I'm an enthusiastic fan of Tripadvisor, but I usually pride myself on knowing which reviews to take with a grain of salt. For example, high rankings on the strength of a hotel's in-room tea and coffee-making facilities don't mean much to me because personally I never use them. Similarly, I don't rule out a hotel that gets bad reviews because of its lack of free wifi or business facilities; I travel mostly for pleasure, not business, so when I stay at a hotel I'm looking to get AWAY from my laptop.
But to be honest, the reviews of Benedicts were so uniformly great, and the candid photos looked so inviting, I put aside my usual scruples. Planning my first trip to Belfast, a weekend break for my husband and myself, I booked one of their executive rooms at a rate of £90 per night b&b.
We stayed there on 11-13 December, and I feel I should preface the following remarks by saying that I know the Christmas season isn't the best time to judge a hotel. The month of December is a prime money-making opportunity for hoteliers, and I do appreciate that you aren't going to get the same level of service you might get when the hotel is half-empty. But I can only judge based on my own experiences at Benedicts, and not all the problems I experienced there were yuletide-related.
We arrived at 3 p.m. on Friday after a delayed flight from Manchester. Not wanting to eat airport food, I'd assured my husband that we could get a late lunch at the hotel, and by the time our cab dropped us off we were starving. Unfortunately, the first thing we saw was a notice on the door indicating that lunch wasn't being served because the hotel dining room was entirely booked out for Christmas parties.
Okay, like I say, I know you have to make allowances at this time of year. Check-in was quick and the man at the desk was pleasant, but when we went up to our room on the third floor, the first thing I noticed was the rather threadbare carpet. I had assumed, wrongly, that the extra price you paid for an executive room would get you one of the nice hardwood floors I'd seen on their website. But when we went back downstairs to enquire about this, the man at the desk said that only rooms on the second floor had hardwood floors. And when we asked if we could be changed to one of these, after some shuffling through the paperwork for guests who had yet to check in, he informed us that all the executive rooms on the second floor had already been taken. He gave us the key to a standard room on the second floor so we could take a look, but although the floor was lovely the room was small, the bed not as nice as that in the executive room, and the plastering on the bathroom ceiling slightly dodgy. We elected to stick with our third floor room.
As to the room, well, it was frankly a disappointment. We couldn't decide whether it was in need of a refurb, or if it was just shoddily/incompletely refurbed. As I've noted, the carpet was worn and retained the vague scent of previous smokers (one of the reasons I always prefer a wood floor if I can get it). The small, white, plasticky windows, which featured an internal box with a third pane of glass (presumably to keep out the street noise, of which more later), were an eyesore, as was the sloppily applied wallpaper around the edges of the window, and the cheap panel radiator covered with liberal splashes of paint left behind by the decorator.
The bathroom was a particular letdown. One of my great pleasures when I'm staying in a hotel for pleasure is taking a long bath in the afternoon, but the tub in ours was made of yucky molded acrylic. So, no bath then. Similarly, the shower head was in need of a good scrub, there was missing grout in the tiles directly beneath the shower, and the shower rail was rusty. And then there was the plastic, yellowing, wall-mounted trio of hair drying tube (a pet hate of mine), towel rail and bidet-side phone (why DO hotels insist on installing these when everybody has a mobile?). We also discovered an ashtray on the ledge beneath the toilet, which would explain the smell in the room. Worst of all, on our second night my husband went to the bathroom late at night and saw moving squiggles on the floor--at first he thought it was something wrong with his eyes, but then he realised it was silverfish!
The bed, I have to say, was as comfortable as other reviewers have indicated. So maybe I could have lived with the fact that the room as a whole didn't live up to my expectations if the hotel staff had been as accommodating as practically every review says. My own experience was that the staff were very nice--when they were telling you "no."
For example, on our first night we managed to get dinner reservations at Cayenne, which is a stone's throw away from the hotel (wonderful meal, btw--highly recommended). Being a busy time of year, we could only get a 5 p.m. reservation, after which we struggled to find a bar that wasn't completely heaving with Christmas revellers. "No problem," I said to my husband and two friends (who stayed at the Fitzwilliam Hotel, which looked a LOT nicer than ours), "Our hotel has a residents bar, so we can go back there and have a quiet drink."
IMPORTANT NOTE: The Benedict's residents bar is NOT a residents bar. It's an extension of the main downstairs bar, with a staircase in the middle. When we got there at 8:30 it was full of Christmas parties, throbbing with music (oh, to never hear the Nolan sisters' I'm in the Mood for Dancing EVER again) and it was made very clear to us when we ordered drinks that all the tables were reserved for parties. Ultimately, the manager did find us a table, but within a half hour a staff person came along to tell us we'd have to leave. And then the manager said no, we could stay. But the ultimate effect of all this was to make us feel like an unwelcome burden. And yes, I know, it's Christmas and all, but the reality is that there is NO public space in Benedicts that's set aside purely for the use of guests, nowhere where you could sit and have a quiet chat or a read of the paper.
The rest of our stay there was littered with similar staff encounters....the breakfast order that was taken but never came, then had to be completely reordered, then came with the wrong things. The guy on the desk who, when we returned at 11 p.m. on Saturday night from the Eddie Izzard concert at the Odyssey having been unable to find a single nearby restaurant open, basically shrugged and pointed us in the direction of the local KFC. The woman at the desk who, when asked where we could find nice, independent, artsy-craftsy shops to look for Christmas presents, directed us to nearby Lisburn Road. IMPORTANT NOTE NO 2: While Lisburn Road has some pleasant-looking cafes, hairdressers, and greengrocers, it is NOT where you want to do your Christmas shopping. It's an extremely busy road, and in a mile and a half's walk we didn't see a single shop that tempted us.
The final strike against the Benedicts is a big one: its location. I knew when I booked it that it was a 10-minute walk from the centre, which isn't a problem for us--we like to walk and have sometimes found that the better hotels are located off the beaten track. Unfortunately, the immediate neighbourhood around Benedicts, which looks a bit down-at-heel during the day, becomes downright hostile at night. During the cab ride back from the Odyssey on Saturday night, we saw a message come up on the driver's display warning other drivers to avoid the street in front of Benedicts because fighting had broken out there. We were like, great, and the driver said that this area used to be notorious for this type of thing until the police started basically parking up there every weekend as a deterrent. Sure enough, by the time we got to the hotel there were police out front and no sign of any fighting, but I am not exaggerating when I say that during our fruitless search for an open restaurant in the streets surrounding the hotel, we literally dodged flying bottles, belligerent drunks and vomit.
I'm a little surprised that none of the Tripadvisor reviews I've read mention the fact that the streets around Benedicts are full of nightclubs, which is the source of all this late night disturbance. There's a nightclub directly across the road from the hotel, one a couple doors down, and of course Benedicts itself has a late-night license, till 2.30 a.m. (yes, unless you're a night owl, you WILL need the earplugs provided in your room) And for me, this is the problem with Benedicts: it is a bar first, and a hotel second.
So I can only assume that I got this one wrong--I didn't consider the possibility that all these glowing reviews on Tripadvisor might have been written by people who came to Belfast primarily to party. For them Benedicts would be a good choice. For me it was a massive disappointment that coloured my first visit to Belfast.
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- Also Known As:
- Benedicts Hotel Belfast
- Belfast Benedicts Hotel