This is the second in a series of posts about my December 2019/January 2020 trip to Dublin and Belfast. My last post, covering my flights from DC to London to Dublin, is available here.
I had five nights total in Ireland and Northern Ireland. After my long day of travel, I decided rather than heading up to Belfast right from Dublin Airport, I would spend Friday afternoon and evening in Dublin, before taking the train to Belfast Saturday for two nights in Northern Ireland, and then coming back to Dublin for two nights, including New Year’s Eve, before flying back home on New Year’s Day.
There is no shortage of hotels in Dublin, of course, so I had a lot of options. For Friday night, I decided to book the Radisson Blu Royal Dublin for the simple reason that I had a one-night certificate good at any Radisson worldwide, that I had gotten as service recovery for an awful stay in Reykjavik back in June 2018. I had been trying to use the certificate for a year, with no luck. You can only use it by calling, and there’s no way to check the availability online; valid days didn’t seem to line up with award availability or anything. At this point I just wanted to use it, so when I called and found I could use it at the Radisson Blu Royal, I decided I might as well use it, even though theoretically I could get a better monetary value out of it at some point in the future. I had stayed at the same hotel back in the early days of this blog in 2012, and knew it was perfectly fine. For the end of the trip, I was looking at insane New Year’s Eve hotel rates for night 2, with pretty reasonable rates for night 1. I didn’t want to move around hotels, so the best option seemed to be the Hilton Garden Inn Custom House, with a rate of 66 EUR for the first night, and 45,000 Hilton Honors points for the second. Reviews seemed to indicate the hotel was perfectly fine, though not particularly fancy, and it was walking distance from the train station.
In the end, both hotels were pretty much as expected, and I wouldn’t hesitate to return to either, though both had some quirks.
Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Dublin
The Radisson Blu Royal is in the center of Dublin, though a bit to the west of Temple Bar, St. Stephen’s Green, and most of the tourist attractions. The Airlink bus from Dublin Airport wasn’t stopping at the stop closest to the Radisson, so I had about a ten-minute walk from the next stop on Essex Quay to the hotel. It was a mild day and I only had a rollaboard so it wasn’t bad.
At check-in, there was a bit of an issue as the agent didn’t know how to handle the certificate, but she figured it out with the assistance of someone from the office behind the desks, and it was fine. She said the rate included breakfast, and sent me on my way. There was no mention of my elite status or an upgrade or anything, but when I got to my room, I saw it was a “Business Class” room.
I don’t think any of the rooms at this hotel have much in the way of views, and I didn’t see much but construction cranes. The room itself was nice, though—modern, fresh, and well-maintained. There was a King-size bed, and a separate large sitting area with a loveseat and coffee table/ottoman facing a full desk.
A welcome amenity was awaiting me on the desk, consisting of a chocolate tart and a mini opera cake. There were also two complimentary water bottles on the ottoman.
As on my last stay, the hotel still doesn’t have its own fitness center, but rather provides access to a local gym, the Iveagh Fitness Club. In some ways, this is great, but it didn’t work out well for me on this stay. The gym had been completely renovated since my last stay and is a really nice gym. But, since it was a holiday, they were closing the gym at 6pm. I only had about 30 minutes there before they started making announcements asking people to leave the gym floor at 5:30pm.
I had a fun night out that night, walking around the city and hitting up Pantibar, a ten-minute walk from the hotel.
My train was pretty early the next day, and at 7:50am it seemed I was the first person at breakfast. It was a really nice spread, with three long tables of cold items: one mostly pastries; one with charcuterie, salad, juice and smoothies; and one with fruit and cereal. Along the wall with the kitchen, there was a variety of hot dishes- your standard English breakfast items, including eggs and breakfast meats. There was a ton of staff standing around, but I couldn’t figure out if there was any sort of made-to-order option. A waiter did bring me a French press of coffee, though, and I had more than enough food to get my day going.
At checkout, there was a bit of confusion, as I was initially presented a bill for 53 EUR, which I assume is what they charged Radisson corporate for the room. But the agent took care of it quickly, and I was on my way. It was a five-minute walk to the bus stop for the fifteen-minute ride to Connolly Station, where I’ll pick up the next post of this trip.
