Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan by Rotana, Abu Dhabi

IMG_1002I’ve been only once to this hotel, but I have to admit that it is worth blogging about.

Due to my work commitment, we have decided to conduct a meeting at Khalidiya Palace Rayhaan Hotel, a Rotana property in Abu Dhabi, UAE.

This hotel combines three living quarters in one place. I believe that the hotel is one-third of them, while the other buildings are private apartments, if I am correct to assume so.

The location of the hotel is opposite the Abu Dhabi Marina mall and the Emirates Palace hotel on the corniche.

The hotel is reputable for its family friendliness and the provided swimming pools for the kids and families to enjoy. Its nearness to the mall and the corniche is convenient in distance, yet I don’t recommend to cut it through walking since it involves going through traffic and packed streets, which is not safe and the distance is not convenient during summer heat.

As for the hotel, it has to be noted that it is a dry hotel, i.e. no alcohol is provided nor allowed on its premises. So, for all thirsty travelers, I would suggest to look somewhere else.

The lobby and the reception of the hotel is spacious and convenient. The reception and the hotel staff are courteous and available upon need.

I had one major issue with one of the reception desk staff, who provided me with the wrong information regarding using the local line for making an 800 number call within the UAE. I had assumed that it was chargeable by the hotel, but the desk receptionist insisted that it was free. I called twice to inquire about it and on both calls, the reply was that I can go ahead since this call, using the hotel line is free and no charges would be placed on my bill.

I went ahead and place my call on the 800 number to conduct a conference call for an hour with business partners in the states. Upon checking out the next day, I found out that I was charged with almost 75 AED for using the local line to conduct the same call. Upon discussing the same with the reception desk staff and clarifying the issue with the manager, I provided them with the name of the hotel staff who answered me and provided me with the wrong information. The charges were dropped but I think he didn’t get away with his fault!

This hotel is part of the Rotana Rewards program and I would suggest to join the said program to enjoy its rewards. I will review their hotel frequent guest program in an upcoming post!

I would like to emphasize on the size and comfort of this hotel through the following snaps of the deluxe room at this property.

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Crowne Plaza, Muscat

Due to business relations with our clients in Oman, we had to stay a couple of times in Muscat and Crowne Plaza was one of the few selections that would stand out among others. For a fact, hotel rates in Oman are highly exaggerated and don’t reflect the received services for such stay rates nor the quality of the venue.So, why Crowne Plaza? well because I’m a platinum Priority Club member and I would like to receive the benefits of possible upgrade, free amenity kits and extended check out time.  Well, it doesn’t work all the time with hotels operating under the IHG group, since I’ve read stories on frequent flyer forums where their high tier status didn’t earn them a thing and that’s according to local hotel management and discretion.

Well in case of Crowne Plaza Muscat, I was recognized for my tier and I have received a complimentary upgrade for club room, while reserving a standard room. Though there are no provided perks such as club lounge access, internet access or even free breakfast. Actually the hotel doesn’t even have a club floor lounge which is disappointing. Below the picture of the club floor room which is amazingly overlooking the pool and the beach.

As you can see, the room is spacious and has its own balcony, overlooking some beautiful images such as below

As a hotel policy, it is not allowed to smoke in the rooms. For solution to smokers, they have provided an ashtray in the balcony where you would have to smoke outside regardless of humidity and high temperature.

The only provided perks were a plate of fruits, a hot water kettle with instant coffee and tea and some complimentary water aside from the daily local newspapers.

I have to mention that the carpets of the hallways and the rooms need to be replaced as it’s truly worn out and smelly. The interior of the hallways is aged and need renewal. The hotel itself need to give itself a break for a while. As for food, their breakfast buffet is pretty good and packed with all kinds of selections which makes it up for any negative issues.

I would have to recommend that you would try their English pub food and drinks. The food there is good and the atmosphere is jolly, with some bingo/quiz games with lots of Aussies and English people hanging around.

