Category Archives: Hotels

Hotels

Hotel Review: Conrad Centennial Singapore (Executive King)

(To provide additional information to go along with the ongoing third night free promo, I thought I’d share this review of a previous stay from Oct 2016 – nothing much has changed in the past few years, so until they’re done with their rejuvenation works around Jan 2018 or so, this is probably still reflective of the property!)

The Conrad Centennial Singapore has been one of my favourite staycation options for a few years now, and has always provided a consistent experience. That consistency may not necessarily have been a good thing, though, as it seems to have fallen behind its competition in recent years. For reference,  previously the lowest price I’ve managed to get for the basic room is about S$300 with taxes.

New Year Getaway

With the ongoing third night free promo, you’ll probably be able to top that easily. The rate for 31 Aug – 3 Sep (beginning weekend of the Sep break) currently works out to around S$700, if I’ve done my maths right. That’s S$230 per night, which is a pretty good deal!

Checking in

When you get into the Conrad, you are greeted by this odd red sculpture. I’m not sure exactly what it is, but it looks pretty imposing.

Conrad Centennal Lobby

As a Gold member you usually just get a one-class upgrade – if you want access to the executive lounge, it’s better to book a business room (one class below executive room) to (almost) guarantee it. I’ve never been upgraded to a suite from a basic room, though perhaps it’s possible if you’re more insistent.

As a Diamond member (or if you’re in an executive room) there’s the option to check in at the lounge, which is a nice option if the lines are long. Just ask one of their staff standing in front of the check in desks. There wasn’t much of a queue when we got there, so we opted to just proceed with standard check in even though we’d been upgraded to an executive room.

The room

The bed is comfortable (firm, but not too hard). Somewhat on the high side, but once you’re up there it’s easy to stay there. Such is the nature of comfortable beds.

In the other corners of the room there’s the very typical armchair / work desk setup. Kinda old school, and not exactly that comfortable.

 

There’s also a large flatscreen TV. I don’t like that it’s recessed into built-in shelving like this – there’s no easy access to the ports and you’ll have to call for an engineer to come in to help if you want to plug in your own HDMI cables. It’s possible, but troublesome.

To be fair, they actually support connectivity via a panel below the TV, but you can tell that it was set up quite some time ago as they only have older RGB, S-Video and VGA ports (i.e. no HD capability). Beside the panel is what used to be the room’s sole accessible power socket – they’ve more recently added a second one in a bedstand drawer (this one comes with a USB port as well), but overall connectivity for electronics is definitely rather weak.

The Conrad used to give out these plush bears, pictured below in a tree they had set up around Christmas 2015 as part of a fund-raising campaign

In early 2016 they’d decided to switch to a new design, with a slimmer bear that comes in oriental and batik colouring.

On this particular stay, I got a batik bear. Also, a complimentary hazelnut crunch cake to celebrate my birthday.

Other than the cake, the room came with the standard fruit platter and a box of four chocolates.

The bathroom is nice enough, with lots of marble tiling – it’s also starting to show its age, though. One thing to take note of is that the basic room does not come with a bathtub, so do take note of that when booking your rooms! They also provide a complimentary Conrad rubber duck, which is a nice touch.

The view from the room was really quite lovely, offering direct line of sight to the nearby Fountain of Wealth, as well as the renovated National Stadium.

Executive Lounge

Interestingly enough, executive floor benefits include complimentary pressing of up to three items. I keep forgetting to do so, but if you really wanted to maximise your freebies you can bring along some articles of clothing to be ironed. #maximumcheapo

The executive lounge is on the 31st floor and gets pretty crowded, especially when the complimentary F&B is being served.

The drinks selection is decent enough, with red, white and sparkling (also, some hard liquor not pictured to the right).

The food selection is not really all that extensive. Cheese, salads, pasta in the middle, with about three hot items at the side. You could replace dinner with it, but it’s probably not all that satisfying.

It also offers pretty good views in multiple directions. On one side you have the floating platform (pretty good for viewing fireworks, though it is an obstructed view)…

…and on the other side, you get to see the same Fountain of Wealth that was visible from my room, albeit from a higher vantage point.

Breakfast @ Oscar’s

As a Gold member you get complimentary breakfast at the restaurant, though if you have lounge access you get to choose between the lounge and the restaurant. I usually opt for the latter due the wider range of food available.

There’s really a wide range of stuff available – pastries, cheese, and cold cuts…

 

Eastern and western hot breakfast items, and also a congee station…

 

Healthy(?) dessert items – fruit and yoghurt…

And finally, the good (unhealthy) stuff – pancakes, waffles and ice cream. Mmm.

Conclusion

I’ve been staying at the Conrad for a number of years now, so I have a special fondness for it, but for its price point I find the dated furnishings and inadequate electronics support to be very disappointing. Additionally, upgrades are hard to come by here – even as a Diamond member with multiple stays under the belt, I’ve never managed to secure a suite upgrade from a basic room. Breakfast is a highlight, though!

