Hotel Living


1 January 2008

Amenities & Less

Look for more than room service in hotels now. Not only are they providing Internet and Wi-Fi service but some hotels provide photo processing-stations for digital cameras. Forgot you battery charger? Some have placed re-charging towers in the lobby for cell phone (mobile in the UK) batteries. You place yours in a compartment and take the key after you pay a small fee.

Many hotels, especially the small ones, do not provide washcloths. I always take a few. You may consider your own soap too if you plan on a stay at a budget hotel with shared facilities.

Hotels can offer guests discounts to in-house or nearby health clubs. Some even offer golf. Hotels always seen to re-invent themselves and offers may be available that were not in the past. One recent trip, my hotel gave me a complimentary dinner in which I could select from a list of restaurants. I did not know this when I booked and I wonder if it was due to me making my own reservations?

Bed & Breakfast

I have practically no information as to what goes on in a Bed & Breakfast. Get that smirk off your face. The one I used to go to in Canada offered a free full-breakfast, but that was Canada. Still, ask about what you are entitled to and what else is offered.

Check In

Most hotels have an afternoon check-in policy to allow the staff time to ready the room for you. I typically arrive in mid-morning but I seldom have to wait for a room. If no rooms are available you can stow your bags with the porter. Don’t forget to tip. Your bags should be locked away but you may want to keep you passport and other valuable with you until latter. Ask the porter of the hotel has a safe, if you should feel that you need one. You will be given a ticket with a number that matches your bags. When you retrieve them the porter will match the numbers. No one will be allowed to rummage though your bags. Don’t forget to tip.

I think tipping has always existed but probably took on its name in a London coffee house in the late 1600’s. Coffee (and chocolate) houses sprang-up across London and quickly became places for men to conduct business. One staff member saw opportunity and placed a dish on the counter with the words “To Insure Promptness”.

Fire

This is a dirty little four-letter word that nobody likes to hear, but somebody can shout it out at any time. I have never been in a hotel fire but I have had the fire alarm pulled twice. Once was St. Patrick’s Day (Erin go figure) and once on Easter Sunday. They both were pranks but I was amazed at what I saw. Americans and Asians knew to get out and use the stairs. American college girls wear almost nothing to bed and flee their rooms without much more. Europeans have no idea what the clanging is all about. And don’t be surprised if the exit will not open at the bottom of the stairs. Be prepared as you may be kept out in the cold for hours.

Hotel Breakfast

All hotels offer a free continental breakfast but they provide a full English breakfast as well. This usually means runny scrambled eggs and baked beans (I have no idea why). If you book the hotel through a third party you may not get the full breakfast unless you pay the supplement, which is not cheap is all cases. If you book directly you are considered “private pay” and the English breakfast could be included at no additional cost. Imperial London Hotels gives full breakfast with private pay guests.

Hotel Payments

Making hotel reservations are not what they used to be. I make my reservations directly with my hotel either using their on-line service or calling them direct. I don’t have an aversion to using a third party; this is just how I do things. It used to be that you paid your bill when you checked out but for a few years now hotels take reservations as a purchase. They will charge your credit card account that day. One should check for this when making reservations to avoid a surprise.

This practice seems to be wide-spread in Europe and gaining in the US. I have also received reports of people making hotel reservations using their debit card (not a good choice) and not knowing that their money is being extradited from their account.

As I have said, this practice is being done for “private pay” reservations. I do not know, at this time, what third party (travel agents) are doing. I don’t see them footing the bill too long. Then again, you pay them upfront when they make the holiday plans for you.

There is a difference between credit cards, debit cards and money cards. Major credit cards offer you some protection on purchases where other types of cards may not. You should be aware what you rights and responsibilities are as well as what you card issuer provides.

Room Rates

One can find dirt cheap room rates in London by staying at a hostel or college dorms (during summer) to the sky-high rates at the Savoy. With price you get what you pay for. Cheaper (and smaller) hotels usually have shared baths and limited room services. And let’s not forget the lift. Small hotels may be several floors tall but that is no indication that they will have elevators. Better hotels do cost more but can be more comfortable. Still, be prepared to be shocked by the size of your room. London hotels are well known for having small rooms. Don’t be afraid to ask to see the room first or to ask for a larger on. When doing this it is best to be on your best behavior.

Voltage

Unlike America’s 120 volt AC (60 Hz) current, The UK uses 240 AC (50 Hz) current. That means that your laptop will become a toaster oven once you plug it in, unless you have a converter. Well, you can’t plug the bugger in as the socket is way different than ours. I take my PDA and foldable-wireless keyboard in lieu of a laptop and I have a UK adaptor for it. This and other electronic items can be bought in one of the many electronic stores on both sides of Tottenham Court Road.

Hotels have outlets for US electric razors and hair dryers, but caution should be used. The outlets may not be protected by a ground-fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). The plugs have a reset button in the middle and if you are not sure do not stand in water.

Note: I have never used a converter with an adaptor for an electronic device. Talk to an electronic technician about this. What makes laptops different between the US and UK is the AC adapter. You may want to buy one for the UK system before you go to play it safe.

My Hotel

I have stayed at a number of hotels around London but I find my hotel of choice is the Royal National in Bloomsbury. It is part of the family-owned chain Imperial London Hotels (http://www.imperialhotels.co.uk/default.aspx). The service is good and the place has undergone a fix-up recently. The London Pub is quite active all the time and the breakfast rooms are large. Ok, the guest rooms are a tad tiny but all of London’s rooms are. The area is quiet but has shops, pubs and restaurants to enjoy. There are nearby launderettes, which makes it nice, in that I do not have to pack too much.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette London Trip

Christopher Rawson of the Post Gazette took people on a theater tour to London every March. He uses Gulliver's Travels (http://www.gti.travel). I have never taken this trip with Mr. Rawson, but allow me to mention the hotels that they use.

Kenilworth Hotel (
http://www.radissonedwardian.co.uk/kenilworth.html)
Great Russell Street, WC1B 3BL
Radisson Marlborough (
http://www.radissonedwardian.co.uk/marlborough.html)
Bloomsbury Street, WC1B 3QD

Part of the Radisson Edwardian family of hotels (
http://www.radissonedwardian.com) located near the British Museum and Tottenham Court Road tube station.