Thursday, November 18, 2010

Dubai Hotel Review: Grand Millennium, Al Barsha

In a nutshell: huge rooms, great restaurants but shaded pool area and no beach.

As Club Grand M members we had a voucher for a one night free stay (B&B) at the Grand Millennium Hotel. In addition to the free night, we also had a free bottle of wine for Dante restaurant, a free 30 minutes massage and 25% off any other spa treatment - in addition to the usual discounts we get with the card! The hotel is a business hotel, not a resort, so the pool area is small and it is in the middle of a built-up area so it's not a hotel we would pay to stay at for a weekend but we did have an extremely relaxing time and for a business traveller it would be ideal.


We arrived at 11, hoping we could get an early check-in. We were greeted warmly and offered a welcome drink of fizzy orange juice and cold towels, we were then asked to take a seat while our room was finalised. The lobby was completely deserted so we were surprised that they didn't have rooms ready since it didn't seem they were very busy - turns out they were very full with Formula 1 visitors so all the guests were down at Yas Island. We received our 3rd floor key and were rightly concerned when we got in the lift to find certain floors marked as 'non-smoking floors' - not the 3rd floor though. The minute I opened the bedroom door the smell of old cigarettes hit me so we didn't even enter the room and returned immediately to the reception desk. No matter what you do to try and freshen a room where people have been smoking, that cloying stench just won't go away.

On our return to the desk, the lady who checked us in was busy so we explained the situation to her colleague. Having worked in the hotel industry, I know that there are people who make a fuss and complain in the hope of getting some sort of freebie. The worst way to handle such a situation is to take a defensive stance because that just puts the guest's back up even more. Sadly, this was the attitude of the staff member we were talking to who turned out to also be the duty manager! We were on a complimentary night so what more free things could we have been asking for anyway? He told us that we were too early for check-in and if we didn't want that room, we would have to wait until after 2pm. We were more than happy to leave our bag with concierge and go up to the pool until later in the afternoon.


Despite being located on the 18th floor, the swimming pool is still overshadowed by the Millennium's twin towers which gives the impression that it's almost an indoor pool as the sun does not reach in at all. There are great views out towards the Palm Jumeirah, less stunning views from the other side of the pool of the construction going on all around! The pool itself is a good size for swimming lengths and was a lovely warm temperature - there's nothing worse for me than an ice-cold pool that you can't bear to even dip a toe into. They also have a jacuzzi that looks out towards the sea in the distance. The area around the pool is small, but it's perfectly adequate considering that it probably doesn't get a huge amount of use. I found the loungers quite hard and uncomfortable though and the piped music around the pool was too loud to let me listen to my i-pod.

The Juzz Bar offers a very nice menu (we later saw that the room service menu was almost identical) although we presumed that the salad with 'bacon tits' was a spelling mistake! We ordered a plate of cold mezze (hummous, babaganoush, tabouleh and stuffed vine leaves) for a pre-lunch snack. Although the waitress was very friendly, she hadn't been trained on all the dishes so didn't know what the dips were served with. As it turned out, they arrived with nothing to dip into them - no vegetable sticks and no bread so we're not sure if that was a mistake by the kitchen or whether this is a fault in the menu. Within 10 minutes the waitress delivered us what we needed and we tucked in. It's years since I had babaganoush (eggplant dip) and I need to remember not to order it again - extremely chargrilled / smoky flavour that neither Simon nor I could stomach. The other items were all very tasty but just as we started to eat, the first rain of the year came down - how typical is that?! Luckily the bar area is sheltered and it was fun to watch the rain splashing down on the pool. We stayed up at the Juzz Bar for a late lunch before heading down for our room key. My grilled prawns with chips and salad was delicious and I was given a very generous number of prawns. Sadly Simon's satay wasn't quite so good - fatty and tough.

The Room

Our voucher was for a standard room but when we walked into our room on the 11th floor we decided we must have been upgraded since it was most definitely a suite. The large bedroom was separated from the living room, which had 2 sofas, a desk, a bar and huge TV. Not only did we have a bathroom but we also had a guest toilet next to the front door. The bedroom itself had a couple of arm chairs in it and was the size I would expect a standard room to be. On checking exactly what type of room we had slept in the next morning I was told that our room had been a normal Superior Room - WOW!

