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For my first-ever trip to Asia, and given the winter temperatures at home in New York, the Le Meridien Khao Lak in southern Thailand (1-2 hours north of Phuket) was the perfect choice. Boasting temperatures in the mid to upper 80’s (F) and past the rainy season, I was anxiously awaiting my 5 days and 5 nights at the Le Meridien Khao Lak.
I left New York at 7pm on a Friday and arrived Sunday at 2pm local time – just about 31 hours later. Talk about needing some paradise! Happily, our first impression was that we had indeed arrived in paradise. We were handed some iced teas while they readied our room paperwork and we were soon off to our room and off to explore the resort. We initially had booked a deluxe room, which was quite nice, but after seeing the villas, I inquired about upgrading. After being quoted an acceptable price, we moved the next day into the “Pool Villa” that is pictured within this review. There is no doubt, you want, no, NEED, a Pool Villa at this resort. It is likely the nicest room you have ever had and because it’s Thailand, it may well be your most affordable chance to stay in anything like it.
Le Meridien Khao Lak – Pool Villa – main room
The Pool Villas are beautiful mini-houses, with a large flat screen TV, comfortable bed, enormous bathroom with two sinks, a soaking tub, an indoor shower AND an outdoor shower. Complimentary bottled water is all over the place – by the mini-fridge, on the night stands on the desks, and by each sink.
But the highlight of the villa is the private backyard with a long pool (much bigger than the plunge pool I expected) with a Jacuzzi at the back. There is also a daybed, two lounge chairs, and a table with two chairs. It really felt like we had our own private upscale hideaway for our stay – and it was just what the doctor ordered to start our holiday.
Here’s a tour of the Pool Villa:
The difference between a room and a pool villa is enormous. If you can afford the pool villa (not the lagoon villa which lacks a private pool), it is a must-book. The highest room type is the oceanfront pool villa which has the amazing beachfront view and access, but lacks the privacy of the pool villa.
Le Meridien Khao Lak Beach
The resort itself is set on a fantastically long stretch of beach on the Andaman Sea. Not the softest sand, but the water is warm and relaxing. The resort is set in two “wings” – the family wing and the spa wing. To be sure, the family wing is full of families so if you are a couple looking for a child free stay, definitely ask to be placed in the spa wing. That said, our villa was in the family side and we were not bothered at all. The main pool and beachside snack area are both in the “family area”. This would certainly not be a place to unwind on your own as there is no singles scene, nor bar scene or activities at night and the town, 20 minutes away by taxi, also lacks nightlife.
Throughout the trip, we marveled at the service. No request was ever met with a sign or shrug. Everything was handled expediently and with a smile. As a team, the staff at LMKL were some of the friendliest I’ve seen
The onsite tour companies can help you arrange excursions – dive trips and snorkeling are popular in the nearby Similan Islands and snorkeling is now available off the pristine beaches
Le Meridien Khao Lak Pool
of Tachai Island (opened to the public for the first time in 2010). We also booked an excursion north to Khao Sok National Park where we took a 1 hour journey on a longboat to an array of caves accessible only by boat. Many people stay overnight at Khao Sok and go deeper into the park and caves.
The Le Meridien is one of the priciest options around – only the nearby Saraojan competes in this price point. In our opinion, the price is completely worth it, although it would be nice if there weren’t extra charges for everything like breakfast and Internet access.
Located approximately 1.25 hours north of Phuket Airport (HKT), it’s not convenient to Phuket nightlife (almost a 2 hour drive from the resort) but it is very convenient to attractions north, such as Khao Sok National Park where you can do elephant trekking and even take long boat rides to several choices of caves (you’ll need a guide for this).
