Not as good as I’d thought
I already stayed here once briefly eight months ago and was pleased at the time. This time around, I was much less pleased. While the brevity of my stay eight months ago (one night) may have contributed to my overly positive assessment then, the disappointment during this most recent, longer stay (four nights) was on such a broad front that I am inclined to think the hotel has somehow lost its way, and wonder if there has been a change of management.
The room my platinum status got me upgraded to this time (Hospitality Suite) was in the same category as last time – large and well enough appointed aside from the absence, again, of a bathtub. Although the shower stall was agreeably spacious, a great deal of water flowed during every shower underneath the door and pooled on the floor outside of the shower stall. And were the razor blades last time of such poor quality as they were this time? I imagine it simply didn’t register during that one-night stay, but it did in the course of these four nights. The other thing I didn’t like about the bathroom was that it did not have a proper door. I suppose I just didn’t notice it last time, as I was alone, but this time I – and the person I was with – both noticed that the gap between the door and the jamb amounted to almost an inch, compromising any sense of privacy. I don’t see why a normal door is too much to ask for instead of a door that doesn’t really close and needs a warning sign (“push & pull with care, do not open more than 90 degrees”). Speaking of doors, I would also note that the room entry doors here do not close dependably. If allowed to fall shut, then depending on the distance at which the door is let go, the bolt will not slide home. Once you know what to listen for, the problem is clear – if you don’t know or forget, then there is a risk you will think your door is firmly shut when it can actually be pushed open easily by anyone. Then there were the bedsheets…perhaps it’s just a matter of adding some softener or something when doing laundry, but the sheets had a musty odor, certainly nothing agreeable. I found myself wondering whether they’d been on the bed in a smoking room before getting to me. Continuing, I find it odd that films can’t be viewed via the room TV in the usual way. I also don’t see how information so basic can be unknown to anyone answering the “at your service” number. That person had to find out for himself and then call back to let me know that films can be viewed via the room TV only on YouTube. How to access YouTube via the TV he also didn’t know, but called back (yet again) after inquiring to offer to come to the room and show us. As it was late and we were already in bed, we made do with a laptop. And finally, as I write this at well after 01:00 in the morning, even up here on the seventh floor I still hear the throbbing of music from some event that I assume is taking place on the first floor.
My previous review of this hotel described the club lounge as lacking in coziness but with a decent selection of food in the evening. On the basis of three evenings’ experience this time, I’ll stick to the part about lacking coziness but am revising downward my assessment of the food selection. Besides the two hot dishes in the evening, the mainstay of the menu is cold cuts and cheese – most of which will be immediately familiar to anyone who’s seen the breakfast buffet here or, for that matter, the club lounge on any previous occasion, given the assortment is apparently not subject to change. In addition to the cold cuts and cheeses, there are a couple of dishes that would fall under the general heading of salads. These are presented in individual portions of very small size and, to the extent I was willing to sample them, were nothing to write home about. They seem to vary slightly from one day to the next, but the cycle repeats pretty quickly. A small selection of pastries and breads (I did like the bread) as well as some nuts and breakfast cereals (whenever the lounge is open, not just at breakfast) round things out.
What I disliked most about the club lounge on this occasion was the lack of proper vegan alternatives. Of the six warm dishes in total over three evenings, I don’t think more than two (potatoes on the second evening and rice with vegetables on the third) qualified. Even the cabbage soup evidently had to have a few pieces of meat in it, though these were so tiny that it would have been easy to miss them, making one wonder why they had to be there at all. Obviously, none of the cold cuts and cheeses were vegan, and among the salads, there was only one pasta dish that could conceivably have been (though it had pesto, which is normally not vegan). Of course, it is easy to say that most people and thus most guests aren’t vegan. But first of all, non-vegans can eat vegan dishes; the potatoes on the second evening and the rice with vegetables on the third were there for everyone, not specifically the vegans. Second of all, at the most we saw one other couple in the club lounge, and more often than not we (both vegans) were alone there, so that we were in fact “most guests” and it certainly would have been appropriate for staff to take our dietary habits into account in deciding the menu of the club lounge (we mentioned these habits to club lounge staff on the afternoon of the first full day of our stay). Given how set in stone the menu apparently was, an ad-hoc solution would have been an alternative approach. On the second day of our stay, such an approach consisted of removing the cheese from a salad of cheese, cucumber and tomato, and giving us some soy milk to have with the breakfast cereal (this was long, long after breakfast). We noted with interest that the only time we saw more than three guests in the lounge at once (for a total of four, including us), the other couple, visibly Muslim, was also unable to find anything to eat besides the cereal. Clearly, the hotel couldn’t care less about its guests’ dietary requirements. We get the message loud and clear, namely that this place is not for us.
