“ Address: Cowdray Avenue / Colchester CO1 1UT / Essex „
With our birthdays straddling Valentine's Day, my partner and I like to roll all three celebrations into one and generally go out for a meal while a family member baby sits our 22 month old son. This year we decided to do things a bit differently and booked a hotel for the three of us for the night and eat out as a family. The hotel we chose was the Colchester Central Premier Inn, taking advantage of their £22 meal deal to fill our stomachs. Prices per night vary for this particular Premier Inn, depending on the date of booking and how far in advance you book along with whether you choose to make a flexible booking or saver. The Saver booking is cheaper than the Flexible, but these bookings need to be paid for in advance and cannot be changed or cancelled, while the Flexible booking can be cancelled up until 1pm on the date of the booking. We paid £62 for a family room for the night, choosing the Flexible rate as we weren't sure when my partner was working. ==Location, Location, Location== Colchester Central is situated on Cowdray Avenue in the immediate outskirts of Colchester Town Centre, this is a fairly busy road, with an almost constant flow of traffic out of rush hour and standing traffic during rush hour. There is a fire station situated a few minutes walk from the hotel and Cowdray Avenue is a route often taken by both police cars and ambulances. So if you're looking for a quiet location, this isn't it. What this hotel is brilliant for is as a base for exploring England's oldest town. Colchester North train station is five minutes walk away, with links to London, Chelmsford, Clacton, Harwich, Manningtree, Ipswich, Norwich and even Colchester Town. Bus stops are also within five minutes walk with links to the town centre and from there the whole of Colchester including the zoo. As England's oldest town there's plenty to see and do in the Colchester area. For those who are interested in history there is Colchester Castle, (parts of which date back to the Roman era) set within Castle Park. There are also parts of the old Roman wall that can be found within the town itself as well as Castle Park. Within the bounds of Castle Park you can also find children's play areas, a small boating lake, Hollytree's Museum, lots of green space and the occasional special event. If getting a little closer to nature is your thing then Highwood's Country Park is a short bus journey from the hotel. I wouldn't really recommend Colchester as a shopping destination, there are very few shops that you couldn't find on any other High Street. But for those who enjoy night clubs there are several within the town centre catering for a range of ages and musical tastes and this hotel is ideally situated for crashing after a night out. ==First Impressions== The Colchester Central Premier Inn is a fairly new building, being constructed within the last couple of years. My very first impression of the hotel is just how small and compact it is. While some Premier Inns have hundreds of rooms, this only has twenty set over two floors. From the outside the hotel looks very non-descript and could almost be a residential house. There are more than enough parking spaces for the twenty rooms, with some disabled spaces close to the entrance, but some of these spaces are shared with the pub next door. Although there is a ramp with handrail leading to the entrance and the door opens automatically, I personally wouldn't recommend this hotel if you use a wheelchair, as reception is very cramped and there is at least one fire door to negotiate. One thing I did notice is that at some point the ramp leading up to the entrance had been hit by a car, the brickwork was obviously damaged and there were no warning signs. As I said the reception area is very small, there was only one other customer in front of us and the area felt very crowded. Within the reception area there is a vending machine selling snacks and toiletry essentials at exorbitant prices (Asda is only 10 minutes walk away, go there instead) and a rack filled with tourist information leaflets. I would have appreciated somewhere to sit while waiting for our turn at booking in, but there are no seats in the area. The receptionist was ultimately efficient and helpful, but a little sensitive, accusing my partner of being aggressive when he became concerned that I might need to walk up stairs to get to the room (there isn't a lift). Booking in was simple, I hadn't paid in advance and so needed to pay before being handed a key. When I had booked the room for some reason I hadn't been able to book a travel cot, but the receptionist told me that one was available and it was brought to our room a few minutes after booking in. The receptionist did inform me that if I had any special needs (such as a cot or ground floor room) then it would be better to phone the hotel direct to speak about these needs. It's definitely worth doing this if you have mobility problems or a young child/baby in a buggy as there is no lift and only five family and one disabled room on the ground floor. ==The Room== For obvious reasons I can only give my