Yet another gripe.

"In the four parts of the earth are many that are able to write learned books, many that are able to lead armies, and many also that are able to govern kingdoms and empires; but few there be that can keep a hotel."   

Omar Khayyam (Poet, philosopher, mathematician and genius in many other fields.  He lived in what is now Iran from 18 May 1048, to 4 December 1131)   

It seems to me that in many respects, little has changed in the last thousand years or so.  I'm not really that grumpy a person by nature, although I suppose you might need to get a second opinion on that statement.  Yet, looking through past posts here, a hell of a lot of them are complaints about services.  Oh well, here is another one.

We booked a short hotel break at the end of January.  It wasn't far away, but we were looking forward to a good meal and nice surroundings for a few days, and to having the beaches and scenery of the Antrim coast within easy reach.  We could have done day trips to this area from home, but what the hell; a little luxury wouldn't hurt.  In the past, when taking a break on the Antrim coast, we have usually stayed a little further north at the Bushmills Inn.  The food and accommodation there have always been wonderful.  I mention this only to show that I don't have standards that are impossible to meet. I also don't want to convey the impression that decent service is impossible to find in this part of the world.

In what proved to be  a very poor move, we decided to try the Ballygally Hotel this time.  It is part of Hastings Hotel Group.  They have numerous hotels locally, all of which are supposed to be high end, with gourmet dining etc.  Their prices certainly tend towards high end, but what they provided for this money, fell way short of our expectations.  The hotel itself is built around an old castle, and is situated in a little sandy bay on the Antrim Coast Road, about 6 miles north of Larne.  Given the age of the castle part, it comes with a ghost story.  The building itself looks lovely, as do the gardens. 

Let's look at what the hotel thinks it is offering first.  The description in bold and italics below is taken from their web site:

Coastal Deluxe Rooms at Ballygally Castle

Unspoilt, panoramic views of Ballygally Bay

With unspoilt, panoramic views of Ballygally Bay, our Coastal Deluxe bedrooms are perfect for a relaxing retreat. These luxurious bedrooms offer views over Ballygally Bay and the Antrim Coastline. On a clear day, guests have been able to see as far as the Mull of Kintyre and the Scottish coastline. If you can take your eyes off the stunning sea views, you will be able to enjoy plenty of space for relaxing and unwinding as the Coastal Deluxe rooms come with all the luxuries guest have come to expect, including robes, slippers and bottled mineral water. Complimentary WiFi means you can stay connected and share the highlight of your visit with friends and family.

Now the reality.  

Our room was on the first floor, and indeed the views were good, but the window was small, so it doesn't make the best of the view.  The hotel fronts directly onto the road, which is busy with both commercial and commuter traffic, and believe me, that traffic starts early.  Even in the middle of the night, there was sufficient traffic to make the room noisy.  This was compounded by the excessive and constant heat throughout the whole hotel that meant that even in January we had to keep the window open to provide some respite.  We wished we had booked a room at the back of the hotel overlooking the garden.  It would have been a more pleasant, and quieter aspect.  Thinking about that last statement, what I actually wish is that we had not experimented with this hotel at all, and had booked somewhere else.

The extractor over the bath looked nearly blocked with dust.

After checking in, we had the usual look around our room. It was very dusty on every horizontal surface, and the glasses and coffee cups were not clean. In addition, there was only one coffee sachet and none of those little plastic containers of milk had been left in the room.  There was also no drinking water (apparently you cannot use the tap water). There were no dressing gowns and only one pair of slippers in the room and we began to wonder if we would be accused of nicking these missing items. Other faults included loose fittings like the towel rack over the bath, and even the toilet roll holder. This was not a good first impression for what is supposed to be a high quality hotel.  The room looked and felt neglected.  It could have done with a good deep clean and a lot of maintenance.

I could move this towel rack up and down through a two or three inch arc.  It looked ready to fall off the wall.  The toilet roll holder wasn't much better!

The evening meal, comes off a menu that appears to be standard across all the Hastings hotels.  There was a monk fish dish listed, but it was not available, which limited the decent menu choices for a pescatarian like me. The vegetarian choices, as usual, looked very uninspiring.  Mind you, even if the monk fish had been available, the menu says it is wrapped in Parma Ham, so unless it was cooked from scratch and the chef could have removed the Parma, it still may not have been a choice for me. :-(  Since the vegetarian choices are less than appetising, I ordered the fish and chips as a main. Something I could get in a local chippy isn't exactly what I would have wished for in a good hotel that boasts about its food, but it was nice enough. My wife ordered their winter salad starter, but it came without one of its key ingredients, so it too failed to impress.

Our first breakfast was a buffet (on a Sunday). Decent cooked vegetarian/ pescatarian choices were limited, and what was on offer was a bit dried up and long in the tooth. Again, not what I would have expected from a high class hotel. Apparently, we could have ordered a freshly prepared breakfast, but this wasn't advertised so we were unaware of this choice until after the event. Monday's breakfast was freshly prepared, and was much, much better.

Drinks at the bar were astounding overpriced. As I said above, the whole hotel was overheated like a sauna all weekend, making it very uncomfortable both in the public spaces and in our room. There are much better hotels on this coast, so this is not an experimental stay that we are likely to repeat. It is a lovely looking building, especially the castle itself and it's grounds, but that does not make up for its failings.  

It is easy to get tired of bad service and poor value accommodation to the point where even wanting to try out somewhere different becomes a lacklustre chore.  Unfortunately, The Ballygally was another brick in that wall.  Lets end on a good note here.  After a disappointing meal in the Ballygally on our first night, we drove up the coast to Bushmills and ate there on the second day.  Lets just say that the two experiences are like chalk and cheese.

Good service/ food/ value is not impossible.  Realistically it should be the norm rather than an exception.  Why then is it so difficult to find?  Looking on Trip advisor, I have to wonder if perhaps meat eaters get better service and choice, because the Ballygally does get many good reviews there.  It also gets quite a few bad ones too though.  Perhaps it is that hole in the space/ time continuum that vegetarians eternally see to slip through, but why that should apply to the room as well as to the food and drink is beyond me. 


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