March 31, 2007

The Morgan Hotel: A London Haven Savvy Travelers Should Know

Are you traveling to London? Are you appalled by how much stronger the British pound is than the American dollar? (Maybe that's how Bush managed to keep Blair on his side.) Are you generally gob-smacked by the queen's ransom demanded by London hotels? Read on for my review of a place in London you may come to love, and not just because the price is right.

Yes, for the sticker-shocked London visitor I might have something to soothe the nerves, a centrally-located London hotel that does not cost a fortune. Note "might." This is not the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park (nothing under $400 a night) or even the Marriott County Hall (a relative bargain starting at $300 a night). I've stayed at both and, while I can assure you that both offer superb service, I can't say they offer three to four times the value of the Morgan Hotel, currently one of the top ranked establishments at the very useful Trip Advisor. And while the Marriott and Mandarin have their own charm and gravitas and history, so does the Morgan.

If you travel a lot you have probably figured out that a large element of hotel accommodation satisfaction rating is expectation management. Nowhere is this more true than in London, which offers a bewildering array of hotels, many of which charge exorbitant prices, and too many of which change hands more often than the English weather changes season.

So what you can expect from the Morgan, a small, independent, family-run hotel in the heart of London? Number one: A very clean room that is small but well-appointed and well-serviced by a polite and cheerful staff. The ambiance is closer to that of a bed and breakfast than a big hotel. If this sounds appealing then the Morgan is a bargain, particularly for individuals for whom hanging out in the hotel is not a big part of the trip, like me when traveling to London on business.

I probably wouldn't choose it for a honeymoon or a two week holiday with two kids in tow but it could be just the ticket if you're coming to London for a night or two at the theatre (and ideally located for such). I chose it for a calm retreat and good night's sleep at the end of a series of days spent visiting various client offices around London. I was not disappointed.

What else can you expect? You can expect a relatively quiet night's sleep. The hotel is in a terrace of what were once houses but now are mainly offices, backing onto small gardens that in turn back onto the British Museum. Rooms at the back of the hotel are well-insulated from the sounds of Bloomsbury Street, which itself is not terribly noisy (nothing like the same amount of rowdy late night pedestrian traffic you get in Convent Garden just a few blocks away--and very handy if you're up for some night life).

As with any hotel, noise in the rooms is relative to the number and demeanor of other guests (with the possible exception of the afore-mentioned Mandarin, probably the best insulated hotel I've experienced in Europe). I have certainly stayed in places that charge twice as much and have inferior sound insulation. Given the close proximity of the rooms at the Morgan, loutish guests or noisy early risers could be a problem, but I got the distinct impression that travelers who choose the Morgan are more than likely to be sensitive to its intimate ambiance and conduct themselves accordingly. (Conversely, I sense that some guests at more expensive hotels seem to think the queen's ransom they paid for a night's accommodation entitles them to be as loud as they like.)

Traveling alone, the size of the room, and bed, was fine (and a couple who are very much in love should do fine as well). The TV was very small, but I wasn't there to be entertained. I only turned it on once, probably because I get most of my news from the 'net these days. Tasteful use of shelving and recessed lighting made the best of the room space. A small table and chairs provided a comfy place to sit and relax, read, or surf the Internet via the free wireless connection. I have stayed in two different rooms (202 and 206) and the bathrooms in both were small and shower-only, no tub--but very clean and recently upgraded with modern fittings.

Soap and shampoo supplies were a bit basic but the towels were above average for a UK hotel (closer to good-old American cotton than traditional English sandpaper). Hair driers were installed in both rooms but no ironing board (I'm sure you could arrange the use of one if you wanted). There is individual room temperature control, including AC, a must for summer in London in the age of global warming. Of the two rooms, 206 was quieter.

As far as my needs went, location was great. The only other hotel nearby, actually right across the street, is the Radisson Kenilworth. A lovely hotel but 166% more expensive last time I checked. The nearest tube is a short walk and you can stroll right into Convent Garden or onto Oxford Street in minutes. There is a Starbucks about two blocks in one direction, and a Costas is just around the corner.

Finally, something very nice you can expect at the Morgan, and can depend on getting--if you get up before 9AM--is a fine English breakfast (cereal, juice, coffee/tea, toast, eggs, bacon, sausage, mushroom, tomato) dished up in a very smart dining room, cooked to order, and served with a smile. It was certainly a good way for me to start the day.

So there you have it, and if you don't like it, don't go there. But if you go there knowing and liking what you read here, you will probably be satisfied. That seems to be the trick of it, especially if you read Trip Advisor. Note that some people went to the Morgan with expectations that were not met. That was hardly the hotel's fault. Folk who follow Web 2.0 trends might have spotted this aspect of "customer review" sites. You don't 'know' the person doing the reviewing. You have to deduce their character from their articulation. Some reviews are really gripes and some are clearly unfair. On the other hand, if you read these reviews you can adjust your expectations and decide if a place if right for you.

And one final note for e-commerce analysts: This hotel ranks near the top of its class on a very popular travel site and it doesn't take online reservations. you have to use email, fax, or phone.

March 11, 2007

A Classic Hatteras For Sale: Sad but true

That day has finally come, the one where the boat owners realize they just don't have the time (or energy) to enjoy their boat, in this case a gorgeous 36 foot Hatteras convertible, built by AMF in 1983 and as solid a motor yacht as you could ever want to sail on, sleep on, fish from, cruise in.

Sadly my wife's health just isn't what it used to be and, since she is the captain of the boat and I am just the lowly deck hand, the boat has got to go. You will find some nice pics at a web site I just created: hatterasforsale.net and a mirror at hatterasyachts.net. The sites are identical and have links to the broker handling the sale, A1A Yacht Brokers of St. Augustine. the boat is moored at the fun and funky Oyster Creek Marina. Asking price is $79,900.