Sunday, February 26, 2017

Trip Report: TAP Portugal, Newark to Lisbon (February 2017)

Trip Report: TAP Portugal, Newark to Lisbon
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I have a two-pronged goal: I want to see new places and also try out new airlines.  As part of this goal, I decided to visit Lisbon, Portugal and decided to fly TAP Portugal.  TAP is the national carrier of Portugal, and they have been heavily advertising their low fares and free "Portugal Stopovers".  They even have a "Portugal Stopover" app with free activities and other suggestions for those with a day in Portugal.

I was connecting to TAP in Newark.  As TAP is part of the Star Alliance network, I had booked the ticket through United as my starting journey - from New Orleans to Newark - was on United.  Once I had booked the ticked through United, I called TAP to obtain my TAP reservation number.  My ticket included one free checked baggage (50lb, 23kg), a free carryon, a free meal onboard and free seat selection.   Even though I had the reservation number, I was unable to manage my booking online - including selecting seats or a special meal.  This meant I had to call TAP again - their hold times are minimal and the service is really good.  They also send email confirmations of the reservation to ensure the information has been updated.

Because I had booked through a Star Alliance partner, I had to check-in at the gate to
obtain my boarding pass.  My flight was scheduled to depart at 6:30p from Newark and arrive into Lisbon at 6:05am.  I had arrived to the gate area very early – around 4 hours prior to departure – and the plane was already there (it arrives from Lisbon at 2:50pm).  There was nobody at the gate so I returned about an hour prior to departure to get my boarding pass – even though I had confirmed my seat assignment and special meal a month before, and reconfirmed the night before, it was not registered and the airline could not find any record of it.  I had to wait for a manager to come and reassign me a seat close to the front of the plane.  It was not a good way to start the journey.

TAP boards in group, so after business class and premium class group A boards.  I had
group A so I went through and boarded the Airbus A330.  The plane was divided into three sections – one business class and two economy sections.  The economy seats were laid out in a 2-4-2 layout and the interior of the plane looked nice – not brand new but not too old.  Originally I had the aisle seat on the 2-person seater, but that got switched and now I was in the aisle seat of the 4-person seater with no one next to me.  The seat itself was comfortable, looked nice, and felt like it had been updated recently.  The padding was decent and the legroom was also good, especially for the 6hr flight.  The seat contained a headrest which could be moved and contoured to your head, and a footrest was provided which was a nice touch. 

Each seat contained a PTV on top, the tray table, and then a space for the airline magazine, duty free, safety card, and air sickness bag.  As you boarded the plane, each seat also contained a pillow, a blanket, as well as headsets.  The PTV was touchscreen and pretty responsive – the selections of movies was pretty good but the selection of TV shows was poor.  There were enough movies to keep you occupied for the 6 hour flight, but the TV selection was limited and odd.  Another negative was the lack of USB ports.

The plane was generally full, with some empty seats here and there.  We boarded on time and the front door was closed for an on-time pushback and departure.  The safety video was shown in the monitors, and the crew came around to check on the passengers.  Generally the service onboard was average, the attendants provided enough service to get the job done; they were generally pleasant but the service was not extra ordinary.

Around 8p, about 1.5hr after departure, the inflight service commenced.  Drinks,
including free soft drinks and certain alcohols, along with dinner were served.  I had requested a special meal but that was not honored, and I had eaten in the lounge, so I generally just picked at the meal.  After the meal, coffee, tea, and additional drinks were served while the trays were being cleared.  The cabin lights were then dimmed so people could get some rest.

The scheduled flight time is 6h 35m but we had very good tailwinds so the flight time was shorter and we were expecting to land early, around 5:30a.  About an hour prior to departure, a snack box and drinks were served.  The snack box contained a granola bar, fruit, and yogurt.  Overall, the food was fine for the short flight time.  We landed early, taxied to the gate, deplaned, went through immigrations and then waited for our luggage.  I flew TAP twice and each time it took almost 45mins for my luggage to come through – each time the wait was ridiculous.

Overall, it was generally a pleasant flight with TAP.  The seats were generally comfortable, the legroom decent, and the availability of movies were also decent.  The negatives included the lack of USB ports, the ordinary service, and the lack of confirming requests for reservations.  I had gone out of my way to book myself on TAP to try out their product and the question is, would I do it again?  i would not go out of my way to book TAP, but I would also not avoid flying them; if the price and schedules were good then I would book TAP again.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Trip Report: Thayls Train, Brussels to Amsterdam (February 2017)

Trip Report: Thayls Train, Brussels to Amsterdam
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

Continuing my journey through Europe, I was travelling from Brussels to Amsterdam.  No flights operate between these two cities, so the only options are train, bus, or car.  I decided to try the train as train travel in Europe is very good and connected to the metro systems.

