A roller-coaster called Cunard Queen Elizabeth

•January 9, 2018 • Leave a Comment

I hate roller coasters. I’ve hated roller coasters my entire life!

I’ll allow you a moment of recovery as your jaw is most likely still on the floor in shock. It’s a ridiculous statement, I know. Hate roller coasters? Impossible! Nobody hates roller coasters! And what’s the idea in the headline when Queen Elizabeth is one of the 3 queens under the flag of Cunard and doesn’t have on board a roller-coaster

Well, is quite simple. My recent 12 days on board of Queen Elizabeth sailing from Southampton to Madeira, Canary Island and Lisbon was like a ride on a roller-coaster: sometimes bringing me high, very high and suddenly dropping me very low (lower than some of my previous experiences and expectations)

Don’t be surprise but the key is all in perception. Let me explain: for me, the absolute worst feeling one can possibly experience on God’s green earth is the dropping feeling you get in your stomach when you’re plummeting down a 180-degree drop after being somewhere “on top of the world” (aside from getting a limb ripped off. Or getting impaled with a metal rod. Or childbirth. But as I’ve never experienced any of these, I’m just going to go with stomach drops for now).

Still “lost in translation”? No worries, I will explain you my feelings after my Q737 voyage step by step.

I decided to spend a night in Southampton before the cruise just because I was scared by the weather report and the traffic on M25 and to be honest I didn’t fancy to wake up too early in the first day of my holiday. This time was @Novotel Southampton on Quay Road (https://www.accorhotels.com/gb/hotel-1073-novotel-southampton/index.shtml). An excellent choice; for £125 for one night I got a nice, clean, comfy room with breakfast included. Perfect way to start my voyage on Queen Elizabeth. More important, the check-out time was 12.00PM (all the other options in Southampton ask you to leave the room at 11.00AM) which give you the right amount before the official boarding time for Cunard.

The departure point was Ocean Terminal, maybe the best terminal in Southampton easy to find due to multiple signs on the road and designed for a hassle-free check-in. I booked the parking with APH (Airport Parking and Hotels) which, again was a excellent choice with a fast, reliable and efficient service. We dropped the luggage first and after that parked the car in the APH drop-off point just couple of meters away for the terminal’s entrance.

The drop-off the luggage was a little bit hectic with nobody explaining what to do and where to go and with some Hi Vis Jacket men shouting at you when you took the initiative to walk in a certain direction.

Finally, only with my hand luggage I entered the terminal and in 40 minutes I was opening the door of my cabin. Of course, could be less than that if some of my fellow passengers will understood that boarding a ship involves the same security level as boarding a plane.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: get ready for queues and be patient when the same passenger will return 3 or 4 times due to pens, coins, phone, keys left in his pocket when passing the metal detector. And don’t expect too much courtesy from the check-in lady: at the end of the day YOU are going in a cruise, she there for another long busy day at work!

The Queen Elizabeth is the youngest and second largest ship which was built for Cunard. It has been put into service in October 2010 and offers space for 2058 passengers. The ship has been refurbished in 2014 and is now schedule next year for a new cosmetic intervention. Due to its classy style, this ship is also called the New Queen. The Grand Lobby as an example impresses with its generous luxurious furnishings and its curved stairs.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT:  Created to evoke the heyday of Hollywood glamour and elegance with her wood panelling, gleaming chandeliers, marble flooring, iridescent pearls and elaborate carpets need for sure a realignment with the new expectations for modern luxury. Queen Elizabeth is, at the moment, more a lovely museum populated with moving statues, than a strong competitor on 2000s cruise market. But we will talk about that later.

My cabin was a Q4 Penthouse strategically located between two staircase and lifts giving an easy access to all ships areas. 7109 was Cunard style decorated (Queen Elizabeth is the only Queens which didn’t get yet a cosmetic surgery intervention), featuring floor-to-ceiling windows with glass doors that open to a decent size private balcony. The cabin had a super comfy king-size bed which may be converted to twins, and marble bathroom with whirlpool tub (love it!) and shower. There was large living area with sofa bed and dual height coffee table and a working area with enough spaces for my 2 laptops. The refrigerator was stocked to my preferences (and I was ask about that in less than 1h after my arrival, when I meet for the first time my assistant butler, Marvin and my butler (lovely Christina) gladly attended to my every whim during the cruise. Thoughtful amenities include robes with matching slippers, a hairdryer, safe, direct dial phone, nightly turndown service with pillow chocolate, 24-hour room service, an interactive TV system with DVD player, daily shipboard newspaper, priority embarkation and disembarkation, pillow concierge, Bon Voyage bottle of champagne and strawberries, personalized stationary, complimentary bottled water, flower arrangement in-suite, and daily fresh fruit on request.

Great ambience for my 12 days cruise!

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: What I do hope is that, when the ship will enter the 2018 planned refurbishment, somebody will think seriously about the storage space in the room. Taking in the account the duration of the voyage, the dress code on board and the expectations raised by the Queens Grill Experience definitely you need more space; the content of my 4 suitcases were quite squeezed in the walking-in wardrobe. Actually for my next trip with Cunard (V836 November 2018 on Victoria) I decided to have a double booking: a Q4 and for another £849 the opposite inside cabin, grade IF to gain some space.

The housekeeping team was absolutely amazing! Christina our butler was simply PERFECT: friendly, professional, with excellent manners and unobtrusive, she anticipated every need and created lifelong memories with individual touches not found in any manual. The assistant butler was Marvin, always smiling and genuine, keeping pristine our cabin paying attention to every detail. They are, for sure, a huge asset for the housekeeping team on board Queen Elizabeth!

As a Queens Grill guest, you experience the finest food in the Queens Grill restaurant. Couple years ago, an acquaintance, told me that the only reason to book a Cunard cruise is the dining experience in Queens Grill restaurant. I was smiling there and then, but now, I do believe so. Indeed, using refined ingredients and sophisticated techniques, the chefs working on Cunard Line’s ocean liners offer magnificent cuisine that will leave you stuffed every night. The food is complimented by a great classic service.

The most formal of all of Cunard’s restaurants, the Queens Grill offers an a la carte menu with items such as Beef Wellington, Roast Loin of Venison and Chateaubriand. Here you’ll always be greeted warmly by name, and appreciate the ultimate interpretation of high quality service during breakfast, lunch and dinner, served when you wish between 6.30pm and 9pm. You can order for dinner whatever you want, from Caviar to Lobster Thermidor, just talking with your waiter 24h in advance. As the weather was excellent I decided twice to have dinner in the lovely patio between two restaurants Princess and Queens Grills and, if I ignore the rolled eyes of the Maître D, the dinning under the stars experience was unforgettable. The restaurant staff was very close to the expected White Star Service. The waiter, assistant waiter and sommelier were the A-team: flawless efficient service, with perfect balance between communication and genuine attention, timely, memorable, and remarkable; none of them was in the way of the others, never overlapped each other and always having ready a set of knowledge based recommendations if I got lost in the menu. While food quality is incredible in Queens Grill restaurant, it was the experience I had from the minute I walked in the door to the minute I exit that counted for Sumodg, Jeffrey and Srdjan.

