Friday, 21 September 2018

Staying at the Grand Hotel & Spa York // a hotel review

Recently my boss took me to one side at work and said "you do know you have 18 days of holiday left and we're well over half way through the year??!". It then dawned on me that I haven't had any time off in forever other than a random day off here and there. No wonder I was feeling knackered. So this month I decided that starting now, it's time to travel again and get my exploring hat on. If that's even a thing. 


York has been on my travel bucket-list for the longest time. As much as I love to go abroad, I also love a staycation. There is so much of my home turf that remains unexplored which I am quite embarrassed by. And York was one of those places.

Conveniently just shy of 2 hours on the fast train from London Kings Cross, I'd shortlisted a few York hotels and my partner and I mutually agreed on the Grand Hotel & Spa York, a 5* hotel located just a stone's throw away from the station and really close to the city centre. And isn't she a beauty?


OUR ROOM

As it was a special occasion we booked an executive room, which comparatively had a larger footprint and marble topped surfaces in the bathroom. It was a generously sized bedroom (you'd never get anything that big in London!), although admittedly probably bigger than we needed as we spent so much of our time exploring outside the room.


One minor disappointment I experienced with booking the room online here is that you are presented with two different images for the room type you have selected (one with a wooden headboard, the other with an black, upholstered statement headboard)... but you don't have any say in which room you get. Personally I would have preferred the room with the black upholstered headboard and darker walls as it's more my style and felt more modern than the wooden alternative which felt dated. However saying that, the wooden headboard and matching furniture were far nicer in the flesh and had a lovely warmth to it. I would love to stay in the other room another time, but seeing as you can't select it, I have no idea how I would go about doing that.


Upon entering the room, there was a video of the hotel playing on the TV and the jazzy music continued to pipe through into the bathroom. I'd never seen a TV like it. You could view your room bill on the screen so you could see an itemized bill in real time. This was especially handy for the day we checked out as the queue for the front desk was HUGE, and it meant we could glance over our bill in our room and then theoretically leave our key in a express checkout box in reception. I say theoretically because we couldn't find said box anywhere. However there were friendly staff on hand to assist so I can't complain.


THE BATHROOM

Admittedly the bathroom was a little bit of a surprise due to the same confusion with the multiple images on their website. Rather than grey veined marble tiles and deep blue walls as seen here, we had more of a beige colour palette with light brown marble tiles. Again, this looked far nicer in person and had really flattering low lighting in the bathroom (the sort that makes you look really tan) which was 1) a delight first thing in the morning when you've just woken up and you can't handle ALL THE LIGHT right away and 2) made things really cosy in the evenings for your waterfall shower (AMAZING by the way) and then wrapping up in a super fluffy robe afterwards.


Hotels that have complimentary robes and slippers always hold a special place in my heart. I loved the rope / cord edging to the bath robe and how incredibly soft the slippers were ("shall we get you some for back home?" M. asked, amused at how appreciative I was of them)


One of the first things I scope out when I check into a hotel is the toiletries. I love brands like Molton Brown as they always feel extra special, don't you think? The bright green bottle isn't actually a shampoo and is in fact MOUTHWASH. It was a weird one (almost herby?) But you did feel super clean afterwards though! The body wash and lotion were mandarin and clary sage which were my sort of thing (fairly unisex, not too feminine).


ROOM EXTRAS

The second thing I like to check is the mini bar and tea making facilities (I'm terribly British). Anything from the mini bar was an extra cost so we avoided. However it did state on the menu card that complimentary still and sparkling water was provided and priced at the grand total of £0. But frustratingly we didn't have any water in the room. "Let's wait until later" I said to M. "Perhaps it's part of turn down service?". Returning to our room after dinner, we had wonderfully inviting beds... but still no water. So I had to call down to reception and ask for some (which I didn't feel that I should have to do in a 5* hotel). "No problem at all! Still or sparkling? How many bottles?" the chirpy and friendly lady at reception asked me. I requested two bottles of still water but we only received one. We just about had enough for hot drinks and drinking water that evening,  so no harm done. With water now in our possession, we could boil the kettle and get some hot drinks going. M. had a classic - Yorkshire Gold - whereas I was incredibly excited to find Galaxy hot chocolate in the tea crate.


The iron and ironing board came in incredibly useful for making ourselves (well our clothes) a bit more presentable for dinner. And I'll bear in mind for future visits that shower caps, nail files and flannels are provided in the rooms (all very useful things).

THE VIEW

We had a pleasant view from our window of York's city wall. In fact one evening when we had a small pocket of time before dinner, we made our ascent and walked it. Some of the Grand Hotel & Spa York reviews on Trip Advisor moan about the views from the rooms but you have to bear in mind that this is a hotel in a city centre location near a train station! You are not exactly going to get rolling hills and greenery!


THE HOTEL ITSELF

All the communal areas of the hotel were a dream for interiors enthusiasts like myself. I'm talking luxury velvet seating, chesterfield sofas and the most beautifully scented halls. I found myself saying "I recognise that scent!" and throughout our stay, it became a game. I was so determined to remember. I couldn't decide if it was Molton Brown, White Company or Jo Malone I was smelling. But towards the end of our stay I'd whittled it down to a fig scent and decided it reminded me of Dyptique's figuier (whether it was or not is an entirely different matter).


RATES AND PACKAGES

The Grand Hotel & Spa York has some great package deals where you can incorporate meals like breakfast and / or dinner for a slightly discounted rate. The dinner rate only includes dinner in one of their restaurants (The Rise) and I was unsure how many courses / which menu this included. I did try querying this with customer services before my trip but didn't get a response from the hotel. So rather than risking this, I chose to book just the room. I didn't book bed and breakfast since at £25 per head I found breakfast to be fairly steep (plus I'd read some negative reviews on Trip Advisor here which dissuaded me). We ended up booking dinner separately at The Rise restaurant in case of any menu restrictions as we wanted freedom of choice. My review of The Rise restaurant can be found here. I would love to try their other restaurant Hudsons (a 3 AA Rosette fine dining experience with 5 and 9 course tasting menus) another time.


SUMMARY

I hate to say it, but to me the Grand Hotel & Spa York didn't feel like a 5* star hotel. I have stayed at (cheaper!) hotels with lower star ratings which have felt more special. M. hit the nail on the head when he called it "personally impersonal". There wasn't an initial warm welcome at check in. Instead we were directed to another room to continue check in and discovered that our booking had come through incorrectly despite booking directly with them on their website. I queried about booking a table for dinner and we were led to a desk - with no one there. By that time there was a queue of people waiting to make dinner reservations which passing staff noticed, and worse still, didn't step in to assist. I had to physically go into the restaurant and flag someone down to get a table booked which I felt I shouldn't have to do with a 5* hotel.

Past this point, the staff in the restaurant that evening were much better with the whole customer service / warm welcome malarkey and helped saved my perception of the hotel. I would stay again based on the restaurant, the beautiful food, and how we were treated there.


If you like swoon worthy interiors, a good comfy bed (which for the record, was one of the best I've ever slept in!), complimentary bath robes and slippers, and exceptional food, this is the hotel for you.

However if you are experience / customer service driven, by all means go, but be ready to manage your expectations (personally, I'm still not 100% convinced that customer service was 5*...)

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