When I looked online, the train that operated between these cities was the French train Thayls.  Booking a ticket online directly through Thayls was very easy and convenient.  The website showed me the various trains throughout the day as well as the different classes the train operates.  The train operates Comfort 1 or Comfort 2 - Comfort 1 is more like Business Class (free food, added services) whereas Comfort 2 is economy class.  Within Comfort 1 there are semi-flexible or flexible fares, and within Comfort 2 there are economy and semi-flexible rates.  The difference in fares between classes generally depends on the time of day you leave.  I had booked the last train of the evening, and so the difference between Comfort 2 semi-flex and Comfort 1 semi-flex was 30euro.
 had booked the last train out which departed Brussels Midi Station at 9:52p and arrived into Amsterdam at 11:42p.  The scheduled time for the train was 1h50 minutes, so given this short time I decided to book the 'Comfort 2 - semi-flex'.  The fare included free wifi, free power ports, and a pre-assigned seat at a 4-seater.  I had chosen to print the tickets at home, or I could store them on my mobile device. 

The day of departure, I went to train station to inquire about getting on an earlier train.  Because of the type of ticket I had booked, the ‘semi-flex’, it was going to cost more than what I paid for the ticket to change.  Given this, I decided to keep my scheduled train.

I got to the train station about an hour prior to departure, but apparently that was too early as there was no information on the screen regarding which track the train would depart.  There are waiting rooms available, but there are no screens to monitor and you cannot really hear well.  About 9:15p, people started gathering around track 4 so it seemed that is where the train would depart.  Around 9:30p, the screen was updated to show the train departure and track number.  The train pulled up a bit afterwards and as soon as the passengers got off, we got on.

There were train attendants outside each door ensuring you were entering the right cabin. I was in the second cabin so I entered, placed my luggage on the luggage rack, and went to my seat.  The train was laid out with 2 seats on each side.  The seats were already in a pre-recline, and they were generally comfortable enough.  The legroom was a bit tight, especially is someone were to push back their seat.  There was storage above your seat – for a small carryon and/or jackets. There were two ports located in the middle of the seat in front, which provided power to your electronic devices.  

Free wifi was also provided – when I logged on, it said the wifi was complimentary for cars 1 and 2.  It was easy to log on and the wifi speed was good for chats (slow for videos – especially passing through certain areas).  We pushed off right on time at 9:52p; however there was no announcement that the train was leaving; it just left.  Right after we left the attendants came by to check tickets.   

There were not that many people on the train and the ride was generally smooth and comfortable.  The train made a couple of stops, and the announcements for each stop were made frequently as well as scrolled in the front of the train.  The train became very crowded at the Schipol Airport station, where many people got on taking the train into the city centre.   I don’t know if there were no seat assignments, or they just go on wherever they felt like it, but they just sat at any open seat.  We pulled into Amsterdam on time and get off the train.

Overall, it was a nice experience on the train.  It was easy to book, generally inexpensive, and a nice experience with both power ports and free wifi.  

Lounge Report: SAS Business Lounge, Newark Airport (Feb 2017)

Lounge Report: SAS Business Lounge, Newark Airport
February 2017 - comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I had a long layover at Newark Airport, and there was not a lot to do in the international terminal.  There were some restaurant, a lot of seating, and two lounges – Lufthansa Senator Lounge and SAS Business Class Lounge.  I have never experienced SAS so decided to try out their lounge.

I was not flying on SAS and was not travelling in business class, but I was able to purchase access to the lounge for $45.  SAS has two flights at Newark, both in the evening so when I arrived in the afternoon it was still light and slow in the lounge.

The lounge offered a variety of free products – free wifi, free limited magazines, free soft drinks, free snacks, free soup, and free limited alcoholic drinks.  The snacks included bread, salad, cheese, nuts, and other small items.  The free soup was a tomato-based vegetable soup.  While not a full meal, the soup combined with the salad, cheese, bread, and other snacks made for a decent pre-flight meal.

