Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Trip to USA - Our hotel in Manhattan

We stayed at Columbus Circle in Manhattan, which is where you find Time Warner Centre, Lincoln Centre and Trump International Hotel and Tower. One of the entrances to Central Park is also nearby. Columbus Circle appears in a number of films, including It Could Happen to You, The Devil Wears Prada, Home Alone 2, Taxi Driver, Die Hard with a Vengeance, Enchanted, I Am Legend, Ghostbusters, and Cloverfield.

Columbus Circle

Columbus Circle just outside Central Park
Our hotel was the Hudson Hotel, we stayed there for 5 nights. The hotel itself is fine, location is superb, but the customer service sucked big time. If we visit Manhattan again, we will definitely not be staying there. Let me get the bad stuff off my chest first.

When we arrived at the hotel, the bellhop unloaded our bags from the cab and promised to bring our bags to our room. We were only reunited with our bags after waiting in our room for more than THREE hours. We were so tired but we couldn't change out of our clothes or do anything. I would say that we were very patient - in those THREE hours, Richard only made THREE phone calls from our room to politely remind them. Each time he was told, "Straightaway, Sir!" Perhaps that means different things to different people?

We were put in a teeny tiny room at the end of the corridor on the fourth floor with the noisy aircon / ventilation system outside the window at the head of our bed. The only reason why we could fall asleep was because we were so knackered.

This is a photo of the room. You can see the edge of the bed in the lower right corner and in the mirror, you can see the wall on the other side of the bed with the television on the wall. There is a bit of walking space between the foot of the bed and the bathroom. That's it. There was not enough floor space around the bed even to open up our luggage. The television was affixed high up on the wall at the side of the bed, which was annoying because, as the room was so small, you had to be on the opposite side of the bed and crane your neck to see it. The bathroom was too small for a tub, instead it had a glass-walled shower at the foot of the bed (and no, there was nothing to cover the view if you were shy). Even for New York City standards, it was ridiculous.

The next morning, we asked for a change of room, and were told that we could only have a room on a smoking floor as they were fully booked. Richard went to check out the room and he said that it didn't smell too bad, so we told them ok, but please change us out of there when you get a room on a non-smoking floor. The idiot at the reception desk said no, he couldn't change our rooms twice in the same booking. So we opted to stay in our noisy room for one more night and get into a better room on the third day. To make up for it, they gave us complimentary buffet breakfast for the next morning.

On the third morning, an invoice for two nights' stay was slipped under our room door and when we asked at the reception, we were told that we didn't have to pay until we actually left, it was just standard procedure to book us in and out. So since they go through the whole procedure anyway, and they were actually booking us in and out, what was all that crock about not being able to change our rooms twice in the same booking?

Again the luggage issue - they promised to shift our luggage for us from the 4th floor room to our new room but our bags only materialised sometime in the evening.

The second room we had was thankfully larger. In addition to the queen-sized bed, a small cupboard with open shelves and a chest of drawers (with stuff like electrical adaptors, etc.), there was also a writing desk and a small sitting area with a two-seater couch and a coffee table. The bathroom was of a decent size, had a bathtub and no free show.

In the second room
There was a floor-standing lamp near the couch that we couldn't switch on (we suspected the bulb had blown) so we rang the staff to get them to replace the bulb. Once again, we were told "Straightaway, Sir!" and once again, we had to make more than one call before we eventually gave up. Nobody ever came to revive that poor lamp, even though we were there for another three nights. There was a vending machine selling snacks on our floor (and probably every floor). Richard tried it - it ate up his coins but kept its treasure locked up.

All the staff at the hotel were young and good-looking. From the guy who opens the door of your cab for you and unloads your luggage, to the staff at the reception desk, to the wait staff at the restaurant, they all looked like models and actors. I just wish that they knew how to run a hotel and provide good customer service. Everytime we had to step up to the reception desk for something, it took us ages to accomplish and always more than one staff had to get involved (yes, even when we were checking out and paying our bill). There was always a mob of people around the reception desk, both in front (guests) and behind (staff). The staff were just clueless. In terms of customer service, it was all style and very little substance.

Fortunately, when it comes to the hotel's looks, style without substance is acceptable and that's where all the good stuff about the hotel is. Chic and hip, it is oozing with style. Do check out the photos on its website for the full visual tour. The hotel was renovated by Ian Schrager (co-owner of Sudio 54) and Philippe Starck, with a "cheap chic" aesthetic. The hotel front looks like this (the rooms are in the brown portion behind). There is no signage on the building at all.

The entrance is through that hole in the middle of the potted trees.

You can also enter through these metal doors at both sides of the main entrance.

From the ground floor, you take a long chartreuse-lit escalator up to the lobby, which is an experience in itself. It's like travelling in a tunnel, taking you far away from the hustle and bustle of the streets.

There are several restaurants/cafes/coffee joints/ice cream bars nearby, as well as a few supermarkets and pharmacies.

The lobby is stunning with light streaming through an ivy trellis.

The rooms are tiny, their dimensions dictated by the past - the building used to be the clubhouse and dormitory for the American Women’s Association. I can appreciate why they kept the rooms the way they were but the hallways leading to the rooms were dungeon-dark - surely they could have put in more lights.

To compensate for the constraints of the rooms, the public spaces are large and dramatic. There is an enchanting Private Park on the reception level with towering 45-foot trees, ivy-covered walls, and an inspired assortment of antique and modern garden furniture.

The Hudson Bar, with its glowing yellow glass floor and handpainted ceiling, hosts events such as dance parties, movie premieres and book launches, and has been featured in TV shows such as Gossip Girl and Sex & The City. We didn't go in there since it was pretty dead in the daytime and we were pretty dead in the nighttime, but walking past, it looked very pretty.

The Library is reminiscent of an old English drawing room, a cozy hangout for relaxing by the enormous fireplace, shooting billiards, playing a computer game, or reading a book.

Buffet breakfast was served in Hudson Hall, which has long, wooden communal tables and red brick walls onto which video is projected. It is also bathed in darkness.

An interesting feature in the lobby was this oversized luxury vending machine. Called the Semi-Automatic, it supposedly dispensed travel necessities as well as copies of Catcher in the Rye, a Hudson t-shirt, a Paul Smith toothbrush, Ouija Board, a Dagger Rosary, a black sequin mini skirt, Blueprint Cleanse, a personal portrait shoot with photographer Ben Watts, 24k gold handcuffs and a way to rent a red Ferrari 599 GTB from Gotham Dream Cars. Prices range from US$4 (for the basics) to US$8,000 for the Ben Watts photo shoot and US$10,000 to rent the Ferrari 599 GTB for one week. Still smarting from our experience at the snacks vending machine on our room floor, we decided to keep our money safe from this monster.

In conclusion, great-looking hotel but severely lacking in the essential element of a good hotel - customer service. We didn't sweat it much though, we didn't complain to the hotel or anything like that. Our room was clean and comfortable, our towels were changed, so we had a good stay in general, after we learned not to expect anything from the staff.


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