Le Meridien Khao Lak – Villas by Baan Thai
Dining Notes: We ate three times within the resort. Twice at Bann Thai – one breakfast and one dinner, and once for breakfast at the big buffet below the lobby. While the breakfasts were good in both locations, they were certainly overpriced for Thailand at 740 Baht (approx. $25USD). The dinner in Bann Thai produced so-so Chicken Satay and a much more laudable Beef Massaman curry. We passed on a buffet dinner one night at the Italian restaurant as it did not at all seem worth the hefty >$60 USD per person price tag. Unfortunately food in nearby Khao Lak was lackluster as well. Dinner in town at a hotel recommendation was solid for Khao Lak – but horrendously touristy in the menu serving everything from down-home Thai food to sandwiches, steaks, and pizza. Another few attempts to eat in town were all similar and less impressive. Rimlay on the beach just north of the resort is a local cheap option as well. You can get a 1 hr massage for 300 baht (~$10USD) as well. One last possible option we were told of was a place called Yim Yim, serving Thai/Chinese food. Not in town and not near anything else, feel free to inquire about a taxi if you want to give it a try and report back here!
Internet Notes: Internet was free in the lobby but a pricey $10 an hour / $20 a day in the rooms. Wired only in the regular rooms, WiFi (fee) is available in the villas. Personally, I believe that there should be free WiFI resort-wide at these price points, but the fee isn’t as unusual as I’d like it to be.
SPG (Starwood Preferred Guest) notes: They are good about upgrades based on the requirements of the program but do not expect more than that. As a Gold member we were originally upgraded from a Deluxe to a Premium room (higher floor). We were advised, however, that the free internet and 2 free daily drinks standard with the Premium room were not part of the upgrade – so it is literally just a higher floor. Platinum level guests have reported upgrades to suites. On our second day, we paid cash to upgrade to the Pool Villa you see in this review. It was less expensive than booking a villa outright – but the risk was that there would have been none available. We were lucky. Our request for the 4pm checkout was graciously granted – especially important since our flight was in the evening and this afforded us the villa and facilities the entire last day.
The Le Meridien Budapest, with the only 5-Diamond rating in town, did not disappoint on a recent 2 night stay. Located on a square adjacent to the Deak Ferenc Metro station, it is very central to all the major sights in town. Right around the corner is a wonderful pedestrian area where you will likely find yourself dropping into the Café Gerbaud for a coffee and one of their famous cakes or pastries. Erzsebet Terrace, a small grassy area, is right in front of the hotel if you just want to regroup for a minute. And with the Metro literally right outside your door that connects all three Metro lines (M1, M2, M3) you can be whisked to any part of the city in minutes. Also right nearby is the No 16 bus, known as the Castle Bus to locals, which can take you across the river and up into the historic Castle District. Or take a walk across the famous Chain Bridge and ride the funicular up the hills for a fantastic view back across the Danube River.
Also just a few blocks away is the old Jewish Quarter where you can visit a number of synagogues and see the areas that were the Jewish Ghettos. Or walk near the Danube and catch the tram No 2 south to Fovam Terrace where you can explore the Great Food Hall. The locals buy their meats and vegetables from the many vendors there and you can try the upstairs restaurant for some authentic Hungarian Goulash or a Wiener Schnitzel. (Be warned that the restaurant is cash only and the sides they will offer you with your main are not included in the price.) From there, you can stroll down touristy Vaci St where you may well end up dining later (Fatal is a favorite choice of the guidebooks as well as the gentleman sitting next to me now on my train to Zagreb).
On to the hotel and the room. While the Le Meridien Budapest itself is quite old, much of it has been modernized. I arrived a bit before check=in time and while I’d been upgraded from a Superior room to a Deluxe room (approx. 50% bigger in size) my room with a King bed was not yet ready so I settled for one with two single beds in order to get in and start exploring the city sooner. The rooms are modern with temperature controlled heating and cooling units, flat panel LCD TVs, a marble bathroom with soaking tub and a powerful shower, and a suitable desk for working. The bed was comfortable, if small. One small complaint in the room was that, for a 5-Star hotel, they were a bit skimpy on essentials. I was left only one towel and one bar of soap which I was expected to shuttle back and forth between the shower and the sink. While I’m all for conservation, that seemed a bit much. There also seemed to be a problem with the air-conditioning unit but not the one you’d expect… it was too cold! I couldn’t get it to moderate the cool air except to turn it off entirely. At least it works!