Don’t ask me what was my favourite from the menu, just because the answer is obvious: EVERYTHING. Chef Catalin Baba from Romania, in charge of both Princess and Queens galleys is real Master Chef at sea and for every lunch and dinner his creations were top of the charts. Don’t forget that Queens Grill restaurant has a genuinely ‘on demand’ service, where you can walk in and ask for whatever you desire to be prepared for you. One evening I requested a typical Romanian dish (as a result of a sudden home sickness) and the next evening Chef Baba surprised me with a perfect Romanian dinner: beef sours soup (Ciorba de vacuta), stuffed cabbage rolls (Sarmale) and sweet dumplings (Papanasi). Was like being home in Pitesti eating my Mom’s dinner. Capital!

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: Everything was almost perfect in Queens Grill restaurant, but the management was from a “different movie”. The Head Maître D’ – Raul had the signs of a too long career with Cunard, ignoring most of the passengers every evening and concentrating his grace and attention to the “big tippers”. You expect somebody like him to be an old fox and play the right hand all the time but fishing around one or two tables proved to be the wrong decision and at the end the gratuities popped from a different direction or not at all. Raul spoke with our table “en passant” once or twice, without any genuine interest or eye contact, like a waiter in Nando’s checking the guest satisfaction while hunting for his favourites in the restaurant. The Assistants Maître D’: Anton and Zoltan still had some drops of genuine guest excellence, especially when the Boss was not there, but I am afraid that they learn the lessons quite fast!

My itinerary included 6 days at sea from 12 and, without expecting an extremely lively and busy daily programme, I was looking forward for what was offered during the sailing days. Looking at the activities planned every day you can’t ignore the fact that Cunard planned everything on board for 70+ market: book club discussions, dance classes, needlework & knitting, bridge lessons, watercolour art class and plenty of quizzes and trivia. Sometimes I was walking around the decks and public spaces and I have the feeling that was a ghost ship with lifeless wax figurines holding a book or a kindle and trying to feel up the time between the main meals when the ship got live again. Maybe Cunard can look in to the fact that in 10 years’ time or less their current market will not be interested in travel anymore and who’s now in the 40-50s demographic area will move to somewhere were the daily programme moved with the times and trends. Why to have beginners Facebook or e-mail classes when almost everybody on board was reading from a kindle or taking photos with an iPad?

I did like the classical concerts in the afternoon or evenings (despite the fact that the Winter Gardens is not a good venue for a Strauss concert due to the acoustic and the location of the place) and I enjoyed the dance lessons.

Facing an important shortage of staff (got involuntary this information from a next-door table conversation between John and Ashley, both entertainment hosts on board, in La Palma) and a lack of enthusiasm the entertainment team was hardly interested in bringing back to live the ship, day or night despite the obvious efforts of Entertainment Manager Amanda Reid

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: competitive cruise lines pay a huge attention to on-board lectures using independent agencies like Sixth Star Entertainment & Marketing and Compass Speakers and Entertainment, Inc. to have on their cruise ship lecturer who will be able to catch the audience with interesting topics during the sea day. In our previous trips with Cunard I enjoyed a lot the port lectures and presentations on different topics performed by very strong public speakers. On my last voyage on Queen Elizabeth Cunard failed on a dramatic scale. The port lecturer, Anfisa, was literary reading from some old-fashioned designed slides information downloaded from Wikipedia with poor quality photos – the result of an “intensive research” on Google search. To be honest if I didn’t know the ports of call I will be tempted to stay on the ship instead discovering the destinations based on the zero-enthusiasm and knowledge brought on stage by the port presenter. Even the famous Cunard “Insights Lecture” were place quite high on the scale of failures. Maybe was the cost saving the explanation for the presence of uninspiring lecturers in the Royal Court Theatre. Fair enough, the topics were interesting despite of being very niche (WW2 and old-time police stories) but the massive failure come from the speakers.  Cpt. Kim Sharman, Commander Jeff Tall or Ian Brown manage to read from notes 60+ minutes in a monotone, old-fashioned, sleep-induction tailored style. Both the hard (power-point presentation for a beginner class) and the soft (presentation and public speaking skills) components of this lectures made a good part of the audience to leave, another to sleep and the rest was, once again, waiting for lunch.

On board Cunard ships, the evenings are always an event. And was, more or less, the same this time on Queen Elizabeth. The dancing in the Queens Room with the big band and excellent vocalist Michael Burke, the 3 balls organised during the voyage (“Black and White”, “Roaring 20’s” and “Starlight Ball” and the fantastic musicians performing in various venues (Tom Yarwood, Andrew Law and Carolyn Mayer) were strong points of evenings and night on-board.  Of course, the “crème de la crème” was the live band Synergy: great performance, fantastic stage presence and impeccable repertoire – what a privilege to have them in Yacht Club, Winter Gardens or Lido bar due sail-away parties.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: The easiest, in theory, job on board brought another big disappointment of this cruise. DJ Michael manage to win the title “WORST DJ AT SEA”. I was praying while in Yacht Club for his shift to finish and Synergy to come back on stage. DJ Michael was trying hard and most of the time succeeded to keep the dance floor empty. If everybody was enjoying dancing on ABBA or some 80’s disco music, DJ Michael thought that was a good idea to switch to Rolling Stones or Beatles. If nobody was dancing, the volume was loud enough to cover any conversation in the bar; if the dance floor was full the music was like the background in a shopping mall.

Royal Court Theatre is, with no doubts, one of the gems of Queen Elizabeth. Cunard created on its ships the only venues at sea which give you the feeling of an elegant, lavish, real theatre. More than that guests have the chance to expand this unique experience booking a box for some of the shows. Is a “must do” treat when you are on-board: a host welcomes you before the show with a champagne cocktail, canapés and sweets, escorts you to your private box where fine chocolates, a bottle with champagne and a photo souvenir are waiting to complete this magic moment. One single advice: ignore Concierge recommendation of “the best box”; do you one research in the theatre and after that choose what you like. On this voyage the Concierge suggested a box which actually was the worst one, so, be in charge and enjoy the show.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: even though Cunard never invested time and money in their on-board show like NCL, RCL or MSC, I always found one of two shows during previous voyages which were worth watching. This time on Queen Elizabeth I booked a box for two of Cunard’s productions: “Palladium Nights” and “Hollywood Nights”. With fantastic lights and costumes, great stage production and an amazing live orchestra, both shows could be a hit. But the performance of the cast (both dancers and singers) gave me the feeling that I was in the audience of a graduation show for a second hand performing arts school. The dancers, despite an excellent choreography, never manage to be synchronised creating for each movement an involuntary “time-lapse photography” image. The 4 singers, great for a karaoke night out or a trivia like “guess the tune”, were less performing and more competing in cover the other voices.

