Crowne Plaza Hotel Queenstown

by Continental Club on April 30, 2009

If you’ve ever approached Fort William in the Highlands of Scotland from the South, you’ll be feeling quite at home arriving in Queenstown. For miles before any obvious indication of the town centre is reached, the roads are lined with motel after guesthouse, hotel after apartment block, timeshare after B&B.; There are literally hundreds of them which, of course, means both lots of choice and heightened risk that the first-time visitor will ill-advisedly select, ending up in a poorly converted or designed property, which then turns out to be a four-day camel ride away from the attractions of the town itself.

The Crowne Plaza however, blessed with at least a reasonably detailed page on Intercontinental Hotel Group’s otherwise prehistoric and tough-to-navigate website, seemed likely to offer an acceptable compromise between a central location and chain-property reliability. Good value rates and added package amenities cemented the decision to book.

The hotel, having battled through the town-centre traffic, is immensely easy-to-find on the lakeshore Beach Street. The forecourt area provides an easy place to discharge passengers and baggage, before staff valet cars to the hotel’s high-level car park, which is built on the hillside behind the property and accessed from the top floor.

Fresh from a recent refurbishment which seems to take the internal appointments of this and other similarly-appointed Crowne Plazas beyond their rather pedestrian branding, the lobby of the CP is a fresh, light and bright space with trendily-uniformed staff behind Reception, and at the ‘Leisure Concierge’ desk.

The staff members themselves are as youthful as the design of their vestments, and are positive and eager if not exactly process-perfect. In this adrenaline sports capital, it’s probably reasonable to assume that the majority of them are skiers and rafters as opposed to long-term career hoteliers.

The first indication of this being that one of the rooms booked as a twin was allocated as a King. This kind of thing can happen anywhere, of course, but a rather odd response that my Priority Club loyalty scheme profile had overridden the booked room type suggested that they didn’t really know what they were talking about. It also transpired that the hotel had forgotten to take payment for this pre-paid booking, so that had to be resolved as well.

Observing the interactions between other guests and Reception staff during the course of the stay revealed fairly widespread unfamiliarity with systems and, it has to be said, those casual uniforms didn’t really instil a great sense of confidence or professionalism. I’m sure that recruitment and retention is exceedingly difficult in somewhere like Queenstown, but sometimes that’s made even more difficult when stressed travellers lose confidence, start complaining and make the staff’s job yet more stressful. If the traveller additionally feels that the person they’re dealing with is a little more style than substance, cool than capable, then no-one really wins. It’s a personal thing, I suppose, but somehow it all felt to me like a Brands Team, somewhere deep in the offices of Intercontinental Hotels, had been trying just a bit too hard and using up all the budget that Operations could have better used for training and reward.

The smiles go a long way to compensate however and, once installed in the correct room, it’s a very comfortable place to be. The hotel is built at a regressive angle up the hillside, so rooms facing the lake are particularly light and bright with a small furnished balcony from which to fully enjoy the views.

The rooms are neither grandly spacious nor overly compact, but they’re clean, comfortable and – like the rest of the hotel – newly refitted.

The bathroom is an up-to-date tiled affair – one step up from a Holiday Inn, but a place to ablute rather than linger.

Hotel facilities are limited to a sauna, bar and the ‘three-sixty’ restaurant; there’s no gym or pool. The bar is a modern series of spaces which comprise a traditional standing bar, a white lounge area and then a darker, more atmospheric room to the rear of that, referred to as the bedroom.

three-sixty occupies a glass box-like adjunct to the main building and looks out across the lake to the mountainsides beyond, the internal atmosphere very much taking on the mood and atmosphere of the weather outside. It’s a bit of a shame that the view is compromised at this level by the passing traffic however, with tour buses regularly rolling up and obliterating the panorama. Indeed it seems that the best view in the hotel, oddly enough, is from the sixth floor lift lobby. The second best is from one of the function rooms – a boardroom in which it must be very difficult to concentrate on business with the distraction of the scenery outside.

Breakfast in three-sixty is principally from the well-presented buffet, with a small a la carte selection and eggs prepared in the kitchen. The buffet includes both Western and Asian options and a couple of interesting options – like a small oven in which to warm pre-prepared cheese and ham croissants. The front-of-house team are very friendly and do a good job of keeping on top of the coffee service, table clearing and buffet replenishment. Things are apparently not quite so slick out back however, so the top tip is to order eggs pre-cereal, juice and patisserie, and there’s a reasonably chance that the chick will have hatched, grown, laid and its ovum poached, fried or boiled by the time you return to the hot counter.

The evening menu is a quite elaborate Pacific Rim sort of construction which, to me at least, looked very interesting. At teatime-ish, a presentation of canapé-sized tasting versions of the menu is offered in the ground floor lift lobby, next to the bar entrance. It’s a nice touch, although it rather belies the fact that the menu doesn’t really suit the clientele who seem to form the vast majority of guests during this Summer stay. There were more than a few tour groups in-house, skewing yet further the overall demographic toward the fifty-pluses. Indeed, among our own party, the fairly unadventurous FCC and GCC were entirely unmoved by the menu – preferring to eat out in Queenstown. So the canapés seemed to be a brave attempt to try and educate and demystify the menu, which seems to ignore the fact that it’s the menu that probably needs the attention, not the guests….

Shame though, because I (and presumably Chef, GM and Crowne Plaza Menu Planning Department) thought it looked good. But I’m not (and they’re not) representative of their average customer, or so it would appear.

Not that guests are left with little other choice; the location of the hotel brings an abundance of dining options within reach, from the waterside complex right outside the front door to countless cafés, bars and restaurants a short walk away in the town centre.

The Lonely Planet recommends the Fishbone Bar and Grill, which is really a rather elaborate fish and chip shop. Certainly the quality and variety of seafood cannot be faulted – from humble Hoki and Chips right up to stunning lobster and assorted other crustacea. It’s a fairly frenetic atmosphere though, so not the place for a relaxed meal in spacious surroundings – for that Roaring Meg’s might be a better bet, further up Beach Street and on to Shotover Street.

However, if casual dining is your thing (and even if it’s not) then you could do very much worse than The Cow, a converted stable up a back street which is little more than some tables, benches, a bar and a stone oven. The pizzas, in particular, are fabulous; served on a wooden trivet with a knife the only concession to decorum and costs kept low by the use of BYO cutlery for any further needs. And by that, I mean your fingers.

The menu has not, allegedly, been changed since the restaurant first opened. The constant stream of hungry diners waiting for a table (no reservations) would suggest that there’s no requirement to and, indeed, such is demand that an almost brick-for-brick replica has been built in nearby Wanaka. The atmosphere is almost Savoyard, high alpine rustic and it’s highly recommended by this happy trougher.

Check-out from the Crowne Plaza was quick and undemanding, however the Priority Club points which the stay generated failed to post automatically. A zero-pointed ‘ineligible stay’ appeared on the statement instead, which again tended to add to the perception of back-office confusion at the hotel – possibly connected with that initial pre-pay failure.

Final Verdict for the Crowne Plaza Queenstown: 7.0/10. An excellent combination of superb location, good design, tasteful and modern furnishings and comfortable accommodation. The lakeside rooms have great views too. However, the restaurant menu is too specialised for a hotel with only one dining option and the otherwise positive, friendly, obliging and enthusiastic staff seem to be let down by processes which are lacking somewhere behind the scenes, or training, or both. Overall though, a very solid choice for a short stay in Queenstown.


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