As I said, it was light when I first arrived so you had a general choice of seats.  There were limited number of couches, and most seats were 4 seats around two small tables.  They also had a section of barstools and tall chairs with individual tables.  The closer it got to departure time for the SAS flight, the more crowded it got and the less available seats became.  It also became very loud.  The lounge was a small to medium size and could not handle the large crowds the closer it got to the departure time.  Despite the rush, the food and snacks were replenished so many people had an opportunity to access the food.

The lounge also contained two bathrooms – again these were available when it was slow but became very crowded and limited when additional people came in.

Overall, it was a decent lounge.  The price to access the lounge is lower than that of United or other members, and for the lower price you get decent amount of snacks and free soft drinks, free water, and free limited alcohol.  You also get somewhat comfortable seats, and free wifi.  Purchasing food and drink in an airport is expensive, so for a bit more I got access to the lounge; and in my head that was a better deal.  

Monday, February 20, 2017

Stay Report: Marriott Amsterdam (February 2017)

Stay Report: Marriott Amsterdam
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I was meeting a friend in Amsterdam, and through work they were staying at the Marriott Amsterdam hotel so decided to stay with them for one night.  The Marriott is located in the southern part of the city, near the Rijksmuseum.  The hotel is located within walking distance to many restaurants and bars, as well as to bus and tram lines.  Via the tram, it takes about 15-20 minutes to get to the main square and downtown.  Another convenience is that the airport-to-city bus stops across the street from the Marriott. 

From the outside, the hotel itself looks old and more like a converted apartment building.  Inside, however, the hotel has been refurbished so it looks nice and modern.  The main entrance to the hotel is on the side street, while the main street has the entrance to the hotel via the bar/restaurant.  From the main entrance, you enter into the lobby with the check-in desks and concierge on your right, lounge straight ahead, and elevators and restaurant to your left.

My friend had arrived early (around 7am) and had requested an early room but it was not
ready; it seemed to be consistent with the hotel that rooms were generally not ready until close to the stated check-in time of 12p.  I was staying in another hotel so my friend came and joined me while the room was being ready.  Around 10:30a we got a message stating that the room was ready.

The room was located right next to the elevators and throughout the night noise could be heard from the hallway.  Also, it was very cold in Amsterdam but the heat in the room didn’t seem to work properly as the room never seemed to get warm – even though the heat was set to the max.  The room itself was spacious a big, more akin to American-size rooms versus European sizes.

As you entered into the room, on the right side were shelves and the closet while on the left was the bathroom.  There was a small closed closet along with open shelves and a space to put your luggage.  In the closed section was the safe.  The bathroom was spacious and contained a sink, a toilet, and a rain shower.  The only problem was the lack of the barrier between the shower and the bathroom – there was no barrier to the water went everywhere.  Bathroom amenities included toiletries, robes as well as slippers.

As you went further in the room, on the right hand side was a chest with drawers on the
bottom and a TV on top.  Next to that was a desk and next to the desk was the window which looked outside.  Even though we had requested two beds, the hotel only had a king-size bed room available so on the other side of the room was the king-size bed with a nightstand on either side.  The bed was comfortable and spacious enough for two people to sleep comfortably.  Updates to the hotel included USB ports on other side of the bed – a nice addition.  There was also some nice Dutch touches to the room, including an art piece of traditional Dutch shoes on the wall. 

Amenities to the hotel included free wifi, a gym, a lounge, restaurant/bar, and concierge.  Due to the limited time, I was only able to use the free wifi and the concierge.  The wifi was free, with decent speeds that were fast enough to stream youtube videos.  We used the concierge to ask for advice as well as to store luggage – the advice was decent and the hotel was able to store luggage for almost the entire day.

Overall, it was a nice stay at the Marriott.  It was a full-service hotel and felt like it with spacious rooms and convenient access.  However, the costs for the room was a lot higher than the surrounding hotels, so I am not sure I saw the value given the higher price.

Trip Report: Brussels Airlines, Barcelona to Brussels (February 2017)

Trip Report: Brussels Airlines, Barcelona to Brussels
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

After Barcelona, my next stop was Brussels.  There are a couple of airlines that fly this route - including RyanAir, Vueling, and Brussels.  RyanAir and Vueling are both considered LCC, while Brussels has a variety of options available including some that are similar to LCCs.  When comparing the prices across all three airlines - again, I needed to check-in luggage so this is the price I was looking at - Brussels airline was either the right around the same or sometimes less than the LCCs.  While you do not get free drinks or meals on intra-European flights, you do get FF miles as Brussels Airlines is part of Star Alliance.  In the end, I choose to fly with Brussels because of the low-cost, timing of the flight, and availability of FF miles.

