Friday, March 16, 2018

Stay Report: Hilton Garden Inn Panama (December 2014/January 2015)

Stay Report: Hilton Garden Inn Panama City
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I was looking for a place in Panama City that was close to many attractions and was walking distance to public transportation.  I had initially booked another Hilton property within the same neighborhood, but then I found the Hilton Garden Inn and it was significantly less expensive so I thought I would try it out – they say you get what you pay for and in this case, it is true.  The Hilton Garden Inn is a good budget option within Panama; however, if I was to do it over again I would pay the extra money to be in more comfortable setting.  Overall, the hotel provided a comfortable bed and a decent night stay but the customer service was lacking and the room needed to be updated.

The airport is located about 30-45 minutes away from the city so I had coordinated with the hotel to arrange for pick-up.  Everything was confirmed a month prior to arrival but when I arrived into Panama City, there was no pick-up.  After several calls to the hotel, and waiting for about 1 hour, I finally arranged transport with the hotel.  When I got to the hotel, I mentioned the ordeal to the night manager who said she would relay the information to the day manager the next day to respond.  The next day, I followed-up with the day manager the next who had not been told what was going on but also said she would investigate and get back to me.  I waited another 3 days but nothing so I then followed-up with an email to Hilton Corporate; it was only then that a response was received.  This was the lack of customer service that was experienced in the hotel.

The outside of the hotel and the lobby look very modern and updated.  The hotel itself is a tall but narrow building.  The hotel is located near the financial center within walking distance are a metro station, many restaurants, supermarkets, and other shops; it is a very convenient location.  When you enter the hotel, on the left hand side is a sitting area which contained couches, seats, as well as newspapers while on the right hand side is the restaurant.

Behind the sitting area is the check-in desk.  Check-in was decent, they were not overly friendly but not overly unkind, and I collected my room key.  Behind the check-in counter was the business center which contained three computers as well as a printer.  Further down the hallway were the elevators to the guest rooms.  In between the business center and the elevators was a hallway that led you to the first floor restrooms as well as an on-site washer and dryer (byob soap and powder); this amenity was a nice addition.  Security was another amenity that was nicely appreciated as you needed your key to access everything – the business center, the elevators, the gym, as well as the rooftop.
photo courtesy of Hilton Garden Inn

While the lobby and the first floor seemed updated and modern, the rooms did not feel modern.  As you entered the room, on the right was the closet which contained a safe as well as ironing board.  On the left hand side was the bathroom – the bathroom fixtures had been updated so that was a nice touch.  The bad thing about the bathroom was the inconsistent hot water – sometimes it would be extremely hot and nice while others time the water was barely lukewarm.  The bathroom contained a tub, a toilet, and a sink as well as Hilton toiletries. 

On the other side of the bathroom was the bedroom which contained two double beds as well as a night stand in between.  The beds had been updated with the newest Hilton beds, in which you can adjust the firmness of your bed.  The beds were comfortable and spacious.  Between the bed and the window were a couch and a lamp.  Across from the bed was a chest with 3 drawers on the bottom as well as TV on top.  Next to that was a desk.  Besides the bed, the rest of the furnishings in the room did not seem to be updated and looked a bit worn out.  Overall the room looked dated but provided enough space and comfortable beds.

Facilities at the hotel included complimentary wifi, which was free and strong, as well as fitness center and rooftop Jacuzzi on the rooftop.  The fitness center was medium size and had enough decent equipment with treadmills, weights, and other machines.  It was a pleasant to have a decent size fitness center.  Next to the fitness center was a small rooftop lounge that housed a 2-3 person whirlpool/Jacuzzi as well as some chairs to sit and lounge; the view from the rooftop was really nice.  The rooftop amenities were really nice, but it was a small rooftop and there were a lot of facilities put into a small area; in my opinion, it would have been better to focus on one or two items instead of trying to have everything on the rooftop. 