The staff was fantastic all around. They were all very friendly – from the gentleman that checked me in, to the woman at the desk at night warning me about local scams to watch out for (be wary if any girls try to invite you to a “club they know” as they likely work for the club and you will be in for anywhere from 40 to 100 Euro PER DRINK – you can read more about this scam on the US State Department’s travel warnings site), to the concierge who gave me advice on local transit and customs at the Szechenyi Furdo Baths*, to the kind bellman who readily called me a City Taxi without pressuring me to use the hotel’s cars. You should know that most hotels will try to get you to use their car service partners which cost significantly more than a taxi. City Taxi is a respected company you can ask for by name. As an example, I paid 1400 Forints (approx. Euro 5.50 / US$6.50) from Le Meridien to the Keleti train station when the hotel car would have been 2500 Forints (Euro 10 / US$ 12 as of August 2010). You can always ask someone for approximate cab costs vs. the cost of their car if you are unsure.
The Le Meridien Budapest does have a small pool / Jacuzzi and fitness center. I do mean small, though – the workout area was a few treadmills, a bike or two, and a few weights and weight machines. There is also a fancy French restaurant on property that appeared quite good, although I was too busy exploring local Hungarian restaurants to try it.
Overall, I found the Le Meridien Budapest to be a wonderful hotel with a boutique feel in an absolutely unbeatable center city location. With a prepaid rate on HotelMagician.com of only 87 Euro a night for 2 nights, it was a fantastic deal as well. Note the hotel will actually charge in Hungarian Forints, though that is a fixed exchange rate with the Euro – and unless prepaid, your taxes are *not* included in the quoted rate.
* Since the Turkish Baths in Budapest are somewhat mysterious to Westerners, I was a bit anxious about how to prepare and how it all worked. Let me share a bit of what I learned (this applies ONLY to the Szechenyi Furdo Baths, the largest complex in Budapest – others are undoubtedly different) : You will want to bring swimming attire and a towel as well as some shower gel for after since the mineral content in some of the baths is such that you’ll want a good cleansing if you’re not heading straight back to the hotel. You no longer need to hire a safe for your valuables as you will be given an electronic bracelet after you pay which will actually lock and unlock a locker. Just find one that’s open, press your bracelet into the lock (push it shut with the bracelet itself – it will then auto-lock. Same procedure to unlock it later). And one last tip – when you first enter you will be shown into the changing cabin (“Kabin” in Hungarian). You will have no idea how to lock this cabin and nobody will explain. There is a wooden seat that has a maybe 6 inch wide end that folds over the seat. Flip this part down and it barriers the doors on both sides, locking you in and others out. When you are all finished, fold the end back up and walk out the *other door* into the locker room area. Then find a shower to rinse off before entering the baths.
For a short one night stay in London, I chose the Le Meridien Piccadilly for two primary reasons. 1) it has a perfect central London location – right off Piccadilly Circus, and 2) because I had heard that the hotel had done extensive room renovations and that the staff had stepped up to a new level of service.
The stay went 1 for 2.
The location is indeed spectacular. Arriving in Heathrow, you can either take the tube for about 50 minutes to Piccadilly Circus and exit a 2 minute walk (if that) from the hotel. You could also take the Heathrow Express to Paddington and the Bakerloo Tube line to Piccadilly Circus. Or you could take a taxi. In any event, it’s easy to get to and about as centrally located as you can be. It’s the equivalent of staying just off Times Square in New York City.
Upon arrival, I waited about 10 minutes to check-in. I was finally taken over to a desk to check-in only to be told my room wasn’t ready yet (it was about 2:30). I expressed that I was here for only one day, had work to do, and would appreciate if he could find an available room. And he did – I’m not sure why this wasn’t done automatically. Then some confusion began. The room I’d booked, a Junior Suite with a rate of 569 British Pounds, should have included internet access free of charge. I was told it did not when I checked in. A phone call to reception confirmed it was not included. But in the Club Lounge later, the gent in charge did some checking around for me and found out that it was indeed included. At 30 dollars a night, it wasn’t small change and by this point I’d already spent a couple of hours working on the computer in the lounge when I could have been in my room. I’ve emailed the GM in hopes that communication can be sorted out among staff to avoid this confusion in the future. To add to the confusion, if you try to login from the room, it will tell you that you are being charged – it’s just that the front desk will take it off at checkout. Confusing.
