The Holiday Inn is one of the world's most iconic and recognisable hotel brand names, a hotel chain as familiar as Hilton, Radisson or Best Western. I've stayed in a lot of hotels chains over the years but never a Holiday Inn, so when the opportunity arose to stay, I said 'book me in'.
The Holiday Inn Darling Harbour is located on the Chinatown side of Darling Harbour, just metres from the restaurant strip of Dixon Street. Opposite is the Entertainment Centre and Paddy's Market and it's only a short stroll to the hub bub of Darling Harbour shops, restaurants and a host of other tourist attractions. It's about a 10 minute walk from Central railway station or you can catch the light rail to the Entertainment Centre stop. There's also a shuttle bus to and from the airport every 30 minutes.
The heritage listed building is a vestige of Sydney's 19th century commercial past. It was built in 1890 as a wool warehouse and at seven storeys, was the tallest building in the area at the time.
The lobby is modern and smartly decorated but quite modest in size. The front desk staff are all smartly dressed in black uniforms and when I enter they all have their heads down staring into their computers monitors. I'm served immediately and my booking recognised and processed pronto. I'm given my key card, advised my room number and directed to the lifts.
But, I'm not happy. I'm not a difficult customer, but I'm no door mat either. It's not because I know this is a lousy room or I don't like the way I've been spoken too. I'm not happy because I don't like to be allocated a room without being asked the basics. Like 'What bedding configuration would you like?', 'What floor would you like?', 'Would you like a room at the front with a view of Darling Harbour or a room at the back with a view of a brick wall?', and 'What about a late checkout, sir?'
So after a bit more keyboard crunching, I'm moved from the fourth to the ninth floor and the extra effort proves worthwhile, although the views are hardly Sydney's best.
The room appears just like the website. It is smartly but simply decorated with colourful contemporary furniture. There's a fridge but there's no stocked mini bar although one is only a phone call away apparently. There are in house movies and cable channels but there's no free Wi-Fi, a big no no for me. The bathroom is basic and functional with a shower in the bath and some no frills toiletry items. But there's another problem. A blinking downlight. Why is there always something? A call to Housekeeping soon delivers a charming man hailing originally from Romania. He changes the bulb while he shares some homespun philosophy on the longevity of electronic products nowadays.
I quiz the two concierge guys in the lobby to see if they are awake and test their local knowledge. They're both cheerful and eager to please, dressed in their Beach Boyish green and white striped shirts. They both seem to know where the main attractions and restaurants are located.
The next morning sees me tackling an expensive buffet breakfast. It has a reasonable range of dishes available but it's hardly jaw dropping in its choices.
The pluses include do-it-yourself fresh juices including watermelon, carrot and apple. The coffee machine makes decent bottomless lattes or espressos. The tables have piles of jams and honey to choose from. Minuses are that there are only scrambled eggs available without ordering. When I mention Eggs Benedict to the chef on duty, I get a very dark look and a lecture for the need to pre-order and how he would have to go to the trouble of making hollandaise sauce blah blah blah. I decide that I really love scrambled eggs anyway, so why bother this poor overworked underpaid chef. On reflection, at $26.50, I should have insisted on the Eggs Benedict with maybe smoked salmon on sourdough, please.
Cereal lovers will be underwhelmed and there are no cheeses or cold meats. What will the Europeans think? Also, there's no 'Asian' breakfast options and observing that most of the clientele appear Asian, this maybe an oversight.
On checking out, I notice a sign which states the hotel was the winner of the 2011 Best Mid-Price Hotel. I'm not in a position to compare the Holiday Inn to its mid-price rivals in Sydney, but it's certainly a safe, clean hotel in a location that should please the average tourist and business traveller alike. Having no free Wi-Fi and no pool are negatives that might influence your decision to stay here. The Holiday Inn Darling Harbour is a dependable hotel option to spend a night or two but frankly, my Holiday Inn experience didn't really burn its brand on me.