“ Western Ave, Chatham, Kent. „
We'd booked a night at the Ramada Encore Chatham as part of a family package offered by Dickens World. The package included the entrance ticket to Dickens World, 1 night in the hotel for the 4 of us (2 adults, 2 children aged 8 and 9) in a family room, and breakfast. We booked a weekend in August and the deal cost us £109, which was cheaper than booking hotel and entrance tickets separately even though the hotel seems to have some very affordable offers.
From outside the hotel is just one big concrete block, clad in wood wherever there are no windows, and looking very little impressive. Although the property is fairly new the wood already looks very weathered which gives the whole building a slightly run-down appearance. Not very appealing at all but misleading as the interior is actually well maintained and bright.
The check-in/-out was easy and uncomplicated and the staff at the reception were very friendly and most helpful. We had a few questions about where to eat in the evening and got more than enough suggestions and descriptions how to get there.
There is a bar located directly behind the reception, adjacent to the dining and breakfast area. Like the whole hotel it is designed in a very modern style and too bright for my taste. Before the barman got the idea to close the blinds it was a bit like sitting in the inside of an aquarium, clearly visible for all passing by. The seating areas are furnished with huge red leather sofas and coffee tables, which could be very cozy if the whole room didn't have about as much atmosphere as the waiting room in an airport. There are TVs which constantly show music videos. I have no problem with that but the music was annoying and would have probably most appealed to a bunch of teenagers. The weather was fine and we soon went to sit outside where we were save from the music - and had a prime spot overlooking the parking lot. Not great and probably also a bit of an issue for those who have their rooms right on top of the terrace, especially if they want to keep their windows open. During the time we were sitting on the several very cheerful groups who seemed to have attended weddings in the area returned to the hotel and it got rather lively.
The bar is open 24 hours a day but after 11pm they don't accept payments any more and you'll need to open a bill to your room. Prices are average and you can use their free WI-FI connection after getting an access code from the barkeeper.
I noticed a small meeting room next to the entrance. This wasn't of any importance to us but might be interesting if you are looking for a meeting space somewhere in this area.
Our room was located on the second floor and we were handed a set of electronic key cards during check-in. Make sure to ask for more than one if there are two of you because the lights don't work without card.
The room was on the very small side. A pull-out sofa had been opened and made up ready for our kids and that made it really cramped. There was no way that we could have used the desk as the sofa reached until the chair, not leaving enough space to pull it out, so just forget about sitting on it. To close the curtains in the evening proofed tricky as they were so squeezed in between sofa bed and wall/window that we needed to move the heavy sofa-bed a bit to get be able to close them.
There isn't a wardrobe, just a small coat rack with 4 hangers and a mirror. The few shelves beneath were filled with spare pillows and towels and the hospitality tray. Luggage had to be lined up along the wall which made the room even harder to navigate, luckily we didn't bring much for just the one night.
The bathroom contains a walk-in shower, toilet, and a sink with a huge mirror. Soap, shower gel/shampoo, facial tissues and shaver socket are provided and there were plenty of shelves and lots of space around the sink to house enough toiletries to make a beauty queen happy. I wish the bedroom would have had storage facilities to match this !
The shower had good pressure and there were plenty of towels but one had nasty brownish stains on it which I found disgusting.
Apart from the towel everything else was clean and the sheets smelt fresh, the pillows were comfortable.
The furnishings are very modern but a bit on the bland side and the bright red colour scheme seems to scream IKEA.
There are a very limited number of Freeview channels on the TV, if I remember it correctly there were 9 channels altogether, including one children's channel and one news channel. Personally, I don't care whether there is a TV at all or if it only shows the Mickey Mouse Channel but for all those who might have to stay here a bit longer a larger choice to kill the evening might be preferable.
There is no WI-FI access in the rooms at all, only in the public spaces downstairs, and the Internet connection they offer via modem or TV is not free. I wasn't impressed by that at all and didn't even ask how much they wanted. For one night I can survive without Internet but if I'd been here alone or on business I'd probably be rather annoyed.
The hairdryer was working perfectly but is a bit odd to use as you need to press the button to keep it going the whole time.
Plenty of tea and Nescafe for one evening but not enough milk.
Food & drink:
We checked the menu of their restaurant and found the choices rather limited , especially for children, and also weren't impressed by their prices . Apart from that the restaurant area, which serves as breakfast room in the morning, looked anything but not inviting. The furniture is made up of nasty wooden and metal chairs and tables in a light colour, the decor of the walls is so unobtrusive (boring) that I don't even remember what was there - and there is yet another TV that is running constantly blaring hip hop music into the room . Totally unacceptable in a restaurant in my opinion ! Overall more like a cheap coffee shop than a place where I'd be willing to fork out more than £15 for a steak. Thankfully there are plenty of restaurants in walking distance.
The breakfast is served in between 7.30 and 10.00 o'clock.