Overall, the hotel provided a decent night sleep with nice amenities at a low price.  The customer service could’ve been a lot better but I guess you get what you pay for in terms of customer service and overall feel of the hotel.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Stay Report: ibis Geneve Centre Nations (Geneva, May 2015)

Stay Report: ibis Geneve Centre Nations
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I was going to be in Geneva for one night and so I was looking for a hotel that was centrally located, within walking distance to many sights, and that was affordable.  In trying to find a hotel that met these criteria, the ibis Geneve Centre Nations was coming up.  I was traveling from Zurich where I had stayed the ibis there, so I was somewhat familiar with the brand.  For a base price, you get a room with a bathroom in it plus free wifi (strong wifi as well).  Everything else, including breakfast and other amenities, requires additional costs. 

The hotel does not provide complimentary airport or train transportation, so you have to make your own way to the hotel (note: there are two ibis’ in the city, one that is centrally located and one that is not – make sure you do not confuse them as they are very far away from each other).  For a first-timer in the city, it was somewhat difficult to find the hotel as it is located off of the main street and about a 10-15 minute walk from transportation.

From the outside, the hotel does not look that impressive but looks like a standard building.  As you enter into the lobby, there are luggage carts available to help transport your stuff.  Straight ahead is the check-in desk while the elevators are to the right.  On the left hand side is a sitting area plus the restaurant/bar.  The ‘business center’ was also located in the lobby, it was two computers connected to the check-in desks counter; you could check-in to your flight and print boarding passes for free.

I was traveling with others so I had booked a family room which comes with one double bed and one twin bed.  When I went to check-in, I was told that this type of room was not available so instead I received two rooms for the price of one.  Despite the lack of room type available, check-in was quick and the staff were very friendly.

Even though we had two rooms, they were somewhat connected.  From the main hallway, there was one main door that led into hallway.  As you entered the hallway, on the left hand side was the door to the first room while straight ahead was the entrance to the second room.  The rooms could act as two separate rooms, or you could close the main hallway door and the two rooms would be somewhat connected.

The rooms themselves were standard ibis rooms.  As you entered into the room, on the left hand side was a desk and immediately next to the desk was the bed and then a window.  In between the window and the bed was very little room, just barely room to get to the other side.  On each side of the bed were two small night stands, each of which had a light above it and plugs next to the bed (there were multiple plug outlets in the room).  The bed quality was decent and provided a decent night’s sleep.

The TV stand was located in front of the bed, and to the left of the TV stand was the open closet with a place to hang your clothes as well as shelves.  The bathroom was located to the right of the TV stand, at an adjacent angle, near the door.  As with most ibis’, the bathroom was compact but this one had more room that some of the others I have experienced.  The bathroom had a toilet, a sink, and a stand-up shower.  Bathroom amenities included a towel, which was poor quality, as well a shampoo/body wash/face wash combo (I would recommend to bring your own bathroom toiletries).

In the end, it was a decent night’s stay at the ibis Geneve Centre Nations.  For ibis, I always say if you know what you are expecting and prepare for that, then it can be a decent and comfortable stay.  If you are looking for a fancy hotel with all the amenities, this is not the hotel for you.  Generally the hotels have good customer service, free and fast wifi, and are usually centrally located or within walking distance to transportation and amenities.  This is what I was looking for and this is what the hotel provided, along with a decent night’s sleep.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Stay Report: Hilton Miami Airport Blue Lagoon (Miami - January 2016)

Stay Report: Hilton Miami Airport Blue Lagoon
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I was spending a couple of days in Miami and was looking for a hotel near the airport, and in my search decided to try the Hilton Miami Airport.  Overall, the hotel provides a nice and large facility near the airport with plenty of amenities (including a nice shower).

The hotel is located in an office park, so that there is not that much around it.  That makes it very quiet and provides a lot of space, but makes it difficult to access services without a car.  Like all Miami airport hotels, this hotel also charges for parking (the standard seems to be $17 per day).  There were plenty of spaces as the hotel has a lot of land.

The lobby of the hotel is very large and open - you enter in the sitting area and on right hand side is the check-in desk.  Right next to the desks is a hallway which leads to the elevators and the outside.  The hotel restaurant is located in the lobby as well.  The hallway to the elevators also leads towards the fitness center (which was pretty big) as well as to the large outside area.  As the hotel is connected to a business park, the business park has a walking trail and the hotel is connected to this walking trail.  You can walk around the hotel grounds as well as the business park.  Outside is also where the outdoor pool and jacuzzi are located.

