This is a long review, but the short form of it is that a nightclub boat moored adjacent to the hotel ensures loud disco music late at night on riverview rooms and that staff was pleasant but inept. Couple that with a disappointing breakfast buffet and despite the good location one can do much better.
Onward to the long review...
For the last couple of years when in London I've stayed at the Charing Cross, a location very convenient to Trafalgar Square and other tourist locations.
The Charing Cross was not available for a weekend trip in July, 2010, so instead I booked rooms at the Royal Horseguards hotel, also a Gouman Hotel. I booked a river view room with a package that included breakfast. I'm a big fan of English breakfasts, which the Charing Cross breakfast buffet does very well, so I spent the extra twenty pounds or so per person per night to get that option. We booked online directly through the Royal Horseguards hotel's own web site.
My wife and I checked in mid-day Friday, stayed Friday and Saturday nights and departed Sunday morning. First impressions of the hotel are that it is very different from the photographs on the web site. The majestic view of a grand building shown is accurate enough, but the hotel occupies only a portion of the building, the rest being a variety of other properties, such as the former Liberal club (now a meeting venue), offices, etc.
The grand view with greenery in front is the river view, not the entrance to the hotel. The greenery is a small park that is not part of the hotel and which is walled off from the hotel by a variety of fences. The main entrance to the hotel is a small, rather underwhelming doorway on the Whitehall side, giving very much the impression of arriving at the wrong hotel when the taxi drops you off.
Stepping into the lobby it is not the grand lobby it seems on the website: the initial room has a higher ceiling but the rest is lower ceilinged and small. I want to emphasize that nothing in the photos on the website appears to be inaccurate: however the angles of the photography, views and so forth are a tribute to how an expert photographer can make a setting appear very much grander than it is in real life. The initial impression is not one of a grand lobby but rather a warren of small spaces (restaurant, lobby bar, cramped entrance to elevators).
We were "upgraded" to a larger room on the eighth floor. After hiking through a labyrinth of low-ceilinged, narrow corridors we found the room to be smaller than expected, albeit with much higher ceilings than the low corridors. In our room the windows were not as shown in the example photos from floor to ceiling but wer smallish windows from chest height up a few feet. A colleague who stayed in a different room said his room had the larger windows but was a smaller room.
The view through the small windows was, indeed, a river view with very nice views of the Thames, the London Eye across the river, St. Paul's in the distance and the Charing Cross bridge. The windows were sealed shut, with a label indicating that was for safety reasons at that height.
There were two outstandingly comfortable, reclining leather chairs, much better for lounging about than the usual hotel chairs. The walk-in closet had a light that automatically turned on, which was good, but the moment one stepped into the closet and the door closed (on a spring), the light went off. There was no way to latch the closet door open, so that meant either wedging some paper underneath it to keep it open or holding the door open with one hand so the light stayed on while using the other hand to hang or to fetch clothing.
Speaking of lights, the room used an electronic system requiring the door card key to be inserted for the lights to be on. That's fine and routine in many European hotels, but the operation of this particular light system was incomprehensible. In two days I could not work out how to reliably shut off the overhead lights while still allowing the lower lights (such as on the end tables on the bed) to remain on. I'm a computer engineer, so if I can't figure that out I guess it would be much more difficult for people whose lives do not revolve around electronics.
The bed was a king-sized bed, very comfortable, with excellant pillows and comforter and cotton duvet. No top sheet, which my wife did not like as she found it hard to believe the hotel washed the duvet as frequently as one might like. We ordered up a sheet, which after repeated inquiries to housekeeping was finally brought.
The bathroom was small but perfectly functional. The tub included an in-wall flat panel TV, which was interesting, but the controls to operate it were both incomprehensible and inconveniently located (in the room outside the bathroom). The TV had streaks and other display problems apparently arising from condensation or leaks.
My wife had expected to be able to book tours through the concierge, as I had a business meeting the next morning. The concierge was utterly and completely useless for that, having nothing more than a small stock of tourist phamplets and offering the advice that one could get a tour by booking on the street for one of the continuous open bus tours. If you have any expectation beyond that, best book online in advance directly with tourist agencies. Or, stay at a hotel with a useful concierge.
Everything at the hotel seemed to take at least two requests. Asking for the sheet, for example, generated a promise that housekeeping would bring it up. After an hour or so a second request plus a follow up call resulted in a sheet.
Dinner at the hotel (we made the mistake of having dinner at the Hotel's "1212" restaurant) continued that theme. We had to ask twice for almost everything, for example, having to ask the waiter twice to bring water. we ate on the "terrace" which is really a small concrete paved area between the hotel and the fences to the adjacent part. Seating was not comfortable, with stiff backed metal chairs. It was OK for dinner but very uncomfortable for drinks, which are best taken in the more comfortable interior lounge. That's a shame as having drinks outdoors would be very pleasant in summer.
