RIU PLAZA ESPANA A hotel like a box of chocolates

Do you remember the famous line of Forrest Gump: “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get”?

In a way my one-night stay at RIU Plaza Espana in Madrid was something like that. Or like a sandwich in which some of the fillings are great, some of them “meh” and some of them definitely expired.

The “box” is absolutely impressive: a historic skyscraper, the 8th tallest building in Madrid, opened in 1953 as the Edificio España. The mixed-use structure initially was containing a hotel, offices, apartments and shops and it is an example of 20th-century Spanish architecture built in the neo-baroque style. The Spanish RIU Hotels chain acquired the building in 2017 and reopened it as a hotel in 2019.

I started to feel the opulence of the building which used to be until 1957 the tallest building in Spain, with 25 floors and a height of 117 m, from the moment when I left the taxi in front of Edificio España designed by architect Julián Otamendi and his brother as  a “symbol of prosperity”. And that feeling stayed with me for couple of seconds when I entered the elegant lobby.

Just couple of seconds because immediately after stepping into the lobby, a cascade of orders and commands received from the bellboy brought me back from Francisco Franco’s Spain to COVID’s Madrid 2020. You need to “play” an unexpected hopscotch, jumping on squares designed on the carpet and the marble floor, following the “assertive” directions of the Cerberus in uniform guarding the entrance.

I’ve been in 5 hotels since the pandemic and I experienced different ways to ensure the safety of guests and staff (you remember for sure the excellent experience I had with “Stay Safe with Melia”). I am sure that you can implement and conduct all this needed measures in a more welcoming, relaxing way, without giving the feeling that for sure you will find in the lobby the famous Dante’s “Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch’intrate” / “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”

Unpleasant and unnecessary!

And the same “welcoming” style continued at the reception where I spend 15 minutes to be told what “NOT TO DO” – a long list of restrictions which made the entire check-in process extremely unpleasant. I know that we experience a new way to travel and a new way to stay in a hotel but, looking at my previous experiences all can be done in a different way. It is more “customer service” orientated to present all these restrictions as something how “TO DO IT” than as “NOT TO DO IT”. At the end of the day I payed to stay in a hotel not in a prison. The receptionist, quite charming and polite, was so busy to “force feed” me with all the rules that he forgot some basic information. He forgot for example to register my credit card and therefore 3-4 times when I was using the hotel’s facilities (bar, terrace, restaurant) I was told that I don’t have a credit in the hotel so, every time I had to go back to my room to pickup a credit card. I thought that movement limitations is a way to fight against the virus.

At the check-in the receptionist asked me for my email address. When I mentioned that I am not interested in receiving marketing information, he explained me with a genuine smile that the email address will be used “to send the password for WIFI”. Odd but fair enough but what about the situation that I don’t have internet access to check my emails?  

After check-in I had the “chance” to get another 5 minutes “lecture” about using the elevator. OK, you can presume that some of the guests never used an intelligent elevator and some explanations are needed.  But after a long flight the only thing that you need is to be in your room and was easy to save everybody time just asking, “Shall I explain you how our elevators work?”

The lobby is a gem of interior design keeping a lot of the original opulent elements. An interesting detail, kept from the old days, is the lift system control panel at the entrance of the modern elevators.  Waiting to run in high speed with the modern elevator to the 10th floor where my room was, I was sure that the new RIU PLAZA Espana will be full of this type of surprises, with old architectural features mixed with the modern ones.

But I forgot about Forrest Gump’s chocolate box. The rest of the hotel brings to the guests the disappointment of a mediocre airport hotel with no personality and long dark corridors.

My room was a “Junior Suite with terrace” priced at £150/night. The space was pretty generous with 37 m2 Jr. Suite a 180×200 cm bed, sofa bed in the living area, bathtub, WiFi connection, satellite TV, air conditioning and heating, safe, mini fridge and a nice  terrace with great views of Plaza Espana and Palacio Real. Personally, I found a little bit weird to have the bathtub in the middle of the room and a “full view” shower but I experienced a similar trendy, modern, minimalistic style in W hotels too so, I wasn’t very surprised. Looking at the photos of the room imagine the “sexy touch” of doing some work at the desk while your travel companion is having a bath next door. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm! Thanks God that the toilet had a door!

What I didn’t expect was how uncomfortable the bed was. In a 4-star hotels you expect a choice of pillows and a comfortable mattress. At the end of the day you like a hotel if you have a good night sleep. The only 2 pillows in the “180×200 cm bed” were the most uncomfortable I’ve ever had, more in line with £30/night hostel expectations. I do understand the limitations under the pandemic but at least you can have in the room an extra option, somewhere in the wardrobe, sealed in a plastic bag.

