Posts in the “London” category...

Sheraton Heathrow Hotel

by Continental Club on May 28, 2009  |  Leave a comment

Let’s imagine that I own a hotel. Perhaps I didn’t just buy it; perhaps I designed it, specified it, built it and then modified it. It stands as a mounument to my own personal tastes and then I realise that what I need is a bit of extra exposure. Some better marketing; the support of a big company with global reach and an excellent reputation. Perhaps I’d like to sign a contract, nail a Sheraton sign to the front and watch the guests flood in.

There’s a problem though. When I look on Sheraton’s parent company’s website, it says that Sheraton is their largest brand, serving the needs of luxury and upscale business and leisure travelers worldwide. That sounds great, but my place is a bit of a dump, to be honest, so there’s no way that Starwood would be happy to see their brand above my door.

No, scratch that, they would. Welcome to the Sheraton Heathrow.

Now, in all fairness, this hotel charges ‘Travelodge’ rates. It’s half the price, usually, of the nearby Sofitel and the web is a rich seam of less than glowing reports about the property. So let’s just say that none of what follows came as an unheralded shock, though it’s still particularly disappointing given the fact that I’m such a fan of Starwood properties and generally find that their adherence to reliable and consistent standards is fairly exemplary.

Arriving at nearly midnight from Terminal 5, the trip on the 350 London bus service was quick and free, thanks to its entirety being within the so-called ‘Freeflow’ area. There was, unsurprisingly, no queue at check-in, and I was delighted to hear that I’d been upgraded to a ‘preferred’ room thanks to my Gold status in the Starwood loyalty programme. That was about the sum total of the welcome information however, with no confirmation of rate or package inclusions, hotel facilties or dining options.

Opening the door to the upgraded room, the first impression was of the heat. So, crank up the airconditioning, which sounded like it was powered by a jet engine borrowed from the airport across the road, and get ready for bed.

The room was clearly recently renovated and, apart from the presence of a traditional cathode ray TV, looked modern and comfortable.

The bathroom was compact but light and bright.

As the air conditioning utterly failed to make any impression on the stifling heat, I pulled back the covers on the famous Sheraton Sweet Sleeper bed, the plush, nine-layer creation of which Starwood is justifiably proud.

 

Unfortunately however, the Sheraton Heathrow had obviously cocked-up the linen order this week, as the double bed had clearly been fitted with a single mattress topper, evidenced by the fact that the mattress showed straight through the base sheet.

 

In an attempt to capture the evidence, a little more light was required, but attempts to illuminate revealed the novel (and failed) use of glue to attach power sockets to the wall rather than, oh I don’t know, something exotic like screws.

 

The aircon droned all night, the temperature never dropped, the bedlinen required a firmly central positioning to avoid falling off the mattress topper and all criticism of the Sofitel’s downgrade from Hermes toiletries evaporated in the humidity. Even the Hilton Amsterdam Airport Schiphol seemed attractive, by comparison.

In the morning, the most rapid departure possible was sought, forgetting that breakfast had been paid for. Perhaps wisely, the Reception staff declined to ask how the stay had been – and I scuttled off to cool down outside and catch the handy (and also free) 423 bus back to T5.

Final verdict for the Sheraton Heathrow: 4/10. The welcome was sub-par, the room was shoddily maintained, poorly prepared and uncomfortably hot and noisy. In no way does the property reflect the stated values of the Sheraton brand, nor does it compare to other hotels which together represent the brand – even the Skyline sister property just down Bath Road. Disappointingly dismal.

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Sofitel Terminal Five

by Continental Club on September 2, 2008  |  Leave a comment

Leaving aside the choice of a French hotelier to operate the only on-site accommodations at Britain’s flag carrier’s home terminal, I was rather looking forward to my first ever experience of a Sofitel property. Expectations were set fairly high following positive reports from New York, Chicago and a number of other outposts of the chain, but moderated by the fact that this was still an airport hotel and had only very recently opened. The previous week’s Marriott experience had been fine, although never has a hotel’s interior differed so markedly from its exterior. Outside – aluminium-clad modernity. Inside – traditional Marriott wood and brass. Strange.

Signposting from Arrivals North wasn’t too bad and we were swiftly heading up in the lift to the Sofitel link bridge, the entrance to which signals quite a significant change of atmosphere. Though still distinctly modern, the stark industrial efficiency of the generic T5 environment gives way to an altogether warmer, relaxed and comfortable if bland ambience. I may be mistaken, but I was certain that I could detect a spa-like aroma being introduced through the aircon as we walked the polished, tiled then richly carpeted floor, sloping gently down away from the terminal building. The only oddity being the strange undulation underfoot, which is particularly noticeable when wheeling a trolley and clearly a function of the construction, as tiles had been cut to accommodate the humps and dips.

At the end of the corridor is a set of doors and a porter’s post, from which we were greeted by a cheery ‘Bon Soir’ and a helpful guide to head down in the lift and then turn right to Reception. However, as we had to wait a few seconds for a lift, the porter left his station and took over the trolley. He invited us to take the escalator and he would deal with the luggage. Thanking him, we took his advice and descended to a lobby which was reasonably busy with checking-in guests – almost all of whom were BA crew. The porter arrived with the bags and parked them up, before disappearing behind the desk while I queued. The next thing I knew, our sainted porter had commandeered a vacant PC and beckoned me forward, around the crews, to complete our check-in. He wasn’t the slickest as it clearly wasn’t his usual role, but he got it right and was very friendly and professional, so full marks to Sofitel for training and empowering their staff to ‘own’ a guest’s needs.

Returning to MCC and the luggage, I found that a bellhop had transferred our bags to a hotel trolley and was waiting to show us to our room. En-route, he pointed out the restaurant and bar, told us a little about the hotel and its facilities and was, all-in-all, another superb ambassador for Sofitel. If only they could have given him a suit that fitted properly….

The twin room was a steal at £95+VAT, and the only extra that we would add to the bill was £15 for Internet access. Although not hugely spacious, with extra inches over those needed for a double bed being taken up by the two singles, the room was nicely furnished and very quiet. There was a Stressless recliner, a good workspace and a sizeable flat panel TV.

The media console on the wall is not unique to Sofitel but is very useful nonetheless. In fact, the only aspect of the room which wasn’t particularly well thought-out was the hole in the panel behind and beneath the TV which exposed messy wiring when viewing from the beds. The beds themselves are worthy of note though, supremely comfortable and trimmed with high thread-count linen of silken feel.

The bathroom, though clearly a pre-fabricated job, was also well-appointed and benefited from a separate wet-room style shower. Fixtures and fittings looked top-notch and worked flawlessly. Amenities are by Hermes and of high quality, although the quantities and range were not exactly generous. Still, the bathroom shows what can be done in a compact space and with factory construction – and therefore what a missed opportunity the T5 lounge offerings are.

And so to bed early to prepare for a sprightly start in the morning, and the anticipation of a long day of First Class fun.

Checkout the following morning was swift and painless, with luggage assistance offered but declined. With the Concorde Club Room in prospect, there was no need to dine at the hotel, so I’m afraid that the menus, service and prices went untested. Suffice to say that the restaurant looked very quiet, if stylish.

Verdict for the Sofitel T5: 9/10. Given the rate paid and the fact that the levels of service were clearly worthy of full-price, I would be delighted to stay there again and also give other Sofitels a try. Certainly the best Airport hotel I’ve ever stayed in – from a selection of not that many – but I’d suggest losing the footstool from the Stressless to free up at least a little floor space.

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