The water in the Club Rooms and Suites are also complimentary, though no signage in the room expresses this. Again, it would be nice if the water were placed on a card that said “With our compliments” or some similar wording. Who wants to phone down to find out if the water if free or not? The staff overall was hit or miss. The gentleman running the club lounge was wonderful. Many of the other staff seemed indifferent. At a hotel in this price point, I expect a bit of “How are you, sir?” How is your stay, sir?” But there was none of that. Even at checkout, I was not asked about the quality of my stay – a bit surprising.
Anyway, let’s move to the room. Despite many of the regular rooms being freshly renovated this year, the Junior Suites apparently were last renovated 10 years ago and are not part of this recent renovation. You may be better off booking a Club room and asking to be given a recently renovated one. I hear they are quite nice although I didn’t see one myself.
Still, the Junior Suite was very spacious and very nice in a classy way. Each room had a flat panel TV and the room had many classical touches, as you can see in the photos. It had a fairly modern but classic, old world feel to it. The bathrooms were plenty spacious (the suite had two full baths) and, although the lack of a hair dryer was notable, they had plenty of room and the showers worked well.
The air conditioning was a bit old and clunky and a bit difficult to figure out. Part of the classic charm I guess!
The beds were VERY comfortable – so a big thumbs up there.
A huge amenity in this hotel is the Health Club. In fact, for some, it may well be a reason to choose the Le Meridien Piccadilly for your London stay. In the basement, you’ll find a complete health club with plenty of aerobic machines, a large swimming pool, a hot tub, a steam room, and even a “relaxation room” – all of which I sampled and all of which was quite nice and relaxing. If you are here on business, the health club will certainly provide you some respite from your stress. Bring a pound coin with you for the locker as a deposit then simply go downstairs, sign in with your room number, and you’re all set. I would say this area was the highlight of my stay – in addition to appreciating the wonderful location.
(From left to right, the pool, hot tub, and steam room)
Comfortable, well-located, and on the waterfront. These words sum up the Le Meridien Nice in a nutshell.
Comfort: As part of the Le Meridien brand one expects and receives a certain level of comfort. The hotel delivers at that level. It is not at the level of the Le Palais De La Mediterranne or Hotel Negresco. It is not a 5 star Luxury Collection hotel. But it is above the standards of most chains and we don’t expect anyone would be disappointed with the level of comfort here. On a recent trip we were upgraded from a Classic to a Superior room which offered a small standing-room-only balcony and a slight view of the sea from that balcony. As Starwood Preferred Guest Gold members, they also provided us with a complimentary bottle of Evian and a tray of fresh strawberries.
Location: The location at 1 Palais Anglais is perfection. Direct access to the beach (be aware that the “beach” in Nice is one made of stones but is still usable and does attract many “beach” goers) is a prime benefit. But the hotel is also well located for getting to and from the airport – just a 15 minute drive on the Palais Anglais – and to a large “Zone Pieton” (a street for pedestrian use only – i.e. tourist central). Allow us to recommend the restaurant “La Tavernne Massena” right smack on the “Zone Pieton” on Rue Massena. Wonderful place for pizzas and homemade pasta at an affordable price.The only area this hotel is not quite near is the “old city” – one that we were less impressed with than in other Riviera towns.
Waterfront: This probably doesn’t need much explanation but out the door and across the street and you’re on the water. Pretty sweet. The Casino Ruhl is also in the building.
Hot Tip from the Hotel Magician: The Mercure Palais Anglais hotel also shares the building (the actual hotels are completely separate – the Mercure is on the lower 2 floors while the Le Meridien Nice is on the top 7 or so). Nothing is shared between them and you’d never know they shared the building if you didn’t pay close attention. If you are looking for this exact location and don’t mind trading in some in-room quality for a lower rate, it may be worth a look.