The ticket that I had purchased included checked baggage plus pre-assigned seat, so I was
able to choose my own seat when I booked the ticket.  Booking on Brussels website was extremely easy and efficient.  I had selected my option and was booked within minutes.  My flight from Barcelona was scheduled to leave at 9:20p and arrive Brussels at 11:25p with a flight time of 2hr05mins.  About a month before my departure, Brussels Airlines released a mobile app which made it convenient to manage my booking and check into my flight.

I had arrived at the airport around 7:30p and went to the counter to check-in my
luggage.  The counter was just opening up, and even though they technically had three lines to check-in there was no order and people just went to whichever lined they preferred.   I checked my bag, received my boarding pass, and went to my gate.  The inbound flight arrives from Brussels at 8:40pm and then has approximately 40 minutes to turn the plane around.  When the plane arrived, people started lining up in one long queue.  There were very little announcements made by the ground staff in terms of boarding.  There was also no method to the boarding; whoever got in line first was the first to board.  It was an odd arrangement.

The operating plane was an Airbus A319 with three seats on each
side.   The plane was divided into sections with a card at the beginning indicating each section.  The sections were based on the type of service you had purchased – there were Flex & Go, Light & Relax, and others.   The type of ticket you purchased is also indicated on your boarding pass.  I had selected the 'Light & Relax' fare which included checked baggage and also including pre-selecting the seat; I choose the exit row.  The seats themselves were slimline seats but were comfortable and provided decent legroom.  The back of the seats were also minimal with pocket at top that contained the airline magazine, the safety card, and the inflight menu.

Despite no method, we boarded rather quickly and pushed back from the gate on-time. 
Safety demonstrations were done manually, and the announcements were made in a mix of English, French, and Flemish. 

Once we reached cruising altitude, the inflight service started.  Some ticket options include a free drink and/or free snack, while for most other tickets everything has to be purchased.  The menu was decently priced, which was a nice surprise as most airline menus are drastically overpriced.  An additional bonus, I am not sure if it was because it was a late night flight, but all the full sandwich and combo meals were discounted by 50%.  As Belgium is known for chocolate and waffles, I decided to try the hot chocolate + waffle combo.  The combo was 5euro and overall both the waffle and the hot chocolate were good.  Both had good flavor and were very tasty.

Besides the airline magazine, there was no inflight entertainment so it’s a good idea to bring your own entertainment.  The flight was generally smooth and we landed early in Brussels.  We quickly deplaned and the luggage was also quickly delivered, so by 11:35p I was already in the train to the city centre. 

Overall, it was a pleasant short trip in Brussels Airlines.  I was not sure what to expect and my expectations were low given it was an intra-European flight; however, the airline provided good service, a decent seat, and reasonably priced in-flight menu.  Based on this, I look forward to taking Brussels Airlines long-haul.  

Friday, February 17, 2017

Stay Report: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel (February 2017)

Stay Report: Sheraton Amsterdam Airport Hotel
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

For our last night in Amsterdam, we decided to stay near the airport as both of us had flights early in the morning the next day.  We had a choice between either staying in the city and  getting up early to leave for the airport, or stay near the airport and get some additional sleep - we choose the later.  Our plan was to leave our luggage in our hotel located in the city, go sightseeing, and then head to the airport hotel that night.

There are many hotels near Amsterdam Schipol airport - many are near the airport but there are three that are connected to the airport: the Hilton, the Sheraton, and the Mercure.  According to the reviews, the Sheraton is the one that is most centrally connected to the terminal (2-3 minute walk); the Mercure is located after security in the transit area (so has a lot of restrictions); and the Hilton is located a bit further from the terminal (5-10 minute).  Based on the reviews and information, we decided to book the Sheraton Amsterdam Airport hotel.

We had taken the bus directly from the city center to the airport.  The bus drops you off at Plaza Park 2 and from there you enter into the departures area.  You can see the Sheraton from Plaza Park 2, but the entrance is through the departures zone.  From the departures zone, you take a travellator that connects you to a bridge.  The bridge ultimate leads to a parking garage, but in the middle of the bridge is the entrance to the Sheraton.