Check-in was efficient and we received our keys and went to our room.  There seems to be a main wing and then two additional wings on each side of the hotel - but only one elevator in the main wing to access all wings.  Our room was located in the second wing so it took a couple of minutes to get from the elevator to our room.  

The room was nicely decorated, modern, and with various spaces for luggage and electrical outlets.  As you entered into the room, on the right was the closet and storage while on the left was the bathroom.  The bathroom had a tub, a full sink and toilet. The tub had a really nice and powerful shower and it was very nice and relaxing.  Right outside the bathroom was a table with the coffee maker.  In the room there were two double beds with a night stand in the middle.  The beds were large and spacious and provided a good night’s sleep.  Across from the bed was a TV with storage underneath.  Right next to the beds on the wall were windows that spanned the width of the wall -- the windows were only from the midpoint up as below the windows was a desk that also went along the entire width of the wall.

As we were spending most of our time exploring Miami, I did not get a chance to explore the hotel amenities - the fitness center, the outdoor pool and jacuzzi, and the restaurant.  The only amenity I did experience was the wifi, which was complimentary and provided good speeds.  Overall, the hotel provided a nice location near the airport, a comfortable room and many amenities to have a relaxing time.  Some airport hotels usually do not provide many amenities, but this hotel provides a lot of amenities across a large property. 

Friday, March 2, 2018

Stay Report: ibis Zurich City West (Zurich, May 2015)

Stay Report: ibis Zurich City West
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There are many hotels in Zurich so when looking for a place to stay, there are many options to choose from.  I was going to be staying in Zurich for 3 days and I was traveling with a group so we needed either 2 rooms or one big room.  I was also looking for a place that was close to the city and close to transportation as well as to restaurants and sights.  Most of the places I was finding were too expensive or could not accommodate more than 2 people to a room, except for the ibis Zurich City West.  The hotel has a ‘family room’ which includes one double bed and a twin bed.  While a bit outside the city, the hotel was close to transportation so I decided to book this hotel.

Prior to this, I had not stayed an ibis (or any Accorhotel properties so I was not sure what to expect).  The pictures and research of the hotel detailed a hotel that was at a lower price, and for that lower price you got a hotel that provided a decent room, free wifi, and limited amenities.  This was not going to be a full service hotel so I went in prepared for that.

The hotel does not provide a shuttle to/from the airport.  I had arranged my own transportation since I was travelling in a group and we had luggage.  The hotel is located near a technopark/business park and from the outside looks more like an office building.  There are three Accorhotel brands all in one building – Novote, ibis, and ibis budget – and each has their own entrance. 

We entered into the ibis lobby which had the check-in desks on left and directly across were the elevators.  Further into the lobby was the restaurant and bar where you breakfast was available (for purchase).  There was a small sitting area and a ‘business center’ with computers and a printer in the lobby before the check-in desks.  We were checked in, received our key, and took the small elevators to our room.

As I said earlier, we had booked a family room which is supposed to a larger room with one double bed and one twin bed.  As you entered the room, the first thing you noticed was the spaciousness, the room definitely had a lot of space.  As you entered, on left side, against the wall, was the twin bed with a small night stand next to it.  While the twin bed was small, it was an adult twin bed so it was big enough for an adult.  The bedding was decent and comfortable, and it provided a decent sleep. 

Across from the bed, on the right side, was the entrance to the bathroom.  Given at how spacious the room was, the bathroom was tiny.  The bathroom contained a small sink, with little counter space; a toilet; and a stand-up shower.  It was tiny but had the basic amenities.  Towels were provided, but the towel quality was definitely poor and it was not a nice towel to use.  Another limited amenity was the shampoo and soap; ibis provides a bottle next to the sink and in the shower that is a combo of soap/shampoo/bath gel.  While it smells nice, it was interesting to have one gel for everything so I brought my own amenities.

As you progressed further into the room, on the right hand side was the double bed with nightstands on either side.  Again, the bed was a decent size and provided a decent night’s sleep; it wasn’t spectacular but it was comfortable and decent.  There was a window alongside the main wall and in front of the window was a desk and a shelf.  On the left hand side of the wall, near the twin bed, was the open closet and shelves.  Ibis’ have an open closet concept in which they have a place to hand your clothes and shelves, but there is no door to close/hide your stuff.  As this room was a family room, they had more shelves in the room so there was a lot of storage available in the room.  In between the twin bed and the closet was the TV stand with a TV on stop and a small shelf underneath.

