Review by Fiona Duncan, published 2nd November 2008.
You have to take the rough with the smooth in this job. A few days ago, I was in a suite at the Connaught, certainly one of Britain's best hotels. Now, according to the website Tripadvisor, I'm off to visit one of the country's 10 worst.
"What we have to look out for," says my friend and colleague Leonie, who is bravely joining me, "is food poisoning, woodlice and our cars being vandalised."
Almost no one on Tripadvisor has a good word to say: "at least in the second room the bed didn't collapse"… "in the drawer was a condom, a cotton-wool bud and a plastic bag"… "clumps of hair in the plughole"… "mildew in the grouting"… "used underwear and a bag of rubbish right outside my French doors"… "stained mattress, hairs on the sheets".
"Well," I say breezily, as we drive towards Gatwick, "you can't always trust reviews on Tripadvisor. These ones sound too vicious to ring true."
I wish. A variety of smells assaults us first: in the lobby, of institutional food; in our corridor, of chlorine (the indoor pool in the Spindles leisure centre is beneath us); in the room, something sweet and stale, overlaid with air freshener. The carpet in the lift is so filthy that we gag; a stack of dirty plates remains on the corridor floor for the entire duration of our stay. Our suite ("a suite, Leo, for £67, what more can you ask?" I had said) was full of broken, old furniture, with a minibar that wouldn't close, bald patches on the fabric headboard, old sheets and blankets, pillows that had expired years ago and a tea bag in the lavatory that wouldn't flush away. What did we feel? Depressed. What did we want to do? Run.
It's so sad. Britannia Hotels, the owner, has managed to ruin an airport hotel with far more potential than most. Back in the 1980s, its Spanish hacienda-style, Mediterranean garden, cloister-like lawn and then state-of-the-art leisure centre, must have seemed a perfect send-off for all those sun 'n' fun-filled holidays from Gatwick. There was even a Jacuzzi (which amazingly, worked) in our 1980s bathrooms – all the rage then.
But nothing has changed, at all; Britannia has simply allowed the hotel to become dowdier, dirtier and more depressing with each passing year. The lobby is not so much of a hacienda as something vaguely Eastern European, perhaps Romania in the Ceausescu era, with miserable guests sitting around on shiny faux-leather sofas, praying quietly for the courtesy coach.
Best is the insulation from the roar of traffic outside. Worst is the food. For dinner, £14.50 buys us three inedible self-service courses, and £16.50 a bottle of undrinkable wine. We pick miserably at our food to the continual crash of plates and cutlery on to the tiled floor as sullen staff attempt, unsuccessfully, to move trolleys and clear tables. "I take it back," I tell Leo "they're a kindly bunch, those Tripadvisor reviewers."
Balcombe Road, Maidenbower, Crawley (0845 838 1011; www.britanniahotels.com). From £47; breakfast from £9.50. Ground-floor rooms for guests with disabilities.