Wednesday, March 4, 2015

KRAKÓW, POLAND: Metropolitan Boutique Hotel

I chose the Metropolitan Boutique Hotel for my visit to Kraków because it was the city’s top-rated hotel on TripAdvisor at the time I made my reservation. While it is indeed very nice, it lacks some of the attributes I expect in an upmarket property.

Hotel entrance
The hotel is conveniently located two tram stops from Kraków Glówny, the city’s main train station; the Stare Miasto or Old Town; and Wawel Castle. It is also two more tram stops plus a short walk to Oskar Schindler’s Enamel Factory and Museum and a surviving portion of the wall that encircled the Jewish ghetto during World War II.

First impressions were excellent. Front desk personnel were gracious and, though I arrived before the 3 p.m. check-in time, they inquired whether my room had been made up and offered to store my luggage when they were told it was not yet ready.

All guests receive a 15 percent discount at the on-site restaurant Fab Fusion, which is open from 1 p.m. to midnight, so I popped in for a bite of lunch before heading to the Schindler museum. I had a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and a bowl of the traditional Polish sour soup called żurek. Unlike the version I’d enjoyed the previous night, Fab Fusion puts a hard-boiled chicken egg it its soup, while the previous restaurant had used a quail egg. Prices were favorable for a hotel restaurant: with discount, my soup and wine came to 25.50 złoty (zł). The złoty, pronounced ZWOH-tay, is the Polish unit of currency and is presently a bit more than three złoty to a U.S. dollar, so lunch was a bit more than US$8.

Guest room with sitting area
Following lunch, I spent about two hours getting to and going through the museum, walking to a remaining section of the wall built around the Jewish ghetto, strolling through the Kazimierez (Jewish Quarter) and going by the Wawel Castle before finding my way back to the hotel. The desk clerk recognized me on sight, handed me a room key, and said the bell clerk would be up with my luggage. He came quickly, gave me a tour of the room’s features, then slipped away.

The hotel opened less than two years ago – in July 2013 – so everything is modern with few (if any) signs of wear. Rooms are equipped with flat-screen TVs, Wi-Fi connectivity, workstations, minibars, in-room coffee and tea with hotpot, complimentary bottled water and safes that are large enough to store laptops and tablets.

Bathrooms include shampoo and body wash made “With 100% fair trade cane sugar” from Mauritius. I have no idea why body wash and shampoo need to contain sugar at all, nor did the front desk clerk. Neither did she proffer any thoughts on whether using those products is an effort to be socially responsible, politically correct, or simply trendy.

Bath amenities
The bathroom in my superior king room included a combination deep soaking tub with shower wand. The lack of a separate tub and shower is one of the things I found disappointing. Such an arrangement could be troublesome to certain travelers. Even though I am a bit over 6 feet tall, it was rather an effort to step over the tall side of the tub; shorter guests and those “of a certain age” could find it even more difficult. Further, despite being new, the tub did not have a non-slip bottom, nor was there a bath mat provided.

The in-room hairdryers are hard-wired and have fairly short cords as well. Mine was tucked into a corner by the door, a location that made it rather difficult to use.

After taking in the very nice surroundings, I noticed that there was no clock in my guest room. While wake-up calls are gladly provided by the front desk and being without a clock might not be an issue for everyone, the desk clerk admitted that so many guests have commented upon the matter that the owner is going to be adding clocks to the rooms in the near future.

Oddly located hair dryer
Bathrobes are not automatically offered in the rooms but they are available upon request. My request was answered quickly – though the robe was brought without a belt to keep it closed. A minor miss which the hotel corrected quickly once I pointed it out.

I also noticed there was no rack on which to place my luggage. While some guests may not mind bending over to dig through luggage splayed out on the floor or using the reclining sofa as a luggage rack, I thought the lack of a luggage rack at odds with the hotel’s upmarket reputation.

Neither do the rooms have irons and ironing boards, so guests who need to look polished for a business meeting or other event will need to request one from reception.

Business travelers may also find the slow Internet connection problematic. Oddly, the problem seems to be a very slow upload speed of 0.32 Mbps, as measured by Speakeasy.net/speedtest. While the 7 Mbps download speed is considerably faster than most hotels, the slow upload speed makes it take longer for the server to receive the message about what is being requested. Once it does, the information is delivered quickly.

Another area where the Metropolitan Hotel could improve is its in-room coffee service. While each room has a hot pot, bottled water, freeze-dried coffee and tea along with sugar and creamer, that type of arrangement is quite common and nothing special. A Nespresso coffee maker would be a bump up.

Service was generally excellent. In addition to the front desk clerk who recognized me when I returned from earlier in the day, nearly everyone else I encountered said hello, asked if there was anything they could do for me, and generally made me feel like a valued guest. Nearly. The sole exceptions occurred at breakfast. On my first morning, two of the hotel’s employees seemed to be more interested in talking to each other than in looking after their guests. On the second morning, the breakfast room attendants seemed preoccupied and did not greet or otherwise acknowledge guests as they entered the dining area. For an upmarket hotel, acknowledging and interacting with guests is a must.

Being at the top of any list means the bar has been set fairly high. While the Metropolitan Boutique Hotel easily clears that bar in most areas and certainly earns my recommendation as a great place to stay in Kraków, the property needs to make some modest refinements and work with some of its younger staff members to ensure that it consistently delivers the high level of service necessary to retain its position at the top of the list.

Visit my main page at TheTravelPro.us for more news, reviews, and personal observations on the world of upmarket travel.



Photos by Carl Dombek
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