You enter into the lobby area which has a nice open atrium with lots of windows and makes the place look very big.  As soon as you enter the lobby, on your left is the ‘business center’ with computer access (which is extremely slow) and some couches.  Further ahead in the lobby are the check-in desks.  Check-in was smooth and quick and we received our key to the room.  We were on the 6th floor and the elevators were located opposite to the check-in desk.  In between the elevators and the check-in desk was the fitness center as well as the SPG check-in desk.  We took the elevators to our room.

The 6th floor is an SPG floor which meant that one side had access to the SPG lounge while the other side did not.  Both sides had access to refreshment area which included free coffee.   We went to our room which was overlooking the atrium.

As you entered into the room, on your left was the entrance to the bathroom and on the right were the closets.  The closets contained an iron, an ironing board and a safe.  Even though the bathroom was pretty big, with a nice tub and long sink, the shower were pretty small comparatively.  The bathroom also contained nice Sheraton toiletries.  Further ahead in the room, on the left hand side were the two beds which were situated near each other.  Next to each bed was a nightstand.  The beds themselves were very comfortable and provided a really nice sleep.

Across from the bed was a chest with drawers on the bottom and the TV on top.  The chest also contained a fridge and the minibar. Between the bed and the window was a chair.  Overall the room size was very generous, and felt more like an American-size room versus the smaller European-size room.

The hotel had two restaurants, one on the bottom floor and one next to the lobby.  There was also a fitness center, which again was very large and provided a lot of nice equipment.  As an SPG member, free wifi was included but it was generally slow and always asked for the login.

Overall, it was a nice stay at the hotel.  The location was very good as the hotel is connected to the departure zone through a walkway, so it’s a 2-3 minute walk from the hotel to the departure zone.   The room size and bathroom size were also nice.  Negatives included slow in-room access and slow internet access in the business center.

Trip Report: TAP Portugal, Lisbon to Barcelona (February 2017)

Trip Report: TAP Portugal, intra-European
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

After my stop in Lisbon, I was continuing my 2017 European trip with a stop in Barcelona, Spain.  Two airlines fly from Lisbon to Barcelona – TAP Portugal, a full-service airline based in Lisbon, or Vueling, a LCC based in Barcelona.  When I compared the two airlines, both offered low fares and both offered various flight times throughout the day.  In fact, the flight times of both airlines were very similar to each other (usually within 30 minutes of each other).  Both airlines offered basic options, which included hand carry only, as well as package options that included checked luggage and pre-assigned seat.  The major differences between the two is that TAP Portugal, as a full service airline, offers free drinks and sandwiches where Vueling is a LCC meaning you have to pay for these services.  Also, as TAP is a member of Star Alliance you earn FF miles.  In comparing the two airlines - I needed to check-in a bag so I compared the ticket prices with a bag for both - TAP was only 5euro more than Vueling.   As LCC usually have tighter seat pitches and less customer service, I decided to try TAP for my flight.

The ticket that I had booked was a package which included checked baggage; this package did not include pre-assigned seats (there was a separate package for that).  Booking the flight on TAP's website was generally easy and efficient.  There were some times the website got stuck, and sometimes I was not able to enter some optional information (such as FF miles).  When I did have some issues and questions, I contacted the call center where the wait time was minimal and the service was quick; a good start to my trip.

My flight was scheduled to leave Lisbon at 8:45p and arrive into Barcelona at 11:35pm with a flight time of 1hr 40mins.  Throughout the days leading up to the flight, I was getting notices from TAP offering the chance to bid on upgrades.  TAP has the option to either bid on upgrades days before the flight, or you can see about purchasing an upgrade the day of at the airport.  I looked into upgrading, but the starting cost to upgrade was more than the total I had paid for my ticket.  That, and given the short flight time, I decided not to upgrade.

I checked in via the app, and TAP had preselected my seat as 18C.  Through the app, I was able to see my seat and see other seat availability but I was not able to confirm a closer seat so decided to do that at the airport.  Even though I had already checked in, I got to the airport 2hours prior just in case.  When I got to the airport, there was no one in line at the counters.  I dropped off my luggage, it had been included in the package I bought, and got a closer seat of 9C.  The line at security was also very minimal so I had plenty of time to roam the airport.

