Hoo do you think you are?

//Hoo do you think you are?

lhoo.jpgRegular readers will know that I never relax, and that on the rare occasions I stay in a hotel instead of on board a cruise ship it becomes necessary to compare the two experiences.
So to a weekend at the five-star Luton Hoo hotel, set in a thousand acres of parkland just off the M1 and handy for the airport. Back in 1947, when it was a private home, it was one of the honeymoon venues for The Queen and Prince Phillip.
No royalty to be seen this weekend – they were probably all in Edinburgh for Zara Phillips’ wedding.
There was a pleasant surprise at check-in, however. Receptionist Charlotte, who showed us to our room in the Parkland wing, used to work for Royal Caribbean cruises, and was International Ambassador on board Oasis of the Seas when the ship was launched in November 2009.
The terrace overlooking the formal gardens was a popular spot for an afternoon drink and a snack – although afternoon tea (at £26 a head – or £36 with Champagne – rather more than you might expect to pay on a cruise) is not served al fresco for some reason, and the gardens were a little unkempt.
I was surprised not to be offered a taste of the bottle of C J Pask Sauvignon Blanc before it was poured, and equally disappointed not to be offered a choice of brands for my gin and tonic before dinner in Adam’s brasserie, even though there was a wide selection on the bar menu.
But at least the maitre d’ noticed our unspoken dissatisfaction with the table he first showed us to, and immediately offered to re-seat us by the window – from where we were entertained by the comings and goings at a party across the stable yard.
Transport for the quarter-mile trek from the Mansion House to the brasserie was, by the way, in one of the hotel’s London taxis (above); not something that is available for journeys of a similar distance from, say, the Commodore Club to the Princess Grill on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, or the AquaTheatre to the Samba Grill on Allure of the Seas.
Sunday breakfast in the hotel’s grand dining room, the Wernher Restaurant, was a low-key buffet. There was a “full English” option (if scrambled egg, bacon, sausage, tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans can be considered a full English) and I dread to think what the reaction on a cruise ship would be to the £21 supplementary charge for the à la carte breakfast menu which includes fried eggs, omelettes, black pudding, eggs Benedict, and kippers.
Who in their right mind, and spending their own money, is going to choose the £21 option in order to get a fried egg?
Passing up on the opportunity to relax in the hotel’s extensive spa – which incorporates herbs grown on the estate into some of its treatments – we chose instead to spend a hot and dusty afternoon at Whipsnade Zoo; most definitely not the best £44 I have ever spent, especially as the ring-tailed lemurs, the meerkats and several other residents were in hiding for the day.
But there was another surprise in store as I pushed a tray around the self-service cafeteria and met a delightful lady who recognised Mrs Greybeard and remembered sailing with us in the Red Sea aboard Thomson Celebration in January 2010. CLICHÉ ALERT: It’s a small world.
Back at the hotel, dinner in the Wernher restaurant was a civilised affair, but I’m kicking myself for failing to ask why we were not shown an à la carte menu. Perhaps it was because it was a quiet Sunday evening.
From the limited table d’ hôte selection the scallop starter did not disappoint, and the seared tuna with bok choi, and topped with a soft-shelled crab was almost sensational. The biggest choice came on the dessert trolley, laden with chocolate bombes and gateaux, cheesecakes and crèmes brûlées, sponges and plain old fruit salad – all of which I spurned in favour of cheese and biscuits.
Hats off to the French waitress who, having apologised for the delay in bringing a bottle of Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from the cellars, immediately realised it was not sufficiently chilled, and insisted on putting it on ice until it was ready. But why were we not offered coffee?
Before we left the hotel this morning, there was one more reminder of how much better value there is to be had on a cruise ship than in a luxury country house hotel. A flyer in our room advertised a dinner later in the year with the Rat Pack Swing Band; £100 per head buys a Champagne reception, three-course meal and dancing until 1.00 am. That’s without a room for the night – available at the special (and admittedly bargain) rate of £75.
I can think of few cruise ships where there is not entertainment of a similar standard, with dinner, included in the fare every night of the week.

Declaration of interests: I was at Luton Hoo with my wife, who is employed at another of the group’s hotels. She’ll probably kill me when she reads this.
By | 2017-06-15T16:00:03+00:00 1 August 2011|Cruise Gossip|0 Comments

About the Author:

John Honeywell is a travel writer specialising in cruise ships and cruise travel. Winner of CLIA UK's Contribution to Cruise award 2017.

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