Hilton Garden Inn Dublin Custom House
Hilton has a number of properties in Dublin. The two Hilton-branded locations are both a bit out of the way, one west and one south of the center city. The three locations in the heart of town are the Conrad, right on St. Stephen’s Green, and two properties on the North bank of the River Liffey: the Morrison, a Doubletree property right across from Temple Bar, and the Hilton Garden Inn, a bit further east. I’ve heard great things about the Morrison, but it didn’t seem worth the extra spend on this trip as I knew I would not be in the hotel much, so went with the Hilton Garden Inn.
I arrived on December 30, and the hotel was packed for the entirety of my stay. The Custom House, a few blocks away, was actually the center of the New Year’s Eve festivities, so there were technicians and stuff using the hotel conference rooms and staying there. And Dublin is a party town so it is not surprising that the hotel was filled with younger people in town for New Year’s.
After a five-minute walk from Connolly Station, I got to the hotel at around 3pm and there was a bit of a wait to check-in. Hilton Garden Inns don’t have many benefits for Diamond elites. Breakfast is the big one. Upgrades are not a benefit, even on a “subject to availability” basis. You do get two bottles of water, though I was surprised that I was told I had to go grab them myself from the little grab & go market across from the check-in desk.
Even though some people have reported upgrades as elites, it wasn’t meant to be for me, and I had a base room: a Queen room, on the rear of the hotel, away from the river. Although it was the smallest room of the trip, it was perfectly fine for one person, and was clean, fresh, and well-maintained. There were outlets on each side of the bed above built-in nightstands. There was a single unit along the wall facing the bed with a desk, cabinet with a safe and empty mini-fridge, small TV, and coffee/tea kettle. It probably would have been tight for two people, though. The room was also very dark, as there was only one small half-window.
The bathroom was pretty small and basic as well.
After checking in, I went to the EPIC Museum next door to the hotel, which is a really well-down museum tracing the emigration of Irish people to places around the world. Tip: you can save a lot of money by buying your tickets on Groupon. After that, I stopped at a Spar market and picked up some drinks and snacks for the room.
I took a brief nap after and hit up the small fitness center at the hotel. There was a pretty decent spread of equipment for a Hilton Garden Inn, with a large range of dumbbells, a resistance machine, and a bunch of cardio machines. It was absolutely packed when I went in that time, though was less so on other visits.
The hotel isn’t really in the touristy part of town, so I had a lot of walking during my stay. That first night, I had a good meal at the Woolen Mills, a kind of hipster Irish place about a fifteen-minute walk away, past O’Connell Street and across from Temple Bar. From there I went to Pantibar again, before meeting someone I had met in Cape Town a few years ago at The George, which was one of the worst gay bar experiences of my life—I spent the entire night being body-slammed by drunk women and I was *not* having it.
The next morning, I went down to breakfast at around 9:45am. At check-in, they had told me breakfast went til 10, but a sign in the elevator said it would go til 11—maybe special for the holiday. Either way, it was a disaster. While someone at a podium checked you in, once you got into the restaurant, it was a free for all. I could not find a table to sit anywhere—not because it was that crowded, but because tons of empty tables were piled with dirty dishes. I ended up standing after I got my food until someone came and cleared a table.
The food wasn’t much better. There was a decent variety of food, with a full range of hot and cold items- including an “artisan waffle bar”- but the hot food wasn’t very good. There was an eleven-minute wait for my omelet at the omelet bar, and it wasn’t even fully cooked. And for coffee, there were no carafes or large dispensers; you had to make each cup one-by-one using the stupid machine, which had a super long line.
I had a nice day wandering around the touristier parts of the city. Having done Dublin before, there wasn’t much I felt like I *had* to do. I wandered around St. Stephen’s Green, and then checked out the new Museum of Literature Ireland, which is really cool for book nerds, though probably not worth a stop if you’re not, as it’s not super interactive. I had lunch in the restaurant there, which faces out onto a lovely garden, and I recommend that. Otherwise I just wandered and did some shopping.
I took a nap and worked out before dinner at Le Bon Crubeen, a French place near my hotel. At night I started at Pantibar before going with some people I met to the main celebration on the riverfront, with fireworks and such. It was kinda hellish, as most crowded New Year’s celebrations are. It also was very hard to get back to the Hilton Garden Inn due to street closures, but I was able to get about 4 hours sleep before the long trip back to DC in the morning.