The boarding pass stated boarding was going to start at 8:20p, so around 8:15p I went to the boarding area.  The boarding area was extremely small and extremely crowded; there definitely was not enough room to handle everyone.   Boarding was supposed to happen in 3 groups, but when the gate agents there was no one in group 1 and most of the individuals were in group 3.  8:20p came and went and there was no announcement of a delay.  We were told to wait, and then agents were coming around gate tagging all the large carryons.  Around 8:30p, the agents told us to get in line to board.  I was in Group 2, so I boarded rather quickly – however, we did not board right away as the gate was blocked because the airplane wasn’t ready.  The agents continued to scan boarding passes making the line very long.  After about 10 minutes, the door was opened and we were allowed to board the plane.

The plane was an Airbus A320 and inside the plane looked old.  The seats and the look of the plane indicated the plane was not new.  The plane was laid out in a 3-3 setting.  The plane contained both business class and economy class, but the seats were the same and the cabins were only separated by a moveable curtain. 

The seats were generally comfortable and the leg room was decent enough for the short flight.   The seats were very plain with no PTVs or USB ports.  There was a tray table and a pouch underneath which contained the safety card and inflight magazine.   Even though we were scheduled to take off at 8:45p, we were still boarding at that time but eventually at 8:50p boarding was complete and the doors closed.  Manual safety demonstrations were done and announcements were made in both Portuguese and English.

Once we reached cruising altitude, TAP started their inflight service which consisted of a free drink and a snack.  The snack was a small (palm size) tuna sandwich, and there was only one option available.  Once the service had concluded, we still had about an hour left and there was nothing else to do on the plane.  You definitely had to bring your own entertainment to pass the time. 

Even though we left late, we landed generally on time.  Deplaning happened rather quickly, and then it was time to wait for the luggage.  Both times I flew with TAP, it took a long time for the luggage to come – sometimes almost 30-45 minutes.  I am not sure what the delay is, but it was consistent across both international sectors.

Overall, I did not see that much difference between TAP Portugal and the LCC.  Yes they provided a free drink, a small sandwich, and access to FF miles, but other than that there was no difference in terms of service.   I chose TAP because I wanted to try an intra-European flight on the carrier and the fare was not that different versus the LCC; however, if there was a greater fare difference I am not sure I would choose TAP again vs the LCC.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Stay Report: Ibis Styles Amsterdam Amstel (February 2017)

Stay Report: Ibis Styles Amsterdam Amstel
comment below and let me know your thoughts :)

I was going to meet my friend in Amsterdam, but I was arriving at night and they weren't arriving until the next morning so I needed to find a hotel near the Marriott.  Hotels are generally expensive in Amsterdam so I was looking for one that was not that expensive but still pretty decent.  I decided to try the Ibis Styles Amsterdam Amstel.

The hotel is located in Amstel area which is south of the city center and is located near a tram stop and near restaurants and services.  The hotel’s outside fits nicely with the neighborhood décor – it does not look like a hotel from the outside.  You walk up a couple of steps and enter into the lobby.  The hotel fits into the ‘Amsterdam’ décor so it is very narrow.  Given the limited space, the lobby was not that big.

Check-in was pretty quick and I was given an overview of the hotel, as well as additional perks being a LeClub member.  All Ibis Styles include free breakfast, and this was served in the basement level.  Free wifi was also included.  Additional perks included a free drink and 10% off my meal at the bar in the hotel located across the canal from the hotel.  The hotel did not seem to have a bar, so it had partnered with the hotel across the canal to allow its patrons to use their bar.  This was a very nice gesture, but as I was only here for the night I did not take advantage of it.

The layout of the hotel was very unique.   To get to the elevators, there was a door next to the check-in desk that led to the 1st floor rooms.  You walked passed those rooms into a square pattern to get to the elevator.  The elevators are next to the stairs, which divide the house in the middle.  The interesting thing about the elevators is that there is no connection between the two sides except through the elevator.

The elevator itself is extremely tiny and narrow, and barely fit me and my stuff.  I was told my room was on the 4th floor, and that I would take the elevator to the 3rd floor and then walk up steps to get to my room.  When I got to the 3rd floor I realized that the 4th floor was basically the attic and the steps to get up there were extremely small, narrow, and winding.  It was very difficult to get both myself and my stuff up the stairs.

As the room was the entire attic, it was big.  It had three single beds, all right next to each other, so I am assuming it was a family room.  As you opened the door, on left hand side was a nook where the desk was.  Straight ahead were the three single beds.  Two of the single beds were pushed next to each other and the third bed was next to them.   On both sides of the combined single beds were nightstands and each bed had a tiny lamp above it.   The beds themselves were not very comfortable as the padding was light and the comforter small.  It was decent for one night, but would not be comfortable for a longer stay.