All passengers on board during this 12 days voyage were running away from a wet grey December back in UK and the weather was great during my trip. Therefore the sail-away party hosted in the back of the ship in Lido Pool area were the highlights of every early evenings, when Queen Elizabeth was leaving the port. The stunning views, the warm evenings, breathing sunsets and the fantastic live performance of Synergy transformed each departure in a unforgettable moment. Great idea to offer for passengers the possibility to buy a glass with champagne, complimenting excellent a perfect evening. Actually, you will need maybe 2 or 3 glasses to give you the strength to ignore the bored faces of Assistant Entertainment manager Edward Moffet and his team which supposed to be the heart of the party. Fortunately, Synergy music was bringing everybody on the dance floor of th sail away party with no need for help for the entertainment team

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: For sure the best sail-away party was the departure from Lisbon with stunning views, a nice warm evening and the excellent idea of the Entertainment Manager to give a British touch to the sail-away from Lisbon. The Union Jack flags and British music plus the crowd ready for a good party in the last warm evening of the voyage were the perfect ingredients for what could be a great party. Unfortunately Amanda had her evening off and her assistant  Andrew left in charge. Bad move! After some 20-25 minutes the huge crowd with festive flag waiting in the announced area for the party, was “blessed” with the presence of Mr. Moffet announcing that due to bad weather (!!!!!!!!!!!) the sail away party will take place indoor with lovely views of the glass walls of the Winter Gardens. When one of the guest expressed the disappointment the “courteous” assistant manager replied that was his decision for everybody comfort. The result: everybody was watching the incredible passage of Queen Elizabeth out of Lisbon on a December night with 19⁰C, while Synergy were playing indoor for a bunch of crew waiving enthusiast-less the Union Jack flags. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

To help you experience the very best of your destinations, Cunard offers in all voyages a diverse selection of excursions ashore, from leisurely sightseeing to exciting activities. Taking in the account my previous experiences with Cunard is clear that shore excursions are created by a team of destination experts who work closely with carefully selected, reliable local operators and are designed to suit all ages, interests and abilities. According to Cunard, once you’ve booked your holiday, you’ll be able to browse through excursions tailored to your specific cruise and purchase your tours in advance through Voyage Personaliser. Is exactly what I did and was very excited about my 3 shore excursions in Funchal, La Palma and Tenerife; for the rest of the ports of call I decided to explore the city myself, as I was many times in Lisbon and Grand Canaria.

The tour in Funchal – “The cave of Sao Vincente” was far above expectations with a very knowledgeable guide and a extremely interesting itinerary. Nothing was to much: the explanations of the guide given not to fill the driving time but to create a background of the tour, the stops which didn’t target souvenirs shops or pointless sites and the time frame of the tour, made this excursion one of the best I ever took while cruising.

ROLLER-COASTER MOMENT: Two of the excursions pre-booked were cancelled based on a minimum number which was not reach with on-board bookings. While I totally understand the financial reason behind the cancellation I can’t stop wondering about how Cunard can’t get the idea that not everybody on-board need a “guided leisurely slow walk”. Is exactly what I was talking a bit earlier: passengers looking for more active or independent tours will move away from Cunard which target only a certain segment of the market. What about lowering the minimum number for more dynamic excursions to satisfy active guests on board and cover the cost with the number of passengers looking for the leisurely options. Age is just a number and some couples that I meet during the cruise were the perfect example for this.

Looking back, my 12 days voyage on Queen Elizabeth to Madeira, Canary Island and Lisbon was a very pleasant experience, a successful getaway from the English weather. For me Cunard will always be an option when I choose a cruise, but not more that once or twice a year, which is not a lot considering my 7-10 cruises yearly. I already booked Queen Victoria for the same itinerary in December 2018. Something needs to be done to attract and keep the passengers which in their fifties and sixties look to something which mix traditional with the trends of cruising in 2000s. Some caviar, a tuxedo and a cha-cha-cha lesson are not enough. Competitors are doing a bit more.

The Cunard roller-coaster still have a strong place on the cruise market, with ups and downs, targeting a certain segment of the market, quite strong at the moment. But what will happen in 5-10 years?

Watch my Video Diary of voyage VS737 on Cunard Queen Elizabeth

MELIA TAMARINDOS – The secrets of under promising and over delivering

•November 21, 2017 • Leave a Comment

All-inclusive resorts sell the ultimate dream a 6+ day cheap and worry-free travel vacation to a destination where all you do is relax, eat, drink and do some extracurricular activities. In the last couple of years, all-inclusive’s have been under fire, particularly due to how bad the food is, their hidden “extra” fees and the fact that there is little to no contact with life outside the resort. attracted to the hassle-free aspect of all-inclusive vacations. Once you arrive, you can store the wallet and relax. But along the way, all-inclusive resorts have since gotten a lot of stigma — earning a reputation for being tacky, comprising dated rooms and sub-par food. While this is sometimes true, in some cases it’s certainly not. Be advised, all resorts are not created as equals. There are some very nice resorts that offer all-inclusive packages that are a good deal for those who want a managed vacation experience. However, there are other resorts that are below the quality standards that most expect while on vacation (just check my review of Iberostar in Cuba)

Generally speaking, all-inclusive’s are really not my thing but this time the situation was different. OK, here is the setup: typical English October (cold, wet and grey), a limited budget and kind of last minute booking; so Bora Bora is not possible and I hate flying more than 5 hours. So, there are only two options, Canary Islands or northern Africa. Since Egypt or Tunisia still ring the security bell, I chose Las Palmas. And immediately Melia Tamarindos in San Agostin caught my attention.

melia

Founded in 1956 in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, Meliá Hotels International is one of the largest hotel companies in the world and the largest hotel chain in Spain in both resort and city hotels, operating now more than 370 hotels in 43 countries and 4 continents under its brands.

As I already experience two of their brands: Gran Melia in Genoa and Melia Costa del Sol in Torremolinos, my next move was to check if their high standards apply in a resort where the affluence of tourists and the “all-inclusive” concept can create an environment with different expectations and challenges.

Since the moment of booking, Melia Tamarindos proved not only that they have the guest as the centre of it universe but more than that, so rare, unfortunately this days that they know how to under promise and over deliver.

Before our arrival in San Agustin the team of the hotel send us very useful information related to check-in, all-inclusive package details and interesting suggestions for the time we intended to spend there. This charming but not intrusive care and concern continued after our arrival with phone calls and letter from both Reception and Concierge, all focused in creating the conditions for a perfect stay.

Located right on the spectacular San Agustín beach and very close to Playa del Inglés and the commercial centre of San Agustín, the Meliá Tamarindos is the perfect option for your trip to the island, thanks to its excellent location in one of the main tourist resorts on Gran Canaria. What I do like about the hotel, is the fact that you are away from the over-crowded touristic areas, far enough to don’t feel the cheap package holiday “taste” of Playa del Ingles but close enough (7 Euro by taxi) if you want to party all night long in Yumbo. Actually, you are somewhere in the middle between the airport and areas like Maspalomas or Meloneras. Is like you have the best seats for a rock concert: close enough to feel the vibe but not so close to need earplugs.  Love the fact that the location close to the beautiful and quite beach gave me the chance of a perfect mix: sunbathing by the pool and listening to decent background music and swimming in the crystal clear Ocean only 2 minutes away from my sunbed.