The buffet was great and offered a huge choice that should meet everybody's taste. There were a good selection of cereals, including the mix yourself kind of muesli with a choice of flakes, nuts and dried fruits. A variety of rolls, croissants, sweet pastry and toast, jams, honey, chocolate spread, butter and margarine weren't missing either, and there were yoghurt (plain or fruit), fresh fruit and a choice of fruit salads that were very nicely presented in little glass cups. You can also choose in between a for a hotel buffet very impressive choice of cheeses, ham and salami.
Hot items included scrambled egg, 6 minute eggs, bacon, sausages, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms and baked beans.
For drinks you can choose in between a variety of coffees, teas (both breakfast or herbal), milk and two different kinds of juice. I'd opted for cafe au lait which wasn't great at all. I left most and got myself juice instead.
The food was constantly re-filled, there was never a shortage of anything at any time and all tasted and looked fresh. We stayed until almost 10am and saw that they were still bringing out more food a few minutes to ten so probably they are not too strict with their breakfast times. Apart from the coffee this was the best breakfast I've had in a hotel in a long time and I'm really impressed !
The breakfast and the friendliness of the reception staff were clearly the highlight of our stay and I recommend that if you are planing to visit that you make sure not to miss the breakfast.
Easy accessible from the motorway and thanks to the dockyard and Dickens World, which both are neighbours, very well signed out. Just follow the signs to the attractions and they will lead you there. I've seen several bus stops near the hotel so getting there with public transport is probably not an issue. Parking seems to be a bit of a problem. The parking lot is L shaped and the larger part leads away from the well lit building towards the visitor parking space of the dockyards, which are of course totally empty at night. We were lucky to get one of the spaces right in front of the hotel but later on many guests weren't. I didn't feel like checking whether the far end of the other part of the parking lot was just too far or too dark or simply full but quite a few guests left their cars either directly in front of the entrance or in the narrow access road next to it (not signed out as parking areas). I have the feeling that these spaces weren't signed out for parking as they actually might serve as access for emergency services.
At the nearby marina you can find Dickens World, a 3 minute walk, and a shopping and leisure complex with many restaurants in various price classes which cater for about every taste, from Mexican over Chinese, Italian to American Diner and more. There is also a large cinema so finding some entertainment and keeping well fed and watered is clearly not an issue.
We clearly loved the breakfast and the staff but otherwise weren't all that impressed by this hotel. The rooms are just too small to be sold to 4 people, there are not enough storage facilities in the bedroom even for one guest, the bar and restaurant were boring and stained towels are an absolute no-no. They are lucky to be the only hotel in this area ...
With quite a few family members in North Kent, a handful of old friends and (now) a client relationship to maintain, I seem to find myself in the area more often than I'd like. The Medway Towns, comprising Rochester, Chatham and Gllingham, are a curious mixture of old and new, with historic Rochester popular for its castle, cathedral and Dickensian history, whereas Chatham and Gillingham are famed more for being 'pure council' (never yawn for too long if you have gold teeth around here).
The Ramada Jarvis is to the North of Chatham, the central of the three towns. The hotel has been built adjacent to the 'historic' dockyard, long since closed to industry, but now, partly at least, re-invented as a tourist destination. The hotel is plonked on the corner of a main road, immediately adjacent to the dockyard itself, but also on the approach road to the popular shopping outlet and cinema. It's generally a good location, with fast road access to the A2/M2 to Dover and/or London via the newly built Medway Tunnel. For car drivers, the main irritation is the fact that you have to drive a long way round an enclosed body of water to get to the car park and entrance, made more irritating after dark when a pointless security barrier is in place to slow you down even more. Fortunately, the parking is free once you actually get there. It's not such a good location for public transport, though. Gillingham railway station is probably the closest, but is a good ten minutes in a taxi. There's a free shuttle bus to the area during the day but at night, you're on your own.
This is a relatively new hotel (about two years) and is part of Ramada's new concept chain 'Encore'. There are a number of these dotted around the country and they all seem to be pitched somewhere between the Travelodge and the City Inn markets. The Encore hotels share the same of sort of contemporary styling as the City Inns, with laminate flooring, wet rooms and futuristic lighting, but have the same sort of facilities as the Travelodges when it comes to food, drink and service. How you feel about this will vary wildly, particularly according to how much you have to spend. Secure a room at the rate of £49.95 per night and it seems quite reasonable, but when the prices start to hurtle towards twice that during the week, it doesn't seem like such a good deal anymore. It's very popular with builders, presumably because of the construction work going on nearby, and also with tourists who have just come through the Channel Tunnel or are on their way. Delightfully, it's quite close to Brompton Barracks, so occasionally you get visiting army types too, who stand out a mile in the bar (not that I'm looking or anything, you understand).
The main entrance to the hotel leads to an open plan reception desk, bar, lounge and restaurant. It's quite a nice idea, giving a feeing of space and (potentially) welcoming bustle to a lone traveller, but more often than not it falls rather flat. The area is nearly always deserted, which presents a drink in the bar as a lonely concept and virtually rules out the idea of a meal. This is compounded further by the hilarious limit of staff members on duty of an evening, meaning that the guy behind reception will probably have to check you in, dash over and serve you at the bar, take your food order, cook it, serve it and get you another drink. In fairness, all is done with a remarkably calm demeanour, but it doesn't always look terribly professional and you can sometimes be left waiting, particularly if you phone up to ask for additional towels or to have something in the room fixed.