There are not many facilities at the ibis.  Usually there are no fitness centers nor pools, and this hotel did not have them either (you could potentially use the amenities at the Novotel).  The hotel did provide free and fast wifi.  The wifi service was extremely fast and had good reception all over the hotel (and the number of devices is not limited).  There is also a restaurant available where you breakfast, lunch, and dinner are available at an extra costs; some ibis include complimentary breakfast, this one did not.

Overall, it was a decent stay at the ibis Zurich City West.  The hotel provided a decent room that had lots of storage, had good customer service, and was walking distance (5-10mins) to transportation.  While the hotel does not provide the amenities a full-service hotel would, if you know what you expecting and prepare for that, then it can be a really nice and comfortable stay at ibis.  

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Stay Report: InterContinental Miami (Miami - January 2016)

Stay Report: InterContinental Miami 
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In planning a vacation in Miami, the place to stay is on or near South Beach.  In looking for a hotel near South Beach, I found a good deal at the Intercontinental Miami.  The hotel is located across the bay from South Beach thus provided great views.  Overall, it’s a very nice hotel with lots of amenities and is always crowded; and being that crowded seems to sometimes overwhelm the hotel.

The hotel itself is very large and sits at the edge of the water.  The hotel is connected to a pedestrian park and walkway that stretches along the waterfront and leads to a shopping mall.  The downtown location of the hotel makes it very convenient to access shops and services.  The entrance to the hotel is to on the side street, so that makes the entrance very crowded.  Additionally, all the parking is valet-parking as self-parking at the hotel is not available.  Given that valet is the only option, the hotel should be a bit better at the parking situation; there were delays on both the drop-off and pick up of the car.  Once you drop off your car, you walk up the steps into the lobby.

The lobby of the hotel is very grandiose and large, and is a cross between lobby and a lounge.  As you enter into the lobby, straight ahead are chairs and couches to lounge and relax.  The chairs are part of the lobby as well as part of the bar which is behind the chairs, and the bar has a DJ playing live music in the lobby.  On the left hand side down the hall is the concierge desk, the check-in desks, the ‘business center’, as well as the guest elevators.  On the right hand side down the hall is the coffee shop (in-house Starbucks), a FedEx center, the hotel restaurants, as well as access to the meeting rooms.  Because of all the services, the lobby is a hub of activity for the hotel and constantly seemed full of people. 

At the check-in desks, there were long lines for both checking-in as well as checking-out.  Even though check-in time is at 2pm, when we arrived at 3pm our room was not ready.  This apparently happened to a lot of people as I noticed many instances of this occurring in my short stay.  The hotel was nice and provided some nice compensation, but it took almost 3.5 hours after check-in for us to receive our room.  The hotel acts like a resort, and similar to a resort they have a mandatory resort fee.  The fee covers the following: internet access, access to the sauna, the fitness center, the pool, and many other amenities.  While the amenities were nice and really large, I am not sure the fee was justified as internationally these amenities are provided without the fee. 

After finally receiving our key we went to our room and this is where the hotel excels.  The room was massive and EXTREMELY spacious.  As you entered into the room, you went down a long hallway to get into the room.  The entrance to the bathroom was in this hallway, and at the end of the hallway was a nook for the coffee maker.  The room itself was very spacious with 2 double beds, a night stand in between, a TV stand with drawers underneath, a desk, plus a chair next to the window.  Even with all the items, the room felt very open and large and there was plenty of room to move around.  The beds were also spacious and comfortable and provided a nice and relaxing sleep.  There were plenty of outlets all around the room to charge all the electronic devices.   Right next to the bed were switches which would automatically bring down the shades to make the room darker, as there were windows which stretched along the wall and provided a nice view of the sea and the city.

The bathroom was equally large and spacious.  As you entered into the bathroom, straight ahead was the sink while to the right, along the wall, was the closet and a shelf that housed towels and other bathroom items.  The sink itself was also very big, and next to the sink was the toilet and next to that was the tub.  The bathtub had a shower hooked onto it that seemed like two individual showerheads put together – so they provided an alright shower; and again the water pressure was not that good.