The food was very disappointing and service exceptionally slow. Despite having few customers other than us and a simple order, it took 45 minutes to bring out a Caesar salad with chicken. However, when the order arrived it was wrong: instead, it was the Nicoise salad with tuna. Our waiter apologized for the mistake and assured us the Caesar salads we ordered would be brought out quickly, in ten minutes. About 35 minutes later they finally arrived.
When the Caesar salads arrived I was surprised to find the plates (large bowls with flat rims) were hot to the touch. Why? I suppose they were placed under a heater to keep the chicken on top warm until the waiter picked them up for delivery to us, but that over-warmed the salad. When it came time to settle the bill they brought the wrong bill, from a different table. After a second request they brought the right bill. I can see why the restaurant was virtually empty on a Friday night.
That evening we discovered the primary reason this hotel should be avoided: a boat moored adjacent to the hotel across the embankment road on the Thames hosts a very, very loud disco that runs late into the night. If you have a room with a river view (the only thing I would recommend), there is no way to avoid the disco noise late at night. Even on the eighth floor with windows closed and air conditioning fan turned on high the thump, thump of disco beats were plainly audible. I can't imagine how loud it must have been on lower floors. The noise went on Saturday night as well.
The next morning at 7 AM, jet-lagged more than a bit, we discovered only two packets of non-decaf coffee. I rang housekeeping for more and discovered housekeeping would not be available until 7:30. I called the front desk to inquire if we could get some more coffee packets to use with the in-room boiler, expressly saying we weren't interested in any decaf - just the straight, full-power stuff please. They said they'd send some up. The coffee did not arrive (an expected trend by now...), but later when we repeated the request, housekeeping did bring some more coffee packets up. However, as seems to be the typically "not quite right" modus operandi of this hotel, half were decaf coffee.
The breakfast buffet was serviceable enough for a three star hotel featuring continental breakfast with some English breakfast items, but was very disappointing compared to the much better spread at the Charing Cross. At twenty pounds it is a total ripoff. Save your money and visit any pub offering English breakfast to tourists near Trafalgar Square and you'll do much better.
The staff was perfectly pleasant, just slightly inept. I get the impression there is a large contingent of Eastern European workers who are pleasant people and wanting to please, but lacking intrinsic hotel skills or good management to teach the required skills. For example, when someone from housekeeping says they'll send a sheet up that doesn't mean go away for an hour or two and then send it up. Waiters at the restaurant should make an appearance at table from time to time so if guests would like some water it could be poured - that sort of thing. I don't mean to take any shots at Eastern Europeans in general, as I've had great service at hotels in Eastern Europe - I just mean to speculate that since all the service personnel we met were Eastern Europeans that perhaps the folks who had made their way to employment at this particular hotel did not have prior service experience or training.
I have to say, the experience spooked me - I'll be much more careful checking out a hotel on tripadvisor before just trusting pictures and self-description on a web site, even if I like some other hotel operated by the same hotel group. I suppose they could improve service with a bit more attentive management, but there's not much they can do about a disco boat being moored right outside their windows. If you book here and don't like sleeping to a background thump of disco music, book a room away from the river or resign yourself to sleeping with earplugs inserted.
On the plus side the hotel had a great location for Parliment / Whitehall / Trafalgar tourism. It's convenient both to the Thames sights and to the theater district. It was kept clean and the wakeup calls came on time. Although they took reminders, they did get most things right.
I've rated this "no frills" since little of it was really useable. For example, yes, in theory it has a fitness center but in reality it is a small, grim room on the eight floor.
All things considered you can do far worse in London. If you don't mind the disco noise in the summer you could probably even stay here OK in a pinch. Prices were not terrible, so if you cannot find better this could be a tolerable alternative.
Pluses: good location, wakeup calls on time. clean, some recent refurbishment in bathrooms, taxi arranged by doorman on time
Minuses: disco noise, poor food/breakfast buffet, staff requiring reminders all the time, useless concierge
- Official Description (provided by the hotel):
- This majestic five-star hotel presides over the River Thames. From glittering chandeliers to contemporary design, this central hotel near the London Eye reflects a proud heritage. Expect more, with free wi-fi throughout the hotel, fully refurbished Victorian splendour, award-winning dining, afternoon tea and sumptuous river view suites. ... more less
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- Also Known As:
- The Royal Horseguards Hotel London
- Royal Horseguards London