A few years back, I’d thought that the property was very nice, but right now it’s just kinda nice, and not particularly good value for money, so I find it hard to recommend to people at the moment(unless you manage to get it while on sale). Based on the previews of what’s to come, (good) changes are a-coming – perhaps I’ll be back again come 2018!

DCC-ed at The Best Athens Hotel, A Revisit to the Hotel Grand Bretagne

Still one of the Best Experiences despite a hiccup

The Bane known as DCC

Stayed October 2016
Written June 2017

Ouzo!

After leaving Dubrovik and the delightful Hilton, my next destination would be Bucharest in Romania via Athens. I had a night to spend in Athens and I was thinking of the Sofitel at the airport, the nearby Holiday Inn or back to my favourite Hotel Grand Bretagne in central Athens.

After much deliberation, I decided to go to back to the GB (my previous sterile review is here) as I did not want to waste time around the airport. Similar to my previous stay, I received an email prior to my stay and gave some feedback on my last visit.

The hotel is the usual place for interviews of celebrities and politicians in Athens as the Parliament House is in one view and the Acropolis in the opposite view.

From the airport, I took the Metro to Syntagma Square, remembering to validate the ticket or risk the heavy fine. The hotel is next to an exit but without shelter to the main door.

Front Desk

 

Lobby

 

 

Security wasn’t high this visit either, so everything proceeded very fast and I soon reached my upgraded suite which is frankly one of the nicest so far.

The walk to the suite is as pleasant as I remember it. Luscious decor in classic style with tones of opulence and grace.

 

Corridor

 

 

Grand Staircase

Opening the door to the suite revealed a really spacious suite with a separate living room.

The view from the room is of the inner courtyard which isn’t anything to shout about other than the associated tranquility.

 

 

 

 

 

 

TV while in the bath? Sure….

 

I liked the crystal chandeliers and the curtains, blending in the classic feel without being too ostentatious.

But what I really enjoyed was the entire bowl of Werther’s Original on the table. There goes the calorie check!

 

The welcome gift was a box of chocolate and a bottle of ouzo which I didn’t drink. as shown in the picture at the top of the post.

After a good night’s sleep, I was ready for the delightful breakfast with a great view as I remember.

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I still think it is one of the finest breakfast of my stays in Europe.

After a good breakfast, I revisited the spa, gym and indoor pool. Everything is as good as before! Or even better with more furniture for guests to sit.

 

 

Spa refreshment

 

Spa fountain

 

 

Last but not least, I checked out the rooftop pool again and it wasn’t as crowded as the summer I visited understandably, with only a couple of guests and the chairs mostly empty.

 

 

Basically I was very happy that there were completely no issues during this stay and there was such a good upgrade.

Well, there was an issue eventually when I was checking my credit card statement and I was charged in SGD instead of Euro!

I was DCC-ed! (Beware the DCC scam by Milelion)

And so, I emailed the hotel after discovering that, and I was pleasantly surprised to have a fast response. In the end, the hotel gave me some points as good will and another batch of points for their mistake. I did refuse the additional points during the email exchange, but the hotel insisted as service recovery.

This incident improved my opinion of the hotel a great deal!

I often say a good hotel is where everything goes well, and a great hotel is where everything goes better when something goes wrong!

Happy and Healthy Travels!

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How ridiculously good is Ritz Carlton service?

Until Bangalore, I’d never stayed in a Ritz Carlton Hotel before. Their properties were always too expensive and they weren’t part of Starwood anyway, so they never came on my radar, even for work trips.

Image result for ritz carlton bangalore

But with the recent Marriott acquisition and the upcoming merging of SPG and Marriott Rewards (boo), I figure all my Marriott nights will eventually be rolled into my SPG lifetime totals (or more accurately, vice versa) so there was no harm getting a few of them on the board. Plus, my company had a pretty hard to beat US$120 corporate rate at the Ritz Carlton Bangalore.

Image result for ritz carlton bangalore

The hotel is amazing and I’ll be doing up a full report eventually, but one thing I’d like to talk about today is the service at the Ritz Carlton. I’d heard stories about it, but I’ve always been a bit skeptical about just how good service could be, and how it’d be relevant to me. You see, I like to keep to myself normally and don’t really go out of my way to interact with hotel staff beyond the regular pleasantries. So I’m sure that many of the hotels I’ve visited in the past had good service, I just didn’t avail myself of it.

That said, the Ritz Carlton Bangalore set a whole new standard for doing things. Here are some of the highlights.

Taking care of my mishandled baggage

Long story short, I had a very unfun misadventure with my bag and Omanair (full story will come in the trip report) where my luggage got delayed more than 30 hours in Dubai.

I eventually got my bag back, but to claim my travel insurance, I needed an official letter from the airline stating what time my bag was returned to me. This proved harder than it sounded, given that the staff at the Omanair Dubai luggage office were fond of not picking up the phone, dnata ground services were fond of saying it wasn’t their problem and I was now in a different country altogether.

After many calls, I eventually got my letter from Omanair. But they somehow

  1. Got my name wrong
  2. Got the flight number wrong
  3. Got the bag return time wrong

I deeply suspect the staff at Omanair have difficulty getting dressed in the morning without assistance.

