Review by Fiona Duncan, published 1st February 2009.
When choosing a hotel, especially in a city, should you take notice of its official ratings? Don't bother, is my advice. There are two-star hotels that are fabulous, and two-star hotels that should be closed down. There are cars I'd rather sleep in than some four-star hotels, and some four-star hotels that I'd happily make my home.
Here's a case in point. Until recently, this bog-standard, mildly depressing hotel basked in the glory of five AA stars. What a joke. So wide of the mark, in fact, that it's recently dropped a star, although most guests still seem to think it's a top luxury property – until they get there.
My antennae had warned me to be deeply suspicious of "Southampton's premier hotel" but I chose the Grand Harbour this time to see if those suspicions were founded.
They were. The building is a local landmark, with one of those massive glass atriums, in this case daringly slanted, that were all the rage when it opened in 1994. Its descent into mediocrity has been rapid. Few staff were around when we arrived on a Sunday evening, but those on duty seemed friendly and alert (although a receptionist who says "cool" the whole time immediately makes inroads into that five-star feeling). The shiny, oversized, oh so Nineties lobby leads into the Atrium Bar, where, surrounded by acres of cold glass and pot plants, we sipped nasty, overpriced glasses of wine and tried to avert our eyes from podgy fellow guests flopping in and out of the swimming pool, visible from where we sat.
Our bedroom had all the hallmarks of a hotel that's coasting. Evidently cutting edge back in 1994, it was handsome enough, with an array of panelled cupboards housing ironing board, trouser press, tea things, minibar. But whereas I had a brand new bed and Egyptian cotton sheets at the White Star, plus a huge bathtub and monsoon shower, there were no such luxuries here. Limp sheets and towels, no bathrobes, stingy toiletries, a completely empty minibar, missing internet cable, dust behind desks and tables, someone's notepad by the bed.
We dined in the hotel's restaurant, cavernous and deserted, but not silent, thanks to the constant whirr of unseen machinery emanating from the open plan kitchen. The menu was peppered with hopeless spelling mistakes and laughable wine descriptions ("red cherry and bubblegum greet you"... "a soft-fruit packed assassin"). Not really very five star, or four star. Just rubbish.
Look at the prices, not the stars: they are much more telling. A standard room here goes for anything between £99 and £199. I'd say a night in Southampton's "premier" hotel would be just about worth it, if you must, for £100; anything more: forget it. Or better still: stay at the White Star, which I reviewed in my column last week.
West Quay Road (02380 633033; www.devere-hotels.com) Doubles from £99 per night, including breakfast. Specially adapted rooms for guests with disabilities.