Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin.
Welcome to the De Vere Grand Harbour Hotel, Southampton. Where none of the staff wear name badges. An interesting start and not a little disorientating. You don’t realise how much you use name badges, and names, of hotel employees until they’re not there! Not one person, not front of house, not the concierges, not even management, wears a name badge. It’s very odd. I wonder why?
We arrived, pulled up outside the front door and were immediately pounced upon by not one but two very helpful concierges, one of whom put our luggage on a trolley and took it into the foyer for us. We registered at the desk with a girl with no name badge and were told that we were three floors apart and needed to use separate lifts! Turns out you can walk from one to the other without having to return to the foyer and change lifts, as she suggested. The second floor room has a lovely view of the sea. This is a point worth noting, I will explain why shortly. The fifth floor room does NOT have a sea view. Despite the fact that the reception girl wrote “WF” for Waterfront on the card for that room. Now, I am happy for my parents to have the sea view – it is only one night and if there is anything to see, I can go to their room, but I would expect the reception staff to know which rooms are sea view and which are not! Am I being unreasonable already?
Anyway, the room. The hotel is a lot like a P&O ship – a bit worn around the edges. Someone was a BIG fan of wine and gold as a colour scheme. The halls and rooms match. The carpet in the room is wine coloured with a sort of undulating basket weave effect in gold on top. Don’t look down while you’re walking across it, you may get quite dizzy, as it seems to swim about in front of you. The curtains are wine with a large gold diamond check. Not hideous, but not exactly pretty either. The walls were once gold but have now faded to pale yellow with a dubious red speckle pattern that would give a CSI investigator a hell of a headache. Not sure hotel rooms should come with ready-made high velocity arterial spatter on the walls… The furniture is all dark wood with old-style handles – the u-shaped ones that flop down after you let go. Like you find on proper antiques. But not. The room temperature is best described as sauna-esque. Warm and dry. Too warm and too dry. The windows are modern double glazing, with the paint scraping off the locks and the window sills are varnished wood that haven’t seen a varnish brush since God was a boy. The prints on the walls are dull and unimaginative, but they’ve faded so much, it doesn’t really matter. And the whole thing looks like it could do with a visit from the Hotel Inspector. She would be most annoyed! The mini bar contains precisely four containers of UHT milk and a phone number to ring if you want booze put in it, the freebie smellies are Gilchrist & Soames, and the bathroom is SPOTLESS. I definitely won in the bathroom stakes. Mine is about twice the size of mum and dad’s, and newer. Theirs is a little “désuet” (tired, think yellow grout and slightly more limescale than might be becoming for a hotel supposedly this posh).
We went downstairs for tea in “the glass bit” – the De Vere Grand Harbour is V-shaped concrete brutalism with a Louvre-esque glass triangular bit joining it up. They light it up pretty colours at night. Watching the rain fall on the glass sloping ceiling is very soothing, although it is not entirely warm. It is also rather sad that there is one pane that has been replaced and they seem to have found orangey-pinky glass to replace it, which rather ruins the water-like effect of the rest. We sat in a little alcove formed by flowerpots which oddly contains an iron gazebo. Not quite sure why there was a lump of broken glass on the side of the flower bed, but life is full of mystery, I suppose.
Dad described the staff as “plenty of people wandering around, all of whom are very helpful but all of whom are completely useless”. This is both accurate and useful and I will use this as my segue to now tell you The Tale.
Last year, when we were on the Arcadia, we booked this cruise. Being on board, we got first refusal before the Grand Event went on sale to the general public. At the same time, I asked the Future Cruises lady to book the De Vere – they were offering a package including the hotel stay and free transfers to the ship. I asked her to upgrade one room to a sea view –we would pay the extra – so we could watch the ships come in. She dutifully wrote this down and then neither she nor anyone else at P&O bothered to mention it to De Vere. Every few months, Dad rang the De Vere, because we had had no confirmation, and every time, they told him to talk to P&O. P&O said it was all up to De Vere. When I got involved, a couple of months ago, and started raising the stakes (and the volume), I was informed, with a completely straight face, that the De Vere staff could not see what types of rooms P&O had booked. Now, I’ve never worked in a hotel, but that sounds just plain silly to me. If you don’t know which rooms are booked, how do you know which rooms are still available to sell?! Tish and piffle. Never heard such nonsense. This “argument”, needless to say, did nothing for my mood, and things got somewhat irate. And then they said we couldn’t have what we had asked for, because they had “completely sold out” nine months ago. This despite the fact that I pointed out we had made our booking 14 months ago. It culminated with a man from P&O refusing to apologise, despite the fact that he admitted that he could see the sea view request on his screen, and when I asked him to send my mother some flowers, or something else, by way of apology for ruining her holiday, he said “What a shame we live in a world where everything can be fixed by money”. Bloody cheek. If I tell you that, when I get back, this is not over, would you be surprised? No, I didn’t think so.
In the end, having yelled at Gen at the De Vere a lot, she said she would give us first refusal if they got a cancellation. They got one THIS MORNING, so we got a sea view room after all.
So, the rooms are like saunas and the ground floor is uniformly FREEZING. Now, I understand the concept behind the belief that putting heating on when the front door keeps opening and closing, may be construed as somewhat wasteful, but we are in the lounge, not the foyer, it’s not our fault the entire ground floor is open plan with no doors except on the staff areas and the loos (nice and cosy, and probably the best bit of the whole hotel!) and I am actually losing the feeling in my feet. I think we need to send a press release to all hotel designers living and working in the British Isles. There really is no need or excuse for marble floors. This is not the Med, it’s the Solent, and it’s really rather parky. Well, 15 degrees, if the BBC is to be believed. In fact, I’m quite prepared to believe it’s even a degree or two colder in here. It’s certainly pretty draughty.
So welcome to the De Vere Grand Harbour. You’re welcome to it.
Update: After I wrote the above, my parents asked to change rooms, as they had been given a double, not a twin (as had been REPEATEDLY requested). Then I ran to reception and got Gen to put me in their room. So we both now have sea view rooms! So much for “completely sold out”. I got the slightly grottier bathroom, sadly. Now I need to go and see their new room, so I can compare again.
De Vere should really give Genevra Parker a promotion or a payrise. She is nothing short of masterful at fixing other people’s cockups. And she has volunteered to help in any way she can when I go after P&O, because they basically dropped her right in it. Good on yer, girlie.
Go on, guess.
2 steak sandwiches
4 soft drinks
1 sparkling water
1 side portion of chips
Go on, guess. You won’t come close.
The food was quite good, as was the service, and there was piano player lady to entertain us. In the bar, not the restaurant, though. No wine, no alcohol of any kind, no dessert. The mind BOGGLES as to what the proper restaurant would have cost. As Dad said, this is why people don’t eat in hotels they stay in. It seems counterproductive to me. Granted, you have a captive audience, but do you really have to fleece them for a meal in the bar at a cost that comes to MORE than the per person b&b room rate?!
If I didn’t need a lie down before the bill came, I certainly did afterwards. There isn’t enough free wifi ON EARTH to justify that sort of money for glorified bar snacks. Tut tut, de Vere.
Early night tonight. Tomorrow is going to be one heck of a day.