For a change, I would recommend walking a bit from the hotel down the road to see the Qurom Street where the locals call it “the love street” where all youngsters and teens hang around to pick up girls and meet up. There’s a couple of coffee shops and some franchise restaurants. Walking around in a breezy weather at night and enjoying the nightlife scene would be a good choice for alternative if you don’t want to hang out at Crowne Plaza open area dedicated to its restaurants and pubs.

All in all, this is a decent business hotel but I would recommend some major improvements in renovation to be able to stay next time.

Mercure Grand Hotel Seef, Bahrain

 Mercure Grand Hotel Seef is one of couple of hotels that I could recommend for shopping fanatics when traveling to Bahrain. It’s placed in the strategic shopping region of Seef and within a walking distance to two shopping malls and a 5 minutes drive to the biggest mall in Bahrain, City Center. I’ve decided to give it a shot and try it since I was traveling with my family and I’ve heard that it has a good reputation for being family-friendly and keeping a low profile on the alcoholic consumables and the party scene. The drive-thru of the hotel is very very small and the dedicated parking area is limited. Yet you can find a parking in the area surrounding the hotel. for the bell-boy service, you can consider yourself lucky if you found someone around to carry your stuff.

At check-in, it was bit of chaotic since only two attendants were available, yet their attention and dedication to your needs was absent. They had a hard time attending to checking patrons and answering phone calls and issuing invoices. There’s a need for improvement in that field.

I have made my reservation through their official website, Accor Hotels, so that my frequent guest points would be accounted for and enjoy my tier benefits (I was Gold at that time). Yet, when checking-in and presenting my Gold card, no recognition was received from staff and no benefits were presented for welcoming a frequent guest of their franchise. It did let me down.

My reservation was of a deluxe room that had a living room and kitchenette. This is how it looks like. Now notice that it’s nicely decorated and it’s pretty welcoming. There is a dining table with around 4 seats and a fully-prepared kitchenette, mini-stove and a microwave. Yet, I didn’t enjoy the seats in the living room as they were very rough and hard to get used to. The king-sized bed was a bit smaller than the regular expected size and the pillows were a bit lean. The bathroom is very nice and I truly enjoyed the shower glass box with the rainforest type of shower head. The only let-down of the room was having the old CRT TV in the bedroom. The living room had an LCD (around 40 inches or so). We didn’t try their room service so I can’t have a say about that. The breakfast was average and no omelet chef was available on-site to prepare for us our choice of eggs. He didn’t bother to attend till someone complained and a staffer had to go and call in the chef. I found that not acceptable for a hotel of their class.

My only issue was getting someone in the reception desk to attend to your needs. They always seemed busy and out of breath. All in general, this is not a 5 star hotel, if it claims to. The price is pretty high for its class, yet the comfort you get is worth most of it. There’s a big margin for improvement in service and staff training to attend to the patrons’ needs. I haven’t received any email from Accor Hotels requesting my feedback regarding this stay or any previous stay and I do find that careless from them to seek your customer’s feedback. I would recommend it only for family with a craving for shopping.

Holiday Inn Riyadh – Izdihar, Saudi Arabia

Being dispatched to many places in the gulf region, I had to go on my own for the first time ever to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. We’re talking about a huge city which I have never been to before and and I didn’t get to see it since my job mission was truly short. In order to have close access to the highway and of course a cheap rate, I’ve decided to stay in Holiday Inn Izdihar in Riyadh. Now, finding this place might be tricky. It’s on the highway, there are no major signs that point to it and you could miss it by an instant and have to turn around all the way for it again. My colleague took some good time to find this place and it didn’t show on any GPS navigation system.

Upon checking in, it’s to be noted that there are two buildings for this hotel which are separated through a public street!! If you are assigned a room in the other building, then you have to go and walk or drive to it which was pretty uncomfortable. I have expressed my concern at the reception desk and I was assured that my room was located where I was at and that was satisfying.  The lobby was fine although small and wouldn’t hold a lot of guests at the same time. I was assigned a ground floor room, but I don’t remember if there was a 2nd floor in the hotel!