Breakfast in the restaurant was a somewhat better experience in terms of selection, given so many typical breakfast foods are (or should be) vegan. Here, this included beans in tomato sauce, potatoes, grilled mushrooms and very tasty grilled sun-dried tomatoes. The potatoes were surprisingly cold the first two days (on the third day I was all set to complain, but it turned out to be unnecessary), but otherwise the food was okay. A little variety would be nice; e.g. one dish every morning that isn’t there every other morning. As it was, the selection seemed exactly the same all four mornings, right down to the way the potatoes were prepared (if not their temperature). The only thing at breakfast that wasn’t absolutely consistent was whether we were approached by a waitress to inquire whether we desired coffee or tea, or had to fend for ourselves in this respect.
The service was generally spotty. Highlights included:
1) repeatedly knocking and entering without giving us time to open the door – one female staff member knocked three times and probably thinks she thus followed the rules, but she knocked in such incredibly rapid succession (much less than a second between knocks) that it amounted to knocking once and entering.
2) bringing a very standard requested item only after a second request was made an hour and a half after the first request.
3) not responding in the correct language – my accompaniment does not speak English, and staff at least twice was addressed by me in Russian out of deference to her, but was ignorant and discourteous enough to automatically use English as the default language for all foreigners, thus excluding her. This is a very straightforward matter of proper manners, unfortunately lacking on the part of the female staff member who checked my accompaniment in, and most especially on the part of the male staff member who came to the room to show us how to close an absolutely impossible balcony door.
Still on the subject of service, I did appreciate the fact that staff found a way to change money for me as I was about to depart (I’d suddenly discovered local Uber drivers don’t take Amex). However, I don’t understand why such a hotel doesn’t change money as a matter of course, rather than only under exceptional circumstances. And speaking of taxis, when I called from the airport on arrival to inquire about a taxi to the hotel, I was only offered a hotel taxi for 48 units of the local currency, along with the assurance that a regular taxi from the stand outside would only cost more. In fact, there is a company prominently situated in the airport that offers transfers to the city for 30 units without any wait, which is how I then made it to the hotel. Staff should be aware of options for airport transfer and explain these truthfully rather than seeking to improve the hotel’s bottom line at the unnecessary expense of the guest.
To be thorough, the hotel transportation I used and was satisfied with was the chauffeur service. One hour cost some 20 dollars and though a local taxi would be notably cheaper, it was still a quite convenient way to pick up the other person in my party from the bus station.
As my stay encompassed four nights, I had plenty of time to discover that the fitness facilities are not as good as I had thought. In addition to a smattering of cardio machines (fewer than I’d expect in an establishment of this size), there are only six weight machines - leg curl, leg press, leg extension, seated row, lat pulldown and chest press – and about eight pairs of dumbbells up to 14 kilograms. As last time, the fitness room isn’t open around the clock, though the reason why it couldn’t be is not apparent. There is a well-equipped fitness studio elsewhere in the same complex the hotel is located in, but one visit there costs well over 20 dollars, which is absurd.
All in all, this hotel will not be part of my plans the next time I head to Minsk. Either my favorable impression of the Marriott eight months ago was mistaken, or the hotel has taken a turn for the worse. It is worth noting that the staff member I made positive mention of in my last review is no longer with the hotel; at least, two members of staff this time never even heard of that person. Of course, one of those two people was very new, and her more “veteran” colleague has only been with the hotel for three months. But why all the turnover? A place like the Marriott should be seen as a highly desirable place to work. In a country without a pronounced service culture, it may take a bit of extra work for Marriott to instill this in its staff. In Minsk, I don’t think they’re doing enough yet.