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.

Advertisements

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”.

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!

Crowne Plaza Hotel, Dubai

This is my first post after two months of hiatus due to heavy involvement at work and at home. I do apologize for that. I’m writing today about my experience at Crowne Plaza Hotel  on Sheik Zayed Road in Dubai, UAE. I’ve stayed there for two nights during my last visit and since I’m a platinum member of Priority Club, I felt like giving it a try and see what’s it like down there. I’ve stored the location of the hotel on my Garmin manually in advance since it wouldn’t show on it and it was very easy to locate. I was surprised that the hotel is located within a shopping complex. Subway, McDonald’s and TGI Friday’s could easily be accessed since they were on the hotel’s perimeter. I was told by the valet parking staff that I could either surrender in the car or park it in the back lot. I went and parked it there and it’s to be noted that the parking space was limited since it was shared with other establishments as well. And no one was available to take in your luggage since the hotel is in the mezzanine level, and most of its staff are either there or on the front entrance only.

The regular check-in counters were packed. So I decided to flash my Priority Club Platinum card to get the needed attention and a nice lady greeted me and my buddy on a separate desk space. Me and my buddy were immediately upgraded from standard to club floor rooms. I have to advise that you should request a room away from the elevator because mine was like two doors down and the elevator rings are very audible at my room all day long.

I have to admit that the furniture was a bit old and the seats/TV cabinet were a bit inadequate for the hotel’s style of furnishing. The bathroom was OK, but not up to the typical club floor room standards. The hotel needs some improvement. The entrance light could not be switched off, since it didn’t have any switch and I had to spend the night annoyed by such a pale light. In the morning, I asked two staff members of the home keeping and none could resolve the issue, till a bright one showed up and asked me to remove the card from the electric slot. It went like this:

Me: If I remove the card from the slot, doesn’t that turn off the electricity?

Staff: Yes, but you want to turn off the lights and sleep, right?

Me: Yes, but what if I want to get up for a cup of water or decided to watch TV?

Staff: Then, you have to put it back! Don’t worry, AC will be still on!

Me: It’s not the AC, it’s the issue of getting up in the dark and finding the card to put it in so I can see around.

Staff: (no clue).

Anyway, I hope that this issue would be addressed as I left it in my remarks to the hotel survey card.

We didn’t try the room service since we went mall hopping all day long and then at night, decided to check out Vic’s Trader which is located in a very remote place inside the hotel, where you have to go through indoors and outdoors to reach it. Very inconvenient to reach. The place was packed and small. Upon ordering, we tried out hardest to get any attention for service but none was available. That’s when we decided to leave this place. And there’s a dance club called Zinc which is located at the ground floor of the building. Upon checking it out, we were notified it had a strict policy of ”Couples only”. That was very disappointing. We hit Harvester’s Pub, which was a nice place to watch sports and cool it down a bit. There was this fine girl playing Jazz on a karaoke program off her laptop and it sounded great.

I have to add in that the complex is frequented by escorts and such, and I wouldn’t recommend it for families or those who might be offended by such crowds.

I have two majors issues which I addressed the hotel via e-mail and it was disturbing for me. On Friday night, the taxis in the back of hotel created such a traffic jam picking up off patrons of Zinc and Vic’s trader, I swear there more than 50 taxis cars in total, all honking at the same time at 3 AM!! My room faced that parking lot and it was one hell of annoyance. The cops came in and started diverting traffic and working things out and it was one hell of a mess at early morning.

The 2nd issue was the parking lot. During our car trips in Dubai, I acquired a parking space voucher and placed it on the front shield as requested by the Dubai Police. I’ve forgotten about it and left it on there till the next day, where’s still valid until 12 PM. Me and my buddy check out and drag out luggage to the parking lot just to find a parking ticket placed on my car. The idiot cops of Dubai thought that this ticket belonged to this parking lot and according to the time, he ticketed me after the expiration time. He waiting for it to expire so he can ticket me. I was furious. This parking lot is designated for hotel and other establishments as well, what the hell I get a ticket for? Of course, I had to submit and pay the ticket for Avis  plus processing charges (stupid shit). The hotel’s reply in e-mail was that this parking lot is a public one and you have to get a parking voucher to park in. So I should thank God that the past two days I wasn’t ticketed as well. I replied back that because of the excellent services offered by your hotel, no one cared or offered to inquire about transpiration or any of that sort. So be advised, don’t get ticketed over there. Their cops are like predators, they would fish for extra charges on tourists and such.

Crowne Plaza Diplomatic Area, Bahrain

After my arrival in Bahrain on Sept. 19th, I’ve headed straight to Gulf Hotel where my meeting is taking place. Of course, I’ve stopped by Sixt to pick up my reserved car and I was upgraded (I’m a gold status renter) from a Chevrolet Optra to a Kia Soul, a deformed version of Mini Copper. It looked funny but the car was equipped with blue-tooth, USB connection for iPod and etc. I didn’t mind it since I was only using it for my short transportation between the meeting, my hotel and the airport. After the meeting, went straight ahead to Crowne Plaza in the diplomatic area in Manama, a very prestigious area full of governmental buildings and located across from the main cornich road. I’ve checked in the Priority Club  cue line since I’m a platinum member. I’ve called ealier before arrival to make sure I get upgraded since platinum members receive complimentary upgrade according to availability and I didn’t want to miss on that! I was greeted with a cold cup of orange juice and been upgraded from standard room to Club floor room.

These rooms are newly renovated with parquet floor, large bathrooms, LCD TV screens and some extras on the side such as bathroom amnesties and free treat. I’ve arrived and found complimentary cookies, fruits, a bottle of mineral water and fresh orange juice, a pack of Oreo and a KDD mini orange juice pack. Now, that’s a treat. Here you can see the first shot of this room!

And this is the bathroom here, where it’s truly renovated with an installed shower-box.

After praying and settling down, I’ve connected my laptop to the offered LAN for the rooms and started browsing and doing some work. Over the past two hours, I’ve realized that I’m sweating! I’ve checked the A/C and it was set on around 15 and the fan was full!! I stopped right below the ceiling vent and noticed that there was some air draft coming out only when you’re standing below it!! Otherwise, it’s not reaching across the room. A quick call to the front desk and the maintenance guys came over and started working on for almost 45 minutes and this was around 5 PM now. I was tired, I was awake since like 4:45 AM in the morning to catch on the flight and attend the meeting at 09:30 and these guys wouldn’t finish! To cut the story short, the A/C is busted and I was moved to another room.

I’ve requested to placed in the same class and of smoking preference. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a smoking room at that time but told me to smoke in it anyway ! I had a fine stay there and I would love to check in there again! Can’t wait till Intercontinental re-opens its doors next year after the total renovation.