The hotel is quite impressive. Built in 1974, the venue was following the trend in the late ‘70 and early ’80 hotels: big lobby, vast open spaces, luxurious garden which guide the guests to an immaculate big swimming pool. The local Spanish Colonial–style with the wooden back façade was kept after 2000 renovation and now the hotel has 2 outdoor pools for adults (one of them heated) and 1 children’s pool, a mini golf course, a tennis court and a squash court with balls and rackets free of charge plus a real observatory with telescope and professional astronomer.

More recently the introduction of new “The Level” found here the perfect grounds for the exclusive commitment by Meliá to offer a unique range of superior services and facilities. Checking in at Melia Tamarindos makes you feel special very easy, when every detail has been designed and created for their guests.

For my stay at Melia Tamarindos I decided to o “full option”: a suite, all-inclusive and The Level. And, believe me, it was the best decision!

My room was a magnificent suite THE LEVEL VISTA MAR; located in the central nave of the building, at the 6th floor the room provided a wonderful view of the hotel gardens and the Atlantic Ocean. Never had for breakfast so many amazing sunrises anywhere else in the world. The suite measuring approximately 57m², offers three clearly defined spaces: bedroom, lounge and bathroom. Once again, the layout of the space was incredible: the interior designer took some elements for the “LEVEL” framework (minimalist, modern, sleek, smooth and glossy with champagne and beige tones creating a relaxing ambience) but, at the same time he kept the “old” hotel look with couple of pieces of furniture in strong colours which made the entire mix an extremely pleasant space. The leaving room lead onto a wooden colonial styled balcony with stunning views and enough space to soak up the energies of the tropical garden or clear and calm Ocean.

The large elegantly decorated independent lounge measures over 28 m² and is designed to offer the perfect space for relaxation, on the comfy sofa including a working space for those who cannot stay to long away from the office.

The bedroom dominated by a comfy queen size bed was the perfect environment for a relaxing and deep sleep, while the impressive walking in wardrobe would made happy make envy even the most serious luggage orientated traveller. Don’t remember a holiday resort with a walking in wardrobe with a vanity table, mirror and 3 double full-size wardrobes.

The bathroom was large with 2 sinks a separate space for bath/shower and toilet and of course has the decadent LOEWE amenities, replaced twice a day by the housekeeping.

Talking about housekeeping that’s a point where a special mention is needed. The room was pristine with a daily cleaning and an evening turn-down service with an immense attention to details; everything was spick and span with every items placed in the same position like was never moved. Having a conversation with the Jiske Jager, the Guest Experience Manager I was not surprised to find that the longest serving employee is Mrs. Elia Rosa Padilla, who started in the housekeeping department when Meliá Tamarindos opened its doors in 1974, made her way up to manager of the housekeeping department and will retire next year. Is a very good example of walking the talk in accordance with the very high standards of Melia.

Those who have stayed in one of Melia Hotels before recognise the high quality standards and know that  “Everything is Possible” is not just a marketing slogan, but daily reality. The LEVEL experience concept brings indeed the customer service experience to a completely different … level! At Melia Tamarindos the attention to details was exquisite: everything is created for and around the guest and everybody is working hard to create the perfect holiday experience. And, being honest, every moment spent in the hotel was a memorable one: from the friendly and efficient approach of the reception team to the personalised bathrobes in our room, from the constant genuine care of the LEVEL team to the impeccable service in the restaurants and bars. Every day at my return from the beach I found placed in the room a little surprise: sometimes some sweets, delicious cakes or a small selection of traditional tapas. Amazing! But to take this magic moment to a different level, every day the Guest Experience team, lead brilliantly by Jiske, a Dutch moved in Canarias more than 7 years ago, left a genuine message, making me to crave for the next surprise in my room, like a child waiting for Christmas day.

“THE LEVEL” is the best option if you choose Melia Tamarindos for your holiday. A series of exclusive services are provided for those lucky to get a “black car” and enter THE LEVEL: daily newspaper of your choice in the room, exclusive access to The Level Lounge where you can enjoy a range of snacks and a hot and cold drinks in an elegant and relaxed setting, a modern business centre from 10am to 6pm in The Level Lounge, 30 minutes of sauna every day at SPA IN plus a  5% discount off treatments, 1 hour free tennis and squash every day and of course access to an exclusive solarium place closer to the beach with Jacuzzi, fruit, cava, coffee, juices and water perfect area to relax for guests over 16s. And of course, everything continues in your room:  a welcome gift, the Level high quality bathrobe and slippers, a free late check-out, an Nespresso coffee maker (like home!!!), the excellent Loewe bathroom amenities, a pillow menu and of course the Turn-down service. Is like being in Paradise!

One of the reasons why I always avoid resorts for my beach holiday is the animation team. Nothing can be more annoying if you want to relax on the beach or by the pool, than a group of youngsters screaming their heads off to make you join their daily activities. I still remember the pain in a resort in Hurghada where the word “aqua gym” started to be a twice a day nightmare when I was on the beach. At Melia Tamaridos the story is completely different. The hotel provides a range of daily activities but, everything is done with an impressive respect for the guest’s privacy and a very good taste. Yoga, stretching, aqua-gym classes are all done in areas which are not interfering with those who will just want a relaxing day at the pool. Actually, the trainers were quite good and, even I am an anti-gym type of tourist, I got caught in the mood. And in two days the team organised for the guests other surprises: an entertaining cocktail making demonstration and an unexpected good fashion show by the pool.

 

For the evening the entertainment is the expected one for a resort hotel. You don’t go to Canary Island to watch in your hotel a Parisian cabaret show or something like that. The evening entertainment was decent, tailored on the audience expectations and complemented by the trendy atmosphere of Jameo Bar where the service was always aiming high standards. Of course for a more relaxed evening the other option was TARA BY NIGHT BAR, an open-air area next to the main pool with a wide variety of drinks, cocktails, long drinks, gin and tonics complemented with a chilled, friendly atmosphere and every night live music.

As I said earlier I always tried to avoid the “all-inclusive resorts” for my holiday just because the universal question “All-inclusive? Aren’t those resorts where the drinks are watered down, the restaurants are crowded and the food is pretty minimal and mass produced?”. And if you read my experience in Cuba you will see that the scary stories with all-inclusive buffets can be truth. When you take your vacation you surely don’t want to end up at some resort that has serious issues with quality. And in Melia Tamarindos when is a meal time QUALITY is part of the daily routine.

Roque Nublo buffet restaurant was the main choice for breakfast lunch and dinner and doesn’t matter how fussy you are about your food it was hard to find something wrong there! The buffet offering international and regional cuisine having large, magnificent areas was never busy and the service was spot-on. The elegant space with show cooking was serving salads, vegetables, fish and meat dishes, and a wide selection of chesses and cold meats, fruit and delicious desserts, Italian corner (pastas, pizzas) and had always a local cuisine corner.

