Besides the generous 85,000 Gold Points sign-up bonus, probably the best feature of the Club Carlson Visa is its "last night free" benefit, wherein if you redeem Gold Points for two or more consecutive award nights, your last night is always free. This creates an interesting proposition, because if a city you're visiting has multiple Carlson Rezidor properties, you could technically get 50% off your entire award stay by hotel hopping for two nights each.
I did this recently in London since they have no less than 15 properties close to downtown. I stayed for six nights total, choosing The May Fair, the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel, and the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge. Hotels in London are incredibly expensive, and any of the Radisson Blu hotels can routinely top $400 per night. Carlson Rezidor's most famous and luxurious property in London, The May Fair, can start anywhere from $400-$700 per night and only goes up from there.
The May Fair is where I started, and to be honest, I was a little nervous to show up at one of London's hot spots with my nasty backpack and disheveled appearance. By then, I had been traveling through Germany for almost two weeks, and after a late night flight into London from Munich, I was exhausted and grimy. I kept imagining security dragging me out of the lobby while hip onlookers pointed and shook their heads disapprovingly. Luckily, reality was a lot less exciting, and I was courteously greeted upon arrival despite my demeanor.
The May Fair
It was almost midnight when I checked in, so there were few people in the lobby, although the bar area was fairly crowded. I really appreciated the watermelon-infused water dispenser that was located at every check-in terminal. The very friendly front desk agent was efficient and quickly handed me the keys to my room. He noticed I was by myself and confirmed this with me since I typically put two people on the reservation just in case a travel buddy decides to join me. He then asked if I preferred a king bed instead of two twins, which I declined.
When I entered the room, I was really surprised at how large it was. Shocked was probably a more apt description when I then saw the size of the bathroom. I'd read about how small London hotel rooms can be, so I was not prepared for so much open space. Not sure if I was upgraded to a nicer room because of my Gold Status or if this was just the standard room here... but either way I was extremely happy. On the table was a personalized welcome letter, as well as a small amenity box of chocolates. A complimentary bottle of water was also provided.
This was probably my favorite non-suite bathroom ever at a hotel. There was a huge shower and a ginormous bathtub (with TV monitor) on opposite ends of the room, two sinks, and luxurious soap, shampoo and skin products from Essentiel Elements. The towel rack was heated, and the towels themselves were thick and oversized. What else could you ask for? :)
Finally, I loved the modern entertainment system, which included a super thin internet-connected television set with direct access to YouTube and other apps, and of course, a docking station for your iPod/iPhone. Free WiFi was provided throughout the hotel, and it was blazing fast! This was one of the few times I had no issues with the internet connection at a hotel while traveling through Europe.
I had no complaints about The May Fair whatsoever, and although I would never pay $500 per night for any hotel out of pocket, I would gladly redeem 50,000 Gold Points for two nights here. The hotel is conveniently located just one block away from the Green Park Underground station. Unfortunately, I did not have time to try out the fitness center or the spa.
Next up, I checked in at the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel, tucked away near the Convent Garden district, right in the heart of Seven Dials Village. This was the most ideal location out of the three hotels I stayed at. While the Mayfair area was decidedly upscale, Convent Garden was filled with awesome eateries and quaint shops, I wished I could have stayed here a little longer to fully explore the neighborhood. The boutique-style hotel fit right into its surrounding, and the entrance to the hotel actually opened directly into the Seven Dials roundabout.
Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel
I brought my belongings there early in the morning and asked to store them until check-in time, which wasn't a problem. After a day of sightseeing, I returned around 6:00 pm. There was only one group ahead of me in line, but they seemed to be having some issues so the process took a little longer than expected. After getting my key and retrieving my bag, I headed up to my room.
Compared to The May Fair, everything was a lot smaller here, but certainly fine for my needs. While no amenity was given, there was a complimentary bottle of water provided. One minor complaint I had was the fact that there was only one small window, which made the room feel a little claustrophobic. The view outside faced the crowded streets and houses of Convent Garden, which was nice.
The bedding, toiletries, and some other equipment in the room (TV, bathroom fixtures) seemed to be identical to The May Fair, which made sense. One added bonus was the inclusion of an Apple TV, which allows owners of iPhones and Macbooks to stream content directly to the television. If you have your favorite shows loaded onto your laptop already, this makes for much more comfortable viewing. Free WiFi was included as well.
View from the room
The bathroom was normal-sized, with a combination shower-tub, one sink, and soap, shampoo, and skin products from Essentiel Elements once again. The shower pressure was decent, and towels were of good quality. One of my quibbles with a number of European hotels was the fact that many of their showers only have a half pane of glass enclosing the space with no doors or curtains. This was true at The May Fair as well as some hotels I stayed at in Germany. I found that these setups usually don't do a good job of keeping in the water, and by the end of your shower, a pool will have formed on the ground outside.
