A Hotel Comparison

Throughout our entire October 2015 trip, we kept up this side conversation, comparing the hotels. Which breakfast did you like best? Who had the most comfortable beds? We stayed in six hotels from start to finish, in three weeks’ time.

There are lots of things to consider, from price … to the view from the room. You might have others, but here’s my list of considerations:

Bedroom >size >bed >view from window >other furniture >desk >amenities
Bathroom >separate shower >counter space >amenities
Dining >breakfast >bar food
Comfort >ambience >service >grounds >proximity to activities
Other >spa/pool >parking >entrance >price >stay again?

Here’s how it breaks down:

Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links in north Co. Dublin, €129

Snagged this photo from the Portmarnock’s recently updated website.

Snagged this photo from the Portmarnock’s recently updated website.

You have two choices at the Portmarnock: the wing that overlooks the beach or the wing that overlooks the golf course (both wings have garden view rooms). The golf wing rooms are newer, larger, and have central heat (and air, which is really nice for a few weeks each year). The furniture is comfortable, but the chair for the desk is too low if you actually need to work at the desk. The bed is a true king-size but hard as a rock (one can live in hope that the Irish hotel industry will someday figure this out). Plenty of tea in the room, as well as complimentary bottled water. Nice modern bathroom, though not huge, with Pure brand amenities. Definitely the best bar food of the six hotels, and a strong breakfast too. No pool—swim at the beach!—but a nice, professional spa (I used it back in June) with average hotel prices. Parking is close to the entrance; the grounds are nicely kept; you’re a half hour outside the Dublin city center and perfectly located for sightseeing further up the coast and into the Midlands. The ambience at the hotel is superior: the public rooms are recently remodeled, the staff—all of them—are friendly and helpful. What you see on the website is absolutely what you get—and better. Bottom line? I’ll stay at this hotel every chance I get. Love it.

Redcastle Hotel, Spa, and Golf Resort near Moville on the Inishowen Peninsula, €79

Got this from the hotel’s website.

Got this from the hotel’s website.

Gerry describes the Redcastle as “flattering to deceive.” It looks fabulous, with its location right on the shores of Lough Foyle (and, really, the Atlantic Ocean). There are rooms in the hotel that sit right on the water (although we didn’t have one)—as does the dining room, which offers a fabulous view every morning at breakfast. The grounds outside are like a park—gorgeous—and the location is convenient. But once you get inside, it’s old, labyrinthine. (Seriously, we needed a map to get to our room.) Our king-size bed was really two singles pushed together. The whole hotel needs a modern upgrade. I did try out the spa and felt I got very good value for money spent; there’s also an indoor pool which is marketed to the locals as a health club, so it stayed busy. I certainly understand the reason for this but I look for peace and quiet in a pool experience, and that was not to be had (lots of moms and kids). The breakfast was good quality, and you could order from the kitchen in addition to what was on the buffet. But you could also be blinded by the sun—the room faces east—and absolutely nothing is done about that, though we have the technology! Bottom line: if/when we stay on Inishowen again, we’ll look around for another place, in spite of the reasonable price.

Lough Eske Castle near Donegal Town, €170 (with the 3-for-2 deal)

I borrowed this from the hotel’s website.

I borrowed this from the hotel’s website.

Like the Portmarnock, the Lough Eske is a true luxury hotel; from the moment you walk in, your experience is of the highest quality. (I have to admit I don’t like lugging bags up the entrance stairs, though, although they do station a nice young man there to help you.) The public interiors, the staff—everything is top-notch. Our room was spectacular and huge; we had a view of the inner courtyard—about as good a view as you get at this hotel, which is named for the lake it is near, but not on. No lake views without a little walk (and I would’ve liked it if someone on staff had pointed out the best way to get to the lake; it wasn’t immediately evident). The bed—a true king-size—was a little firmer than I’d like … but the bathroom! Oh my goodness. Dual sinks, separate tub and shower, dressing area, all of it 2015 modern, and with really nice personal-care amenities too. (This bathroom was as large as our entire suite in Galway, no kidding.) The bar has a nice, old-money ambience and the food was good but we weren’t knocked out by it. We were knocked out by breakfast, which was yummy and is the Irish breakfast I will forever compare all others to: fresh, wide selection, and an omelet station in addition to preprepared eggs on the buffet. The exterior is beautiful and lends itself to strolling—lots of outdoor sculpture to be discovered. There is also an indoor pool and spa, which I did not sample. Bottom line: This was only in our budget because they were running an off-season special, but if you can afford the splurge, do it.