For my mornings in Melia Tamarindos, I loved the large outdoor terrace with lovely views of the gardens and the sea and the breakfast was tailored to satisfy all taste and expectations from a huge hearty choice to more healthy options.

Our lunch was normally in Tara snack bar, a charming terrace overlooking the sea and the pool. The bar was ideal for informal lunches as you enjoy a pleasant day by the pool choosing from a wide choice of hot and cold snacks (hamburgers, salads, pizzas, sandwiches, ice creams) or from a buffet or a la carte menu. Once or twice I tried the main restaurant where the breakfast’s experience was repeated with an amazing choice of international and local dishes, fresh fish, great salad bar and mouth-watering deserts.

The icing on the cake? Of course, the dinner. Roque Nublo was open from 6.30 to 10PM which match perfectly the eating habits of the multi-national crowd and made the restaurant pretty quiet for a buffet style venue and create space for a very efficient and elegant service. I loved the idea that a “smart dress code required for dinner” was not only recommended but respected in the restaurant; no more flipflops, t-shirt and shorts around us! The dinner buffet was one of the best buffet I have ever had, and I’m a person who lives to eat. Fantastic variety, no skimping, something for everyone. Everything from a cheese and fruit board, to salads, prawns, local specialities, mains, side dishes, veggies, and dessert. In addition, every evening a special cooking station was present to order specials such as pizza, steak, paella, or pasta and even sushi. A bit of room left for desserts which were too many to try even half, but a good selection of sweet and savoury again meant there was something for everyone. And add to all this a reasonable wine list and a great service to get the clear image of a perfect dinner.

And once again the titanic work and genuine passion was revealed by our host Jiske Jager, Guest Experience Manager: “We only work with fresh products that arrives to our hotel daily from the Canary Islands and from Spain mainland. We exclusively work with suppliers of great prestige and experience, based on these products we elaborate our different menus. Daily we cook for around 500 guests distributed in the main buffet restaurant ¨Roque Nublo¨ for breakfast, lunch and dinner, The level areas, ¨Tara¨ restaurant, ¨TBN¨ a la carte restaurant and our tapas & cocktail bar ¨Le Pool¨

During my 7 days stay at Melia Tamarindos I was continuously amazed about the high level of customer service and customer care in all departments. And of course, I was trying to find the secret behind the genuine 24h smile of everybody there from Jiske. The answer was the perfect explanation for the high standards everywhere in Melia Tamarindos: “Our guests are our reason for being. We just love to make their stay in Meliá Tamarindos an unforgettable experience, which is our main goal. I personally believe that our colleagues only can transmit this to our guests if they feel passionate about what they do, not just ¨working for a company¨. Meliá Tamarindos is their home and we are all one family. When employees are in the loop what is going on and feel that they are a part of something rather than just working for a company, things will really progress. Employees appreciate when you ask their opinion and let them know that it counts. They feel happy knowing that you think they have the talent, knowledge, and skill to contribute. In return you’ll get some great ideas. For example, once a month the direction team invites employees from every department for a sit down in a relaxing environment to hear their ideas and opinions. From those sit downs came a lot of great ideas which we directly apply in our day to day. It creates team spirit and motivates them to improve every day. Another example is our private Facebook group where everybody can share, for example, when we receive a compliment of one of our guests, we share that on the page and congratulate them for the good work as well as our colleagues congratulate and motivate each other.”

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With Jiske Jager, Guest Experience Manager

I had the chance to speak with other guests in the hotel from Germany, France and Norway and I realised that my feeling after spending some time in Melia Tamarindos you just want to go back wasn’t singular: a lot of guests return to visit the hotel. Mainly because they feel at home and enjoy the quality service and the “obsession” of taking care of every single detail. Mrs. Jager, the Guest Experience Manager, was proud of the return business: “Our returning guest love that we recognize them when they come back. For example, small gestures like a attention in their room upon arrival and remembering their preference of previous stays and apply them without they have to ask for them again. We let them know that we care and that we appreciate their loyalty a lot. We make them feel like home. I believe that quality is our best guarantee of customer loyalty, our strongest defence against competitors and the only road to growth”. In addition, Meliá hotels International has a loyalty program which provides private rates at melia.com, Get points for each booking and Redeem your points for MeliáRewards emotions, a free program with personalized customer services. MeliáRewards has benefits for members such as MORE VALUE (Points, surprises, discounts) MORE POSSIBILITIES (Flexible use of your points) and MORE TIME (You are always our priority). There are 4 levels; MeliáRewards white, MeliáRewards silver, MeliáRewards gold and MeliáRewards Platinum (https://www.melia.com/en/meliarewards/ventajas/home.htm)

I can spend another good hour writing about my recent experience and I am sure that I forgot so many experiences and names, but I have something better to do: to book my next stay in Melia Tamarindos in February.

Why ?

Because at Melia Tamarindos the guest is their reason for being

Because at Melia Tamarindos they do things right: with professionalism, efficiency and agility

Because at Melia Tamarindos they anticipate and evolve to be better every day

Because at Melia Tamarindos they love to share, listen… feel

Because at Melia Tamarindos they do what we say

Because …

 

An unexpected Sunday in Margate

•November 19, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Being a sunny day, last Sunday I decided to have a short drive and stop, one again in Margate, watching the sea and dreaming about my next cruise in December.

It’s hard to believe today, but Margate was once a small fishing village. ‘Meregate’ had a large, partly-12th century church of St John’s set on a hill and a track down to a cluster of houses round the harbour. But the 1730s brought a passion for sea bathing, sparking the growth of Margate as a fashionable resort. Hoys, or sailing vessels, later steamships and eventually trains all brought countless visitors down from London.

Margate is crammed with historic and architectural gems, and today Margate Sands, the pier and Droit House, an attractive little building at the beginning of the pier are as fine a sight as ever – especially in a sunny day of November

My Margate’s routine includes a walk on the beach, a stroll on the pier and a quick  visit the Turner Contemporary Gallery followed by a generous portion of fish and chips in a sunny spot on the promenade fighting the cold air and the smell of the winter.

This time a little sign and a flash back of some online research lead my steps to Shell Grotto, a Grade I-listed building, consists of a winding subterranean passageway, about 2.4 metres high and 21 metres in length, terminating in a rectangular room, referred to as The Altar Chamber and measuring approximately 5 x 6 metres.

The story goes that in 1835 Mr James Newlove lowered his young son Joshua into a hole in the ground that had appeared during the digging of a duck pond. Joshua emerged describing tunnels covered with shells. He had discovered the Shell Grotto, its walls decorated with strange symbols mosaic-ed in millions of shells. Is it an ancient pagan temple? A meeting place for some secret cult? Nobody can explain who built this amazing place, or why, but since its accidental discovery visitors from all over the world have been intrigued by the beautiful mosaic and the unsolved mystery.