opinion and experience on the one particular room, and that is room one, which is a family room on the ground floor. This room was through a single fire door (which was soft closing) and a short way along a plushly carpeted corridor, which seems to be standard in this hotel chain and helps to reduce noise from other guests entering (and leaving) their rooms. What's nice here is rather than an electronic card (that can easily go wrong) we were given an old-fashioned key to get into the room. On opening the door, we were greeted by a clean, airy, reasonably sized room furnished in Premier Inn's livery of purple and cream. Within the room there was a small vanity area containing an open wardrobe with half a dozen non-removable coat hangers and several shelves. Tea making facilities were within this area, with a small, 2 cup travel kettle, mugs, glasses, tea, coffee, sugar, sweetener and milk. What was nice here was that both the tea and coffee were of reasonable quality (Twinings Every Day/Kenco) and even though there wasn't enough reception was only too willing to provide extra. A hairdryer was also supplied, but I cannot comment on how efficient is was as I didn't use it. Also within this area was a 17 inch, Phillips, LCD TV which was tuned to Freeview, but there were a few channels missing and it was positioned a little high for my little man to be able to watch while sitting on the floor. Along one wall there was a desk with an overhead LED light, desk lamp (that was firmly attached and unable to be positioned as I would have liked) and a single chair. Personally I would have appreciated at least one more chair as this meant that one or the other of us had to sit on a bed rather than chair. There was a full length mirror next to the door, which was appreciated by my little man, who loves to pose in mirrors, and some coat hooks. Apparently the room can hold two single, pull-out beds as well as one king size, but we only had the king size and one single available and to be honest I really don't know where they would have put another bed. All the bed linen was spotlessly clean and a lovely fresh-looking, crisp white, with an adequate number of foam filled pillows. The pillows were of reasonable quality and while obviously not as plump as new, certainly weren't flat and should we have needed more we could have asked at reception. As the single beds are stored under it, the king size bed was very high, I only just managed to lift myself into it (but I do have mobility problems). The mattress itself was very hard, which is fine if you like that sort of thing, but I found it very uncomfortable and ended up getting very little sleep and a lot of pain. This was a great disappointment as one of the things that had impressed me in a previous stay at a different Premier Inn was how comfortable the bed was. The mattress on the single bed was far more comfortable and there was a point in the night when I was seriously considering moving into that bed. As well as the main light switch by the door there were light switches on either side of the bed that not only operated the main light switch but also operated a pair of LED spotlights. Or they would have operated a pair if they had both worked, only one of these lights worked and the amount of light the other gave out was a bit pathetic really, not casting enough light to read by. There were also two small bedside shelving units (along with the obligatory Gideon bible). The supplied travel cot was of a decent brand (Mamas & Papas), was clean, in good condition and unlike with a previous Premier Inn was supplied with a blanket. There was only one set of fairly small windows that could be opened to let in the fresh air and had black out curtains that did a very good job at cutting out the light. If only the noise had been cut out half as well. As I said at the beginning of the review, this hotel is situated on a very busy road and there is a lot of traffic including emergency vehicles sounding their sirens. I might not have heard quite as much noise if the bed had been more comfortable, but as I was struggling to sleep anyway there were several times that I heard fire engines come past. Even worse, when I did finally fall asleep I was woken up by a loud banging as the store cupboard next door to the room was replenished at about eight in the morning. The en-suite bathroom was fairly compact and while the bath was clean and the plug holes free from hair, there was a little black mould around the seal. There was plenty of hot water for bathing and there was also a overhead shower that was perfectly serviceable. Hand wash and body wash are supplied, but these are in pump action containers attached to the wall. The toilet worked perfectly well and there was plenty of toilet paper, which was in individually dispensed sheets, which I think is far more hygienic than toilet rolls. ==The Food== As we had specifically booked this hotel to take advantage of the £22 meal deal offered by Premier Inn, I thought I'd cover that aspect. Meals are taken in the adjoining Beefeater pub/restaurant, The Albert (which is a pub that I had occasionally frequented before the hotel was