We did have a couple of criticisms, nevertheless. We returned from our evening meal to find that the room had been turned down and our used towels had been removed - but not replaced! Luckily we weren't wanting another shower or that would have been more than a little frustrating. I also can't understand why when the rooming list the attendant has must show there are 2 people in the room, they always just turn down 1 side of the bed, lay out 1 pair of slippers and leave 1 chocolate on the just doesn't make sense to me. In the middle of the night I was half-wakened by the sound of what I thought was rain outside, Simon was fully-wakened and realised the 'rain' was coming from the bathroom. Turns out the AC was leaking and pouring water down on the floor. An AC should only leak if it hasn't been fully maintained because then the pipes get clogged and the condensation from the AC backs up and spills over - the ceiling tiles were all damaged so the problem was clearly not a new one. Bit of maintenance required there. My wonderful husband though...he didn't want to wake me up to tell me the floor was wet but he couldn't sleep properly worrying that I'd go in and slip so when I did eventually get up to the loo he sat up like a shot and warned me to be careful of the water...bless.

The Jasmine Spa

The spa is located just off the swimming pool area and includes separate male and female steam rooms, saunas, ice fountains (a fountain full of ice and you grab handfuls and rub it on the your skin - sounds more like torture to me), hamams and rasuls. The treatment rooms are in the same area for men and women and, whilst comfortable, you could hear people coming into the locker rooms / toilets from the pool. I was very surprised that we weren't asked to complete a health questionnaire prior to treatment - this is really a minimum requirement so the therapist knows if you have a heart condition, are pregnant, have an injury they need to avoid etc. Of course, most people would mention any potential health issues but I have never been to a spa where they didn't need a signed declaration - as much to protect themselves as you. I have learned not to expect anything spectacular from a hotel spa and this was no exception although it was very relaxing and my neck felt a lot less tense afterwards. Simon's massage was also good but it was a bit too hard and even when he asked for less pressure, it was still a bit too firm.

Food & Beverage

The Belgian Beer Cafe has been open at the Millennium for quite a long time now but we had never been so we decided it was the perfect place for a pre-dinner drink. The restaurant is spread over 2 floors, both quite small areas and I am told they can get very smoky since it seems the Dubai Municipality's ban on smoking in restaurants is not applied here for some reason. We headed up to the roof terrace on the 3rd floor and were impressed with its chilled out vibe, large sofas and multiple separate little areas which would be perfect for a big group. The special offer of the night was 3-for-2 on Hoegaarden beer but Simon doesn't like the stuff and I don't drink beer so we weren't able to take advantage.

Our dinner at Dante was as good as usual but we sat outside for the first time and found that this does mean a slightly less attentive service. If it had been busy outside I'm sure a waiter would have been stationed out there all evening, but with just us and 1 other man we were checked on regularly but getting someone's attention if we needed it outside those times would have meant going inside to get a staff member. Having eaten a large bowl of nuts at the Belgian Beer Cafe, we decided to skip a starter and go straight for the mains. My seabass was tender and although I was concerned the beans had garlic on them, extensive sniffing reassured me they did not! Simon's lamb shank was fabulous, so tender it fell off the bone and it was served with the delicious rich gravy it had been cooked in. Our dessert of sorbets on meringue nests was the perfect light end to the meal. One advantage to sitting outside (other than the great weather just now) is that you can hear the live singer without having to shout to talk over her - as I've said before, I think Dante is just too small a venue for a live singer.

Our final meal at the hotel was breakfast and this is where we realised that the hotel really was full - with tons of people in red ferrari shirts! When we arrived in The Atrium restaurant for the buffet, we were invited to go to the Executive Club on the 12th floor instead since there were no available tables. I don't think the executive floor is accustomed to so many breakfast diners and all the staff seemed to be flapping. As dishes on the buffet finished, nobody was clearing them and bringing out fresh items - there was only 1 waitress who was busy seating people and clearing tables and the manager didn't seem to be helping at all. The spread was very good with the usual array of cereals, fruits, bread, pastries, cold meats and an egg station. I saw a wonderfully assembled plate of scrambled eggs being delivered to a nearby table and Simon then ordered the same so I could get a photo - sadly it never arrived and in the end he decided he'd had enough to eat anyway.

Our total spend for the weekend was only Dhs 580 and that covered lunch, dinner, drinks, a bottle of wine, the night's stay and breakfast - you could easily spend that just on a dinner. The staff didn't blow us away, maybe because they were suddenly very busy after a long quiet spell and so they were struggling to cope but the room and the food were great and we left feeling really relaxed and refreshed. I would get the club membership just to take advantage of the free night but the F&B discounts make it even better value for money (basically 1 person eats free so 50% off if there are 2 of you, 25% if you're a party of 4 etc). To contact Club Grand M, call 04 429 9999.


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