The purpose of the structure is unknown, and various hypotheses have dated its construction to any time in the past 3,000 years. Hypotheses include: it was an 18th or 19th-century rich man’s folly; it was a prehistoric astronomical calendar; it is connected with the Knights Templar/Freemasonry.[2] No scientific dating of the site has been carried out.

A popular theory with some, who cite the popularity of follies and shell structures in the 1700s. There are lots of them dotted around the country, largely in the grounds of stately homes, and as a result of wealthy landowners having embarked on the Grand Tour and seen shell structures on their travels. But the land the Grotto lies under was farmland and as far as we know has never formed part of a large estate. So why would a rich man’s fancy be built under someone else’s pastureland?

Follies were built as a statement: look at how much money I have, look at how cultured I am, look at me! So, if they included shells, the more exotic the better! In general, they weren’t secret, hidden away places. And they weren’t built under a farmer’s field.

If the Grotto had been built in the 1700s is it possible that all knowledge of it had disappeared by the time of its discovery in 1835? The building of the Grotto would have been a mammoth task: the excavation of the passageways, transporting 4.6 million shells to the site, sorting those shells and enlisting enough labour to create the mosaic. How to do all this on rising open ground, next to a busy track without anyone noticing? Every towns person would have had to be in on the secret and not breathed a word about it.

Was the grotto a smuggler’s cave? There was certainly a good deal of smuggling going on in and around Margate but it’s impossible to imagine the Grotto being a useful hiding place. For one thing, it’s a fair distance inland from the coast with no tunnels extending to or from the cliffs, nor any providing entrance or escape routes to nearby houses. The idea that smugglers would bring their booty to an exposed field doesn’t hold water. And why decorate it with millions of shells?

After getting back to the daylight why not stopping in the little shop where the owners stock hundreds of products, some inspired by the designs in the Grotto, some inspired by the seaside and many inspired by, or made of, shells. The shells come in a wild variety of colours and sizes, with prices ranging from 10p to £90. I spent couple of minutes looking at an interesting range of jewellery, plus fossils, crystals and a small but perfectly formed selection of books from Shire and Thames and Hudson.

Since the first paying customers descended the chalk stairway debate has raged about the Grotto’s origins: for every expert who believes it to be an ancient temple, there’s someone else convinced it was the meeting place for a secret sect; for every ardent pagan, there’s a Regency folly-monger ready to spoil their fun. At first glance the Grotto’s design only adds to the confusion, with humble cockles, whelks, mussels and oysters creating a swirling profusion of patterns and symbols. A storehouse for the imagination, there are any number of interpretations; trees of life, gods, goddesses and something that looks very like an altar, to name but a few.

However, there’s only one fact about the Grotto that is indisputable: that it is a unique work of art that should be valued and preserved, whatever its age or origins.

“IN THE NEXT SIX MONTHS, UNLESS YOUR SOUL IS UTTERLY DEAD, YOU WILL HAVE A DREAM SET HERE.”

(“Far From the Sodding Crowd: More Uncommonly British Days Out”, Robin Halstead)

 

GRAND EUROPEAN TOUR on Viking LIF, November 2017

•November 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Absorb the atmosphere of Budapest’s Café Gerbeaud and learn the Viennese waltz. Sample the food and wine of Austria’s Wachau Valley. Admire Rhine Valley vistas from a 900-year-old castle. Indulge all your senses on this 15-day journey spanning the best of Europe. On our most iconic itinerary, trace the legendary Danube, Main and Rhine Rivers between the stunning landscapes of Hungary and the windmill-dotted waterways of Holland, with engaging encounters at every bend.

Imagine all this wonders discovered in comfort on board of Viking LIF in the exquisite company of a 187 amazing guests and 53 fantastic crew

Be sure that you don’t miss your chance to be part on this journey in 2018!

Can’t wait to meet all of you.

Click here and watch the video of the trip:

GRAND EUROPEAN TOUR on Viking LIF

TBN – The hidden gem of San Agustin

•October 18, 2017 • Leave a Comment

Travelling all around the world I was always amazed about how bad the majority of the restaurants are in touristic areas. From Cuba to Cote d’Azur or Naples, from Malaga or Greek Islands to Caribbean, the ghost of a waiter clutching a laminated menu with horrible photos translated in 5 languages and beckoning you in from the doorway, inviting you to discover a hell of local cuisine was haunting my worst holiday nightmare. And Gran Canaria has its own place on the list; despite of the fact that Canary Island cuisine is famous for its unique blend of flavours influenced by the cuisines of Africa, Europe and America – a one-of-a-kind combination of freshness and flavour, the all-inclusive ghetto in Playa del Ingles attracted the invasion restaurants with laminated photo descriptive menus where the freshness, variety, simplicity, and the richness of local food is substituted by couple of drops of Mojo picón lost on a bunch of distant relatives of the real Papas arrugadas.

 

Restaurants, in Yumbo Center for example, which welcome many tourists each day are bound to take many short-cuts including with the quality of the produce they serve. In their defence, they’re trying to appeal to guests who are coming from all-inclusive resorts and may not have an adventurous palate looking for a cheap meal, as a “one off treat” during their holiday. During my recent trip to San Agustin I got, once again, the confirmation for my “tourist trap” theory: flashy menu and neon signs are always warning signs. The larger the sign, the further away you want to be from these places. Great restaurants serving great cuisine do not need a lot of advertising. Their story is shared through word of mouth.

 

Despite the fact that the food in Melia Tamarindos was great for every meal, one night I decided to try something different. Jiske Jager, the Guest Experience Manager of the hotel, suggested a local a la carte restaurant “TARA BY NIGHT”. And I said YES! Normally I don’t fall for this type of suggestions, looking for places where the locals eat and avoiding hotel’s restaurant. This time I had 100% trust in Jiske, just because after 5 days in Melia Tamarindos I realised that the hotel rejects the approach of large resort chains that don’t treat their settings as unique, but rather as a sort of generic tropical paradise that thru sun, sand and a sense of abundance amid poverty can convey a feeling of entitlement and luxury to their clientele.

 

And the evening spent in “Tara By Night” was one of the best experience of this holiday.

First of all the location is fantastic and the entire business model is great. The venue is located at the end of the hotel’s grounds, with excellent view of the ocean. Interesting is that, the location is extremely and intelligent versatile: in the morning the breakfast for the top end accommodation (“The Level”) is provided here in a quiet and peaceful manner, during the day the place is an excellent spot for light lunch or a snack close to your sunbed and in the late at night a charming cocktail bar with live music takes control. In the evening the space changes with 180 degrees creating a elegant intimate venue, perfect place for a romantic sophisticated dinner – “TARA BY NIGHT”

 

From the very first moment we were guided by the knowledgeable and friendly  Suanel, who helped navigate us through the plethora of dishes on offer and provided some excellent recommendations that would best be suited to our individual tastes. Just seconds after we were accompanied to our table and the menus started to be under our scrutiny, a delicious “amuse bouche” landed elegant on our table, whilst from somewhere close a warm live jazz music was invading the restaurant.