built). The meal deal includes a three course dinner, a drink and all-you-can eat breakfast with children under the age of 16 eating breakfast for free. If you don't wish to eat dinner here you can also order the full breakfast at £7.99 per person. The pub itself is fairly large and although there are a few steps these are low and there is plenty of room for wheelchairs and buggies to manoeuvre between tables. Drinks are priced at about the average for the area and there is a reasonable selection ranging from Fosters to Stella on the lager front to bitters, spirits and soft drinks. A pint of Budweiser and Vodka and coke cost just over £6, although I must say that spirits are served with Pepsi as standard but you can buy a bottle of coke if like me you prefer it. There is a paved garden at the rear of the pub with a number of picnic style benches, but there isn't a children's play area and a little worryingly this garden is connected to the hotel car park and there isn't a barrier between the garden and the cars. I will say that the garden appeared to have been swept as there was little evidence of cigarette butts, but there weren't any ashtrays. There was also at least one loose paving slab and access to the garden from the pub is via a number of steps with no slope for disabled visitors. The interior of the pub was reasonably clean, tables were cleared and cleaned at regular intervals and while I cannot speak for the male toilets, the female were clean, well lit and stocked with plenty of toilet paper. There is also a disabled toilet that doubles up as a baby changing room, which again was clean and well lit. As we had booked our table when we arrived at the restaurant we were immediately shown to our table and asked if we needed a highchair (which we didn't as we had brought a booster seat). As soon as we had sat at the table we were given the special meal deal menus along with a children's menu and small pack of crayons to keep the little one amused. Other menus are available, but as we didn't even see these I cannot comment. The staff were friendly and helpful throughout the meal, without being in our face and all the courses were brought to us within a reasonable timeframe. The selections on the Meal Deal menu are a little limited but there is something there for most tastes including vegetarian. Among the choices for starter there was Crispy Whitebait, Soup of the Day, Prawn Cocktail, Pate and Garlic Mushrooms. I've previously had the garlic mushrooms, which were very nice, but this time I wanted to try something completely new to me, so I picked the Crispy Whitebait, which were bread crumbed fillets, deep fried and served with a salad that I couldn't quite distinguish. The Whitebait tasted nice enough but was a little greasy, almost as if the oil wasn't quite hot enough. My partner also had the Whitebait and had exactly the same impression. There were also a variety of different options for the main course, with a couple of vegetarian options, chicken, salad, pie and my favourite steak. The steak offered was a 10oz rump steak, so not the best quality, and it was cooked to order and came with a few different optional extras. There was a choice of three flavoured butters, salad, coleslaw, tomato or onion rings and bottomless chips that could either be regular or spicy. I asked for my steak to be cooked medium, verging on rare and for it to be accompanied by horseradish butter, onion rings and standard chips, while my partner went for medium, verging to well with mustard and herb butter, coleslaw and spicy chips. Both steaks were cooked exactly as requested and mine came with six onion rings, a reasonable number of chips and some sprigs of greenery (that I couldn't identify). The horseradish butter was fantastic, it worked really well with the steak to give it just a hint of hot kick. The onion rings were perfectly cooked, crispy batter, with a squidgy onion centre and not at all greasy. I swapped three of my onion rings with my partner for some of his coleslaw and that too was very nice with the crisp carrot and cabbage working perfectly as a foil to the soft steak. Being rump steak, it wasn't the most tender slab of beef I've ever eaten, but was almost gristle free and full of flavour. The standard chips were obviously of the frozen variety, but still well cooked with a crispy exterior and fluffy interior. I didn't actually get to taste the spicy chips, but my partner soon wolfed them down so they must have tasted nice. I really nice touch is that if I had been able to ask for more I could have asked for as many refills of chips as I wanted, but I decided to keep some room for desert. The little one ate off the children's menu, which is very reasonably priced, with the starter costing £1, main £4.25 and pudding £1. He had cheesy nachos for a starter and really seemed to enjoy tucking into them, followed by chicken goujons, chips and peas for main and then he shared our pudding. The chicken goujons were piping hot and very crispy on the outside with a succulent chicken interior, while the chips were cooked to perfection, crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The serving