Juan Les Pins was an interesting diversion on our trip around the French Riviera. Guide books had referred to the area as the “Coney Island” of France. Well, our offices aren’t far from the real Coney Island, and Coney Island this is not.
That said, Juan-Les-Pins *is* a nice little beach town with perhaps a bit of the crowd that might venture to Coney Island.It’s not the crowd that you would find in say, Cannes or St. Tropez. This is a more middle class town and that lends a bit of fun to it. It also keeps prices down a bit.
Hot Tip from the Hotel Magician: Parking in the hotel lot is expensive. What they probably won’t mention is that there is free parking all around the park just past the hotel and there is normally a free space or three to be had. If you’re normally comfortable parking your car on the street, these spots will do just fine.
The Le Meridien Garden Beach hotel is the ideal spot to enjoy a night or two in Juan-Les-Pins. It is directly on the beach and shares the property with the Eden Casino – a centre of night life in the town albeit a small casino.It’s a nice property for the area. The hotel rooms have been renovated (although the building is not as new as it used to be) and would be considered a solid 3-Star hotel. A Sea View room offers a beautiful view of the beach as they are situated directly above it – and for that reason we recommend selecting this room type. Starwood Preferred Guest Gold and Platinum members might be upgraded to this room type based on availability. If a member of the program, when booking be sure to select “Other Rates” and select a regular (not SaveRate) rate plan. HotelMagician.Com SaveRates are not eligible for SPG stay credit / Elite privileges but our regular rates (pay at checkout) are.In colder months, a pool is available in the health club (additional charge)
Hot Tip from the Hotel Magician #2: When you check-in to the hotel, you will be given your beach passes. You will need to present these outside to get your beach chair. You will also need to return these at checkout or face a penalty charge. Don’t lose them! Also, they will charge for you to sit in the first two rows of the beach. But keep in mind that behind that, it’s all free (if you are a hotel guest).
Hot Tip from the Hotel MagicianTip #3: Dinner. There are only a few decent options right in town, though a few are right on the water. But take a very short drive to the old town in Antibes and you will find a treasure trove of restaurants in the pedestrian walkways. French, Italian, and Alsatian options abound. One even has fondue – a French food quite elusive in the South of France.
The hotel is situated in the Lingotto Exhibition and Congress Centre, notable as it is an ingenious renovation of the previous Fiat factory. Designed and decorated with distinctive Italian flair by the famous architect Renzo Piano, the Lingtto actually has two hotels to choose from – the Le Meridien Lingotto and the Le Meridien Art + Tech. While this review is only of the Le Meridien Lingotto, the Art + Tech is reputed to be as good if not better and also runs slightly higher price-wise. Art + Tech is, as the name might imply, a bit more focused on art and has rooms that are a bit more chic.
Hot Tip from the Hotel Magician: If you are staying at the hotel you may ask your concierge for a key to the roof during daylight hours. With the key in hand, you can ride up to the Pista Restaurant (Pista means roof) and let yourself out onto what used to be the test track for Fiat. Nice view as well!
The rooms at this hotel form a rectangle around the gorgeous courtyard – full of trees and natural beauty – and drinks are served here at night weather permitting.
Deluxe rooms have the city/mountain views and feature an additional sitting area in the front of the room while the Superior rooms face inside and lack the sitting area. The rooms are quite large in size, especially for Europe. Most rates include a buffet breakfast (croissants, coffees, eggs, rasher bacon, sausage, cereals, breads/jams, etc). Quite nice and your best bet in the immediate area. The adjoining shopping center also provides “quick service” fare.
The area: Note that the Lingotto complex, which also includes a large shopping mall, is about 10 minutes out from central Torino. This is about a 15 Euro taxi ride or a 0.90 Euro tram or bus ride. If driving, the hotel provides parking (complimentary as of September 2006 but you may wish to inquire with the hotel directly if it is a concern).
Overall a very pleasant stay and the staff we encountered spoke excellent English and were very eager to please with advice on attractions, restaurants, bars, cafes and the like.
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