Given I was only there for a short time, I was not able to experience all of the hotel’s facilities.  The facilities I did experience were the wifi and the business center.  The wifi was decent and provided good speed for basic internet browsing (considering it was part of the ‘resort fee’, I expected faster speeds).  The business center was located across from the check-in desks, and were basically two rooms each with a Mac computer and a printer (there was a FedEx shop located on the other side of the lobby).  The hotel had other facilities which I was not able to experience, including the outdoor pool, the fitness center, the sauna or the spa.

Overall, the Intercontinental is a nice hotel that is conveniently located downtown and provides a nice spacious room.  The parking rate is a bit high, and chaotic; not sure if the resort fee is worth it; and the check-in seems a bit chaotic as well.  The hotel does provide a lot of amenities and great views.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Stay Report: Hyatt Regency Montreal (May 2015)

Stay Report: Hyatt Regency Montreal
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I was traveling to Montreal and was looking for a nice hotel that was centrally located with access to sights and restaurants.  The Hyatt Regency Montreal is located in downtown Montreal and is centrally located to everything and is connected to the Reso.  Overall, it was a nice stay at the hotel as the rooms are comfortable and they provide really good customer service.  There were only two negatives to this hotel - one is that the elevators are really slow (even though there are four, they are all really slow) and two is that the spacious room was at a cost of a small bathroom. Other than these two minor things, it was a really nice stay at the Hyatt Regency.

The ground floor of the hotel has the entrance for the taxi cab, connection to the mall, as well as street-level entrance. From this, you take one set of elevators to reach the lobby of the hotel; two sets of elevators can take you to the lobby, one that is connected to the mall while the other is connected to the street-level.  The lobby is spacious and has plenty of space to lounge around.  If you enter from the street-level, you walk through a hallway towards the check-in desks which are straight ahead.  To left of the check-in desks are the elevators plus a sitting area for guests.  Behind the check-in desks are the restaurant, bar, business center, as well as access to the mall.  Check-in was smooth and they were very accommodating to all changes and requests that were made.  Once we received our key, there are 4 elevators that take you up to the guest rooms and these are the slowest elevators.  While waiting for the elevators we were able to talk to a lot of guests and they all had the same issue; talking with the guests was the only positive thing about waiting for the elevators.

As I was traveling with a group I had booked two rooms, but the rooms were laid out in a similar fashion with the only difference between them was the view from the window.  The rooms themselves were very spacious and provided a lot of room.  As you entered the room, on the left-hand side was the closet which contained area for storage as well as an ironing board and iron.  The right-hand side contained the bathroom, and while the room was very spacious, the bathroom was not.  It was very tiny and compact and contained a sink, a toilet, and a tub along with the Hyatt toiletries.  In my opinion, some of the space in the room could have been better utilized in creating a bigger bathroom.

Further into the room, on the left-hand side was a chest with drawers on the bottom and the TV on top and next to that was a desk.  The beds were located across on the other side of the wall.  The beds were very comfortable and provide enough room and a good night’s sleep.  There was a night stand in between the beds, and around the room there were plenty of electrical and USB outlets so you can charge all your electronics.  There were very large windows in the room which provided nice views as well as sunlight into the room.  Between the windows and the beds were either couches or chairs to sit and enjoy the view.  On the other side of the beds, in the shared wall with the bathroom, was a nook which contained additional storage space, a nook for coffee, a safe, and a fridge.  This nook was a very nice addition and provided some good amenities, but I would forgo the nook for additional bathroom space.

The hotel is a full-service so there were many facilities available for the guests to enjoy.  These include a restaurant and bar (which are sometimes closed for private events); complimentary in-room wifi; a business center behind the lobby with extremely slow computers and a printer; as well as pool and fitness center.  The pool and fitness center were located below the lobby.  Both the pool and fitness center were medium in size, not too grand but not small either.  The pool was mostly used by families and children while the fitness center was pretty full (on the weekend).  The hotel also offers massages and has a massage room near the fitness center.