Connacht Hotel in Galway City, €50 (breakfast is extra)

Obtained from the hotel’s website.

Obtained from the hotel’s website.

As I’ve noted before, this hotel got a favorable review in the eating/drinking/lodging book we picked up at the beginning of the trip, and it is, as noted therein, easy on the budget. We were in a self-catering apartment on the backside of the huge campus, which meant it was quiet (always a plus), and the parking was convenient. It was nice, also, because there was a room with couch, table, desk, kitchenette, and a separate room with beds and desk … so I could work while Gerry watched television in the other room. There’s also an indoor pool and spa, which is heavily promoted to locals as a health club, so it stayed busy. In terms of location, it’s great—on a major thoroughfare and only a ten-minute drive into the city center. If you need a place to crash after being out and about as a tourist, the Connacht will serve you well, but don’t expect luxury; the televisions, for example, were the old tube style. (Oops!) Breakfast and bar food were meh. Bottom line: Great for your budget, definitely serviceable, but if I can’t have some historic character in a hotel, then I want streamlined and modern; this was neither.

Celbridge Manor Hotel in Co. Kildare 30 minutes outside Dublin, €99

Also snagged from the hotel’s website.

Also snagged from the hotel’s website.

This hotel markets itself to folks who want to get out of Dublin—for a holiday party, for a girls’ night out, for tea and a B&B, to throw a shower or a wedding—but not too far out, and not too much money. It looks nice outside (it’s a Georgian-era building) and inside, and the rooms are large and furnished with antiques. (And also with some typical hotel furniture—don’t designers call this eclectic? Ha.) They have live music every weekend (glad we missed that); I got the sense that the Celbridge Manor is a local watering hole, if you get my drift. Ample parking, but there are no grounds to speak of (it was a charity boarding school for orphans from the mid-1700s until the 1970s, when it was converted to a hotel). Breakfast was serviceable, bar food was not at all special (Gerry liked it; I didn’t), and there is no pool, no spa services. (I think they’re missing the boat on that.) Bed was advertised as a king-size but was just a double, maybe a small queen—and hard. I do think the hotel could stand to be freshened up, but for a nice quiet place to sleep (maybe not on the weekends), this will work. Proximity to Dublin—for tourism, and/or to stay out of the Dublin hustle-and-bustle—is a huge plus, and Celbridge is centrally located for exploring more of the country too. Bottom line: Priced right, but we’d probably try someplace else next time.

Clayton Hotel Dublin Airport, €167

Borrowed from the Clayton Hotel’s website.

Borrowed from the Clayton Hotel’s website.

This is an airport hotel, just meant to catch business travelers and offer cheap parking for folks flying out. So ambience and looks don’t really matter so much; we’re just sleeping near the airport so we don’t have to get up in the dark. But … it’s actually a very nice (though always busy) hotel. We have stayed in the Clayton Hotel before, in 2013 when it was called Bewley’s, for several nights, so I can say that the breakfast is just OK, not great. (though we did not have the opportunity to sample it on this trip). We did have supper in the bar and the food was good, better than good. Bed was a true king (hard, of course, but not miserable … though maybe I was just getting used to it). The best feature inside was we paid €40 extra for a suite so we’d have lots of room to pack—and were delighted with the value-for-money! Room was huge with nice chairs and couches. The bathroom was huge too. And it was about five steps away from the elevator (a plus when you’re tired). The best feature outside was the gas station right next door, as in years past the search for gas to fill up the rental has been high stress. Bottom line: This is our airport hotel of choice, and we’re agreed we’d splurge for the suite again too. 🙂

• • •

We have stayed in two other Dublin hotels for several nights, long enough to form an opinion, and I thought I’d include them here for completeness:

Camden Court Hotel, Dublin (2013), €79

This is a screen grab from Google Maps Street View. The hotel is difficult to picture because it has facades on two streets, and a courtyard in the center of the block.

This is a screen grab from Google Maps Street View. The hotel is difficult to picture because it has facades on two streets, and a courtyard in the center of the block.

(Note that this rate is more than two years old, and I obtained it on an advance purchase rate deal, which many hotels offer.) Situated in downtown Dublin near the Grand Canal—the multicultural Portobello neighborhood—the Camden Court caters to tour groups (hence that great rate). So there were moments when the lobby was packed, but most of the time it was quite nice. Though I didn’t sample any of it, the hotel has a hair and nails salon, heated lap pool, a large full gym, massage clinic, salon, sauna, steam room, and Jacuzzi. Fantastic location: everything you might want was close by—pubs, good restaurants, shops of all sorts (none of them touristy). Breakfast food was standard issue, as was the bar food. Staff is great, friendly, and parking is free, which is highly unusual. That it’s available at all—and on-site—is highly unusual. So if you’re renting a car, you should consider the Camden Court; we’d stay here again.

