Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Off to the Northern Lights - Heathrow Terminal 2 - Priority Pass / Premium Plaza Lounge

Such excitement - a new terminal I've never been to; Scandinavian - an airline I've never travelled on; Norway - a country I've never seen, and the Northern Lights - a phenomenon  I have never experienced. So I was up for surprises.

Little did I know the first surprise would be an airport lounge.

Main public area of Terminal 2, Heathrow, with Christmas decorations, fluorescent black cab sculpture, and other light installations.
Terminal 2 (or the Queens Terminal) opened in 2014 and is quite light and airy compared to the horrors of Gatwick which was my last terminal experience. The terminal is home to most of the Star Alliance airlines flying into Heathrow (except new member Air India)

. . . and a bit more shopping on 2 levels to the left.
I must say I liked the terminal. The modern day sawtooth curved roof brings lots of light into the space, and although it has adopted the 'shopping mall with terminal attached' brand of airport design, the public spaces seemed nice. It's also good to see some public art installations, although none that I saw seemed particularly well integrated into the building. I didn't however see Slipstream.

The contemporary 'saw tooth' ceiling floods the terminal with light on a dreary winters day.

Priority Pass Lounge

Our trip from London to Heathrow took less time than we expected, so we were in need of a lounge to start our trip celebrations. With both of us couples only having access to One World alliance lounges, and what with travelling on SAS belonging to Star Alliance - we were heading off to an airport bar until we realised one of our friends credit cards gave them Priority Pass access to Plaza Premium lounges. Between you and me - I was not keen. PP lounges tend to be on the awful side of reasonable.

Except I was wrong. Totally wrong.

This is one of the best Plaza Premium/Priority Pass lounges I have visited, on equal footing with the newly opened one at Phnom Penh International airport in Cambodia.

Inside the entrance to the Priority Pass/Plaza Premium Lounge, Terminal 2 Heathrow - looking back towards the entrance.
This early in the afternoon, the lounge was relatively empty with maybe only 20 people including staff and our party of 4. Staff weren't exactly active, but I find that to be the case in most PP lounges. We could get a drink, and recharge our devices, not to mention do a little work in the time we had available.

Seating area in the lounge
The combination of blue and grey tones, combined with the lighting made for a very pleasant waiting experience. This PP lounge was actually nicer than a lot of airline lounges.

Lots of screens dividing the space make for a more intimate feeling
We were here early afternoon, so not that hungry, but the food selection was pretty good.

Some of the hot food selection in the lounge
To Lounge, or not to Lounge . . .
Definitely lounge. This one came as a surprise, and Priority Pass / Plaza Premium definitely get a gold stamp for these new lounges they seem to be rolling out around the world. Comfortable, all the right amenities, well designed, good food selection, and a haven before a flight - what more could one ask. I am sure going to value those credit cards which include membership of Priority Pass more now.

Watch out for a review of the PP lounge in Phnom Penh, Cambodia in the next few weeks.

More stories from this trip

Hilton Adelaide - 5 star Ibis with IKEA accents

I'm not a big fan of the Hilton chain. There, I've said it. Read on with that in mind.

View across Victoria Square to the Adelaide Hilton. Photo from Hilton website.

First 5 Star in Adelaide

I spent two weekend nights (Friday and Saturday) on a family vistit with my partner at the Hilton on Victoria Square in the centre of Adelaide, South Australia.

This hotel has resonances for me. When I lived in Adelaide, its arrival in the early 80's (I think) meant that my home town had made it in the sophistication stakes. Not only did we have Australia's pre-eminent cultural festival, but now the international recognition of the Hilton chain.

It was the glam hotel of the town. In fact the only official 5 star establishment. Added to that, it opened a stunning restaurant 'The Grange' with the famous head chef Chong Liew (formerly of Neddy's [1975 to 1988] - the go-to place for Adelaide foodies in the 70's and 80's.)

Why the Hilton?

Well, normally travelling alone to Adelaide, I stay with my mother. Now, 91 (my mother, not me), having too many guests is a bit overwhelming, so we (I was traveling with my partner) opted for a hotel. We weren't planning on spending much time at the hotel - so comfort and a reasonable location were the guidelines. Our options were three: the new Mayfair Hotel (around the AU$220 mark for a King Bed room), the Intercontinental [formally Grand Hyatt], (only suites left at around AU$900) and the Hilton at more like AU$146/night.

The Adelaide Hilton sits on the newly redesigned Victoria Square in the town planned centre of the city. Behind it are the wonderful Adelaide Markets, Chinatown, and quite a good collection of restaurants.

Late in 2015, the hotel finished a major refurbishment of its public spaces (except the interior of the lifts - it would seem).

Incredibly outdated, its-about-to-be-retro moulded glass side panels in the Adelaide Hilton lift interiors.
And they didn't exactly lavish attention and design on the lift foyers either.

Not a lamp, or a credenza, or a seat, or plant, or a side table, or even a picture - nothing in the lift foyer but dark grey paint.
With a combination of web research, and a quick call to the hotel (always pays to foster a relationship with the staff!) We were told that any room after the 5th floor would be refurbished. We ended up on the 10th and accepted a paid ($25) upgrade offer to a corner room. I'm not entirely sure it was worth it.

12th floor corner room got us at least 2 of the scrawney windows.