But maybe the most disturbing aspect of my stay was the cleanliness of the room. After the check-in experience, I was expected a room full of “disinfected” seals and an over the top clean accommodation. In reality no signs of deep cleaning and more than that I was “persecuted by pubs” (I love this line of famous Hotel Inspector Alex Polizzi) on the toilet seat and in the sinks. Not really something you expect especially during the COVID madness.

RIU Hotels & Resorts has worked for the creation of a total of 17 protocols, in collaboration with Preverisk Group, an international consultancy specialized in advising, auditing and training in health and safety in the tourism industry. But I think some of the protocols got lost in translation. While the other hotels provide the amenities on request to limit the risk of infection. In my room I found all the usual amenities which was a god thing. What wasn’t so good is the fact that they were left in the room after the previous guest!!! One of the boxes was opened and half used which made me think that those 17 protocols they are great, but only on paper.

Going back to Gump’s box of chocolate the biggest surprise was 360º Rooftop Bar, a place that I heard since the opening of the hotel last year but never had the chance to experience it.

360º Rooftop Bar gives you the chance to discover Madrid from high, high above. Perched on the 27th floor of the majestic and newly renovated Hotel Riu Plaza España, this is just about as close to the sky you can get in the Spanish capital.

The 360º panoramic views from the stylish outdoor terrace are breath-taking. Literally all of Madrid and beyond is at your feet, in just about every angle imaginable. For the brave (and anyone looking for a great Instagram-moment), there is also a spectacular glass walkway stretching between two wings of the building. Here you can really walk on air and above the city. The spacious, modern and multi-level rooftop terrace is equipped with lots of comfy lounge sofas, regular tables and front-row bar seats. From the rooftop bar you can order classic cocktails, wine, beers, coffee and some snacks. And the prices, taking in the account the location are more than reasonable: €12-14 for a cocktail, €9-10 for a G&T. Spectacular like the views is the service: polite, elegant, smooth and genuine, exactly what you expect in a certain location. I wonder if they can do some training in customer excellence with their colleagues at the reception. Guest staying at Hotel Riu Plaza España can visit the sky bar and rooftop bar for free, while there is a fee for outside visitors: €5 from 11.00 to 17.00 and €10 from 17.00 to 01.00.

After a not at all good sleep I had a pleasant surprise with the breakfast. Of course, you need to book a slot to get your coffee and your “pan con tomate” but it is worth it. The restaurant has quite a complicated one-way system, but the entire staff is very efficient and pleasant. A mixture of international and local cuisine guarantees an excellent start of the day with a great 5-star breakfast. Still don’t understand how the breakfast escaped from all those 17 protocols with no gloves in the food area, with people choosing their breakfast items without social distancing and so on, but the entire experience was a pleasant one. And once again maybe the reception staff can learn something from their colleagues in the restaurant regarding customer service.

The hotel, according to the information given at check-in, was not at all busy (20-25% occupancy in their more than 550 rooms) and therefore having a 3.00PM flight I ask about the possibility of a late check-out. The normal check-out time is normally at an odd 11.00AM. The answer was blunt: “a late check-out is possible for €10/hour”. Interesting how RIU Plaza Espana, having a lot of availability, has no flexibility in their check-out policy sending the guests in a Madrid facing regional lockdown. “Care and concern” for €10 per hour. Great!

Another interesting experience, which I was able to avoid fortunately, was the famous RIU Plaza Espana pool. In line with the infamous 17 protocols the reception staff provided a complicated way to book your slot for the swimming pool for a limited time. Actually, took longer to read to rules and make a booking than the time frame for using the facility.

Understandable, in the room on the hospitality trays the little spoons were replaced with single used stirring sticks. I had to take a gel medication which requires a good stir and I ask the reception to provide a spoon. After waiting 10 minutes for somebody to pick-up the phone, I was told to wait to check “the protocols” if when room-service was eliminated (again totally understandable) a spoon can be provided. After another 20 minutes I was advised to go to the 27th floor where “maybe you will find a spoon”. I didn’t know that one of the COVID19 symptoms is the loss of customer service flair.

However, looking back to my experience at RIU Plaza Espana indeed it was like Forrest Gump box of chocolates. Unfortunately, too many odd surprises to make me consider the hotel as a choice for my next stay in Madrid. I was thinking to book one of the superb RIU hotels in Meloneras but I am afraid that, like in Madrid,  COVID19 will be a good excuse to cut corners.

And I am not a big fan of chocolate boxes full of odd surprise anyway.

~ by leonard69 on October 1, 2020.

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