I had a very restful two nights here and no major issues. For the location alone, I would say the Radisson Blu Edwardian Mercer Street Hotel was worth the points. Be aware that there are actually a number of Radisson Blu hotels in close proximity to each other around the neighborhood, although I do believe the Mercer Street Hotel had the best reviews on TripAdvisor. The Leicester Square and Convent Garden Underground stations are both just a short walk away. There was no gym or spa at this hotel, and I did not try out the breakfast.
Finally, I headed over to the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, located, as its namesake suggests, right next to the Westminster Bridge on the south side of the Thames. This is a relatively new hotel, and very large compared to the boutique-style Radisson Blus in London. It is a much more typical big-city-international-chain hotel, with a spacious lobby, multiple restaurants, bar, coffee shop, and more.
Park Plaza Westminster Bridge
What I wasn't expecting, however, was the poor service as I was checking in. I walked into the lobby carrying my large backpack and probably looking a bit disheveled once again. As I walked over to the Club Carlson member check-in line, I was stopped by a roaming attendant who told me to move over to the regular line. I was a little confused, as there were others in the Club Carlson line, yet I was the only person he told to move. I hesitated for a second, then told him that I was a Gold Member, to which he responded, "oh, then you're fine where you are". Umm okay.
Then for the next half an hour, both the Club Carlson line and the regular line didn't move at all. I don't know what was going on, but every single person who was being helped had some sort of issue that couldn't be resolved. So we all just stood there, everyone giving each other helpless looks and shaking our heads. Not only that, one of the agents was flat-out rude. As the guest she was helping finally left, the next customer in line started walking over to her. She held up her hand to his face and said in a loud voice, "I'm busy right now, can you go back."
Club Carlson member check-in line
After I finally got to an agent, I gave him my information and waited as he clicked away on the computer. Low and behold, he says he could not find a record of my reservation. He asked if I used Booking.com or if I had gotten the dates wrong (no and no). Then he said he would need to talk to a supervisor, and he disappeared into a room behind the counter. About five minutes later, he reappeared and apologized, saying he made a mistake. Overall, this was not a terribly great way to start off a hotel stay.
But finally, I had my key in hand and headed up the elevator. When I open the door, I was greeted with a dark dank room. I turned on all the lights which didn't help much, and when I opened the curtains, I knew why. I stood there facing a green wall. I suppose being a Gold Member, I definitely didn't expect a spectacular upgrade of any sort... but I also didn't expect to be put in one of the worst rooms at the hotel, especially when it was not full (and I knew it wasn't full in a short while). The internal rooms at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge belong to the lowest category, facing one of two inner atriums with a green wall on the opposing side that is very close to the window.
Unhappy with the entire experience thus far, I called up guest services hoping to get a room change. The first response I received from the gentleman on the phone was, "well, this is the room you booked". After a bit of back and forth, he finally agreed to contact guest relations and have me moved to another room facing the outer atrium. He said someone would come to my room with a new key. About 45 minutes later, with no sign of anyone, I gathered up all my belongings and headed back down to the lobby to wait in line again.
Finally, with everything sorted out, I went up to the new room, which had a little more natural light. However, facing the outer atrium also meant directly facing other rooms, and from what I could tell, there was absolutely no privacy unless you closed your curtains, which sort of defeated the purpose of changing rooms to begin with. In any case, you win some, you lose some. It's impossible to have a good experience at every hotel, and I just added another one to the bad category.
The room itself was the smallest out of the three hotels I stayed out. However, it also had the least wear and tear owing to its recent construction. While everything in the room was fine, it did lack a few of the nicer amenities found at The May Fair and the Radisson Blue. There were no robes or slippers, no Apple TV or internet-connected television, and no complimentary water. A few minutes later, however, someone did knock on the door and deliver a nice Gold amenity gift of berries and water. WiFi was included, but it seemed to be throttled as it was agonizingly slow.
Facing the outer atrium and executive lounge below
The bathroom was thoroughly modern and quite large compared to the room, with a separate tub and shower (fully enclosed, thank goodness). I also appreciated the bar soap that was provided instead of the locked-in pump bottles. I didn't have any other issues over the next two nights, except maybe the fact that I had to stand by the door to get a decent WiFi signal.
The location here was decent, although still a bit of a walk to the Waterloo Station. There were not a whole lot of restaurant and shopping options in the neighborhood though, so I found myself taking the Underground constantly to get food. You could also just eat at the hotel, but that's not usually my style. It is, however, very close to Big Ben, the London Eye, and a few other famous attractions. The hotel has a gym, spa, and pool, but I didn't have time to try out any of them.
Given the problems I encountered here, I probably wouldn't return to the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, especially with so many other options in the city. Take your 50,000 Gold Points and head on over to The May Fair or one of the many Radisson Blu hotels! I believe the service was much better at either place. And you also won't run the risk of getting a room facing a green wall.