The Doubletree by Hilton, Dublin, €149

From the hotel’s website.

From the hotel’s website.

This is the former Burlington Hotel and is located just south of the Grand Canal in Ranelagh, which is an upscale neighborhood. This hotel caters to the business conferences and events trade, so there is a fitness room but no spa or pool. I’ve had more than one meal at this hotel when it was the Burlington, and though it is not as luxe as it was then, the breakfast is good, the location is excellent, and it is very, very quiet (both the hotel and the neighborhood). I like that last quality in a hotel. I would stay here again in spite of the miserably hard bed. 🙂

• • •

One final thought: even two or three years ago, wi-fi in the Irish hotel and B&B trade was hit or miss—only available in the lobby, only available for a fee, or sketchy reception, for example. But in 2015 we had no wi-fi issues. You may encounter isolated locations that lack connection, but for the most part you should have no problems. Progress!

 

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Four Days in Kildare

15 October 2015 Thursday
The Galway hotel was inexpensive and roomy (and—dare I say it?—had the best bed so far) but the breakfast was only “OK.” (Barely OK. We’d been spoiled by three fine hotels.) And since we were heading east today, we decided to skip the hotel breakfast, get out of Galway, and stop in some small town for a cafe breakfast. So I just looked at the map, found the first town on the way (Athenry—still in County Galway), and used Google to locate some cafes.

Athenry (pronounced ATH-en-rye), as it turns out, is an ancient medieval town (thirteenth century) with narrow (narrow!) streets and several old structures. Who knew? (It’s also the title town in a sappy but popular folk tune called “The Fields of Athenry,” which you can hear sung at any Irish national soccer game.)

This is downtown Athenry, with its medieval-narrow streets. That’s St. Mary’s parish church in the background.

This is downtown Athenry, with its medieval-narrow streets. That’s St. Mary’s parish church in the background.

We ate at the Old Barracks Pantry & Bakery—and yes, it was at one time a barracks for the Royal Irish Constabulary.

The Old Barracks Pantry & Bakery in Athenry.

The Old Barracks Pantry & Bakery in Athenry.

We didn’t linger in town, so I don’t have photos, though I will definitely put Athenry on my list for “next time we’re in the area.” Why? Because when we stopped to get gas, this was in the field across the street:

What’s that?

What’s that, honey?

It’s the Athenry Dominican Priory. Construction started in 1241 and was completed in 1261 (although additions were made in two succeeding centuries). There’s some good history here, which makes me sorry we didn’t take the time to walk over and look around.

 I snagged this great photo from Wikipedia; attribution is to Andreas F. Borchert.

I snagged this great photo from Wikipedia; attribution is to Andreas F. Borchert.

There are thousands (really) of these sorts of things all over Ireland, and I never get tired of seeing a new one. Even from a distance. But we had things to do, so we hit the road.

We were on our way to Kildare Town (another place it would be nice to spend some time in, alas), which is just thirty-one miles west of Dublin. There’s lots to see here—the National Stud and Japanese Gardens, for example, as well as some holy wells, St. Brigid’s Cathedral, Kildare Castle, and the ruins of the Grey Abbey, which we observed from—wait for it—Kildare Village (a designer outlet outdoor mall).

Why? You might well ask. There’s a Samsonite store there, and we’d decided we needed a carryon that would roll. We both always travel very light in terms of carryon, but we were sweating our luggage weight limits and thought we could shift some heavier things to something we might not have to check. So we went straight to the luggage store and didn’t linger after that.

From Kildare we went east on the M7 to the N7 to the L6001 to the R405, which, when you get close to Celbridge, is the Hazelhatch Road. It was a nice day, and I was just tootling along. I saw SLOW painted in the road, as one does in Ireland. I’ve seen plenty of those, but the road was visible, it looked like we were coming into town (the reason to slow down, right?), so I was comfortable. And then—boom!—we were at an arched bridge (arched enough that you can’t see what’s on the other side) that was only one lane wide.

That’s the Hazel Hatch Bar on the left. The bridge has a nice high curve. Pretty, actually. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps.

That’s the Hazel Hatch Bar on the left. The bridge has a nice high curve. Pretty, actually. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps.