To the right of the entrance was the bathroom.  The bathroom contained a sink, a toilet, and a stand-up shower.  The shower was very tiny and compact and was difficult to move around without hitting the shower.  Towels were provided along with bathroom amenities, including soap, shampoo, and shower gel.  I had brought my own toiletries so was not able to try the ones provided. 

Right next to the bathroom was another nook which housed the closet and a mirror.  It was very dark on that side and it seemed like wasted space.

Amenities of the hotel which I tried included the free wifi and the free breakfast.  The nice thing about Accorhotels is the free and fast wifi.  You can connect as many devices as you want, and the speed is fast enough to stream videos.   The free breakfast was also very convenient as it provided enough food for a decent meal.

Overall, it was an average stay at the Ibis Styles.  It was my second time staying at the Ibis Styles, and the first experience was much better.  The room layout and location was not customer friendly, but the additional services – including the free wifi, the free breakfast, and the free welcome drink – were nice touches.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

A Stay Report: Doubletree Lisbon - Fontana Park (February 2017)

A Stay Report: Doubletree Lisbon - Fontana Park
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I tend to stay at different hotels depending on whom I am traveling with.  If I am traveling by myself orIn choosing a hotel, I tend to look for proximity to areas and price versus comfort or style.  Normally I would only go to the hotel for sleeping so all the bells and whistles are not useful to me.  However, if I am traveling with family then I tend to choose hotels that are close to areas but also have all the bells and whistles as my family tends to use the hotel more as a relaxing and recharging place.  As I was traveling to Lisbon by myself, I was looking at proximity and price.  Hilton was having a sale on their rooms and I found a really good deal at the Doubletree Lisbon - Fontana Park.  

In terms of location, the hotel is located about a 5-10 minute walking distance from two metro stations.  From these stations it’s a 5-10 minute metro to the main attractions.  The hotel is located off the main road, so its close to many restaurants and services but they are not next to the hotel.  While the hotel is not as centrally located as I normally would like, the lower cost justified choosing the hotel.  Also, you get free cookies at Doubletree and they are very nice so that was an added bonus.  

The hotel itself looks very modern with sleek designs and black and white décor.  On the main level is the lobby, the restaurant, the bar, and the computer to access the internet.  Meeting rooms plus the gym are located on the basement level.

I was arriving early in the morning so I had contacted the hotel to request an early arrival and thankfully it was honored.  Check-in took a bit as there was only one person handling both checkin and checkout (and some groups were checking out that morning).  I checked in, was given my cookie, and headed to my room.  The elevator to the room was extremely small – it barely fit me and my stuff.  I took the elevator to the 4th floor which was dubbed the HiltonHHonors floor.  The modern layout extended to the hallway as the room numbers are on the floor, like a doormat.  The room is also decorated in the modern décor.

As you entered into the room, on your left was the closet with hangers, a safe, and shelves.  On your right was the bathroom which was divided into three parts: a sink in the middle and a toilet on one side and the shower on the other.  The odd design about the shower was that between the shower and the sink was a partial black screen (which did nothing to keep the water inside) yet between the shower and the room was a clear window which meant that you could see directly into the shower from the room.  Another odd thing about the bathroom was the shower – it was very difficult to operate (apparently the hotel staff had to answer a lot of questions on how to operate the shower).  The bathroom amenities Doubletree provides are really nice with nice smells and were consistent with the amenities available in Doubletree worldwide.

Continuing into the room, on the left hand side was a wall length shelf which allowed a place to hold your luggage and other belongings.  Above the shelf was a TV.  Against the other wall was the double size bed.  Between the bed and the bathroom was another shelf which acted as the nightstand as it held the lamp as well as the two complimentary waters (complimentary for each day of stay).  The complimentary water was a nice gesture.  On the other side of the bed, between the bed and the window was a desk.  The bed itself was comfortable enough for a decent sleep.

Amenities that I took advantage of included the free WiFi, which was pretty decent for emails and video, and the gym.  The gym was open 24/7 and while it was small, it had the basic equipment for a decent workout.  They also had a water dispenser available to refill your bottle of water

Overall it was a decent night stay at the Doubletree.  The plus points included the free cookies, the good service, and decent size room.  Negatives included odd design of the bathroom and distance from hotel to metro/downtown.