Overall it was a great stay at the Hyatt Regency.  The hotel provides a spacious room that is centrally located and easy access to many sights and restaurants along with good customer service.  The only negatives were the small bathroom and the slow elevators, but despite those I would definitely recommend this hotel.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Stay Report: AC Hotel by Marriott Malaga Palacio (Malaga, Spain - December 2011)

Stay Report: AC Hotel by Marriott Malaga Palacio
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photo courtesy of Marriott
I was going to be in Southern Spain for a couple of days, and was looking for a hotel that was nice and that I could also use as a base while I traveling around Southern Spain.  The AC Hotel brand is part of Marriott’s brand and it was my first time experiencing the brand, but I choose the hotel because of the Marriott connection as well as because of the location of the hotel.  The hotel is centrally located within the center of Malaga so it is walking distance to many sights and amenities.  Overall, the hotel provided great customer service, good rooms, and allowed us to store luggage at the hotel.

As AC Hotels are part of the Marriott brand, it was very easy to book the hotel through Marriott’s website.  Since I was traveling in a group, I needed to book two rooms as most European hotel rooms are small and can only 2-3 people; one room had a King bed while the other had 2 beds.  The hotel does not provide transportation to/from the airport so this has to be arranged personally; we took taxis which were efficient since the hotel is well-known.

photo courtesy of Marriott

The main entrance to the hotel is on the corner between the side street and a pedestrian-only walkway, so the taxis have to park on the side street close to the entrance.  It makes transportation of your luggage a bit difficult, but it does provide more of the ‘live like a local’ feel.  To access the lobby, at the street level you go through the main door and then go up a couple of steps to enter into the lobby.

The lobby of the hotel was stylishly decorated but was a bit compact.  Straight ahead were the check-in desks and to the right were the elevators, a sitting area, as well as the restaurant/bar.  Check-in was efficient, we received our key, and proceeded to our rooms with the bellman coming later with our luggage.

The hotel itself was modern and stylishly decorated, and this d├ęcor continued into the rooms.  I had booked two rooms, but both rooms had the same basic layout.  As you entered the room, on the left-hand side was the bathroom.  The bathroom was spacious, bigger than most European hotels and was as big as American hotels.  The bathroom was clean and modern and contained a toilet, a sink, and a tub.  Underneath the clear sink was a little stand that contained the towels plus a lot of complimentary toiletries such as combs, toothbrushes, tissue packs, and shoe polish along with shampoos and lotions.  The plethora of toiletries was a very nice customer service touch and was appreciated. 

photo courtesy of Marriott
The bathroom and the main part of the room shared a wall.  In the room, this is where the closets and storage were located.  The closets were very big and tall and provided a lot of storage, along with the shelves.  The closets were opaque so the light was showing through but you could not see in; another stylish detail.  The main part of the main had the beds, either two single or one queen/king bed, and nightstands on either side.  Each side also had individual lamps mounted on the headboard, which itself was mounted to the wall.  The beds were comfortable, a bit low to the ground, but they provided a good night’s sleep.

Across from the beds was a chest with drawers on the bottom and a TV on top of it as well as a desk.  Next to the bed were two chairs and a small table which faced the window.  Each room had a window and a balcony, and this was one of the best parts of the room.  The balconies were big enough that you could go outside, sit, and enjoy a cup of tea while enjoying the sights.  One room’s balcony faced the pedestrian walkway and the sea, while the other room faced the side street and the surrounding city and architecture. 

You could also see some great views of the city from the hotel’s rooftop pool.  This is one of the facilities that the hotel provided, along with a restaurant, a bar, complimentary wifi in the lobby, a fitness center, meeting rooms, and luggage storage.  We spent most of our time exploring the city so did not have time to experience all the facilities.  I did use the luggage storage, which was a nice convenience and the complimentary wifi, which was only available in the lobby at the time but was a decent speed.  

Overall, it was a really nice stay at the AC Hotel Malaga Palacio by Marriott.  The hotel provides a nice, clean, and modern room near the heart of Malaga.  From this hotel, you are within walking distance to all of Malaga’s city center (and the hotel is well-known by all taxi drivers and local restaurants).  I used this hotel as a base to go and explore Southern Spain, and it provided a great stay so I would definitely recommend this hotel!