Locals will know this is the bridge over the Grand Canal out of Dublin. It’s a dangerous little spot. I can say that because had we arrived about three seconds sooner, we might have been involved in a head-on collision on the bridge, which will only accommodate one vehicle at a time, both length and width, and you cannot see the approach on the other side. I’ve since gone back on Google Maps using street view and looked at the signage. There were three separate messages on the one sign: first an indication that the road would narrow; second, an icon I didn’t recognize (a half-circle lying atop a rectangle, which I now see meant, I think, “arched bridge ahead”); and third, the words Prepare to Stop. I missed the last part, clearly. (This is the emoji approach to signage, it seems; in the States, the sign would have said Narrow Bridge or Caution, Narrow Bridge. I didn’t know how to interpret the Irish sign in the brief moments it was visible as I drove past. And no, I was not speeding.)

Consider this your first lesson on Irish signage. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps.

Consider this your first lesson on Irish signage. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps. You can click on the photo to zoom in.

When I showed Gerry these photos, he said, “I recognize that wall.” That’s the wall I quickly pulled over next to rather than mount the bridge, when I saw a car cresting from the other side. 🙂

A view of the canal, the wall, and the curved bridge. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps too.

A view of the canal, the wall, and the little curved bridge. I screen-grabbed this from Google Maps too.

All’s well that ends well, but that bridge—and the blind curves behind tall stone fences or hedges—is the sort of thing that I fear will get me someday, driving in Ireland, and I have experience, y’all. I’m not trying to make too much of it—the other driver stopped and as noted I pulled nearly off the road just before it and didn’t stall the engine either, ha—but it scared me. It scared me more later, really, and I’m still unnerved several weeks later. (I do wonder how often there is a wreck there.)

This is what the other driver would have seen on his approach—it’s completely blind. Google Maps street view again.

This is what the other driver would have seen on his approach—it’s completely blind. You just take your chances. Google Maps street view again.

And so … we continued the two miles on into Celbridge, which has a village feel to it in spite of the fact that the population is twenty-one thousand this year. (I suspect a lot of the Celbridge population commutes into Dublin.) Our GPS didn’t have the hotel loaded so we had to hunt around a little for it, even though it is on a main artery.

But then we found it! Celbridge Manor Hotel.

But then we found it! Celbridge Manor Hotel.

It’s a beautiful old house with a beautiful entrance gate.

The entrance gate to the Celbridge Manor Hotel, mid-October 2015.

The entrance gate to the Celbridge Manor Hotel, mid-October 2015.

We were delighted with our room, which was very large.

 A very large room!

A very large room!

Unfortunately, not a large bed. Gerry had ordered and was billed for a king-sized bed but this was clearly a double bed. We think perhaps they meant it was a king-sized room.

Looking backward at the little foyer. Behind the wall is a huge bathroom. The little “room” beyond is a closet/”office”—there’s a chair in front of a built-in desk with plenty of electricity, but the desk is so high I would have had to stand to type there.

Looking backward at the little foyer. Behind the wall is a huge bathroom. The little “room” beyond is a closet/”office”—there’s a chair in front of a built-in desk with plenty of electricity for electronic equipment, but the desk is so high I would have had to stand to type there.

The bathroom was also huge, with both shower and claw-foot tub, which I tried out at one point.

The bathroom was also huge, with both shower and claw-foot tub, which I eventually tried out.

A view from the bathroom window, taken with a zoom. The bedroom had a similar view.

A view from the bathroom window, taken with a zoom. The bedroom had a similar view.

The furniture was mostly antiques.

The furniture was mostly antiques.

It was nice … but cold. We couldn’t seem to make the radiator work. When we went down to dinner we mentioned it at the desk before we went in to have a light dinner in the bar. (Food was OK but not spectacular.) When we got back to the room it was still cold so we called the desk and the maintenance man came back a second time.

16 October 2015 Friday
Well, the room still wasn’t particularly warm, but we had things to do today.

A Celbridge sunrise.

A Celbridge sunrise.

Gerry had brought us back to the Dublin area for our last few days because there would be business to take care of. However, our schedule coincided with the arrival in town of One Direction—four sold-out shows in Dublin City—and we didn’t want to be in town for that, so we stayed outside the city limits.

Today Gerry needed to see the dentist and have some last conversations with his coworkers at the Archives, so in we went. His colleague Brian suggested he and I run out for a cup of coffee while Gerry walked down to the dentist, so we ended up at Noshington, which is really just around the block from the office. This ended up being one of those fortuitous things—Gerry and I had wondered when and where we’d eat, and here we were in a convenient spot. It was (late) lunchtime. Brian and I ordered, and Gerry got there just as the food arrived and ordered his own. Perfect timing. Great chat! Food was delish.