Upon entry, I was greeted with this view of the room. The room was decent and the wireless internet service was free, which was truly appreciated. Due to the remote location of the hotel, I didn’t bother going out and checking the surroundings, although I have been told that there was a supermarket or a shopping center nearby. Otherwise, there’s nothing around to see or do. Of course since this is Saudi Arabia, you can forget the basic elements of nightlife. I would recommend giving the room service a shot, I’ve tried the club sandwich there and it was averagely good.

Of course, I have to mention that even though I’ve gotten a good room, the window view was truly awful. As soon as you open the drapes, you are hit with a garden wooden fence which goes over three meters high and you can’t see anything. That’s why I’ve decided to keep them closed! Another major issues is the power sockets and plugs. They only have the American type for wall sockets and it was very inconvenient for me. I had to go to the reception and ask for an adapter, which took them some time to allocate a one for me thankfully.

I would recommend the hotel only for business travelers and for any stays that don’t go more than a single night. The quality of the hotel fulfill the basic obligations and needs for the type of travelers I’ve mentioned earlier.

iPhone Travel Apps: Hotels

I’m an avid owner of iPhone. I can’t deny that. My iPhone has been a true part of me, especially when traveling. As a self proclaimed frequent flyer, I would like to share with you some of the best iPhone apps available for traveling usage in my humble opinion. In this post, we’re going to pay the hotels apps a visit.

Starwood Preferred Guest “SPG” App:

The famous franchise app for accessing your SPG profile, making reservations, checking rates, contacting franchise hotels and more. Very useful app but still needs some major improvement to its plain user interface. I have used it for making a reservation and its secure and functional. Recommended.
Hilton Hotels and Resorts “Hilton” App:

This app has gone through modest improvements. It has the basic functions of checking your Hilton HHonors account, making reservations and editing them and the ability to book a reward stay. The interface is OK yet no “wow” about it. I hope that Hilton would follow up and provide a major lift for the performance of the app.

Intercontinental Hotels & Resorts” Priority Club” App:

My favorite. This app has gone over admired phases of app development to today’s version, where it has proven its position among the others. For example, once I have made a reservation on the go, while driving to a Holiday Inn. The trip to the hotel took me less than 10 minutes. Upon arrival, I found my reservation ready and available at the hotel!! Secure, fast, good and truly recommended.
Marriott Hotels & Resorts “Marriott International” App:

The newest app for famous international hotel chains, Marriott app has gone through some good updates recently to address its speed and functionality issues. I didn’t use it for making a reservation, but I have used it for fetching my current reservation and its smooth and working fine. I have to say that the developers need to work on the transitional performance when switching through the functions of the app.
Booking.com “Booking.com” App:

The famous worldwide hotel reservation and search engine finally got its iPhone app and its truly up to standards. We’re talking about a light app that takes you through a fitted replica of the original website but maintained as a stand-alone app, not a JAVA portal to their site like what other lame app developers do out of laziness. This app is recommended for its security, user-friendly and an intriguing graphical experience like it’s original website.
Carlson “Club Carlson” App:

One of the new apps in the travel category for iPhone in the App store. Developed after the company decided to lift off its trademark and its frequent guest program. This app is good. I have tried using it to check my current reservation and some details. Like many other apps, it still lacks the possibility to check out and enroll in current promos. Hope that it would be considered in future updates.
Accor Hotels “Accor Hotels” App:

This app is something else. I truly admire the effort placed in the graphic design of the app. Each hotel is given a spot to sell itself to the travelers. The developers have been active since lots of updates are being released recently for this app. The only thing which I still don’t like about this app is the non-integration between reservations made on the website and ones made using the app. In the app, you can’t access any reservation you have made using their website and this is very ridiculous. I hope Accor Hotels would reconsider this.
Agoda.com “Agoda.com” App:

The Asian twin brother of Booking.com. They have finally decided to release their app for iPhone. Till now, it doesn’t strike a “wow”, but I could say that there’s plenty of room for improvement. I never used Agoda.com personally, although I know couple of friends did and they recommended their customer service and their quick desk support around the clock. Not yet tested for actual reservation.
Choice Hotels “Choice Hotels Locator” App:

Till now, this app has not been of true usage for me. Why? because sadly none of the chain’s hotels exist currently within the Middle East. This hotel chain is very famous in the states and some parts of Europe. The latest update to the app was considered a major step forward, including an overhaul of the visual interface and some function improvements. Not yet tested for actual reservation.
Intercontinental Hotels and Resorts “Concierge Insider Guides” App:

Please note that this app is only available for iPad. I thought about giving it a shot for review, since it’s one of a kind. This app displays all the necessary data about the Intercontinental hotels located worldwide. It would give major outlines and info about the location of the hotel, tips about the city itself and more. Very entertaining visual experience and one of the biggest travel apps in size (currently 137 MBs). Worth a try and a “wow”.