 

The menu offered a decent selection of Mediterranean and Canarian fusion cuisine, large enough to satisfy any taste, but small enough to guaranty the high quality of the food. From detailed descriptions to authentic-sounding foreign names, restaurateurs have many ways to persuade diners into ordering high-profit meals. At “Tara by Night” they have let the ingredients speak for themselves, in a simple list, with evocative descriptions, subliminal labels directing guest’s attention towards a feature in the dish, and hence helps bring out certain flavours and textures.

 

First choice: the wine. The list? A quite decent one, with local and international options but not in a number which will direct you to a cheap wholesale source. Our choice was Manto Malvasia Volcanica Seco, a wine from Lanzarote, very bright, clean and unctuous with attractive pale-yellow colour. The charming waitress assist us to notice the aromas of abundant fresh and ripe tropical, among which the hints of pineapple and passion fruit mix with very nice notes of peach and citrus.  Served by the book, the wine, on cork and when it opens up, displayed an intense floral aromas.IMG_1319

For the starters we decided to go on both land and sea.

My Micuit of duck was earthy and elegant, melting slowly and invading the palate with an aroma and flavour that’s gracefully soothing, supple and rich, with a lingering and delicate toasted-nut aftertaste. The creamy lentils and the gel of Indian tuna created perfect companions for the rich flavour of the Micuit, while the local touch was added by the strong cured Canary goat cheese Valsequillo

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Micuit of duck, creamy lentils, flowers of Valsequillo cheese and gel of Indian tuna

The other choice for the evening was grilled octopus grunt, caramelised iron pineapple on coconut. The result of this interesting eclectic combination: tons of flavour, great texture and tenderness. The sweet and savoury caramelised iron pineapple compliment perfectly the octopus while the coconut gave this dish a necessary creamy element that brought all the flavours together

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Grilled octopus grunt, caramelised iron pineapple on coconut

For the main course we decided to challenge Manu, the TBN’s chef and ordered: Turbot on May fire roast tomato, green Mojo rock and papaya compote and Roasted retinto sirloin with garden herbs and a red wine reduction.

The fish was cooked to perfection: the large flakes had a really nice medium-firm texture and smooth, sweet taste. The roasted tomato (with a light smoke flavour) and sweet papaya complement in a very elegant way the taste of the fish. Very interesting was the green Mojo rocks added to the dish: the intense colour and strong coriander flavour plus the mild spicy taste was an notable feature on the plate

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Turbot on May fire roast tomato, green Mojo rock and papaya compote

The meat was indeed the “pièce de résistance” of the dinner. The Retinta is one of the three pure breeds of cattle native to Spain and high quality llana (sirloin) was perfect roasted. I always go for a rare option and in “Tara by Night” they know how to make a juicy, tender and delicious rare roasted sirloin. Was a divine gastronomic experience to discover in each piece of meat a light smoky flavour, a bit earthy like a mushroom with a different texture, with a tenderness that melts in your mouth.  The wine reduction was simple and flavourful contrasting nicely with the pieces of crispy Polenta as garden herbs as sides. What a celebration of delicate flavours!

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Roasted retinto sirloin with garden herbs and a red wine reduction.

By the time when we reach the dessert we were overwhelmed by the service style and the high standards of the dinner, so, the final option was initially a Barraquito (served in a slightly large glass and containing coffee, regular milk, condensed milk and a syrupy liqueur called “Cuarenta y Tres”) or a simple Carajillo (a small black coffee, topped up with a dash of brandy). But our waitress persuaded me, quite easily, for the chef’s special: Apple Tatin with Ceylon vanilla ice-cream. A winner, not only because it’s offer of opulent harmony of flavours and the creative plating , but the idea of having a crispy base for the Tatin. How we managed to round off the meal with the incredibly tasty and chilled pudding, is beyond me. But it was definitely worth it.

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Apple Tatin with Ceylon vanilla ice-cream

I thoroughly enjoyed our immense culinary journey at “TBN” which offers exquisite dishes, a wonderful wine selection, a warm ambience and outstanding, friendly service The bespoke menu, the charming ambience and high standards of the service make “Tara by Night” a gastronomic “go to”  destination in the area and anyone needs to make some time to discover one night this hidden gem of San Agustin. And for sure you will come back…I will!

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Manu – TNB’s Chef

Where & How?

Starters range from €8 – €18

Main course range from  €18 – €26

Deserts from €5 – €6.50

To make a reservation at Tara by Night – Telephone: +34 912 76 47 47

Tara by Night is located at Melia Tamarindos Hotel&Resort, Calle las Retamas, 3, 35100 Playa de San Agustín, Las Palmas, Spain and is open seven days a week, from 7pm to 11pm

 

https://www.facebook.com/TBN-Restaurant-614221025399049/

 

 

Hotel CASA CAPSA – From BAD to WORST

•September 14, 2017 • 3 Comments

This was my second time at Hotel Casa CAPSA; the first one wasn’t the best experience (see my previous review) but at check-in the Receptionist was trying to persuade me to come back and to see that the first unpleasant stay was an “unhappy experience”. Despite the fact I’m not “buying” amazing deals from Shopping TV programs or glossy magazine I decided to come back to Casa CAPSA in September.

Big mistake because everything moved from BAD to WORTS consolidating in my eyes (after staying in 4 and 5 star hotels around the world at least 3or 4 times a month) the idea that Hotel Casa Capsa is a SCAM with capital letters.

I booked on-line (using booking.com) a Junior Suite and I was very excited because the photos on both websites (booking.com and the hotel’s one) looked amazing. Unfortunately, only location of the hotel and the historical building are real 5 stars. The rest…

At check-in a very talkative receptionist explained me how lucky I am that I manage to secure in a last minute booking a Jr. Suite when the hotel is fully booked. Last minute? Is what they called in Romania a booking done 5 weeks in advance? Maybe is just … “lost in translation”. Later the same receptionist confessed that after booking me in a real Jr. Suite, couple days before my arrival the management decided to move me in another room because some “important guys staying in the hotel” and of course “can’t tell you more, you know what I am talking about…” was present in the conversation too. Very professional.

I got room 317, placed at the end of a creepy corridor at the 3 floor. The room was obviously not a Jr. Suite (complete different them the descriptions of both website-booking.com and capsa.ro). When I discussed the issue with the reception they spend a good 20 minutes to explain me that I am wrong and “317 is a Jr. Suite” …. really??!! However, later some of the staff explained me that the room is not a Jr. Suite and maybe if I talk with the manager I will pay a different price.

The room was very dark with no natural light or fresh air due to the fact that the window was opening in an interior closed courtyard. Nice to wake up in the morning and switch on all the lights in the room to find my way to bathroom.

Talking about bathroom was an … experience. I don’t remember when I saw last time in a 2-star hotel a shower with a plastic curtain … maybe in 1970? But a 5 star hotel will never accept this solution just because a plastic shower curtain needs a lot of effort (at least a good wash once a day) to assure the correct level of hygiene.  The bathroom had an original “rainforest shower”: the shower head was so old and damaged that projected water everywhere, especially on the roof and after that when you were trying to have a decent shower you had and very special “naturistic” add-on: water dripping from the roof with paint and calcar… That’s a 5-star touch.