I really wasn’t looking forward to calling them up and waiting on hold to get this all sorted out, so I explained the situation and asked the club lounge team for help. They called up Omanair in Dubai and, get this, got the concierge team at the Ritz Calrton Dubai to visit the airport and get things sorted out. I guess that’s one way of sorting out people who don’t pick up the phone…

The spectacular thing is that despite all this effort, the Omanair team somehow contrived to send back the same letter with only the flight number corrected. It took a further day of calling by the concierges at the Ritz and Grosvenor House in Dubai to resolve this. Stay tuned for my Omanair report by the way…all i can say is never again.

The takeaway here, however, should be how impressed I was that the Ritz in Bangalore was able to rope in people on the ground in Dubai to get this attended to. I shudder to think how long it would have taken me to get this sorted out by myself.

Getting my shoes repaired

All that walking around the world had worn a hole right through the insoles of my favourite pair of loafers. I knew from my time in Mumbai that there are plenty of cobblers on the streets who repair this for next to nothing, but I didn’t trust my ability to communicate/not get ripped off. So I passed the shoes to the staff at the lounge and within 2 hours got them back, good as new, and for all of $3. Incredible.

Resolving a prawn vs lobster debate

passageway to Lantern

One evening, my colleague and I dined at Lantern, the hotel’s dim sum restaurant (40 days without Chinese food was getting to me). One of the items we ordered was called “lobster moneybags”, but biting into it revealed it was just regular prawn. I mean, that’s not honest advertising, but I didn’t make a big deal of it at the time.

The next day I went back to get lunch (I’m boring that way) and mentioned it in passing to the staff when ordering. They apologised and I thought nothing more of it.

But a few minutes later the (Chinese) chef came out to chat with me and told me it was indeed a mix of lobster and prawn, but mostly prawn (I am embarrassed I did not know what lobster was in Chinese. Turns out lobster literally means “dragon prawn”. I was tempted to say “da xia” (big prawn)).

When the dishes came out later, I was surprised to see there was an extra one. The chef had gone to cook some lobster in Singapore chili crab sauce, just for me. They comped that plus one of the other dishes.

What was also impressive was that the wait staff remembered my preferences from the night before. I ordered some cut chili padi the last time, and this time round when setting the table a plate silently appeared.

Attention to fine details

As a club room guest, I was entitled to free pressing for two garments each day. I dutifully sent off some shirts in the morning to get a proper ironing (you won’t believe how bad I am with one).

Now, I had not washed these shirts since (stop judging) starting my RTW trip, because I only wore them at meetings in air conditioned offices. Therefore there were some stains on the sleeves. I mean, they weren’t big stains or anything, but definitely there.

But when I got my shirts back, they weren’t just ironed, those stains had been removed. I don’t know if they washed the whole thing or just used a stain remover, but whatever the case I was amazed they were that observant.

Anticipating needs

Some say that the best hotels are the ones that know what you need before you need it. I’d agree with that, but I’d say that most of the time anticipation doesn’t need mind reading, it just needs common sense.

Case in point- our flight to Bangalore landed at 2am and it was past 3 am by the time we reached the hotel. The only thing on my mind was getting into bed.

Sure enough, from the time our car arrived at the Ritz we were greeted by name and whisked up to reception where our keycards and welcome letters were already waiting. A quick swipe of a credit card for incidentals and we were whisked up to our rooms, bags deposited and goodnights wished. The whole process took less than two minutes.

Now I have stayed at so-called luxury hotels where I arrived at a similarly late hour, only to find the staff totally oblivious and take close to 10, 15 minutes to finish check in procedures. I know, it’s only 10 minutes in the grand scheme of things and I certainly don’t approve of DYKWIA moments, but how difficult is it for a hotel to look at its roster and say- ok, these guests haven’t come in yet, it’s late and when they’re here they’ll want to get to bed. Let’s assign rooms now and have everything ready to go. And trust me, at 3am every minute feels like an hour.

Anticipation manifests itself in a whole lot of small ways too- it can be simple things like when I’m in the lounge with a plate of food and heading to a table that doesn’t have cutlery, and finding that as soon as I sit down some cutlery appears without me having to ask for it. Or seeing a guest at the pool selecting a lounger without a towel, and quickly getting one without being asked. These are simple, simple things and don’t need you to be psychic, yet you’d be amazed how many “luxury” hotels don’t train these things into their staff.

Not at the Ritz though. All these things happened, silently, automatically and unintrusively.

Everything else

Here are some of the other small things that just made me smile.

The towel animal and handwritten note that came with turndown service

The small token from the lounge staff on my second last day.

Finally, I left my laptop charger in the club lounge when I checked out to move to a nearby ITC property just so I could clock a few additional Starwood nights (a decision I immediately regretted, from a product quality point of view…but every step towards 50 night requalification is impossible to say no to…). A call to the Ritz and my charger was sent over to me at no cost. I have had more than a few hotels in the past ask me to cover the cost of the taxi for similar incidents (which, fair enough, is my own fault, but still).

So all in all, an amazing stay at a Ritz Carlton property, and hopefully not the last for me.