size was perfect too, I didn't think the little man would be able to finish, but he did, enjoying every mouthful. If he hadn't of been able to finish then the waitress would have brought us over a tub to take away as a doggy bag. The dessert selection was again a little limited, but there was something for most tastes including profiteroles, ice cream and chocolate brownies, but the apple crumble pie with caramel and custard is to die for. I'd picked this dessert before even leaving home, because from previous experience I know just how lush it is. There's a crispy pie base, then a layer of sweet, oozing apple topped with crumble and then drizzled with a luxurious sticky toffee sauce and drowned in custard. It's simply gorgeous as both my partner and little man would agree. Breakfast is served between 8am and 10.30am, again in the Beefeater and when entering for breakfast you need to give your table number so they can check you off on a list. The breakfast comes in two parts a fried "full English" and a continental buffet style breakfast. The fried breakfast comprises of bacon, egg, sausage, beans, tomatoes and mushrooms. You can choose which of these components you want, how many and which style egg you want (fried, poached, scrambled, omelette). The bacon was a little salty but the sausages were pretty good quality and nice and meaty with a good texture. Rather than actually being fried the eggs were griddled, meaning that there was a little bit of "snot" on the top of the yolk. I don't eat baked beans or tomatoes and so can't comment on them, but the mushrooms were fine. The buffet table was fair loaded with lots of different goodies. There were various cereals, croissants, chocolate muffins, dried fruit, fresh fruit, crumpets, yoghurts and of course bread for toasting with various spreads. The toaster was a little inefficient, I needed to pass the toast through three times and it was still barely toasted. I liked that there were healthy options available as well as the more indulgent, and that you could literally take as much as you want and it a blind eye was shown at stashing a few bits for later. The croissants were particularly nice, very buttery and flaky. A number of different options were also available for beverages including tea, Costa coffee, orange juice, pomegranate juice and iced water. According to my partner the orange juice was particularly tasty, but I just stuck to tea. Throughout both meals the service was excellent and every member of restaurant staff had a smile on their face and were happy chatting to customers. The food was also of a decent quality and certainly worth the £22 a head for the adults. So if you were to decide to stay at this hotel I would definitely recommend this option. ==Customer Service== Bar the first receptionist (who seemed a little over-sensitive) all the staff we came into contact with in both the hotel and restaurant were friendly and couldn't do enough to help ensure our stay was as pleasant as possible. Unfortunately I didn't get a very good nights sleep and this most have been obvious as I popped outside for a cigarette in the morning. On hearing that the bed was too hard for me and that I had been woken by banging in the linen cupboard, the on duty receptionist asked if I would like to invoke the "Good Night" guarantee, which I hadn't heard of. Basically, Premier Inn guarantees you a good night's sleep and if you don't get one you can ask for a refund of your room cost. I obviously said yes and the money was refunded to my card with the money taking a couple of days to go through. ==Anything Else== Wi-fi is available throughout the hotel, with the first 30 minutes being free and then an exorbitant charge thereafter. Apparently an iron and ironing board are available, but we didn't make use of these. Should you require any extra linen or tea and coffee you can simply ask at reception. The whole hotel is non-smoking and there is a smoker's area near the door, with actual seats, which is a nice touch. Check-in is from 2pm on the day of arrival and checkout is 12pm on the day of departure. Reception is staffed twenty four seven, although you will occasionally need to press a bell to summon a receptionist. The automatic door is locked at 11pm each night, after which you can either use your door key to gain entry or press a buzzer to be let in. ==Final Words== Our stay at the Premier Inn Central Colchester was really a tale of two halves. The meal deal was excellent value and decent quality and the staff throughout our stay were wonderful. But the mattress on the king size bed was simply too hard and left me in pain the next day and we could still hear the traffic throughout the night. Personally it's pretty hard to make a positive recommendation as I will not be returning to this particular hotel, my back just wouldn't survive the hard bed. But it is still a very convenient location for those who want somewhere to crash after a night on the town. As to stars out of five, I'm going to give the Premier Inn Central Colchester three out of five, as although there are many positives, the pain I felt after sleeping in that bed is just vivid in my mind.