After the first 20 minutes in room 317 I had the feeling that the room was more appropriate for a rent by hour (oops!) than by night. Later that day looking under the bed I found the confirmation that the management had the idea “rent by night” before me … that’s what I call style: pretty woman earring and used “spread the love” as a trademark of a 5 star Junior Suite.

The first morning, after not a very good night sleep and remembering the last experience at Hotel Casa Capsa I skipped the breakfast and decided for a French wake-up call: Nicotine Macchiato.  But the second day I took the risk…and I paid for it! The breakfast was the same lame dull experience, far for an expected offer in a 5 star hotel and a service offered in a communist hotel in Berlin 1975. I will not go in to details but this time Hotel Capsa beat it’s own record: this time a 30 minutes wait for a simple omelette.

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Nobody else to blame than me. Was my decision to comeback…the last time.

Hotel Casa Capsa has a prime location and a beautiful building but that’s all; the rest is a TOURISTIC SCAM with capital letters.

One “LEVEL” above expectations

•September 10, 2017 • Leave a Comment

To be honest I don’t remember when I fall in love with Costa del Sol and Torremolinos. You can call me “old fashioned” but I still love the little Mediterranean resort town on southern Spain where I feel like home when stepping on the smooth sand of El Bajondillo. And being honest once again, I lost the count of my days spent there in long weekends, well planned holidays or even couple of hours on the beach between 2 easyJet flights.

I was trying always to find the perfect spot, a hotel where the comfort will match the accessibility to the incredible day and night life of Torremolinos. Sometimes I succeeded sometimes I failed in real touristic nightmares.

And one day, going back to one of my favourite spots – Melia Costa del Sol I discovered a little miracle called “The LEVEL”. Of course, the hotel is itself in an excellent spot in Toremollinos: situated right in the heart of the Costa del Sol, perfectly located next to the Bajondillo Beach, 6 kilometres from Málaga International Airport and just 5 minutes from the centre of the city.

But the new concept takes the guest’s experience to a complete different “LEVEL”. The Level conveys the idea of a private club, a “hotel within a hotel”, where exclusivity and personalised service come together in a unique and modern setting. But the marketing description is far below the real experience I had at Melia Costa del Sol with an amazing consistency from the moment of checking-in up to the genuine farewell in the last day.

The check-in was fast and efficient with a genuine mixture of technical questions and relax chit-chat and smiles. By the time when the Reception team finished all the formalities and one of the bell-boys took care of my luggage, the LEVEL Concierge was already there extending the welcome of the team and offered to escort me in the room.

The LEVEL Junior Suite was indeed an extremely present surprise with spectacular front views over the Mediterranean Sea and located on the hotel´s 7th floor. The amazing 25 m² terrace, the separate lounge area, amenities from luxury brands such as Loewe or Nespresso, a welcome gift in the room, pillow menu, the Level bathrobe and slippers, personalised minibar content everything are only couple of the elements of this unique and personalised experience in which every detail has been created especially for guests.

During my stay at Melia Costa del Sol, both charming girls acting as Concierge, were active parts of an over-spoiled daily routine. From suggestion related to free time activities to restaurant or Spa bookings everything was possible and done with a genuine smile. And despite the fact that the LEVEL was fully booked the staff always find time for a pleasant conversation. Nothing was too much trouble and their friendly, helpful and humorous demeanour ensured I had a wonderful experience.

The Level includes access to private The Level Lounge, with an excellent location including a lounge and a garden with a permanent coffee station, daily snack and cocktail service and a private reception for personalised arrivals, departures, reservations and tourist information and excursions. Was the perfect place to run from the heat of the crowded beach, enjoy a pre-dinner cocktail or charge your batteries in the evening before discovering the night life of Toremollinos. The amazing Level Lounge is a real oasis away from the main hotel where I could have continental breakfast, small snacks and drinks throughout the day.

The staff looking after the lounge made each day a pleasure with their smiles and friendly service. Late afternoon tapas and drinks in the private garden was a treat and set us up for the evening ahead. Jasmin and Maria, the LEVEL Concierge, went the extra mile to assist and look after us and are a credit to the hotel with their professionalism and service. The drinks served in the THE LEVEL lounge are premium spirit brands but the Spanish ones are available too. Was a great idea to change the drinks menu according to the time of the day with aperitifs before lunch and dinners and digestives until late. The snacks served were exquisite, following the modern trends but bringing an authentic Andalusian touch.

Melia Costa del Sol offers different packages:  accommodation only, B&B, half or full board and this time I opted for a half board choice…great idea! The size of the restaurant and the number of the guests having their meals at the same time could create the risk of “mass produced” service. But is not the case at Melia Costa del Sol. At the end of my stay I was still wondering how the entire staff manage such a smooth, almost perfect service flow with no waiting time, always clean tables, staff everywhere ready to serve and a general shocking efficiency. But the most striking memory is the entire staff of the restaurant, from the Maître D, who will guide you to your table to the waiter who will take the drinks order; despite the fact that they were always busy they never forgot to have a polite, genuine and cheerful presence, making every meal a high customer service experience.

The breakfast was served until 11am and whenever you turned up, at 8am or 10.45, the same amount of food was still available, no shortage and no queues. All staff appeared to know exactly who you were and were always in good spirits. The choice was amazing and doesn’t matter how picky you are with your food, at Melia Costa del Sol is something for everybody – Mediterranean, international and regional specialities – each culinary taste being satisfied with a wide range of international and Spanish dishes, both for breakfast and dinner. For every meal I had, Melia delivered with style. Where else can you find honey served directly from a local producer or a “salt collection” for seasoning your dinner?

The entire hotel was spotless and the staff takes pride in keeping the premises shining day and night.  A single cloud on the shiny sky of Melia Costa del Sol: our housekeeper who needed a more polished attention to details: never replaced the amenities without being asked, forget to change the towels or the paper tissues in the bathroom, forget to push the vacuum cleaner in some corners or under the bead. Small details which for sure are just single happenings in a perfect high standards environment.

Melia Costa del Sol extend the excellence pre- and post-stay; genuine and kind messages received in my inbox before my arrival and after returning home and the most impressive a hand written note place in my room before my departure showed, once again, that at Melia’s philosophy is built around guest satisfaction.

In summary, The Level conveys the idea of a private club and of a “hotel within a hotel”, which serves guests staying in The Level rooms and executive suites, which offers special services and other upgraded amenities to make the hotel stay a truly sublime experience, where exclusivity and personalised service come together in a unique and modern setting. An excellent choice and a great value for money.

I am not easily impressed but I can without hesitation recommend Melia as a must go to destination when visiting the Costa del Sol. You will not be disappointed!! I will definitely come back without a doubt! Many, many thanks for all you did for my short break at Melia Costa del Sol; Melia Group could not ask for better ambassadors

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