After that we went to Gerry’s place to visit with his mother and start sorting through what we were going to need to take back home in the luggage. It seemed a little overwhelming.

We’d also made arrangements to drop by to see Ashling and Damian’s new house in Kinsealy. Theirs was the wedding we’d attended in June (Ashling is Gerry’s niece), and now they were getting settled. Lovely place, and we really enjoyed our visit—we could have easily overstayed our welcome. When we got back to the hotel, it was dark.

The hotel was all lit up though.

The hotel was all lit up, though.

It was a nice day all around. 🙂

17 October 2015 Saturday
They’ve had the prettiest strawberries on the breakfast buffet, though they don’t taste quite as good as they look. Not like they’re not ripe (they are) but just a very mild flavor, and a little soft. But I’m eating ’em!

Could you resist?

Could you resist?

At this point in the vacation, we were both tired and not in the mood to do much except lie around. I had work I needed to do, which I tackled while Gerry watched a lot of rugby. At some point we went out and wandered around town a little.

Just walking out to the parking lot was a visual treat, though.

Just walking out to the parking lot was a visual treat, though.

It’s the last rose of S … October!

It’s the last rose of s … October!

We’d long been planning to have dinner with our friends the Yeateses, and we’d finally scheduled a time—this night.

Pat and Brenda Yeates.

Pat and Brenda Yeates.

Lorna and Patrick Yeates, two of Pat and Brenda’s three children.

Lorna and Patrick Yeates, two of Pat and Brenda’s three children.

I’d met Pat many times, and was Facebook friends with Brenda and Lorna, but hadn’t met them in person. It was lovely. 🙂

Gerry and Pat are longtime colleagues. Pat retired this spring and now Gerry is close to that too.

Hamming it up for the camera. :) Lorna took this photo.

Hamming it up for the camera. 🙂 Lorna took this photo.

We had a good time.

We had a good time.

We took a quick selfie just when we were leaving (Lorna’s camera). These are the best kind, I think.

We took a quick selfie just when we were leaving (Lorna’s camera). These are the best kind, I think.

And then we went back to rugby and editing!

18 October 2015 Sunday
We had a very lazy Sunday. I worked for a while, then decided to take the rest of the day to relax and read. I’d hoped to read a lot more on this trip, but between work and journaling the trip (if I didn’t take notes, I’d never remember it all), I’d made less progress than I’d hoped. Oh well—I had a good time instead. 🙂

We got out and ran to Tesco for bottled water and other odds and ends, drove through town just having a look around. We were discussing how interesting it must be to live among all these old stone structures—something I really don’t get in my daily life. Here in Celbridge, there is an old warehouse-ish building—just guessing I’d say it was two hundred years old—that now houses the “Color Store,” which is a paint, wallpaper, and home interiors store. The sign outside is very modern in technology and in design, but it’s on an antique building. It’s an interesting juxtaposition of past and present, at least from the outside. I’ve noticed that the repurposing of old buildings sometimes leads to awkward plumbing and other oddities, which you can see a lot of in Ireland. But at least the history is there!

But mostly we were layabouts on this day. Gerry was already checking the five-day forecast for Murfreesboro—high seventies!

Watched the Ireland/Argentina rugby, and the Scotland/Australia rugby. Scotland was robbed on a very bad call. Really, on a couple of bad calls. (A review committee later found South African referee Craig Joubert should not have awarded the last-minute penalty kick that gave Australia the win.)

When we came down for lunch, there was a Muslim group (Nigerians, Gerry believed) holding an all-day social event at the hotel, kids everywhere, a bouncy castle out in the grounds, lots of elaborate African clothing, loud voices, people standing in the doorway. It went on well into the evening hours. But once we got up to our rooms, we couldn’t hear a thing. You never know what you’re going to see at your hotel!

We’d been looking forward to the hotel’s “Sunday carvery” for late lunch (a carvery is basically a buffet, with cooked meat freshly sliced to order, for a fixed price)—but when we got there, found it was just served up out of the kitchen like lunch on any other day. We’d expected a buffet and were a little disappointed. There were a lot of things that ended up being “not as advertised” about the Celbridge Manor; it’s great for proximity to Dublin, though, and for a price that will suit your budget.

Looking out the gate at the Celbridge Manor Hotel.

Looking out the gate at the Celbridge Manor Hotel toward our next adventure.