...which brings me on nicely to the rooms. On the positive side, they're always very clean and the beds are extremely comfortable. A contemporary lounge chair in the corner is a nice place to drink a coffee and chill out and the flat screen televisions give access to the basic terrestrial channels, along with a couple of the popular satellite stations. The lighting isn't bad. The overhead lighting is a little bright, but you can opt to have funky little sidelights on instead, complete with long, wiry, movable necks to point directly at your book or laptop. The desk space is big enough to work comfortably and has its own lamp too. There's air conditioning too, which is always welcome in the heat of summer, even if it seems to have only two settings - 'unbelievably cold' or 'ridiculously warm'. The bathrooms are reasonably big and also well lit. There are no baths, only showers within a wet room arrangement, which, in itself, provides more space. The showers are powerful and there are never problems with hot water. Towels are provided, even if they suffer from being a little on the small side and the toilet roll is acceptable (although nowhere near as soft as the likes of Andrex).
The problem with the hotel stems entirely from the fact that it clearly wasn't fitted properly in the first place. After well over 20 visits, I can confirm that I have never found everything to be in working order and, indeed, many of the problems are entirely consistent. The toilet flushes are often broken, requiring a staff member to come up and 'fiddle' in the cistern. The plugs in the washbasins get stuck in place and have to be (literally) chiselled open by the maintenance staff. Those groovy bedside lamps can't cope with people playing with them all the time and end up droopy and sad. The wet rooms are only partly successful. The floor has a shallow gradient such that the water isn't supposed to spill into the main bathroom area but the power of the water is such that this doesn't work and you end up flooding the place. The paintwork around the bathroom therefore suffers from the dampness and looks consistently shabby. On the subject of the water, the pressure is such that the noise of the water hurtling through the pipes is horrendous and it's extremely likely that, during the week at least, the sound of your neighbours running their taps will wake you up at around 06:00. In fairness, the staff members manage these issues promptly but if I were Ramada, I'd be going back to the contractors.
The bar and restaurant are adequate. The bar serves a basic selection of lagers, spirits and soft drinks at normal hotel prices. The restaurant menu is very mainstream, generally comprising dishes that can be cooked in the microwave or baked off whilst you wait, so there are pizzas, pasta, chips, steaks and salad. It's all terribly over-priced (think Wetherspoon's quality at three times the cost) and generally only to be used in an emergency, as evidenced by the fact that there are hardly ever any diners in the restaurant area. Breakfast is a little better, and much more popular, with a reasonably good buffet of hot and cold items and the room rates with bed and breakfast mean this will only have cost you about £4 if there are two of you in the room. There's a rather chavtastic little terrace out the front of the hotel where guests have a drink and a cigarette. Pay heed to this when checking in. If you're in one of the rooms that directly fronts over this area and you want your window open, you will be smoked like a kipper and/or deafened by people laughing raucously and telling fanny jokes.
If I'm honest, I'm quite fond of the staff members at the hotel, most of whom now recognise me. They seem to have this vague air of embarrassment about them all the time, as if they're expecting the walls to collapse at any time, but they seem genuinely committed to being as helpful as they can. Given that many of them have to carry out eighteen different roles at any one time, they're remarkably patient. Watch the housekeepers though. Silly things have gone missing (a box of organic tea bags, a bottle of beer) more through over-zealousy than anything I think, but if I'm staying more than one night, I tend to be wary of what I leave out.
Room rates vary enormously, starting at £49.95 and going all the way up to £99.95 according to demand. There are deals at weekends to include entrance to the Dockyard and or Dickens Experience nearby that probably work out quite well for families but offer little to lone travellers or couples or people who are easily bored. The hotel is part of the Wyndham group and if you sign up to the Rewards scheme, you get access to the very best deals on the web site. (If you're a Rewards scheme member, you get a free bottle of water and a Twix when you check in too. The tourists seem to think this is charming. I think it's a bit Wal-Mart, but there you go.) The reward scheme probably deserves a review in its own right but is largely to be ignored. I should have earnt thousands and thousands of points by now, but they never get credited to my account and (frankly) the hassle of chasing them far outweighs the benefit of having them.
Of course, the hotel's strongest weapon is almost certainly its lack of competition. The main competitor is the Holiday Inn at Rochester Airport, but this is miles out of the way and looks like a prison. The other competition comes from the likes of Travelodge and Premier Inn, which, once the room rate at the Ramada hits £70, offer comparable facilities for less money. The Ramada is better quality and has a better feel to it but not enough to justify more than £10-£20 per night compared to the budget chains. All in, if you need to be in the area AND you can get the right rate, I'd certainly recommend the Ramada but I'd caution against spending more than £69.95 because it's just not worth it.