Le Méridien Airport Hotel, Dubai

This is another hotel which I have forgotten to post about. Fortunately, since there’s still time to 2011, let me layout this simple post about this hotel.

This hotel is part of Starwood Hotels franchise and associations. I have made my reservation through their official website since I was staying only for night in Dubai and this hotel is right across from DXB. I have noticed in Starwood website that this hotel doesn’t endorse nor award any star points for stays and it seemed weird to me at first. I have requested early check-in since I was arriving at around 7:30 AM from Manchester, UK on Emirates. Also, I have requested  a smoking room since I might need to enjoy a smoke or two after this long flight and the jet lag. The hotel management emailed me back a couple of times expressing inability to accommodate early check-ins since they were loaded on that day but they will try their best.

Upon arrival, I have noticed that there are two entrances to the hotel. The left side is dedicated to short-term stays and are assigned to Emirates travelers. They would be accommodated anytime of the day, according to the flight schedules. My friend who was set on that accommodation tried to extend an extra day but was turned day due to unavailability

I headed towards the right side entrance which is the main entrance of the hotel. After checking-in, I was requested to chill  for an undefined amount of time in the lounge till a room is prepared for my stay. I was truly unsatisfied with that. Other travelers faced the same situation and that eased the situation to myself.

After almost 45 to 50 minutes, I was assigned a special executive room and I was truly glad of this upgrade, since it was truly a pleasant room with two minor objections to it. Its windows were facing the  main entrance to the hotel, so no good view is available. And it was a non-smoking room.

The main reason why I have stayed in this hotel is because of its variety of choices in the nightlife scenes. There are about 4-5 clubs/bars plus sheehsa smoking section aside from 3-4 international cuisine restaurants. I would truly recommend paying the place a visit just for its nightlife and the swimming pool area. Although it’s located right by the airport and a bit far from the city center of Dubai, anyone interested in a one night adventure in Dubai should give this place a try.

Intercontinental Al Khobar, Saudi Arabia

Another blast from the past. Like the previous post about an old stay in 2008, I’ve stumbled upon some old pictures in 2008 when I was still with MEW and did my first ever business trip! That business trip was my first official business meeting with my current employer! see how things change in life. Well, since our current office building is next to Intercontinental Al Khobar, it was recommended to us to stay in it since it was a walking distance to the meeting. At that time, I didn’t have any kind of relationship with any frequent guest/flyer program/affiliation at all. I barely traveled when I was in the shifts for 7 years. I needed my yearly leave just to sleep around like a hippo!

Well, back to the hotel. The lobby of the hotel is very neat and professional but very minimal in the lounge area where there’s only a single cafe and the main restaurant. Since then and till today, I’m never impressed by the quality/type of items/dish in the buffet menu. It has always disappointed me and I think the hotel management should research this the utmost dedication.

My colleague reserved the rooms for us, so I didn’t know what kind of rooms we are getting. Upon check-in, I’ve realized that she got us the executive deluxe rooms, which were pricey and almost broke our piggy bank. Honestly, the rooms were great. More than great. Wireless/wired connection was provided for each room. Interactive Cisco VOIP headsets of the latest release were made available. The room had a living area, seperate from the bedroom. I can’t say more and I’m going to leave it to the pictures to decide for yourself. Last comment is that the location of the hotel is in the heart of the business district of Al Khobar area, surrounded by banks and airline agencies. Finding the hotel might be hard and to enjoy most of your local entertainment in Al Khobar, you would surely need a car transportation. Otherwise, excellent choice for business travelers who wish to get their money’s worth!