95.

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