The Room

The room was refurbished, but with absolutely no wall decoration - a bit like that lift foyer above. No pictures and nothing but a serviceable vertical mirror by the bathroom door. The windows in the room are tiny, but we got two compared to the usual one per room.

The room is kind of five star basic. It has everything you need, but is a bit of a style free zone. Weirdly, the doona (duvet or comforter) was placed the wrong way round within the cover
As you can see the colour palette is kind of brown, with brown, and off-white, and then a little more light brown with wood highlights. All perfectly serviceable, with a good desk, office chair, and reading lights over the bed, bedside tables and guest chair.

Wardrobes with recessed handles at the entrance.

The entrance contains a three door wardrobe, with safe, shelves, but no drawers.

Iron, board, robe and hangers, including laundry bags.
Hairdryer, shoe-shine, slippers, shelves and safe. One of those annoying ones you have to enter your number each time you open and close.
A bit spartan, but all essentials present.

A bench ran down most of one wall with cupboards, Luggage rack, and TV stand. Everything worked and was serviceable, except the TV. What is it with hotel room TV's and their remotes? Slow to react to input, and kind of annoying. We did watch a movie, but I couldn't work out how to pause or rewind or anything.

The room had a built in 'bar' area with drawers, fridge and cupboards below, and glass shelf above. It cried out for a coffee machine! Instead we just got a kettle.

Fridge, shelf, bar, drawers, kettle, glasses, cups, tea and coffee, sugar, wine and bottle opener. And a sound leaky connecting door.
The bar drawer and fridge were well stocked:

Standard snack junk food selection. Who can stay in a hotel room without consuming the Pringles?

Haven't seen this many teenage targeted premixed drinks in a hotel fridge ever, nor that much beer and water.

Desk

It looks like all the corner rooms have adjoining room doors. I doubt there was any sound proofing other than the double doors. I could have told you word for word the phone conversation the guy on the other side was having. It really frustrates me that an international hotel group with just shy of a century of experience (Conrad bought his first hotel in 1919) can still get something as basic as sound proofing between adjoining rooms so wrong.

Desk in corner. If I had been trapped in Adelaide for a few days working, this would have been a more than adequate workspace with a proper office chair, and a surface that doesn't require a mouse mat to make my computer work
Adelaide Hilton did get the desk right. This would have been a great space to work in if this had been a business trip, rather than a family trip. The proper office chair, meant no phone call to reception to get them to scurry around to find an office chair, that I find I consistently have to do at most hotel chains - particularly at Hyatt hotels.

Another blank wall.

Bathroom

The bathroom size spoke of another era. It was fairly small, but in the refurbishment, they had installed a large walk in shower that occupied most of the short side of the room opposite the bathroom basin and bench.

Modernised bathroom. Small, but nearly perfectly formed. Those towels on the right are the ones we paid for - disappeared the next morning.

My partner had ordered extra towels (for which he was charged a fee) as part of the pre-arrival procedure for the hotel. Besides never having been charged for extra towels at a 5 star hotel before - this was apparently only a one-night-thing, as they were whisked away the next day.

Rain shower in the ceiling and hand held shower with three settings, including 'pulse'. Water saving, but effective. Those towels are the ones we didn't pay extra for.
This was a one person bathroom, but it worked rather well, although it did feel a bit like a cave with the dark brown tiles and floor.

Peter Thomas Roth toiletries. Good packaging design, and a step above that June Jacobs brand that Hyatt pollutes its bathrooms with. Interestingly, if you go to 'his' website it looks like the two brands are stablemates.

Robes were on the freakishly alien thin side, but towelling was comfortable and on the soft side of hotel harsh.

Slightly skimpy robe, power outlets, shaving mirror, redundant electrical outlet or something, and those paid for towels again.

Bars and Restaurants

We didn't eat in the hotel, but we did sample the The Collins Bar cocktail lounge, and the foyer bar/lounge area. Both are situated in the newly refurbished ground floor. In both instances you have to order at the bar, although they do deliver drinks to your table. Both had that sort of transient feel that a lot of hotel spaces have, but both had great potential as destinations, and I hope they are abuzz during festival and other event times.

The hotel foyer lounge. Comfortable space. We had a drink here on the Saturday night. Order at the bar, and drinks served to your table. Photo from Hilton 

This is the lounge area of The Collins Bar, which you enter from inside the hotel, but is separate to the hotel. Beautiful design, and quite comfortable. Would be improved by table service, but that copper light fitting is stunning. Photo from Hilton.
The hotel has conference spaces, a restaurant, gym facilities and a club lounge - none of which we sampled. The hotel has no in-house car parking, but does offer valet parking - although the service requires 20 minutes notice. On our visit, the Bell captain let us park in the driveway on several occasions as long as it was under an hour or two.

Check In or Check Out

Location wise, pretty good, with lots of food options and the wonderful Adelaide Markets close by. 

A refurbishment within an existing hotel shell always means compromises. The rooms and especially the bathrooms are on the smallish side by modern five star standards.

Our Deluxe King ticked a lot of boxes, particularly for business travellers. Windows are on the small side. Decor is on the spartan side, with fixtures and fittings feeling a bit Ikea in contrast to the beautiful and cosy public spaces. That is excepting the room floor lift foyers, which just felt dark, empty and oppressive, and the lifts themselves, which were just a time-warp to the 80's.

It's a 5 star hotel because of its features, but more like a 5 star Ibis, with IKEA accents, but a good option at the price - so value for money.